NEW ARRIVAL: Gary Foster Skelton, right, cradles his daughter Emily, in the hospital with wife Jennie and son Nathan.
Photo supplied
NEW ARRIVAL: Gary Foster Skelton, right, cradles his daughter Emily, in the hospital with wife Jennie and son Nathan. Photo supplied

Cigars and ‘wetting’ the baby’s head — there are a few rituals by which men celebrate the birth of a child. But the focus is usually, and rightly, upon the new mother and child.

That does not, however, mean that a father’s story is not worth telling, and I enjoy reflecting upon two of the biggest moments in my life, Nathan’s and Emily’s births.

Nathan

When my son Nathan was born, I did not have the rush of intense emotion that I expected. I imagined something would well up inside me and I would struggle to keep it together.

What I actually felt was nervous awe and bewilderment.

I spent a great deal of time just looking at my son, trying to figure out what this feeling was.

After a few days, I understood. I had fallen in love.

This person had arrived in my life, but it felt like he had always been there. He was a part of me and completed me somehow.

There was a valve in my heart that I never knew existed through which love suddenly started flowing, and it was reserved just for Nathan.

I didn’t have to share out the love, and therefore give less to my wife Jennie (who, after a day-and-a-half’s labour, was now doubly amazing in my eyes); I instead had a whole new well to draw from. I still feel like this today.

Emily

Our second birth experience was certainly more emotionally intense…

When we thought my wife Jennie was almost ready to give birth to our second child, Emily, we made our way to the hospital.

However, we were told that she was not in active labour. It was after visiting hours on a Sunday night, so they wanted to keep Jennie in but send me home — an option neither of us were happy with.

As our son Nathan had been a long labour two-and-a-half years previously, we reckoned we could sign out of the hospital, go home, finish the tidying up we had been doing that day, and then head to Jennie’s parents’ house.

Jennie’s dad is a doctor and they live close to the hospital, and Nathan, who was already at their house, would be asleep by the time we got there. Good plan, we thought.

Jennie’s contractions started to become more intense from the journey home onwards, although they never became consistently regular.

We therefore kept in touch with the hospital and Jennie’s dad over the following hour, and were told to keep track of things and to come in if the pain became too much.

Eventually Jennie decided that she wanted to head back to the hospital.

As I was about to call the nurses, Jennie’s voice from the adjacent room was suddenly more urgent with a thread of fear: “Call 911!”

Jennie could feel her body trying to push. I looked, and having seen Nathan born, I could tell that our baby was coming.

With the phone lodged between my ear and shoulder, I called the emergency services while doing what I could to attend to my wife in labour.

Jennie remained incredibly focused but then things got a little ridiculous.

The woman on the other end of the phone had the standard advice — turn on your outside light, get some towels, etc., whilst we waited for the ambulance to arrive.

We waited… and waited.

I was kneeling at my wife’s feet, wondering why they were taking so long.

“Can you give us directions?,” said a voice on the phone. This was unbelievable! They had our address in Spanish Point, but the emergency services needed to be guided to our house!

I’m afraid that, at that time, I could not focus on anything other my wife and about-to-arrive child.

Time was up. We were on our own and our baby was coming.

The arrival

The top of a head appeared, covered with black, matted hair. Then a wrinkled forehead, and eyes, tightly shut. A nose, then a mouth, then a chin. 

My hands gently but firmly supported baby’s head. Then the shoulders, and then smoothly and sloppily, out came our baby into my hands.

Covered in… stuff.

I could see we had a little girl, and I held her close to my chest. Nobody told me (and I didn’t read) that a baby does not necessarily breathe the second they are born.

For what seemed like forever, I gently patted her back, praying and asking my precious daughter to take a breath.

Finally, she began to cough up fluids, and a few moments later she cried her first cry.

I passed her to Jennie, my amazing wife who was calm and in control. I was still very focused, but I have to say that I was totally shellshocked.

The ambulance still could not find us. It was at least ten minutes later when they arrived, to taxi Jennie to the hospital.

This was only after Jennie’s cousin, who lives nearby, spotted it driving around the area and guided them to us.

There wasn’t much left for them to do. Oh yes, they cut the cord. I figured I’d let them do that…