The First Hour of Life

Published August 5, 2014 | By Greg Hodgson-Fopp

Apologies in advance if this is a little scattered. It’s been 48 hours with minimal sleep and I want to record the sequence of events and emotions of the first couple of days while it’s still fresh in my mind. I know the girls will want to know these things in a few years, and I’d like a record to assist my failing memory at that stage.

Everything was quiet, all through the house

Natasha and Charles stayed at our place in Del Mar the night before the scheduled Caesarian Section because it was the first surgery of the day, and so it started at stupid o’clock for poor Natasha. We had a really nice dinner together (I cooked, kept it simple) and then we all sat around chatting on the balcony where it was a bit cooler than the house itself. California is warm at this time of year – like Adelaide Summer warm.

The next morning, I think Natasha was the first up, and after a small breakfast for us, and no breakfast at all for her, we all toddled off the hospital, where we were placed in a small room on the 2nd floor of maternity while they monitored Natasha and the girls closely via heart rate monitors and generally got things ready.

Curtains up

We had been told that only one non-staff member was permitted to be in the operating theatre, because twins meant two baby-teams, and two baby trolleys, so the room was a little crowded. We had really hoped they would waive this policy for us, since it’s not really a standard birth set up. There are so many people involved in the process, and both Matt and myself had said that we’d really like to be in the delivery room. But as it turned out, the anaesthetist, who has the final say, said he was not comfortable with this, and limited us to one person. This was obviously Charles, as Natasha’s next of kin.

So as Matt and I prepared ourselves, we were a little gutted, but certainly not going to let it spoil our day. Papers were filled in, and Charles name and signature jotted down, and that was that.

However, as we were waiting, I overheard a quiet conversation between Charles and Natasha, and then he asked for the forms to be called back and told us he’d like to give his spot to us in the OR. We could still only have one person, but they were comfortable for us to swap-in and swap-out during the process.

I will forever be grateful to Charles and Natasha for doing this. Surgery is not something you take lightly, and a C-Section, no matter how routine it sounds because of how common it is, is still major surgery. I know if Matt was undergoing major surgery, then I’d be right there with him. For Charles to waive that for us was incredibly generous of him, and I won’t forget it. I might have maybe had the first few little tears of the day right then when he told us we’d be swapping.

Gowns On

So Matt and I gowned up in the papery disposable things that you’re given to accompany an operating theatre, and in due course Natasha was wheeled in to be prepped and readied. We stood outside the theatre chatting to the “Baby Teams” who were particularly lovely.

That’s definitely one theme from this trip – all the medical staff have been incredibly friendly. I mean, I expected them to be competent and professional, but friendliness or warmth is something they give us for free, it’s not a job spec or requirement. But, without fail, every member of staff at Scripps hospital (and Rady’s Childrens) was flat-out amazing. I’ll have to gush forth more on them later, but first, I want to get this birth story down.

The birth teams were comprised of experts who would receive the babies from the surgeon and perform all the immediate life-saving checks and tasks that accompany any birth, whether c-section or traditional. There were two and they were very keen to hear our story, and chatting them to abated my nerves somewhat, so it was nice to pass the time.

And…. Action!

Within a few short moments, though. The door was opened and I was summoned in, and ushered to a small stool right next to Natasha. At this stage, the poor woman had disappeared into the heart of a surgical machine by the looks of it. The Anaesthetist was manning a very high tech console right by her head, there was a large dark sheet extending from her neck upwards and the other side of the dark sheet, the wizards of medical science joked and laughed and rushed importantly to-and-fro.

They asked if I had a camera (I had my phone) and then in what felt like barely 2 minutes, the Anaesthetist (who had seemed a bit grumpy and a bit of a sour puss earlier) suddenly looked at me and said “Get Ready” then reached up and dropped the drape about half way.

I stood up, and glimpsed my first daughter for the first time ever. It went so fast that I wasn’t really aware of what I was thinking or feeling, I was actually probably just anxious to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Within a few seconds, Dr Bulow said “Are you ready?” then lifted the little girl up into the air for her first photo (which I will have to be convinced to share, it’s really not her best side).

She was purple, smeared with fluids, unhappily wailing at the top of her lungs and sprouting a mass of hair plastered to her head. And just as quickly, she was passed off to her team of waiting experts to be rubbed, prodded, poked, wiped and tested.

I quickly dashed to the door, and signalled to Matt to come in and take my place. He was exactly where I’d left him, sitting in a plastic waiting chair outside with his phone in one hand. He looked at me and said “Not happening”. I tried twice to convince him, then keen for at least one of us to not miss the action, dived back in.

Within moments, our other daughter was similarly being hoisted into the air for her photo moment, equally squirmy and smeared, and also wailing her displeasure at the change in circumstances. And just as quickly she was then handed off to her own personal team of people.

At this point, I went to the door of the OR and told Matt both girls were healthy, whole and safe, and after a quick facebook update, he finally entered the room and took my place.

And silence

I was then standing outside the operating room, behind a closed door. I had switched out, and Matt was inside, where he should be. I am usually quite respectful of hospital policies. I can see the reasons behind them, and I understand that a bunch of passengers in the room can be a distraction to Doctors doing very serious and life-saving work. I didn’t want to break their rules.

But the door didn’t even have a window in it. It was a solid, old fashioned door. About 6 or 7cm thick, and sturdy. I tried to listen through it, pressing up against it, but there was so much noise going on in the theatre that I couldn’t really make sense of the sounds I was hearing.

So I was there, within 2 minutes of the birth of my daughters, separated from them by a door and adherence to hospital policy, agitated beyond belief to get a better look at them, to hear them cry, and to maybe hold them in my arms.

I think that might have been the slowest time has moved for me at any point in my life. There wasn’t anyone else outside the theatre to talk to, and I wasn’t going to go anywhere. I was in a blank, standard hospital corridor. And I was less than a metre from my newborn daughters. I could hear their wailing, I could hear the staff saying things that I couldn’t make out, and I knew that their lives were starting as I stood there.

I really don’t know how I lasted those eternal 15 seconds that I did.

No door heavy enough to stop me right then

So yeah, the door was actually quite easy to push open. And I quickly made my way to the side of the room where the cribs were set up and the girls were still being measured, checked, monitored and listened to. There are a few photos of the next few minutes, taken by the kindly baby-team staff, who gingerly handed Matt and I the girls to hold once the worst of the goop had been cleaned off.

First impressions are hard to document. Everything is tainted by what you know after the fact, and your very memories are slightly modified by the images you hold in your mind as you try to remember more and more.

So, as far as I recall, I though “Wow, they’re huge”.

Followed immediately by “They look like real babies”. Not one of my most profound thoughts, I’ll give you that. I guess I’d expected them to look more like a baby born by the birth canal, who are generally a lot more roughed up from the process. The girls were a bit purple, but hadn’t been squeezed or twisted or anything. As the photo Matt will testify, they looked pretty much just like a normal baby only particularly filthy.

I was also struck with how regular and uniform their features were. They’re both quite similar in a few ways, and quite different in others, but their face shapes are quite symmetrical and well proportioned. I guess I’m trying to say they’re actually pretty beautiful babies without resorting to just gushing and saying “Awww, ain’t they cute.”

I was pretty surprised at how much hair both had. Verity was dark, it appeared quite dark brown (but has lightened since it was washed). And Delilah has a gingery blonde (perhaps red, perhaps blonde, perhaps strawberry – it’s too early to tell just yet). But both have a full coverage of thin waif-like hair on their heads.

But I think most of all I was just relieved, delighted and more than a little bit hysterical that they were born, safe and screaming their lungs out. Kicking their heels and howling about the mistreatment they felt they were receiving from the world at large and us in particular.

I quickly stopped by Natasha (or at least, stopped by Natasha’s head as the rest of her was still ensconced in the machine made of drapes and all she could really do was roll her eyes at me). I wanted to express my thanks and there really just wasn’t the time or space to even say thank you, let alone give her the enormous hug that was building up inside me. That’d have to come later.

And with that we were whisked away to the nursery for what would turn out to be the longest six hours of my life.