• Holly

My Birth Story - From a Father's Perspective

Updated: Jun 20, 2020

My husband wrote this story for our first child Liam almost two years ago when he was born. We called him our “Buffalo Baby” because he loved listening to Bob Marley’s Buffalo Soldier when he was in my belly - every time we played the song, he would wriggle around and kick excitedly. I have read and listened to many birth stories, but not that many from a dad or a birth partner’s perspective. With Father’s Day coming up, I thought it would be fitting to share this story, so you can appreciate the emotional journey that a father/birth partner goes through during birth. I can proudly say that my birth partner was with me every step of the way during labour, so it is his story to tell as much as it is mine. To all the birth partners who have supported moms through labour, I want to let you know that you are appreciated. You may not have felt heard or seen, the spotlight probably wasn’t on you during labour and you may have been ignored, bossed around, pushed aside, but know that your support made a world of difference to the birthing woman. Your stories matter too and that’s why I decided to share this personal story so publicly. Enjoy the story - and Happy Father's Day everybody!


The story of your birth - our buffalo baby - and a tribute to your mother

If ever there was an example of what strength love can give, it is a mother’s determination in labour to bring her child safely into this world. You won’t remember it, of course - and your mother, well, she was in a sort of euphoric trance following her monumental efforts over the previous three days (yes, that’s how long it took). I, on the other hand, was shaken to my very core. I’ve never felt more scared in my entire life. I’ll never forget a single moment of your delivery.

I should say I don’t mean to scare anyone, least of all you, by telling this tale. The last thing the world needs is another horror story about labour. What I do hope to convey, however, is very much a positive story about courage and love. About just how much strength the love of one’s child can give and to demonstrate the lengths your mother went through to bring you here safely. Ultimately I want you to be as proud as I am, to call her your mother. We are both so extraordinarily blessed to call her ours. She is, forever and always, a hero. I’ll begin...

T-Minus 72 Hours

Contractions had been on and off for the past week or so when your mother thought she might be in early labour. I was skeptical at first, but after a few hours of irregular contractions this evening we began to suspect it was the real deal. This was late Tuesday evening of September 11th 2018. We decided to have an early night.

3am rolled by when your mother got up. She couldn’t sleep. Her contractions were getting stronger. By this point it was clear your mother was in early labour. I followed her into the living room to ask if she was ok. She told me she was and that she was sure. I sat down next to her and we both smiled. It was happening. I handed her this letter.

Dearest Holly,

Today we embark on the greatest adventure of our lifetime - bringing our silly little boy into this world. As you might have guessed I wanted the right words to commemorate the occasion and help inspire us before things really get going! I hope they will help us take greater stock of today and how miraculous the moment of Liam’s birth will be. It might just be the single greatest moment of our lives.

I feel blessed in more ways than I ever thought possible and am so thankful for you and everything you have given me, and for everything I know you will give our family going forward. I can’t think of a more beautiful and courageous woman to share this journey with. And while I can’t wait to begin the next chapter of our epic journey together, I don’t intend to miss one second of today. To be totally and utterly in the here and now. To experience the miracle of giving birth to our very first child.

I want you to know just how much I love and look up to you. Your strength over the last 9 months has been nothing short of extraordinary. You have done everything you needed when it needed to be done, and I know you will do the same today. I also want you to know I mean to help you as best I can, every single step of the way. Whatever happens I will be here by your side. We are in this together and I am totally committed to you and Liam.

I’m not worried. I believe giving birth is something you were always meant to do and I have every faith you’re going to do an extraordinary job. Much better than I’d be able. Your tireless preparations have left no doubt in mind. There is no one in this world who would do a better job. Your strength of character and positivity will shine through as it always has.

If I’m honest I am a little envious of you. Maybe this sounds silly coming from a man, but to experience harbouring and then giving life in such a miraculous way is something I will only be able to witness. I’ll never get to experience it like you will. I used to think like most men do - I was thankful I’d never have to go through labour but now, because of you, I believe something altogether different. That childbirth is something women should treasure and be thankful for far more than they should fear. This will be a magical and empowering experience for the both of us.

The last few few months have been so special for me. In particular, the times spent talking and singing silly songs to your belly as Liam would wriggle around with excitement have brought as much joy to my heart as anything else I can ever remember. I will miss them. At the same time however, I realise this is only the tip of the iceberg. The joy he will bring us going forward will truly fulfill our lives. I’m so excited for the future. Our best days are ahead of us.

I already know you will make me the proudest man in the world today - as you do every day. You continue to be my biggest inspiration in this silly lifetime of mine. The overwhelming joy I have to know that our boy has you as his mother cannot be described with words. We are the luckiest two people alive. We love you and always will...

As she finished reading I told her I love her and that we better at least try to get some sleep so we went back to bed. The contractions, still very irregular, seemed to subside enough in intensity to allow mum to get a decent night's rest. Little did she know it would be her last for a long while...

The following day, with her contractions still fluctuating in intensity and regularity, we decided to take it easy and simply wait. We checked our bags, had a leisurely lunch and more or less chilled in front of the television. All the while I timed her contractions while she continued to do some gentle exercises on her yoga mat. We waited...

That evening little had changed. We decided to have another early night in case things finally started to progress through the night. Unfortunately for your mother, rest didn’t last long...

T-Minus 45 Hours

At 1am, your mum woke me up and told me her contractions were too strong to sleep and was worried things weren’t quite right. I timed her contractions again which were still shorter and less frequent than we were told was necessary before heading to hospital. Still we didn’t want to take any chances. We showered, changed, grabbed our bags and made our way out the door.

It was approximately 2am when we checked into the pre-labour ward of Queen Mary hospital. Holly went off to have a check up while I took our ID cards to reception for registration. When I returned I briefly saw Holly who told me that everything was fine - we just had to wait till contractions were between 2 to 3 minutes apart. The closest we had registered at that point was 8 minutes and they often subsided up to 20 minutes apart. I suspected correctly, we had a while to wait yet.

The nurse on duty informed me that the pre-labour ward was off limits to everyone including fathers outside of visitation hours. I asked Holly to keep me up to date with any progress and to try and get some rest. I found a row of chairs to lie across in the corridor outside and used Holly’s spare clothes I’d packed as a makeshift blanket. Mercifully I’d also bought my travel pillow. I made camp for the night.

Sleep was broken to say the least. The bright lights, freezing air conditioning and general noise from the elevator doors as other fathers-to-be and hospital staff came and went made sure of that. Holly visited me a couple of times to help her time contractions as she couldn’t sleep either.

By 7am I decided to grab a coffee and some breakfast at a cafe and give my first of many family updates on our group chat:

Good morning family. Holly and I checked into Queen Mary in the middle of last night at about 2am. Things are progressing but slowly... Holly began having contractions Tuesday evening and they haven’t stopped since although they were very irregular and not very strong for most of yesterday. They became more regular and stronger as the day went on yesterday but still not enough to warrant rushing off to hospital. However they were too strong late last night for Holly to get any sleep at home when we went to bed. We decided to head to the hospital after some debating at around 1am. Doctor's done a checkup and it seems everything is fine with little Liam. They are just waiting on Holly's contractions to increase in intensity before transferring her to the labour ward. She’s currently in the pre-labour ward where I’m not allowed. I managed to make a bed from some chairs in the corridor outside and get some rest so feeling ok. Holly is in good spirits and feels ok too - just a little tired. Today we hope will be little Liam’s birthday.

The rest of the morning was spent helping Holly time her contractions outside the pre-labour ward. By midday I was allowed in for visitation. With progress still frustratingly slow, Holly and I discussed our options. Her water hadn’t broken so there was no reason to do much else other than keep working through her contractions and get some more rest while she could. With my eyeballs hanging down by my ankles, we decided I should also head home and have a kip. Although it didn’t feel right leaving, we knew I would have been close to useless that evening should things finally get going. We also felt things weren’t likely to happen before then. At any rate I was only a 20-minute cab ride away. I gathered my things and told Holly to call me if anything happens and I’ll head straight back. It proved to be a wise decision.

After I’d had a 2 hour nap I headed back to the hospital in much better spirits. I decided that the least I can do was provide as much positive energy as I could muster. After messaging Holly to see how she was getting on I sent the family another progress report:

Daddy is rested and on his way back to the hospital. Holly has also managed some rest and back to managing her contractions. Progress is still slow. Decision has been made to enact operation Buzz Lightyear!!!!

(Buzz Lightyear was a nickname we had given you early during the pregnancy following an ultrasound photo of you with your arm outstretched above like a super hero).

Buzz Lightyear mandate:

Proactivity is key. Holly is to begin circuit training (birth ball, lunges and walking). Daddy is to help with a series of breathing exercises, mantras, singing silly songs and giving massages. Family is to continue with show of support through messages of love and encouragement.

So far Holly has begun stage 1 of her circuit training and contractions appear to be getting closer together (hooray!!). Currently about 4mins. However contractions still lacking intensity. Dad is nearly at hospital. Further progress report to follow.

By the time I’d made it back to the hospital it was visitation hours so I met your mother at her bed in the pre-labour ward. She had managed a bit of rest and had begun a series of lunges and birth ball exercises. It seemed to be working. Her contractions were now getting closer at approximately 5 to 8 minutes apart. We ordered some takeout dinner and continued with more of the same, chilling between contractions. It was almost 8pm exactly when we noticed a wet patch on the bed where your mum had been sitting. Her waters had broken...

I was kicked out of the pre-labour ward shortly afterwards as visitation hours have elapsed. The doctor came to confirm that your mother's waters had broken at the same time. I took the opportunity to message the family:

Progress report of Operation Buzz Lightyear

Liam’s birthday is confirmed - He will be born in the next 24hours!! Some time tomorrow of Friday 14th September 2018 (his due date). Buzz Lightyear it seems is very punctual!

Holly’s waters broke at approximately 8pm local time. This was confirmed by the doctor only 15mins ago! Contractions appear to be getting closer and a little stronger although progress on that front has been a little slow. It should now progress quicker. They will wait 12 hours till 8am. If labour hasn’t progressed sufficiently by then Holly will be induced.

The plan is to continue with efforts to help labour along. We are bracing ourselves for a long night ahead, but we will succeed in helping Liam here safely.

We are ready...

Because your mother’s waters had broken but her contractions had yet to progress we had two options: 1) wait to see if things progress naturally or 2) go straight for induction. We decided to wait as we were both hopeful that things would progress naturally. They kept your mother in the pre-labour ward for monitoring. I was booted out around 9pm. I earmarked a slightly more comfortable bench (as opposed to the row of chairs I’d slept on last night) to make camp out in the corridor again. By 11pm with little to no progress I tried to get some rest. It was another long night...

T-Minus 18 Hours

Following 4 hours or so of rather lousy sleep, I was woken up by a message from your mother. We were being transferred to the labour ward. A midwife came out to the corridor and directed me to gather my things and follow her and Holly. Finally some movement, I thought. I was shown to a locker room and handed a purple robe to put on which I promptly did, back to front!

When I made it to the labour room Holly told me we had been transferred because they needed her bed in the pre-labour ward, not because her labour had progressed. Her cervix had barely dilated. My excitement proved premature. Still I was grateful we finally had our own room together. I also had a large cushioned chair to sleep on instead of the corridor bench. At that stage it felt like I’d been upgraded to a king sized bed.

We each managed another 3 hours or so of sleep before talking to the doctor again at around 7am. Hollys contractions having still failed to progress left us with one option: induction. They scheduled it to begin at 8:30am. I popped out before they began to message the family and grab some breakfast. Use of phones in the labour ward was prohibited.

Good morning all. It seems ‘add oil’ is needed now more than ever. Things haven’t progressed enough overnight and so they are gearing up to induce Holly shortly. I managed to rest reasonably well during the night considering - I found a bench to sleep on initially then we were transferred to the labour ward around 3am which meant I got a nice comfy chair to sleep in instead. Upgrade!! Holly on the other hand has been having very broken sleep at most because of contractions but she has managed some. Problem is she is beginning to show her fatigue after 3 nights. Quite the journey it has turned out to be! Anyway full speed ahead. Induction will begin shortly whereby they will introduce oxytocin to her system to speed things up. Sometimes considerably, sometimes not so. Can take from 10 till 20 hours still we have been told! Anyway let’s hope not. Epidural is a serious option at this point because she’s so tired but will give her best shot first. If it doesn’t work, caesarian isn’t out of the question. We shall see. I can’t use my phone in the labour ward but will try to find moments to pop out and keep you all updated. All our love from this end. Keeping all fingers and toes crossed. Xxxxx

("Add Oil" is a reference to the Chinese expression "Ga Yau" - literally meaning "Add Oil" - a common phrase for encouragement and cheering on. We had discussed it previously on the chat explaining the phrase to my parents who had never heard the term before. In response to Holly’s Mum saying add oil. My father said to add a barrel!)

So began one of the most psychologically torturous days of my entire life. I headed back to the labour ward in good spirits. I had to be strong for your mother. I felt good. I had a purpose. I was ready, I told myself.

Once they began administering the oxytocin it wasn’t long before Holly’s contractions started to increase considerably in intensity. As she bounced up and down on the birth ball or switched to stomping her feet, I spent my time massaging her back or judo chopping her shoulders while chanting various phrases and groaning ahhhhh louder with her through each contraction. Otherwise I simply counted one two three, one two three repeatedly till the contraction subsided. Basically I tried anything to keep her distracted from the increasing pain.

From time to time I stepped outside to gather my wits. Seeing your mother in so much pain hit me hard. I kept telling myself to keep going, to remain strong. What your mother was going through was far harder and I knew how much she wanted a drug-free, vaginal birth for you. I was determined to give her the best chance. I tried not to show any weakness on my part.

At midday, the doctor came back to check on Holly’s progress. Mercifully, induction appeared to have taken effect and Holly's cervix dilated 2cm. The doctors were pleased with the progress and happy to continue. We were hopeful we wouldn’t have go the Caesarian route. They doubled the dosage of oxytocin before leaving the room to help speed things along further. The doctor said he would come back to check again in about 3 hours. I stepped outside to send another message:

Ok some good news. Induction seems to be working. Holly has been working tirelessly for the last 4 hours since induction. Just had the first check up and they are very happy with the progress so are optimistic we won’t have to go the caesarian route. Still a way to go though. They’ve upped the dosage and Holly’s contractions are increasing in both intensity and frequency. We think things are finally starting to happen. They will do another check up in 4 hours. I’ll get back to you then with more news. You can all be extremely proud of Holly. She is a hero. No meds or pain relief required so far. I’ll ttyl. Lots of love. Xxx

When I got back, your mother and I continued with our routine of using the birth ball whilst I chanted and gave her shoulder massages. Your mother with all her courage managed to power through for another hour or so before it became apparent our labour pain management techniques were no longer going to cut it. Holly’s demeanour had changed from the morning. It broke my heart. I’d felt like I‘d been able to help your mother up till then, but when she no longer responded to anything I tried to distract her with, I couldn’t help but feel like I had somehow failed her. The reality was, given she had to be induced (which made the contractions far more severe), coupled with the sheer exhaustion of having been through 3 days of labour, it was nothing short of a miracle she hadn’t asked sooner!

Eventually she confided that she needed some form of pain relief and asked to see the doctor. I looked her in the eye and told her how proud I was of her, my voice trembling as I did. I struggled to fight back the tears. The day had taken its toll on me as well.

Following a brief discussion on options, we elected that an epidural was best. It didn’t take long for the doctor to return with the anaesthesiologist. I was told to wait outside while they administered the epidural. I took the opportunity to update the family. The time was 2:30pm.

Update. The decision has been taken for Holly to have an epidural. Induction of labour typically results in far more intense contractions than normal labour and after six hours since it started Holly needs a rest. They were coming very regularly before I left the room with little break in between. All this on top of almost no sleep in 2 days and having had contractions since Tuesday evening. She made the decision on her own. I gave her my full support. Not that I told her but from a psychological standpoint I’m massively relieved.

The risk of side effects to Holly are very small and shouldn’t affect the baby at all but it will reduce the pain by about 70%. It doesn’t increase the chance of having a Caesarian but does increase chances of having to use forceps or vacuum to help Liam out because of reduced feeling (which can leave some marks or swelling on his head for a few days after birth) That’s about it. The procedure is being administered now. I’ve taken the opportunity to get some food.

The upside on top of much more comfort for Holly is she should relax which can help things along even further. I know we all want that. Anyway we feel this is definitely the right decision for us at this stage of the journey.

Progress however small is progress. We move forward.

Love to all. I’ll text again in a few hours xxx

When I returned to the room Holly had a relaxed smile. “Why doesn’t everybody have epidurals?” she said, slurring her words. “It’s soooooo nice...” We both had a good laugh. Your mother then fell asleep immediately. Feeling less than fresh myself, I slumped in the chair next to her bed and dozed off.

A couple of hours later the doctors came back for another checkup. She was now 5cm dilated and well on her way. We were hoping she was more dilated but the doctors said once we pass 3cm things should move a lot quicker. Thankfully they weren’t wrong. The doctors told us they would be back again in a couple of hours for a final check up. The time was approximately 6pm. I went to grab a coffee and message the family once more:

Further update.

Epidural appears to have been a godsend! Holly went straight to sleep as soon as it took affect and is immeasurably happier now. We just had our second check up following induction. She is now 5cm dilated. Once she gets to 10 we begin the pushing phase of labour which typically lasts a couple of hours. She was only 2cm at last check and only 1cm despite everything before induction so progress has been huge! They said once past 3cm things start to happen a lot quicker. We think the epidural helping her to relax may be the reason why! A good decision it seems. My support role duties are much more relaxed now that Holly has a very smiley face in bed. I also managed another nap. Having a coffee now and a quick freshen up before I go back. Doctor wants to check again in another hour or two. Not quite the home stretch yet but not too far away. Light at the end of the tunnel or should I say, Liam at the end of the tunnel? Love to all. Xxxx

The next couple of hours were spent reading to Holly about the pushing phase of labour - what to expect and how to prepare for it. It was particularly important she visualised how she should push given she now had much less feedback (feeling) because of the epidural. She’d done her homework of course, I just felt it might be useful to recap and to help her get into the right frame of mind.

Shortly before the doctor came in for Holly’s final checkup the midwife who had been on duty the previous night spotted me in the hallway on the way to the toilet. She had finished her shift early that morning and gone home to rest during the day. She had just returned to take on the night shift again.

“Holly is still here?” she said, clearly surprised. “Yes”, I sighed. “Ok, I’m going to check on her”. She marched off to see Holly.

At 8pm the doctor came to check on Holly once more. The same midwife approached me. “Holly is now fully dilated. The doctor has scheduled the pushing phase to begin at 10:30. We need to wait till she feels the need to push. Till then we are going to slowly wean Holly off the epidural so she can feel what’s going on to help with the pushing.” I thanked her before she marched off again. I messaged the family one last time to tell them the same. They didn’t hear from me again till you were born...

As Holly was weaned from her epidural over the next two hours her physical discomfort continued to increase and my role keeping her distracted from the pain resumed. It was a little trickier now she was confined to the bed. I resorted to thumping the bottom of her feet through each contraction to give her a different sensation to focus on.

Holly told me she had this image of you running in the undercover walkway holding a red balloon next to where we live. She had been using it to keep her going. I smiled and told her to keep on using it. That will be our future. I said I’d been using the image of her holding you for the very first time as my inspiration and that we were so nearly there. Only a little longer to go. I was so overwhelmed with pride for my most courageous wife.

Just before 10pm a midwife came to talk to Holly. She spoke to her in Cantonese. Your mother then translated. She talked to her about what to expect and how she should push - similar to what we had gone over earlier. She did another checkup. “He has lots of hair”, she said smiling. It was all beginning to feel very real.

T-Minus 20 Minutes

Shortly before 10:30pm an army of midwives, doctors and trainees who had previously asked if they could witness the birth swarmed into the labour room - prepping the bed, resuscitation table and delivery area. I was told to stand by Holly’s head between the bedside and the window. My role had been reduced to that of a supportive spectator. I felt a little useless - truth be told - but I remained focused. I was still here to support your mother and whatever happens I had to be strong. I placed my hand on top of hers as they adjusted her position and the bed. Then I kissed her head. This was it. It didn’t take long till everyone was ready to go and we began.

They had completely weaned Holly off the epidural but she still had some reduced feeling so the doctor calmly explained to her once more how and when she should push. She also explained that because 24 hours had elapsed since Holly's waters had broken that Liam would have to be taken to the special care unit after he was born. This was due to the increased risk of infection - it was standard procedure in these cases to run a course of antibiotics on the newborn. We would still get an hour with him before they took him down and it was only a precaution, we were reassured. Things didn’t quite work out like that.

As the next (or what felt like the five-millionth) contraction came, all eyes turned to Holly. The doctor told her to push hard while the surrounding midwives and interns in unison shouted words of encouragement. “Ga Yao” were the predominant words of choice. I chimed in a few contractions later with the same phrase causing some amusement among the staff. I had meant it sincerely but I think the sight of a British man shouting words of encouragement in Cantonese was clearly unusual to them. Either that or my pronunciation was terrible...

As each contraction came, your mother didn’t once show her fatigue. Her resolve over the past three days had been incredible, but to see her determination and effort during this last crucial phase was extraordinary. It was clear the doctors were very pleased with the progress your mother was making. She had the technique nailed from the offset despite the lack of feeling. Not for the first time that day I was so proud.

Things carried on more or less the same for the next ten minutes or so before things became a little more serious. About 5 minutes before you were born your heart rate dropped considerably - far more than it had during previous contractions. You were in distress. The doctor demonstrated amazing calm as she relayed the information to Holly. “We need to speed things up so I’m going to make a small cut ok?” Holly nodded. “I’ll need you to really push after, when I say, ok?” She nodded again. Whatever it took your mother was prepared.

The next few moments happened quickly. "Ga Yau" and "push push push" were shouted with increased volume through each contraction following the episiotomy. At the same time your mother didn’t let up. She came through for you in spades. She really did. I’m not sure how aware your mother was of the situation, but the staff were clearly acting with a certain seriousness about them. The doctor informed Holly that she was going to use forceps to help things along further. Once again your mother nodded her agreement. Whatever it took.

Within a matter of minutes the top of your head finally poked out followed quickly by the rest of it. A full head of hair it certainly was! Seconds later the rest of your body was yanked free before the doctor somewhat unceremoniously plonked you onto your mother's abdomen. It was exactly 22:49 pm on September 14th 2018. The next few moments and the first few moments of your life, were the scariest of my mine.

You came out cold, a mixture of blue and purple in colour. I had expected to cut your umbilical cord but there was no time for that. In fact there was no time for a lot of what I had expected following your birth. The staff acted quickly. Your cord was cut by one of the midwives before you were whisked away to the resuscitation table. In the interim your skin colour changed rapidly to a warm pink which provided me some relief. Your unconscious state, however, did not.

Once placed on the resuscitation table, two midwives worked in unison as they performed your AGPAR test. I was waiting to hear a sound - anything at all - to tell me you were a living breathing human being. I was so scared. My heart felt as if it had stopped dead in its chest. I’d never wanted to hear someone so badly in all my life. It had felt like an eternity, but in real time it didn’t take long at all -just a couple of ‘thwacks’ - for the midwives to elicit the desired response. You cried. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard. You sounded so weak, so fragile as you clung on. Clung on for your mother. For life. The important thing was that you sounded. I was so extremely thankful. My own heart started to beat again.

We had been told that the pushing phase often lasts a couple of hours, sometimes longer. Mercifully and perhaps necessarily, it was the only phase of your mother’s labour that went quickly! It had lasted approximately 20 minutes. I believe it was in no small part because of your mother’s extraordinary efforts in those crucial moments. She knew what she had to do and she delivered (excuse the pun). I can never be sure how close things really came, but I strongly believe that your mother saved your life that day. She saved you before you were even born. As for the incredible doctor and surrounding medical staff who delivered you, they were exemplary professionals in every sense of the word. Had I not been fearing for your life, I might even say it was incredible to watch them perform at the top of their game. You were in good hands. I will be eternally grateful to them and your mother. They are all heroes in my eyes. As for your mother, boy does she love you. So so much.

I had held onto the idea, at the very least, your mother would get to hold you following your birth. If only momentarily. That all her efforts would be worth it just for that very moment. Unfortunately, in what felt like the cruelest twist at the end of the tale, the midwives informed us, and with some urgency, that you need to be taken to the special care unit straight away. Your breathing was weak and you had to be placed on oxygen. They bought you over to the bed and asked us a few questions confirming that you were in fact a boy and that the name tag they had placed around your ankle was correct. Then they held you out for both of us to kiss you once on the forehead before taking you away. Just like that. 9 months in your mother's womb and then gone. Taken to be placed in a plastic box all alone. It broke my heart.

After the midwives left, a few of the trainees stayed to perform stitches and deliver the placenta. Your mother seemed happy. “He’s fine, I know he’ll be fine” she said smiling. I think she was still reeling from the huge ordeal. I could only imagine what the relief must have felt like. For me it was all too much. I kissed Holly on the head before telling her I needed a rest myself having been on my feet all day. The truth was somewhat different. I crouched down on a small stool next to the bed, out of sight from Holly and the rest of the room. Then I wept. I wept while fighting hard to prevent any sound from escaping my lips. It wasn’t supposed to be like this, I thought. This was supposed to be the happiest moment of our lives. The only things I felt were worry for your well-being and sadness for your mother who deserved nothing less than to hold you in her arms. I quickly regained my wits before standing back up. Your mother hadn’t noticed but one of the trainees had caught me from the corner of her eye at the base of bed. She glanced at me as I got up.

I forced myself to look at the bigger picture. It wasn’t what I had imagined but we had a beautiful baby boy - who was alive and well - albeit requiring a little assistance. As long as he is fine, I will be. “He will be fine”, I made sure to tell myself repeatedly. I messaged the family to break the news.

2249pm of today - Friday September 14th - Little baby Liam entered the world. He’s got an impressive head of hair and is absolutely gorgeous.

Birth didn’t exactly pan out as planned if at all but Holly was amazing.

Because he was born over 24 hours after Holly’s waters broke they had to whisk him off to the special care unit. This is because there is a risk of infection - however it is low. They still have to run a series of tests to be sure. Make sure he is ok. He looked good and was wriggling about/crying before he left. We got to give him a quick kiss first.

They had to use forceps to help him out so he will have some bruising around his face. Emotions are very high. There are restrictions with visiting him sadly. I can see him once but not even Holly can till tomorrow. You all may have to wait till Monday after the typhoon passes

(As if to replicate the emotional rollercoaster that was your entry into the world, one of the biggest typhoons on record to hit Hong Kong rolled through a little over 24 hours after you were born. It was so bad I got stuck at home and was unable to visit you and your mother that Sunday. In fact I didn’t get to hold you for the very time till Monday 17th - a full 3 days after you were born!)

After we had settled down and taken a few selfies, sans baby, we were informed that you had been checked into the special care unit. I was told I was allowed to visit you once, but that Holly was to be transferred straight to the post natal ward to get some much needed rest. She had to wait till visitation hours at midday the next day. I wondered to myself how they could expect her to get some proper rest when her son was caged up all alone in a separate ward. I kept it to myself.

We decided I should head down sooner rather than later so you could hear a familiar voice. I gathered my things and checked out of the labour ward before heading straight to the special baby unit. When I made it down a lady escorted me to your incubator. The nurse on duty told me to sterilize my hands first then I was allowed to open the side hatch and place my hand on your back. She explained why you were here and that they had placed you on oxygen. The reason you were lying on your front was to help develop your lung strength. She also explained that until you had recovered sufficiently they wouldn’t be able to feed you, as babies need to breathe through their nose whilst breastfeeding. As a result they had put you on a drip. They had also administered a course of antibiotics in case of infection. It was a lot to take.

My heart sank when I saw you. You looked so fragile and so alone, yet you were so so beautiful. I gently opened the side hatch and placed my hand on your back. It felt soft and furry. You were asleep but your eyes opened slightly as I stroked you. I started talking softly. “It’s ok... I’m here” I whispered. Then I began to sing you happy birthday. Tears were rolling down my cheeks by the time I finished. I had imagined myself singing you happy birthday on your actual birthday all year. In fact I had sang it to you almost every night I was home while Holly was pregnant in the hope you would recognise my voice and it would calm you down when I did. It appeared to work. You opened your eyes and tried to lift your head but were too weak. You nodded off again shortly afterward.

I spent a little while longer talking to you and stroking your back. I would have stayed all night long but the nurse told me my time was up. It was the last thing I wanted to do, but I had to trust you were in good hands. I took a photo to send the family before I left. “Hang in there” I said. “We love you, just hang in there. Mum will be with you tomorrow and everything will be alright. You’ll see”. Happily I was right.

I saw your mother one last time before I headed home. It wasn’t till about 3am before I went to bed. I was exhausted but it took over an hour to fall asleep. I was so worried. I prayed that you were ok. My sleep was broken to say the least.

T + 1 day

At around 9am I got up and forced myself to have some breakfast - I’d not eaten since yesterday lunchtime. After a quick shower I got changed and headed to the hospital. Your mother had messaged to say she was up and feeling ok. Just worried about you. When I arrived we waited outside the special baby unit shortly before 12. This time your mother cried. “I’m just so worried about Liam”. I held her and told her she just needed to be stronger for a little while longer. Everything will be fine, I said. It was.

After we went in, the nurse gave us an update on your progress. You were still on oxygen but you had regained some strength so they had reduced the flow. The signs were encouraging. You looked visibly much stronger than yesterday. A sense of relief washed over both of us. Happiness began to replace our anxieties.

We spent an hour or so chatting, singing silly songs and taking photos of you through the side hatch of your incubator. We then went to grab some lunch and meet the family. Unfortunately only parents were allowed in the special care unit, so the rest of the family didn’t get to meet you till a week later when we took you home. However they still wanted to come see Holly and say congratulations. Both sets of grandparents, your Uncle Richard and his ex-wife Sabrina met us at the Pacific coffee house downstairs along with a few close friends. We chatted for about an hour or so explaining in more detail exactly how things had panned out during labour and how you were progressing. Everyone had been so nervous. I nearly broke down again as I explained when they took you away. “That was the hardest bit” I said, fighting back the tears.

After we said goodbye, your mother and I went back to spend a couple more hours with you before I headed to meet my parents for a celebratory dinner that evening. When we got back you were lying on your back, wide awake and having a good look around at this new strange world. It made me so happy. I had another cry while I placed my hands on you inside your incubator. The emotions were too much. Your mother was with you again and you were recovering remarkably quickly. You had hung on as I asked. My boy was a survivor I thought. My tears were happy ones.

By the evening, while having a happy dinner cooked by Nana and Grandad, your mother texted to tell me she had been summoned to try and breastfeed. They felt confident your breathing was more or less normal and planned to take you off oxygen completely the following day. I slept well for the first time in a number of days that night.

T + 2 days

The following day I woke up to the biggest storm I had ever experienced. As if to mimic the emotion of that weekend, Typhoon Mankhut battered Hong Kong closing all transport links to the island from Kowloon and leaving me stranded at home. As disappointed as I was not to see you and Holly, inside I felt nothing but happiness. You were recovering well and beginning to feed. Not to mention you were getting lots of quality time with your mother. I spent most of the day staring out the window and following news reports as Manghut wreaked havoc across Hong Kong.

I also used the time to reply to many family and friends who had got in touch to send their love and congratulations. I wrote this collective message on facebook

At 2249 of Friday September 14th our precious little boy Liam Stagg entered the world following what was a particularly trying labour. I’ll spare you the details - suffice to say that Holly coped extraordinarily well and am so immensely proud of her. She and Liam are both happy and healthy. We want to thank everyone for all their messages over the last few days. Your show of love and support has been overwhelming and we feel so extremely blessed. We are of course completely smitten. I’ll say no more but leave you with this message from a very close family friend who said, to quote Mick Jagger “I was born in a cross-fire hurricane. And I howled at the morning driving rain. But it's all right now, in fact, it's a gas”. X

T + 3 Days

Monday September 17th the following day was the first time I got to hold you in my arms. I almost couldn’t believe you were mine. I remember how warm and soft you felt as you wriggled about in my arms. You seemed extremely curious as to who this strange man was. Your Dad. It was, without doubt, one of happiest single moments of my entire life.

The doctors came around a little while later to explain they had moved you from the incubator to a small bed and completely weaned you from the oxygen. She said that clinically you were fine, but that they had to finish the course of antibiotics which meant you couldn’t be discharged till Friday. The next 5 days were pretty tough as we had to travel back and forth from the hospital, particularly for your mother. She was up every few hours throughout the night trying to keep her milk supply up while, during the day, she was at the hospital from 7am to feed you till very late in the evening. We tried very hard to have you exclusively breastfed but had to concede to bottle feeding during the night time when we weren’t around. I came by everyday during visitation hours but wasn’t allowed to see you outside of that.

It was during dinner with my parents late one of those evenings near the hospital in Kennedy Town that I drew inspiration for telling this story. My mum - your Nana - had a quiet word with your exhausted mother. She told her that you will never remember or really know what she did for you. We might tell you, but you won’t really know. The mothers, on the other hand, will always remember. Nana was of course referring to what she had gone through with my brother and me - which got me thinking just how little I had ever considered what my mother (and my father for that matter) did for us. And not just in labour but during those early years before we had formed any memories. If she reads this, I hope she understands that while I can never fully comprehend what childbirth is like or ever fully know the extent of what she did for us, I do now at least understand what unconditional love is - completely and utterly.

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