With a leap and a bound he was free

And, with a leap and a bound, he was free

Dad at the Toddler Group: Labour Ward

This morning, for the first time in weeks, I’m going back to the toddler group. Milly, that’s my wife, has had time off work so she’s been doing all the fun things with our son. In our area, this gathering in the church hall is the highlight of the week.

I’m not late today and there’s room to park the buggy. Sam thinks he’s independent and runs for the door. I grab my bag of snacks, don't forget the milk, nappies and a change of clothing, and set off in pursuit.
Is Milly back at work?” one of the pretty ladies asks when I step through the door. She has four girls and each one is dressed in their own particular style. Two wearing skirts, one is a ballerina and the eldest is wearing dungarees.  Also various combination of plaits, pigtails and loose, untidy hair.
Hi. Yes, she went back yesterday. Did she call you?
No,” Liz is laughing. This is Milly’s best friend from antenatal group and the months until the office called her back. “We always know when you’re in charge.
Oh god, it’s the clothes again. I’ve been trying to learn about colour combinations for Sam’s jeans and t-shirt uniform. Obviously still doing it wrong.
Doesn’t matter,” she tells me. “Get yourself a coffee. Come and join us.

I know it’s not important but Sam will be 2 years old soon, everything he’s wearing is from Gap so it should be easy. Mills had an early meeting otherwise I would have asked.
 I get Sam settled with his favourite toys and by the time I find a seat the mums are in full flow. When I first started coming, I’d get the impression they were editing themselves because there was a man in the conversation. Different now. After a few months of caesarean sections and discussions about aching breasts they know I can deal with anything. Anyway, today the chat is all birthing plans and it’s not long before they want my opinion. What do men actually think? During labour, is what they’re asking.
Gentleman only think about sex.” This is Veronica, outspoken Italian who’s never going to let a foreign language get in the way.
They’re all laughing but it’s not at me. It’s fun being here and these ladies are good company. What was I doing when Milly was in hospital? I was worried, that’s mostly what I remember. Through all the months of pregnancy I spent my time anticipating terrible things in the hope they wouldn’t happen. Then, in the labour ward, the nurses didn’t seem attentive.
Don’t panic,” I hear myself saying.
The mothers are looking at me in surprise. I must have drifted into my thoughts. Not sure how long they’ve been waiting for me to speak.
I wanted to ask for help but I’m not religious. I suppose I just held my breath and hoped for the best. Turned out more or less okay except I was surprised how unsympathetic midwives can be.” I take a deep breath, never told anyone this before.
Bit different from my husband then,” Liz tells us. “He phoned the restaurant across the road to ask for pudding.
Mine was asleep,” I think this mother’s name is Jane.
You didn’t wake him?
Couldn’t. He was working crazy hours to have time off with us and the timing went wrong… It was fine, what could he have done anyway?
Each one has a different story. Baby arriving in the bathtub, home deliveries with varying degrees of complication. One tells us her partner slipped on the wet floor when her waters broke and they ended up going to hospital in an ambulance. He wasn’t concussed but it was a big head wound and the stitching took a while. He was a father by the time he made it to her side.

It seems obvious to say but men are all different and I wasn’t the kind desperate to cut an umbilical cord. All I know is that birth is scary for an onlooker without much of a role to play – so, these husbands, partners or boyfriends, what are they thinking while they are hanging around the labour ward? All I can say is that for me it was, “Please, please let it turn out right.” And please let the midwives pay attention.

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