Starting a family: A Father’s tale
Joe Griffin finds himself a helpless spectator
Writer, Joe Griffin and his (six day old) daughter Alice, at home in Cabra, Dublin.Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
I should get my disclaimer in early here: obviously childbirth is infinitely more traumatic and profound for the mother than for the father. We men do not have to go through the pain of being attacked from inside out like John Hurt in Alien, nor do we have a benign parasite living inside us for nine months, forcing us to watch what we eat, drink, breathe and even hear.
But childbirth for the father brings a different kind of fear. It’s a terrifying time between waters breaking and the first precious mews of our loved one. For fathers, there’s a separate, added layer of uncertainty as we have zero communication with the emerging mite; medical staff have their monitoring devices, mothers and their future children are in constant communication, while fathers are helpless spectators who get the news last.
My wife Sylvia’s waters broke on a Friday afternoon. Her contractions kicked in officially the following morning, which is when we went to the Rotunda.
At about 2am, we were moved to the birthing suite. Sylvia was connected to a giant machine that monitored mother and baby’s progress. Baby Alice still had no interest in coming out, despite being chemically induced to do so; the first of many acts of defiance, I presume.
Eventually some progress was made and then – frighteningly – Alice’s heartbeat slowed. Four staff sprinted into the room, placed an oxygen mask on my wife and prepped her for immediate, emergency surgery. Thankfully, moments later, baby’s heartbeat resumed and the long, long wait for Alice did so too.
On Sunday afternoon, 12 hours after the start of the induction, a C-section was needed. In the theatre, I sat on a stool beside Sylvia’s head while a small curtain separated us from the doctors and midwives tasked with extracting our baby.
The squelching, slicing and slurping sounds behind the curtain were petrifying, and I babbled inanities to Sylvia to cover the sounds, all the while aware of the infinite unwelcome variables that might impede Alice on her journey to the outside.
We heard Alice crying before we saw her and the first words Alice heard in her life were: “It’s a girl . . . it’s a big girl!” as the doctor unfurled the unusually long baby like a magician’s handkerchief.
Howling, purple, but healthy, the little girl was presented to us for inspection. Our voluminous tears of joy and relief added to the cornucopia of fluids in the operating theatre that day.
I was sent to another room and, minutes later, my daughter was handed to me. While my wife underwent post-C-section procedures, I sat staring at the amazing new creature that rested in my arms. Her enormous dark eyes seemed to comprise most of her body. And we strangers stared at each other for 15 minutes, both bewildered, both unaware of how we would shape one another’s existence.