Digby Hone's birth story
Dr Digby Hone fell in love with and married a widow with three young children when he was in his final year of a medicine degree at Sydney University. He and Liza went on to have two children of their own. Digby is paediatric emergency specialist working in the casualty department of three major hospitals and is the only emergency specialist to pass his final exams as the father of five children. His training saw him working in anaesthetics, administering epidurals on the labour ward and spinal blocks for Caesareans in theatre, places where he saw many fathers face their role in childbirth, some not as well as others. Then it was his turn…
My wife’s first husband died of cancer within about three months of his initial diagnosis. Liza was left with three little kids aged one, five and seven. We met a few months after Greg died and we got together about a year after that, after much heartache on my part, trying to work out how I would be a boyfriend, and eventually a husband, to a woman with three little kids.
Adapting to being an instant father was a huge challenge. Sometimes when things were difficult, I would wonder what Greg would do in that situation, but they’re great kids and despite our troubles, they’ve embraced me as their dad and I really love them. I never refer to them as my step-kids, they’re just my kids, all of them. Becky is the eldest, then Alex and Gus. Liza and I then had two children together, Jasmine and Cooper. I hoped that having kids of my own would teach me even more about how to connect more closely with and love all my kids.
Before I asked Liza to marry me I wanted to know whether she would be prepared to have more children and whether that would even be anatomically possible! She was willing and able. We knew we wouldn’t be losing lifestyle or opportunities if we had more kids. We were already in the thick of it. We had just settled into our new house when Liza got pregnant with Jasmine. It was fantastic.
I felt at ease knowing that Liza was a very experienced mother and had given birth three times already. Liza’s first three babies had been born close to their due dates and she’d had very rapid labours. She’d have little or no warning, with contractions starting very close together and then she would give birth soon after. Though quick, her first and second labours were incredibly painful and I couldn’t believe that she was willing to go through all that again for me. Some women love being pregnant but Liza hated it and found it harder and harder each time.
About a month before Jasmine was due I had made plans to go up to our farm with some mates. A friend has his commercial pilot’s licence and so we were flying there, about a two-hour flight to the New England area. When we were taking off there was a lot of cloud. I remember praying, ‘God, if Jazzy is not supposed to come now, please part the clouds so we can go.’ We had an awesome weekend. Coming home, there was storm activity again, but we made it home by 8pm and Liza started contractions about half an hour later.
Her contractions started as Braxton Hicks, more like tightenings. The World Cup Cricket Final between Australia and Pakistan was on and I thought the tightenings were just because Liza was excited about the cricket but she thought it was because she was happy that I’d made it home safely from the farm.
We watched the cricket until about midnight, while these tightenings continued, but they weren’t painful at all. Liza didn’t think she was in labour yet, so I examined her and found she was four centimetres dilated. I had done a ten-week obstetrics and gynaecology term while Liza was pregnant so I had had a bit of experience in this.
Liza called the hospital and the midwife had a good go at Liza, saying, ‘This is your fourth child, you should know if you’re in labour or not!’ with Liza saying to her, ‘Well no, it doesn’t feel like the others.’ We were amazed that it seemed a different father brought different labour experiences.
We watched another hour of cricket and then we thought it would be a good idea to help bring on labour more strongly so we had sex and we think this broke her waters. The contractions became more regular so we went into the hospital.
Unfortunately we got the midwife we’d spoken to on the phone. She was a nightmare. She was very blunt and we felt quite unsupported. I think she didn’t like it that I was a doctor. When we arrived I said, ‘My wife’s five centimetres dilated,’ and the midwife didn’t like that much. I asked Liza to see if we could turn on the TV for the end of the cricket. Fortunately the midwife allowed us to, despite being cranky about it.
When Liza was seven centimetres dilated she still had almost nonexistent contraction pain. We were making jokes and were thrilled when Australia won the World Cup final. With the cricket over, Liza decided it was time to get on with it and we knew the second stage of labour was going to be frighteningly fast.
Our obstetrician, Dr Rod Kirsop, was called in and arrived looking half asleep. Admittedly, it was 2am and I felt bad for getting him out of bed at that hour. Rod is an ex-professional surfer and had surfed with the likes of Mark Occhilupo on the Pro Tour in the ’80s. The year before he delivered my daughter, he’d won a big wave surfing title in Hawaii.
Rod and the midwife were talking about the new surgical gloves with their backs turned to us. Rod had one glove on and the other only half on, when I looked down and saw Jazzy’s head starting to appear. I said, ‘Rod, quick!’ and with the next contraction Jasmine’s head popped out.
The second stage of labour had been only about seven minutes long and was relatively painless until those last few minutes.
I had been concerned that I wouldn’t be able to connect emotionally with our baby when she was born. I’m a person who is led by the heart but when it comes to medical stuff I often keep a level of emotional disconnection. Despite this, I burst into tears when I held Jasmine for the first time.
Whenever I told anyone about her birth, I would tear up. I remember driving home crying. It was a huge release, with a flood of tears and emotion.
Cooper’s birth was quite different from Jasmine’s. We thought he’d be even quicker but his birth was quite prolonged and a lot more painful for Liza.
One night, at about the 37-week mark, I got home from Emergency at about 1am and found Liza still up. She said, ‘We’re having this baby tonight!’ She didn’t have any contractions at that point, just determination to have this baby. We had some hot sex as another attempt to manipulate the situation and get labour started. Sure enough…
Once we got to hospital, we couldn’t believe it – we had the same midwife! She tried to send us home, telling Liza she wasn’t yet in established labour, but we stayed. There were a couple of hours when Liza had a sleep and I had a snooze on the couch. At some stage I jokingly offered to put in an epidural and the midwife nearly bit my head off. ‘No you won’t!’ she said. Liza got the joke.
Cooper’s birth was much more painful and it was difficult to see Liza in such pain. I kept turning up the gas and did all I could to help her. It was beneficial for me to have seen a number of guys being supportive to their wives in the past. I stayed close, held her hand, rubbed her back and communicated with her so I could see how she was feeling.
As part of my training I did a year of anaesthetics as well as an obstetrics and gynaecology term so I have seen over a hundred Caesareans. It’s pretty weird when you’ve given a woman a spinal for a Caesarean and she’s having her abdomen cut open, just chatting away without feeling any pain from what’s going on below.
There were times when I was called to give an epidural to a woman in labour but found that she was too advanced to have one safely. It’s incredibly difficult to keep the patient still when contractions are so close together. Some women hold out for the doctor to get there to put in their epidural and when you have to say no, you’ll get death stares, but then ten or twenty minutes later they’ve delivered their baby.
Sometimes a midwife will call me and say, ‘This woman is asking for an epidural but she’s progressing nicely so can you just take your time?’
Some fathers just don’t know what to do with themselves at the birth. They sit well away from their partner with no affection or touching. Their wife is in pain and they have no idea how to help.
Theatre is definitely a daunting place. As the anaesthetist, I would encourage them along a bit and say, ‘Come on, come and sit right here and hold her hand,’ and sit them right next to their wife.
I’ve had two guys who passed out in theatre. I’d told them the baby was about to be delivered and they’d got up to have a quick look and over they went! Initially we have other more urgent issues to deal with so we just have to leave them on the floor.
The very first baby I delivered as a med student was with a young couple. The girl was only about 19 and she had been in labour for about 20 hours. I walked in and there was this girl walking around the room stark naked and howling with each contraction. Her parents were there, her dad had a video camera, as did her husband. She would contract while squatting and they’d put a mirror under her to show her how well she was doing. They were videoing right into the mirror saying, ‘We’ll have to show this at the baby’s 21st!’ I couldn’t believe the circus in there.
I continue to believe that guys were not built to have babies and put up with that level of pain. I see that every day with men in pain in the emergency department. You get some stoic men but on the whole you see a lot more bravery from women in putting up with pain. Men tend to deal poorly with pain.
After being with her for both Jasmine and Cooper’s births, I look at Liza with a new sense of respect, admiration and love.
Being a father has helped me to relate better to the parents who bring their children into Emergency. I think it gives me a bit more credibility with these people when I tell them I’m a father of five. I used to find babies crying at work really annoying before I had my own babies. Not any more.
Copyright Lucy Bloom. This story first appeared in Cheers to Childbirth, the first edition. Pure Publishing 2010.
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