Yesterday, Angus turned one. As any parent will tell you, this has been the most exhausting, challenging and stressful year of my life. All of which is a drop in the ocean compared to how enjoyable and exciting it has been. I didn’t live my life constantly thinking about the moment I would become a father but I always expected that I would do. Interestingly, any thought I had given to parenthood previously usually involved a child rather than a baby – almost right up to the day Angus was born.
Angus was born by caesarean section; a decision that was made in advance due to placenta praevia. This essentially meant that the placenta was both blocking Angus’s exit and left Sandie vulnerable to bleeding during and after the birth. C-sections are surprisingly (to me at least) common and yet there was still a slightly surreal feeling about it for me. So much of the talk around childbirth is of the expectancy and the labour. We had an appointment; we could have put this birthday into our calendar before Angus was even born.
It goes without saying that I will never forget the moment that Angus was born. He was introduced to us over a screen before being checked over, swaddled and handed to Sandie. At that point, other than the overwhelming emotion of becoming a father, I was repeatedly telling myself ‘don’t stand up, don’t stand up’, following some sage advice that I was given. Angus was named immediately – we had already decided, we were simply waiting to find out the gender – and almost as quickly was nicknamed Awesome by a member of theatre staff.
What happened over the following 48 hours is equally permanently etched in my memory. While Sandie was in the recovery ward following an apparently straightforward procedure, I went outside briefly to break the news to our families. I couldn’t bring myself to speak to them because I knew I’d never be able to keep my emotions in check so I sent the key details by text message with the promise of a call later. When I returned to the ward, there were a number of medical staff at Sandie’s bedside. There had been some bleeding they said and I saw for myself the startling amount of blood that Sandie had lost – an image that will stay with me forever. When the consultant also saw it, she immediately concluded that Sandie had to go straight back into theatre. I was left with Angus wondering what on earth was happening.
I have no idea how long Sandie was in theatre for. Time seemed to both stand still and be speeding by. I was told at some point that Sandie had gone under full anaesthetic as they tried to stop the bleeding, and I was given some lunch. Angus mostly slept. We were then moved to a large private room with an array of very serious looking equipment; the sort that you see on TV when things are not going well for the patient. Before Sandie came into this High Dependency Room, the consultant explained to me what had happened. In short; Sandie had lost a total of 9 pints of blood. They’d put it back and were hopeful that it would stay there. The relief to see Sandie, clearly unwell and uncomfortable but able to raise a smile when she saw us, was like nothing I have known before or since. She had multiple wires and tubes attached to monitor various things and replace some of the fluids that she had lost but there could have been no greater sight to me at that time.
From that point, until the following afternoon when Sandie returned to the ward, she received around the clock care from midwives, noting her ‘vitals’ and administering numerous drugs, as well as helping her feed Angus. I on the other hand, left them for the night. When we left home that morning, I knew it would be incredibly difficult for me to leave Sandie and our new baby in the evening. I can honestly say that when I left the hospital at about nine o’clock that night, it was the hardest thing that I have ever done. Being at home on my own was a very strange feeling; the elation of becoming a father was mixed with huge worry and total exhaustion from such a dramatic day. The following three nights, before Sandie and Angus were allowed to come home, got gradually easier but still I hated leaving them at the end of each day and, though I needed it more than anything, I struggled to sleep.
Of course, many parents go through far more difficult times during birth and in the days following. When all is said and done, Sandie made a slow but sure recovery and Angus, of course, was blissfully unaware of the drama surrounding his arrival. To many, we would be considered the lucky ones. While Angus and I were waiting for Sandie to return from theatre, it did cross my mind – for a matter of seconds – that I might be bringing him up alone. I cannot begin to imagine the pain of somebody for whom that is not a brief, irrational worry but a devastating reality.
Once at home, we could really get to know Angus and start to learn exactly what we were supposed to do as parents. It turns out it’s fairly intuitive and Angus began to develop almost exactly as the books said he would. At three months his weight was at the 96th percentile. At that point, unexpectedly, his weight gain stalled. This was a little odd but no great cause for concern. He was after all, among the heaviest for his age so could afford for his growth to slow down a bit. By the time I started my additional paternity leave – what a wonderful invention that is, by the way – when Angus was six months old, his weight was still the same. Nobody could quite work out why and he was referred to the hospital. Every parent knows that, far worse than your child being ill, is not knowing what the problem is. Angus has always been such a happy little boy (a bold statement that ignores a number of notable exceptions!), that it was difficult to imagine what was causing his lack of growth. Unfortunately, that just left a huge space in our heads to fill with the worst possible scenarios.
We finally got an appointment at the hospital when Angus was nearly nine months old. The doctor seemed almost as unsure as everybody else had been about why Angus’s weight would have plateaued when he was otherwise developing as would be expected. Almost by accident it was discovered that Angus was suffering from an infection, and probably had been for six months. The poor wee man had been stoically, and with a smile, refusing to let it get him down. Other than eczema, which for a while had been quite unpleasant but had reacted well to treatment, he had always seemed in good health and good spirits. In fact, the word most commonly used by medical professionals to describe Angus is ‘resilient’. The infection was treated and Angus immediately started piling on the pounds again. I’m sure it is no coincidence that he has now taken to solids in a big way.
In order to establish the problem, and subsequently the effect that it may have had, Angus has had to undergo various tests at Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital and will have more to come. Some of these have been quite distressing but he has taken them all in his stride – far better than his parents on occasion. Again, I am acutely aware that many families experience far worse than we have over the first twelve months, and beyond, of their child’s life but I think it is safe to say that we are looking forward to a far less eventful second year.
I have not written this because I want sympathy, or because we feel somehow unique that our first year of parenthood has had its ups and downs. I have done so because I wanted to write my experiences down and because we want to express our gratitude and support for two important causes. In fact, I don’t think Sandie would want this to be published if I did not mention them.
The first is The Scottish National Blood Donation Service. Sandie and I were already donors but our experience on the day Angus was born simply motivated us further. The sad irony is that Sandie can no longer donate having had a transfusion. I know that people can’t give for a number of reasons and I respect that but please don’t let one of those reasons simply be that you don’t consider it important; you never know when you or somebody you love will need the service. Sandie lost about as much blood as she had; it was absolutely critical that blood was available.
If you are in England, you can find out more about giving blood here.
Secondly, we cannot praise The ARCHIE Foundation enough for the work they do to help children and parents in need of medical care. From funding specialist staff to providing toys, they really do excellent work. If you are not in the north of Scotland, there will be similar charities where you are making hospitals just that little bit more bearable for children and their families.