More than a year and a half ago, I was determined not to fall victim to the cliche of the third child, which is something like this: the eldest child in a family gets lots of attention, hundreds of photos, and endless blog posts that detail every minor achievement or developmental milestone. When a second child comes along, there are still plenty of photographs and blog posts, though maybe not quite so many as the first. But when the third child shows up and there’s a precipitous drop in all of those things. I’m happy to say that we have lots of photos of Kate. To be honest, I was getting behind in my writing well before Kate came along, but the fact is that I started to write this not long before Kate’s first birthday, and several months have passed since then. I’m not proud of this.
Even in the most stable and familiar circumstances, every pregnancy is different. Since Kate was born in a different country than Elena and Roman, the difference of the experience was greatly magnified. In the UK under the National Health Service (NHS), prenatal care is much less hands-on than we were used to in the US. Instead of regular doctor’s appointments that included labs, measurements, and scans, Jenny would occasionally visit her assigned midwife. We also went into the hospital a few times for sonographs; at which we had to remember to bring a few pounds in cash—exact change only—because otherwise they wouldn’t let us take the ultrasound pictures home, and the nearest place to get cash was a supermarket two miles down the road.
Jenny was not particularly fond of her assigned midwife, but since it’s a nationalized system, there weren’t really any other options and she made the best of the situation as it was. At each visit, she would in the urine sample she had collected at home, the midwife would briefly ask how she was feeling and discuss any concerns, measure her stomach, and listen to the baby’s heartbeat, but that was it. Even though it’s the first order of business for any prenatal appointment in the USA, Jenny’s midwife didn’t weigh her even once. As we got closer to the due date, we finally got to see a doctor, but we really had to force the issue to get an appointment, leaning on the fact that Elena had an extremely high birth weight. The doctor we saw assured us that everything seemed normal, that he could detect no signs of an abnormally large baby. Just after saying that, he told us that he’d been wrong before, in a similar case where he hadn’t thought the baby would be too large and it ended up being more than ten pounds. In any case, in light of the past history, he promised us that an obstetrician would be present at the birth. At a follow-up appointment, a different doctor mercifully scheduled Jenny to come in for an induction just one day after her due date; around here, they normally don’t allow any medical interventions until at least two weeks after the due date.
On the morning of the appointed day, with our bags all packed, we called the hospital to verify that they had space for us, dropped Elena and Roman off with some friends who had agreed to watch them, and made our way to the hospital. I had my traditional babytime snacks: a water bottle, several energy bars and a full pack of Oreos. The labor suite at the hospital was entirely empty, and the staff of midwifes and nurses seemed rather laid back. The method of induction used was a localized patch rather than an intravenous drip; it’s supposed to be more natural and gentle, but it can take more than two days before it actually leads to real labor.
We didn’t have to wait that long. Within a few hours, Jenny was experiencing real contractions. They weren’t too strong or regular, but they were causing discomfort. We watched some shows on the computer and Jenny tried to rest as much as possible. The hours ticked by. We went for some short walks. I eventually ran low on Oreos and went to find some more substantial food. The midwives and nurses who had been on duty left, and the next shift arrived. As evening approached, Jenny’s contractions became more frequent and painful, and it was clear to her and me that the labor was progressing reasonably quickly. Perhaps we should have been more demanding of her attention, but during this time the midwife was largely absent, perhaps because she believed that it would likely take two days for the induction to take hold.
As night fell, it became clear to me that Jenny was in the thick of things, and the baby would be arriving before much longer. Eventually the midwife responded to our call, and despite our insistence that Jenny’s contractions were strong and frequent, she told us that it was probably just cramping, and that the baby wouldn’t be arriving any time soon. Despite Jenny’s urgent pleas for pain reduction via an epidural, the midwife offered paracetamol and “gas and vapors,” which is the British term for laughing gas administered through the most uncomfortable looking breathing tube imaginable. Perhaps just to humor us, she finally agreed to do an exam with the expectation that Jenny couldn’t have progressed far enough for an epidural.
I do not recall the midwife expressing any apologies for how wrong she was. The reason Jenny was no longer a candidate for an epidural was because she had progressed too far! She was almost fully dilated and effaced, and needed to go to the delivery room immediately. I was all ready to go along with her; I was ready to push the bed if they needed me to. Unfortunately, one of the attendants ominously told me that they couldn’t guarantee that any of our things would be safe if we left them even for a few minutes; this despite the fact that it was now the middle of the night and the only people in the suite appeared to be us and the staff. I followed the advice to collect them immediately and then hoped that I could find my way through the correct doors that would take me to the delivery room. When I found Jenny, she was again at odds with the midwives. They were insisting that she needed to move into the delivery bed; she was insisting that she couldn’t undertake those maneuvers because the baby was coming out!
The next few minutes are a blur. I do remember one thing: despite our repeated reminders that a doctor was supposed to be present, no doctor ever showed up—most likely, no doctor was ever called for to oversee the delivery of the 10 pound, 6 ounce baby that was at that moment moving from the womb to the world. Despite all the stress and unmet expectations, and due entirely to Jenny’s superhuman birthing abilities, Kate emerged happy and healthy. I should note that the British are not very diligent about weighing or measuring anything, even newborns, so the weight is approximate and we will never actually know Kate’s birth length.
I have never attended the birth of a child other than my own, nor do I plan to attend such an event in the future. I have no doubt that the mother is always completely drained, both physically and emotionally, at the end of the ordeal, but I will always believe that Jenny has labored so hard that her level of exhaustion is deeper and more complete than any other. The midwife, however, did not seem to be familiar with this; she suggested that Jenny should take a bath, as if that was a completely normal and logical thing to do immediately after having a baby. Jenny gamely tried to go along, but was hardly even able to stand, and so the midwife relented and let her sleep. Jenny did not take a bath until weeks later; she trusted the advice she had received after previous births that full baths were not immediately advisable.
Eventually, Jenny, Kate, and I were alone. Even at her very first appearance, Kate’s calm, easygoing character was on display. She didn’t cry too much. I think I was somehow able to sleep a little bit, even though there was no nursery for Kate. Several hours later they moved us into a recovery room, and we rested some more. In the past, we have been happy to stay at the hospital for as long as they would allow us to, but this time, having gone through so much already, we were ready to head home as soon as possible. There were a couple of visitors, including a lady who took some newborn pictures of Kate, but only the pediatrician had the power to sign the release papers. He showed up in the early afternoon and gave her the clean bill of health. We packed our bags and left. It had been an exhausting 28 hours, but we had made it through the darkness of the night back to the light of the day, and were so grateful to be exiting into the Yorkshire spring with a bundle of new life in our arms.