David Maxwell's birth story
Warrant Officer Class 1 David Maxwell* had always wanted to join the military. His grandfather had served in World War I and his father had been a World War II paratrooper in the British Army. After finishing school in Adelaide in 1985, David joined the army. He was based at Holsworthy before he did parachute training and was in the Red Beret Parachute Display Team with almost 200 jumps under his belt. David completed Special Forces selection and has been deployed to some of the world’s worst trouble spots, including Iraq, East Timor, Sudan, Sinai and Bougainville. To the detriment of his army career, David has chosen to spend less time overseas and more time at home since his two sons were born, births after which he felt he needed a thorough military-style debriefing.
My father died when I was a baby. He died of a brain haemorrhage as a long-term result of a blunt force trauma inflicted when he was a prisoner of war in Poland. Before I was born, Mum had a premature
baby – a girl- who died when she was three months old. After that Mum had a stillborn baby boy. I was her third child, who came out screaming, fit and strong, but my father died only three months after I was born. I’m told that my mother used to constantly prod me to make sure I was still alive.
This didn’t pass on to me as anxiety for my children’s health. I’ve seen the compatibility that my wife and I have as a strength and I have always applied this strength and confidence to our children. I have always felt confident that nothing would go wrong. As it turned out, the worst thing that happened at their births was that they both came out with cone heads!
I married a girl I met when I was on company exchange with the British Army and we settled in Brisbane. Unfortunately, the marriage didn’t last. We had different life objectives, mine being the desire for children. I was young and not as understanding and sensitive as I could have been and overseas deployment can be very tough on a relationship.
About six months after my first marriage ended I got together with Sienna. We had one date and then I was deployed overseas, and then went backpacking, so I didn’t see her again for a long time. I had known Sienna for years – she was a civilian employee in the human resources department of the army. She knew what she was getting into, marrying a man in the armed services.
We’d been together for five years before we got engaged but we’d only been married for six weeks when Sienna fell pregnant. Clancy came early so friends did the sums and thought we’d had a shotgun wedding but no, that wasn’t the case.
I was excited as hell; I was the one doing the nesting, buying baby clothes and disinfecting everything. I made sure I was there for the births of my two boys. I was between deployments and had a twelve month stint at home when Clancy was born. Some army guys’ wives have Caesareans because they can book in the date of the birth and make sure their partner is there for it, but we wanted a natural birth.
I wanted to do everything within my means to make the birth as comfortable as possible for my wife. If that meant going for a private obstetrician, that’s what we had to do. Sienna wanted a female obstetrician and wanted to give birth as close to home as possible. There’s a lot going on in a pregnant woman’s body, so I wanted her to be as relaxed as she could be.
Sienna’s waters broke three weeks early. I’d organised a golf game for that day and I had mates coming from the other side of town so I was kind of relieved when they told us that it was just a rupture of the membranes and the baby wouldn’t necessarily arrive that day. I feel bad admitting to this, but Sienna let me have my round of golf and she stayed in hospital for another week before Clancy was born.
Sienna’s sister was with us for the birth. She’s had four children and was there as the experienced female support. I felt quite comfortable with the whole birth process. I’d read the books. I was the theoretical expert! I gave her as much comfort as I could.
It wasn’t a terribly long labour but when it came down to it, Clancy got stuck and became distressed and the doctor had to use the vacuum to suck him out. Sienna also had to have an episiotomy but I didn’t see any of that. She had said I wasn’t allowed to go any lower than her waist. She didn’t want me to have a different view of her ‘down there’ after the birth.
I’ve seen some horrendous situations on army deployments overseas – dead bodies, a horrific grenade incident, bodies fused together by fire. You’re well prepared for it and have been trained to distance yourself from it. But when it came to childbirth and the woman I love, I really didn’t want to see the war wounds my wife sustained through the birth, particularly the episiotomy. Not because it grossed me out but because it was happening to the woman I adore.
You can feel sympathy for your wife as she goes through childbirth but you can’t feel empathy. As a man, you really have no idea how she is feeling.
Clancy finally came out and was put straight onto Sienna’s chest. He opened his eyes and he looked at me and that’s when the tears welled up. The emotion just hit me and I stood there in disbelief. There he was, after all these years. I had to go into the toilet and console myself, man myself up a bit. I hadn’t expected to cry.
Clancy is something between Sienna and me that is completely unique. We produced something so beautiful.
Within thirty seconds of being born, Clancy did a poo on Sienna, which was better out than in, if you ask me!
When army personnel are deployed overseas, they receive quite detailed psychological briefings and debriefings. It sounds callous, but I felt like I needed a debrief after the births more than I had after my
I took a lot of time off work to be home with Sienna and Clancy. Most people don’t realise that the army is really flexible and very family friendly. They’ll do all they can to support you, especially with the first child. I was entitled to two weeks of paternity leave, which can be used anytime in the first twelve months after your baby is born. I added another two weeks of annual leave so that I could be home for a whole month, then six months later I took another few weeks off to give Sienna a break.
Having a newborn at home seemed worse than any deployment or war zone I’ve ever been to! I like my sleep. Deployments are for a fixed time but the challenges of a baby go on for years. Sienna’s one of these people who can survive on five or six hours of sleep a night. She was also adjusting to broken sleep when she was pregnant so when Clancy arrived, she was already used to it. She breastfed for about a month but this was a struggle because Clancy didn’t latch on properly. After a month we switched to bottle-feeding and I did the weekend night feeds.
Clancy was about two and a half when Sienna fell pregnant with Owen. She craved Homer Hudson ice cream so I was buying about five tubs every week. The strange thing was, I craved the same foods as she did.
Owen was a big eight-pound boofer when he was born and after his due date, had been getting bigger by the day, so two weeks after the due date Sienna was induced. It was a much longer labour than Clancy’s.
I tried to be supportive but I made a really dumb comment. Just when she was about to start pushing, I said, ‘The hard part’s all over!’ and the room went silent. What I should have said was that the end was in sight. ‘What do you mean the hard part’s over?’ she shouted at me. At least it distracted her for the time being.
After a long labour, Sienna was fully dilated and ready to push but Owen got stuck, just as his brother had and Sienna was prepped up and wheeled in for a Caesarean. The midwife was convinced that Sienna could do it naturally but the obstetrician still arranged for the Caesar. Next thing we know, Sienna’s in an operating theatre surrounded by about 12 medical staff. At the last minute, the doctor said, ‘Just give me one more try to get this baby out,’ and he got out the vacuum.
Out Owen came! He was born naturally and the Caesarean was avoided.
The whole thing was exhausting; we’d been going all night. I sat down once the birth was over and they asked if I wanted to cut the umbilical cord. I said, ‘Holy crap, I can hardly stand.’
I noticed that they distracted me from the damage repair for Sienna and the midwife ushered me over to look after the baby. Sienna had to go to recovery and I took Owen to the ward and it felt like it took forever for her to come back to us.
We had to share a room with another mother after Owen’s birth, which wasn’t so good. Sienna was self-conscious about having people she didn’t know walking through our room. For the same reason, it took Sienna about three months before she was willing to breastfeed in public. After a couple of days we were given our own room and could really begin bonding with Owen without interruption. After some of the hospitals I have seen overseas with 35 mothers in one ward, we’re very lucky in Australia, but a room to ourselves made a big difference to our privacy and getting enough rest.
You get a lot of advice when you’re having a baby and we tried to absorb the best ideas from everybody. One of those ideas was to have a present from the baby for his older brother – a helicopter (wocka-wocka
as he calls it).
Sienna is such a great mother and I’ve always had confidence in her. I look at her now in a more mature way: she’s the mother of my children. Now we have two children and we’re a little older, we’ve been through a bit of a re-exploration of each other and our sex life, especially now that Sienna isn’t so tired all the time. It’s a whole new phase in our life together.
Even though I never had a father – I was raised by my mother and my nan – I knew I had a good temperament for fatherhood. A mate of mine told me about ten years ago that he thought I would be a good dad and I’ve always remembered that.
I craved children for nearly a decade so when it came down to it, I was prepared to change the nappies and give Sienna time to herself. You bond with your baby when you change the nappies. It gives you the freedom to spend time alone with them. I reckon a true man is a guy who’ll do the housework. I’ve also learned what not to do from observing some other fathers who distance themselves from their children.
I think anyone who really wants children will be a good parent, provided they’re not selfish. My mum made huge sacrifices for me and I’m willing to do that for my kids.
* Names have been changed according to Australian Army protocol.
Copyright Lucy Bloom. This story first appeared in Cheers to Childbirth, the first edition. Pure Publishing 2010.
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