Tuesday, 8 November 2005, was . . . an interesting day. It started off normally enough; I was working from home during most of the day, and Andrea, now over nine-months pregnant, was just doing what she could. On Tuesdays she normally has lunch with some friends, so she headed off in the early afternoon for sandwiches and girl-talk. I was happy for this because, well, basically, it's much less distracting when she's not around, and I can get more work done.
Andrea came home from lunch at about half two and announced (rather nonchalantly, considering the circumstances) that she was having 'minor contractions', and she suggested we should start monitoring them. 'Okay', I said; she said, 'Ooohhh, there's one now'. So I wrote it down (14:36, lasting for ten seconds). 'Ooohhh . . . another one'. So I wrote that down (14:39, lasting for eighteen seconds). 'Funny', I thought to myself; 'they're only three minutes apart. Must be an anomaly'. (I really do think these words to myself.) However, with only one or two exceptions throughout the next fourteen plus hours Andrea had a new contraction every three to four minutes, with them coming every minute or less in the later stages of labour. Anyway, to make a long and involved story somewhat less long, I attached my wife to the TENS machine we were borrowing from our midwife just after 15:00. We called our midwife - a saintly woman named Mary - who showed up at our flat sometime after Andrea's contraction at 16:17 (four minutes after the previous contraction and lasting 45 seconds). Andrea was dilated about 3-4 cm, and we decided to make our way to the hospital at around 18:00.
So we phoned our friends, Greg and Julie Brown, who speedily made their way across town to pick us up and drive us to the Jessop Wing, where Andrea was to give birth. Mary was already there when we arrived, and I set myself about unpacking things we would need over the next few hours while Andrea dutifully attended to ever-strengthening (if not consistently more frequent) contractions. I quickly realised that I hadn't eaten since mid-afternoon, and by 20:00 I was starting to feel sick with hunger. Just then (well, sometime after 20:30) my mate Rich Hawes turned up with a burger and chips [french fries], which Andrea made me eat in another room. This deserves special mention because Rich had just got off work - which was particularly unpleasant, by the sound of things - and battled his way home in the typically English wind-driven rain. After trekking up the back passages of Mt Conduit (only some of you will know how funny this is) with nothing but the thought of settling into his comfortable chair with a cold Continental beer in one hand and a warm Japanese remote control in the other to keep him pressing on, his wife, Helen, informed him that I had earlier called and asked him to pick up said items (burger and chips; stay focused) and bring them to me. He nevertheless did so, and I am particularly grateful . . . especially as I'm sure I would have been cursing under my breath if the tables had been turned. Thank you, Rich.
So labour went on. Andrea was quite impressive through the whole ordeal. She is frequently described by words such as 'delicate' and 'fragile', and I can understand such things. But she has considerable fortitude. She handled labour like a pro (I told her she ought to write a book and call it, Giving Birth and How to Do It); had I been in her position I would have wept like a little boy and asked to be dealt with in a more merciful manner. I would have in mind specifically beheading. Anyway, Andrea continued to weather the contractions, and by sometime around 0:00 or 1:00 she was dilated about 8-9 cm. At this point she got back into the birthing pool (she had been in the pool earlier, but it had slowed down her labour), where she experienced the blessing that is 'transitioning'. If you don't know what this term means, then read on in blissful ignorance.
Once again making a long story slightly less long, after a considerable period of time enduring contractions followed by another considerable time being told to push for Britain, out popped my first-born daughter, Janelle Helena Rodriguez. 'Popped' may be too euphemistic a word; perhaps 'was painfully and forcefully expelled' would be more accurate, but certainly it loses something for being that much more descriptive. Here the endorphines released by Andrea's body came in particularly handy. Not that she didn't experience every painful sensation (she depended solely on the TENS machine and the Entonox for pain relief, and in the last half-hour or so she had neither), but the look of calm and fulfillment on her face as she held our daughter for the first time went some way toward making it all worth it. I say 'some way' because, as the husband/father, I am never allowed to comment upon what could make labour 'worth it'. Nevertheless, I refer your attention to the venerable words of St Paul (or one of his followers) at 1 Tim. 2.13-15 for another man's comment on child-bearing and point out that I didn't say it.
After the birth things continued at a similar level of excitement. I was able to hold the baby skin-to-skin for a while so that the midwives (besides Mary, we had a student midwife, called Nicola, attending to us so that she could observe her first water birth) could attend to Andrea. I was thrilled, of course, but after about a half-hour I tried to pass Janelle on to her mother so she could feed. At that point I realised that I was absolutely covered in baby poo. Some of you might want to point out that it wasn't poo; it was meconium. Yea; meconium is poo. So Janelle got her first bath, and I got my first Janelle-inspired cleaning. May many more of both be in my future.
But then the doctors and midwives turned their attention to helping Andrea's body recover from its ordeal and things got scarry. First, it turned out that Andrea's tearing was worse than they originally assessed, so they had to take her to theatre to fix her up. Second, Andrea lost a lot of blood (and she's already somewhat . . . pale, even when she's not border-line anaemic), so they were trying to insert yet another cannula into her wrist, take her blood pressure, and make sure she wasn't bleeding internally, all while trying to explain to her why she'd have to go to theatre and what that would entail. Third, not all the staff at Jessops are very good at helping its patients relax, and that's all we'll say here about that (except to point out that Mrs Julie Humphries was a god-send and deserves a raise, whatever her current rate of pay). Finally, all of this was happening around the 8:00 changing of the guard (not to be confused with the somewhat more ceremonially involved Changing of the Guard down in London), so we had two groups of staff talking to us, to each other, and just generally getting in the way of me and Andrea enjoying our first morning as parents. But in the end the staff did their job, and did so with a commendable level of professionalism and competence. I owe them my gratitude. Speaking of gratitude, it was at this point that I was sobbing like a little boy, and I owe some thanks to Julie Brown for coming down to Jessops so early in the morning to help me cope with the various emotional sagas I was experiencing all at once.
There is, of course, more to say about 8-9 November 2005 and the birth of my first child. I have scarcely described the emotions I felt toward my wife, toward my daughter, toward my God, and so on, throughout everything described above. And there are lots of pictures to post. And Andrea will certainly have a different perspective on the day than I do. But these are the basic facts as I am interested to relate them to you. In the end I am extremely grateful to the Lord for all his blessings poured out on me, which I blatantly do not deserve. I am also indebted - and rather heavily so - to a number of men and women who have made the experience of becoming a Papa in a foreign land rewarding and exciting rather than lonely. Greg and Julie, Rich and Helen, Mary, Nicola, and Julie, to name just the most immediate. Thank you to everyone who helped me and Andrea as we became parents for the very first time.