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The title of this story was what my wife told me during an early morning phone call while I was away for work in Perth, Western Australia. At the time of this story, my wife and I and our eldest daughter were living in Adelaide, South Australia. My wife, Lisa was heavily pregnant but wasn’t due for over 3 weeks. I had been away for 4 days and I was due to fly home that afternoon. With a little over 3 weeks left to go I thought no problems with the schedule. How wrong was I!
Here is the story of my mad dash home the day my youngest daughter, Lara was born.
12.45am Perth time, February 8, 2005.
I had just jumped into bed after a long day working. My usual pre-bed routine was to put my phone on vibrate as the usual east coast phone calls would start coming in at about 7am local time. My head office was in Brisbane which is 2 hours in front of Perth time. As I wouldn’t be rising until after head office started clicking into gear, I always kept my phone on vibrate during my Perth trips to avoid any early morning wake up calls, especially tonight, having gone to bed so late. I was lying there and I had an urge to actually put my phone on ringer. Not sure why I had the urge, I took it off of vibrate, just in case.
At 1am, I am still awake. My phone rings. I have a different ring tone for my wife so instantly I knew it was her calling. Glancing at the clock I also knew it was 3.30am in Adelaide. It doesn’t take a scientist to know what this call is about. I answer the phone expectantly. Lisa informs me that she is in labour. I don’t recall the exact specifics of the conversation but I am sure we discuss whether it is real or not as with her first pregnancy, Lisa had a few falsies. I think they are called Braxton Hicks (someone can correct me if I am wrong). It doesn’t take long for Lisa to convince me that this is the real deal.
Shit! I gotta get out of here and get to Adelaide, pronto! By car it is 2,703km or a 4 day drive. Too far to start driving. The baby will be celebrating her first birthday by the time I get there. By plane and as the crow flies the distance from Perth to Adelaide is approx 1,750km flying over the Great Australian Bight, Spencer Gulf and Gulf St Vincent. Quicker option but I know flights don’t leave Perth in the middle of the night. I hang up the phone from Lisa after telling her I am coming home and secretly wishing she keeps her legs crossed. I call QANTAS and explain the situation. There is a flight leaving Perth at 6.25am which will have me back in Adelaide at 11.45am. Now I hope there are spare seats available. There are! I am then informed that I have to purchase a new ticket as because I was within 24 hours of my flight I couldn’t make any changes. Not in the mood for arguing, I do so.
I do the maths quickly in my head. Ok, she’s in labour at approx 3.30am Adelaide time. I arrive in Adelaide at 11.45am and then add on 30 mins for cab to the hospital. Ok, I can get there at 12.15pm. That’s less than 9 hours after going into labour. She can hold on. Our first daughter, Michaela was in labour for well over 22 hours.
I’m a chance to make it.
I call Lisa and tell her the news. She is on her way to the hospital with her mum and Michaela. I talk to Michaela and tell her everything is going to be ok. She sounds excited, even after getting woken in the middle of the night. She said she’ll look after mummy. What a good girl.
Now what do I do? By now it is 1.30am and I have the flight in 5 hours. I decide sleep is a must as it is going to be a very long day. Remember I still hadn’t slept since the night before. I quickly pack my things so I am ready to fly out the door when I wake.
Did I sleep? Of course not. I am excited. Nervous. Scared. On edge. Disappointed I’m not there.
I get up and send a few emails to work and to people I am meant to be meeting in Perth that day. Don’t try contacting me. I’m rushing back to Adelaide and explained why. So that took all of 5 minutes. I remember flicking on the TV and watching some infomercials. That’s some quality TV. I quickly switch it off.
I then recall a time in 1994 when I was in Darwin, eager to leave asap. I arrived at the Darwin airport at midnight, 12 hours early for a flight to Brisbane in the hope I might get an earlier one. As it turned out, I did. I was put onto an international flight which was stopping over in Darwin. I landed in Brisbane 4 hours before I was due to depart Darwin. I was also upgraded to first class which was amazing but I digress. So I get my gear together, check out and go to the airport. I dropped off my hire car and proceeded inside to a ghost town. There was no one there so that was a bad idea. Then I remembered that the international airport was separate to the domestic. I decided against trying as I had dropped off my keys and knew that it was a hopeless cause anyway.
So I waited. Slowly the airport buzzed into life. I still hadn’t slept. I checked in and got my boarding pass. Mid deck! Damn. Being mid deck means an extra few minutes waiting to deboard the plane. It could be costly.
While waiting to board the plane I call Lisa for an update. She is big time in labour and this is the real deal. I hope I hid my panic! I didn’t panic. I don’t think I did. Maybe I did. Who knows? Passengers who overhear my phone call wish me well and are all hoping I make it on time. Lisa also explained that Michaela would be taken home by our friend, Belinda. This is good as the poor thing is probably really worried and a bit of a fish out of water.
We board. So slowly.
We get the safety instructions. So slowly.
We taxi. So slowly.
We finally are in the air and for the first time, I am out of contact. I have no way of knowing what is happening at the hospital. It is the most anxious, slowest 3 hours of my life. I fight the urge to go to the cockpit and explain my situation to the pilots in the hope they might put their foot on the gas and break the sound barrier for me. They probably wouldn’t believe me anyway, mistaking me for an impatient businessman eager to make a meeting on time.
I think I drifted off to sleep. If I did, it would have been for seconds at a time. I refuse the early morning flight breakfast. I’m too anxious to eat. I keep checking my watch. The minutes are going so slowly. Different scenarios are being played through my mind. When we land do I push my way to the front of the passengers waiting to deboard? Do I run like a mad man to the taxis? I imagine that I make it to the hospital on time, arriving seconds before the baby is born.
Finally we land. We are on time. Yes!
The taxiing to the terminal goes slowly. I could run faster than this. Actually anyone who knows me back then knows this is not true but adrenaline does amazing things when you call on it.
The passengers in front of me deboard so slowly. I want to punch each one of them in the back of the head for being so slow.
I finally make it into the terminal and I turn on my phone – in those days the Adelaide airport is a shed and you have to disembark and walk across the tarmac so no mobile phones are allowed. My phone springs to life and I receive a text message from Belinda. I debate whether to read it or not. Curiosity gets the better of me and I do. I can’t recall exactly what it said but it went along the lines of:
“Congratulations. You have a daughter. Born at 9.01am weighing 7lb 5oz. Lisa and baby are well”
My heart sinks. I am so disappointed that I wasn’t there for not only the baby, but also for Lisa. Every mother wants her husband with her during this amazing time. I hold my emotions and get in a taxi and I head to the hospital.
Suitcase in hand, I rush into the maternity section. To my surprise, Michaela is still there, waiting in the waiting room with Lisa’s mum. I drop my bags and fall to my knees and hug Michaela and then burst into tears. The emotion of it all has finally caught up with me. I wasn’t expecting Michaela to be there. I am glad she is. I apologised for not being there with her. She hugs me back and is excited that she is there for the birth of her little sister. She had been so excited that at the age of 7, she was finally getting a real life playmate.
We go in and see Lisa who is recovering from a C Section. I start crying again and tell her how sorry I am that I wasn’t there. Lisa is a fragile thing and I know she needed me there at the time that she needed me most. I had let her down. She looks beautiful and is happy. The baby is not there with her in recovery so it is time to go and see my new daughter.
Michaela and I go to the nursery and that is where I meet Lara for the very first time. I look down at the most precious little girl. So beautiful. So perfect. I pick her up and cradle her in my arms. She’s tightly wrapped in a patchwork blanket and is wearing a little white jumpsuit with a pink collar. I also notice she has more hair than me already! She is sleeping soundly. I am so happy and I cry again. This time it is tears of joy. I tell her something which she wouldn’t understand. It is a promise. I promise her that I will always be there for her and I will never miss an important moment in her life. I feel like I let her down by not being there when she came into this earth. The least I can do is make sure I am there for her whenever she needs me in the future.
So far so good.
I missed the birth of my second daughter, Lara by 3 hours. This was the story of my journey home and what happened that morning. Hopefully she will read this one day and know how sorry I am that I wasn’t there for her during her first few hours.