The End…Or Just The Beginning…

The End…Or Just The Beginning…

After 9 months of pregnancy and news that baby would most probably come late, we were certainly not expecting what hit us over the Easter weekend.

On Saturday we made our usual pilgrimage to the squash club where I played in a social doubles tournament while Sharon watched from the stands. Once I was done with my matches Sharon briefly joined me on the court to casually knock the ball around to aid her with her no-squash-for-nine-months frustration.

A few shots in she felt a minor cramp…and then there was another…

Things continued like this while I enjoyed a cold beer and a hot shower. The cramps (or possibly contractions) were small but relatively close together so we decided to head home for a warm bath and to monitor the situation. While Sharon bathed we timed the cramps and noted that they were fairly consistent at around 5 minutes apart.

Was this the real thing? Or was this merely Braxton Hicks?

Eventually we decided to go to bed to try and get some sleep. If this was real thing we’d been warned it could take hours. We’d also been told that you only get 2 nights in hospital so it was worth waiting for midnight to maximize this time. The cramps hadn’t gotten worse and were perhaps even subsiding so there was no real need to rush.

Thankfully I managed two to three hours of sleep. Sharon on the other hand lay awake wondering what lay ahead.

Eventually, at 1am on Easter Sunday, Sharon woke me saying that she was now sure they were contractions. They were more intense and had restarted at 10 minute intervals. They were also slowly getting closer together. We timed her for an hour or so just to be sure and then climbed out of bed.

It was time!

We rounded up the various hospital bags, made sure we had two cameras packed, and climbed into the car. It was just after 2am and the night was eerily still. During the drive down we were both relatively quiet considering. I think Sharon was a little nervous as things were suddenly becoming real. We continued monitoring her contractions until we arrived at Westville hospital just before 2:30am.

Our initial port of call was at the front desk where they phoned the labour ward and warned them we were on our way. We then made our way down the white, neon lit passages to the labour ward door where we rang the bell and waited for what felt like 10 minutes. It turned out that there was only one nurse on duty and that she was prepping a lady for a 5am Cesarean.

When we were eventually let in Sharon was led to a small room for monitoring. The nurse hooked her up to two monitors, one for the contractions and one for baby’s heart, and then we watched and waited.

Initially I was a little concerned as Sharon said the contractions were less intense now than they’d been at home. Thankfully the nurse said that this could happen when you arrived at hospital due to the walk, nerves, and various other factors. She continued monitoring Sharon for 20 minutes and we could clearly see the contractions and hear our little girl’s heartbeat.

Happy with the timing of the contractions the nurse took Sharon off of the monitors and did an internal. She confirmed that Sharon was 1cm dilated and was indeed in the early stages of labour. However being so far off she asked whether we wanted to return home or stay in hospital. We opted to leave this up to Dr Czarnocki since she was phoning him anyway.

A quick phone call later and she returned saying that he recommended we stay in hospital and would be in at 8am to check on her progress. It was 4am.

We were led into our own room, made ourselves comfortable, and got ready for the long wait ahead. The nurse was fantastic; chatting to us, bringing us birthing balls, explaining various things and generally keeping Sharon’s mind off of what lay ahead. In fact it was sad to see her go at 6:30am when the day-shift nurses arrived.

Sharon's first moments in the Westville hospital labour ward
Sharon’s first moments in the Westville hospital labour ward

The daytime nurses were far less chatty and left us alone until Dr Czarnocki arrived at 8am for his checkup. He took a quick look the graphs from the earlier monitoring and then did his own internal. By this stage Sharon was 3cm dilated and progressing well.

He opted to speed up the process by breaking Sharon’s waters which was quick but slightly uncomfortable. He then called the anesthetist and explained the situation before telling us he’d be back at 11am to check up on us.

The nurse ordered Sharon breakfast, a yogurt and a muffin, and told her to get some food in. She took a bite or two but thankfully didn’t eat much since we were later told her she shouldn’t be eating in case an emergency Cesarean was required.

With the anesthetist on his way the nurse began prepping Sharon which involved putting up her drip. After searching for a vein for 10 minutes she literally took a stab in the dark and missed completely. This left Sharon’s hand both sore and bruised. Thankfully the anesthetist then arrived and installed the drip, first time and pain free, and all within a few seconds.

Amazingly our anesthetist, Dr Wisniewski, was also Polish (as well as a qualified chef). He almost looked out of place as he was dressed in his finest suit since we’d called him out from the Easter church service. He set about explaining what an epidural entailed and how he would be administering it. I asked him if he was going to triple charge since it was Easter to which he replied, “I always triple charge,” and then laughed.

Sharon then sat on the bed, assumed the ‘bad posture’ position as he called it, hugged a pillow, and waited as he inserted the various needles. It was amazingly quick and painless and thankfully went off without a hitch. Well, almost without a hitch. Our fantastic daytime nurse somehow lost the yellow stickers out of the epidural kit. This meant she had to hunt around for suitable substitutes which took a few minutes.

A tired but happy Sharon
A tired but happy Sharon

With Sharon now hooked up to various machines including her epidural she was officially bed ridden until she gave birth. The anesthetist made sure she was comfortable and then tested the epidural was working by running a frozen balloon of water up and down Sharon’s torso and legs to establish where she could feel. Happy that everything was as it should be he said his goodbyes and headed back to church.

The nurse then got down to her tasks. She hooked Sharon back up to the contraction and baby heart monitors and began administering the pitocin to speed up labour. She also put in a catheter.

Note: Apparently asking if I could have a catheter for late night drinking sessions was not an acceptable joke in this nurse’s book.

Sharon's contraction and baby heart monitors
Sharon’s contraction and baby heart monitors

As soon as she turned on the pitocin drip Baby Girl Prior’s heart dropped from around 150bpm to 50bpm. A shocked looking nurse quickly turned down the dosage and put Sharon onto oxygen. It took a minute or two for the changes to take effect but the baby’s heart climbed back to normal. She seemed unconcerned and decided not to call Dr Czarnocki.

This left both Sharon and I looking a bit pale but we decided that the nurse knew best which helped keep our minds at ease (well, almost). I spent most of the rest of the wait for Dr Czarnocki sitting at the monitors waiting for further heart rate dips. Sharon was of course stuck in bed which I’m sure made her more nervous as she was unable to see the monitors. Thankfully she could hear the heartbeat and quickly raised her eyebrows whenever there was a dip.

For the next hour or two Sharon shook (shivered) intermittently as her body got used to the epidural. It was a disconcerting feeling watching her lie there, unable to move from the waist down, shaking. It just didn’t seem natural.

At one point there was another dip in our baby’s heart rate and, after I called the nurse, she opted to turn off the pitocin which quickly returned order.

Scary moments in the Westville labour ward
Scary moments in the Westville labour ward

During the wait for Dr Czarnocki I phoned our various parents to let them know we were in hospital and that they baby was coming. This was met with various reactions from a teary Sharon’s mom to a nervous Dr Prior.

At 11am Dr Czarnocki returned and seemed mostly happy with the heart rate scans. He reassured us by telling us that babies were built to undergo the stresses of labour and that Baby Girl Prior would be dealing with this fine. He then did another internal and confirmed that Sharon had reached 5cms. We were half way there and only slightly nervous.

Dr Czarnocki then vanished in a puff of smoke and we were once again left alone until his promised return at 3pm.

Having not heard the discussion between Dr Czarnocki and the nurse I was concerned when she kept returning and trying to turn on the pitocin drip. Each attempt resulted in another dip in heart rate and more mild panic from two first time parents.

During a calm moment I made a quick dash to the coffee shop where I ordered a take away lunch which I sat and ate in the labour ward. We turned on the TV and sat watching tennis to try and take our mind off of the minor concerns and beeping monitors. “The nurses must know best,” I kept reminding myself (with ever diminishing confidence).

I had another chat with my dad and could hear that he was concerned. I guess being a doctor he just knew too much. That said he kept quiet and left it up to our doctors.

At 3pm the daytime nurse opted to do an internal and said that Sharon was at 5-6cms. Not even 5 minutes later Dr Czarnicki arrived and also did an internal finder her to be 8cms dilated. This was the final straw for me and I officially lost all confidence in our nurse.

Thankfully while Dr Czarnocki was there we had another heart rate incident as the nurse had just turned the pitocin back on. He sat with us for half an hour monitoring the situation until Baby Girl Prior’s heart rate finally returned to normal. He then said that since Sharon was 8cms we would wait a little more, but if there were any more incidents we’d need to make a call. With that he left again to return in an hour.

Not even 5 minutes later there was another incident. The nurse was nowhere to be seen so I ran around hunting for her and made her call the doctor immediately. What would Sharon have done if I wasn’t there?

Dr Czarnocki arrived back a few minutes later and said he’d prefer to do a Cesarean for the babies safety. We immediately agreed and he scheduled it for 4pm. It was 3:20pm and Sharon had been in labour at the hospital for over 13 hours.

Essentially what had happened is that Sharon was having too many contractions too close together. Each contraction resulted in a dip in our baby’s heart rate which was completely normal. However the time between contractions is when the baby’s heart rate should recover. With too many contractions too close together our baby’s heart wasn’t getting this opportunity. The pitocin was also worsening the situation by adding additional contractions to the cycle.

After calling the anesthetist back to up the epidural Dr Czarnocki headed out to get prepared. The nurses took the opportunity to shave Sharon and prepare her for the procedure. She was starting to look rather nervous but had a stiff upper lip and said to me, “whatever’s best for our baby.”

The anesthetist returned with his friendly smile and upped the dosage on the epidural for the Cesarean. Sharon was a little concerned she could still feel and asked him to double check. So after checking with the iced balloon he asked her if she could feel him touching her. “I don’t think so,” was her reply. However, unbeknownst to Sharon, is that he wasn’t just poking her, he was pushing a needle into her torso. She was clearly ready.

With Sharon being numb from the breasts down he helped her onto the trolley (to transport her to theater) with the kind words, “hugging you anesthetist is free”.

They then wheeled Sharon into the theater while I headed to the change room with Dr Czarnocki and Dr Wisniewski. It was a real boy’s locker room with jokes being cracked about woman and plenty of banter about sports teams. We donned on our scrubs and I must admit, I really didn’t pull them off as well as the doctors. In fact I looked downright ridiculous. Why do they make those damn hats in one size when I have such a small head?

We then joined Sharon in the theater and were introduced to Dr Manjra, our paediatrician, as well as Dr Czarnocki’s wife who was the assisting surgeon. With Dr Czarnocki and Dr Wisniewski in the room it was more like a comedy club than a theater. They did wonders to lift the mood and to put Sharon at ease.

In fact I’ve decided that when I grow up I want to be Polish.

The doctors then covered Sharon in a matter of minutes. During this time the anesthetist calmed Sharon by explaining she would feel pressure and tugging but no pain. He did this by simulating it on her forehead where they are very few nerve endings. Clever! And it certainly aided in keeping her calm.

I took a seat at Sharon’s head, behind the curtain (and out of site of the cutting), and held her hand trying to keep her calm. She was visibly nervous as Dr Czarnocki asked if her she was ready. She had barely responded when he started cutting and seconds later they told me the baby was ready to come and that I needed to stand if I wanted to watch.

I stood bravely (praying I wouldn’t feint) and watched as my little girls head appeared through the cut. WOW! No words could describe that feeling. All three doctors then pushed on Sharon’s stomach and the baby popped out in one fluid motion. I wanted to take a photo but the whole process took seconds and I was in too much awe watching. I had just watched my daughter being pulled out of my wife.

The Cesarean
The Cesarean

They lay Baby Girl Prior on Sharon’s stomach, clamped the cord, and invited me round to cut it. Dr Czarnocki was very clear not to touch him in the process as I took the scissors and cut the rubbery cord.

Baby Girl Prior gurgled and it was at this moment that Sharon knew she was fine and burst into tears. I was meanwhile fighting them back.

Our daughter was handed to the paed who put her under a warming lamp, checked her, cleaned her, did her Apgar scores and put in eye drops. He then held her up for Sharon to see for the first time through very teary eyes. She was beautifully pink with dark blue eyes and thick dark brown to black hair. I couldn’t stop staring with a lump in my throat.

Emma Jane Prior was born at 4pm on the 31st March 2013. It was Easter Sunday.


The paed showing us our daughter Emma
The paed showing us our daughter Emma

What really amazed me, and still does, is just how quickly they did this procedure. From when they wheeled Sharon into surgery until they handed me Emma was well under 10 minutes. Amazing!

They then wrapped Emma and held her over Sharon’s chest for a closer look. The anesthetist took my camera and shot off a few photos of our first moment with our baby. She was then given to me to carry to the nursery.

The complete Prior family during the Cesarean
The complete Prior family during the Cesarean

It was a strange moment holding my daughter for the first time. In fact I almost felt guilty for holding her before Sharon after all she had been through. I was quickly ushered out of the theater and felt further guilt for leaving Sharon while the doctors closed her up.

The walk back to the nursery seemed twice as long as usual as I became suddenly aware of every possible tripping hazard. Emma was calm, quiet and content…nearly the opposite of how her dad was feeling. The one thing I remember thinking is that judging by how she was sucking, she was ready to start feeding. She was however going to have to wait for mom since my man boobs were utterly useless at this moment.

In the nursery a nurse took Emma from me, weighed her, measured her length and head diameter, and then put her in an incubator to warm her from the chilly theater. It was only when they unwrapped her and put her on the cold scale that she had her first little cry. It was heart breaking.

Emma weighed 3.01kgs and was 49cms long at birth.

Emma Prior being weighed after birth
Emma Prior being weighed after birth

I filled in the necessary paperwork, which included a name for our daughter and then sat with her for a while, feeling torn about whether I should be with her or with her mom. Eventually I decided to return to Sharon to check her recovery was on track.

When I got back to theater Sharon was in the recovery room with just the anesthetist. They were chatting happily while they waited for the epidural to wear off. Sharon was again shaking badly and Dr Wisniewski explained that this was since her body was confused about not having feeling below the breasts, and confused this sensation with being cold.

Sharon was also feeling a little gassy and so Dr Wisniewski pulled out a vile of magic potion and added it to her drip. Immediately the gas subsided. I need to get me some of that for camping trips.

There was then an awkward moment when Sharon asked me, “What are we going to name her?” Clearly I was confused as I thought we’d already decided and had already filled in the necessary paperwork. I’d named our daughter Emma Jane. Thankfully Sharon was happy with this decision. Phew!

Once Dr Wisniewsk was happy he went and took off his scrubs. I followed suit but didn’t realise he’d left on his shoe covers. Since I’d taken mine off I wasn’t allowed back at Sharon’s side and so I headed back to the nursery and to my daughter.

She was fast asleep in the incubator and was the most beautiful thing I’d seen (but then I guess all parents say that). Amazing!

Emma Jane Prior's hospital card
Emma Jane Prior’s hospital card

I sat with our little girl while I waited for Sharon to be brought through to the maternity ward. During this period Dr Czarnocki came to see me, congratulated me, and checked up on Emma. He let me know that everything had gone well and that the timing had been impeccable. Apparently babies under stress can do a meconium poo in the womb which they can then ingest. Emma had done hers just as she was being taken out. As a precaution they did a stomach clean on her but it thankfully came back clean.

Once Sharon arrived I went and sat with her beside her bed. It was an agonising hour for Sharon since our little girl was in the incubator and she was unable to get up to go and see her. I kept going to the nursery to check if she was ready to be brought through. They’d take her temperature under her arm to see if her body temperature had returned to normal and then let me know.

Finally, two hours after she was born, she was warm enough for me to take her through to her mom. It was amazing watching her mom hold her for the first time. She just wouldn’t let go.

Sharon Prior and Emma's first moments together
Sharon Prior and Emma’s first moments together

Sharon and I spent some time contemplating how she had the same chin as Sharon’s brother and his children. Eventually the nurses informed us that all babies had receding chins in order to allow them to breastfeed correctly. You learn something new every day.

A little later Emma and I were taken back to the nursery where Emma was given her first bath. I was merely a spectator in the process preparing me for our trip home which would only be in 3 days time.

My mom then popped in for a visit over visiting hours. During this period all babies are put into the nursery so she only got to see Emma through the window and didn’t get to hold her. However this seemed to appease her for the moment.

Once she’d left we spent some time trying to feed Emma which proved difficult. The nurses assured us this was normal and told us that babies get most of their nutrients during that period from the fluids filling their intestines from their time in the womb. Apparently they only start feeding once they’ve either pooed or vomited out the remaining fluids.

Eventually they kicked out us dads at 8:30pm. I drove home a happy, but very tired, man and Sharon finally got some rest after almost 48 hours of being awake.

More moments after Emma Prior's birth
More moments after Emma Prior’s birth

This was far from the end for me though. On route home I headed through Hillcrest to grab a quick bite from McDonalds. Being Easter Sunday the cops were out in full force and had setup a roadblock on Old Main Road, ready for those who were out enjoying the long weekend.

I got stuck in the middle of this and eventually ended up second in the queue. The car in front of me was taking their sweet time so I put Sharon’s car into neutral. Eventually they pulled off but I was unable to get the car back into gear, possibly due to the fatigue hanging over me. I shoved it into first and lurched forwards before it popped out of gear. I then put the car into reverse and reversed a little before putting it back into first and pulling up in front of the cop. I was tired, and scruffy, with very red eyes. She looked at me as with questioning eyes and asked me to blow. I blew!

She looked at the reading (which I assume was zero since I’d had nothing to drink) and then looked back at me. A confused expression crossed her face. She was convinced I was boozed and that he machine was broken. She gave me one more questioning look and then waved me on. And that was the end of my day…