Adam Spencer's birth story

Adam Spencer has a dicky eye as the result of a forceps delivery by an inexperienced doctor in 1969. With a great face for radio, a first class honours degree in pure mathematics and razor-sharp wit, he began his broadcasting career in 1996 when he won the Triple J Raw Comedy Championship. Adam has reached the grand finals of the World Universities Debating Championship three times and was once crowned Best Speaker in the World. While he’s never been at a loss for words, the births of his daughters left him gobsmacked.

I met my wife Mel at the Clock Hotel in Surry Hills on 28 February 2003. I saw the most beautiful woman I have ever seen walk in and sit down with her boyfriend. It was trivia night so my game plan was to help her with her answers. The first words I ever said to my wife were, ‘The actor is George Clooney and the film is Solaris.’ The boyfriend turned out to be just a good friend so when he left, I went in for the kill, pulling answers out of my arse like nobody’s business.

A couple of years later, when Mel fell pregnant, it was a tremendous surprise for us. I was stunned more than anything. For reasons that are none of anyone’s business, we’d assumed we couldn’t fall pregnant at all, so having decided that Mel was the one for me, I had become at ease with the idea that I might never have children. I like to think that I redefined fertility in our case. I was in Brisbane doing a show and when I came off air, there were about 17 missed messages from Mel with the stunning news.

When she was 26 weeks pregnant, an ultrasound suggested things might already be starting to give, well before they should have and there was a chance that Mel could have the baby dangerously early. For the next seven weeks she was on doctor’s orders of total bed rest. We moved the mattress from upstairs to downstairs and she only left that mattress to visit a doctor or go to the toilet. Once I came home and caught her at the fridge and she was in big trouble. At 33 weeks we were given the OK that she could go into labour anytime after that.

Ironically, when Mel was in labour we had to work pretty hard to get Ellie out and they had to break her waters to make it happen!

Mel went into labour not long after my last day on air, after which I was having a year off from breakfast radio. We couldn’t have picked better timing. There was no more getting up at 3.20am for me so I was sleeping in like a machine. I woke up at 8am and Mel was tidying up in a primeval nesting kind of way and I thought, ‘She’s going to have this baby today.’

She’d been having contractions for a couple of hours but it was all under control so we went out for breakfast. You will never be served better and faster in a café than when you tell them your wife is in the early stages of labour.

The entire labour was about 12 hours and we stayed at home as long as we could. Once contractions got serious, we went into Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. The midwife there was an absolutely superb woman and it all went very smoothly.

I was in charge of the gas. The only time I felt a bit scared was when I forgot to hand the gas to Mel and she turned to me and screamed, ‘GAS!’ That kept me on my toes and reminded me that we still had a long way to go on this particular performance.

If you asked Mel, she would say that I had been given a limited set of duties and that I performed them acceptably. We clicked as a team but not in a 50/50 kind of way. I can’t take any credit for the work that Mel did to give birth. However, I was there when she needed me and when she needed me to piss off and give her some space, I did that well.

Three hours after we arrived at the hospital, Ellie was born. Hers was a suction birth and just after she was born I was thinking, ‘Am I the only one who realises that she has a really bad shape to her head?’ She had blood on her head and it looked like her brain was leaking out! I was just about to say something when I realised that the shape to her head was exactly the same size and shape as the suction cup. Glad I chose not to speak.

Ellie’s birth was ridiculously well timed in the scheme of things. Mel was a full time mother and I could be home about 75% of the time so I threw myself into fatherhood like no one’s business, which I just loved doing. It was like we had the world’s best ever parental leave conditions thrust upon us. I’d done breakfast radio for so long that I was used to the kind of sleep routine you can expect from a newborn. Up at 3.20am.

We both really wanted a second child and Mel wanted to avoid another summer pregnancy so we had one ‘preseason hit out’ before Mel’s birthday. The next time I solicited another ‘preseason hit out’, Mel was feeling unwell and it transpired that she was already pregnant.

I like to boast that we really only tried to have a baby once but we have conceived twice. I like to think that there are subtle and complex ways that two people combine for maximum fertility. I feel so lucky that we didn’t have fertility problems.

The week before Olivia was born, I had said on air that if I didn’t show up for work one day, it would mean that our baby had been born. At about 2am on the Friday morning of that week (what was meant to be my last day on air for the year), Mel woke me to say she was in labour so I called someone in to cover my shift and we waited for the contractions to quicken. It turned out to be a substantial false labour, but by this time my shift had finished. The specialist said that he’d induce labour the next day.

I was like a kid who knew he was getting a BMX the next day, I just didn’t know what colour. I was so excited.

That night I went to a cocktail reception at Sydney University and due to my on-air absence that morning, a lot of people assumed we had had the baby. They were all congratulating me on the birth. I couldn’t believe they thought I’d be out at a cocktail reception.

Olivia’s birth was challenging. Basically, she wouldn’t engage and after several hours Mel was getting very tired. The specialist had to take a very aggressive course of action – not for publication – to get Olivia out.

It was a December birth and I think we had a resident doctor who had only been out of uni for a couple of weeks. When the specialist did what he had to do to get the baby out, I looked at this poor pimply-faced resident turning white as a sheet as he was backing out of the room. We may have destroyed his medical career.

Mel was a gymnast in her youth. Once, she injured herself in a tumble run demonstration on a concrete floor but finished the routine on a broken foot. Not only does she have immense pain tolerance, she has impressive mental strength. 

During the births, Mel was remarkably calm even though she was in great discomfort while she was expending great amounts of energy. If I could have, I would have given birth to Olivia myself, not that I could have handled it like Mel. I’m almost jealous that I’ll never know how it feels to give birth.

Ellie came in to meet her sister but the enclosed space of a hospital room is not an ideal place for a two-and-a-half year old so I took her for a walk on the Sydney Uni cricket fields. I was talking to one of the cricketers when Ellie just took off, running full speed. I’d never seen her do that before. It was such a beautiful moment to see my eldest child do something I had never seen her do before, just a couple of hours after my second child was born.

After things had settled I went to the shops in Newtown to get some supplies for our hospital stay. I hadn’t eaten all day so I bought a chicken kebab on King Street. It was twilight on a beautiful summer’s day, I was walking back towards the hospital and I bit into that kebab – I remember it so clearly – and it was the nicest meal I have had in my whole life. It tasted SO GOOD. I was just so happy with everything in the world.

Breakfast radio really is the perfect gig when you’ve got young kids. I’m up at 3.20am every morning so I don’t see the girls before work but then I’m home by midday so I can pick Ellie up from school and spend time with both my girls. We have them in bed by 7.30pm and then I say, ‘Daddy needs bottle and bed too,’ and I’m off to bed shortly after them.

We couldn’t be happier with two such gorgeous girls. I’m a bit of a greenie and while I don’t judge those who have seven or eight offspring, in good conscience, I couldn’t do it. 

With more than two children you’ve moved from man-on-man defence to the floating defence zone. You’ve permanently got one in the sin bin and you’re trying to cover that person in defence. We’re quite fine with two children, thanks.

I try to not be in any way prescriptive or evangelical when it comes to fatherhood. All I can say is that we’re very, very lucky.

Copyright Lucy Bloom. This story first appeared in Cheers to Childbirth, the first edition. Pure Publishing 2010.

Love a good birth story from the dad’s perspective?  Read the second edition of Cheers to Childbirth, published April 2020. Bigger, better and fully updated with 16 brand new, breathtaking birth stories from some of Australia’s favourite dads (and one same-sex couple mum). This much-loved how-to guide for dads and other support people shows you how to support your partner for a faster, easier labour. Recommended by obstetricians and midwives all over Australia. Click here for more info.