When the contractions start early we are caught unawares | Childbirth

The rumbles started early on Friday morning. This was 10 days early, to which I took affront. We’ve been booked in for a C-section for a month, and I guess part of me rationalised that, once we had the date agreed – even written down in my Google calendar, in case I had other things going on and forgot – the baby would hold up her end of the deal. I’d like any child of mine to be punctual, so my first worry was what kind of antisocial ingrate we’d raised. The sort of early-bird weirdo who shows up to a 2pm barbecue at 1pm, and ends up drinking beers in the garden while their grumbling hosts get dressed and start preparing the food. For shame.

Soon, rumbles became a clearer, more consistent pain and it was clear that my wife was having, if not contractions, something that looked, walked and quacked like contractions. Having spent the best part of the last month saying how ready we were for the pregnancy to be over, we suddenly discovered the limits of this readiness.

We entered battle mode, hastily helming a plan. I called my sister Maeve, who drove to our house to collect the boy, who was delighted at the prospect of spending more time with his cousins and particularly his uncle Jimmy, who he would like to be his father much more than myself. I packed a getaway bag we reckoned would do us for a two-day hospital stay, and packed it again on top of the bed once my wife realised this was what I was doing and she hadn’t been consulted. She advised a few key changes to my roster of items – fewer chargers, more toiletries – and called the delivery unit, who told us to come in immediately.

My wife’s first pregnancy went over by two whole weeks. That birth was preceded by five days in hospital in which doctors produced various procedures and treatments to evict the baby, as if they were police and he was an environmental campaigner who’d chained himself to a tree on the proposed site of an out-of-town Ikea. This was, of course, nail-biting in its own way, but it lacked the alarm and haste of the labour scenes we’d seen in movies: waters breaking, blue lights flashing, legs up on a trolley being pushed through swinging hospital doors. And now here we were, in movie labour, braced for the excitement of a slightly more cinematic birth.

The doctors felt my wife’s belly, and their initial diagnosis was that she was pregnant, which was a relief, but that her contractions were pre-emptory efforts, and the birth less imminent than we supposed. At 6pm, we were told to go home and wait it out. Maeve and Jimmy told us to leave the boy with them, since he and his cousins were too excited about the sleepover to have it denied now. This he proved by loudly cheering in the background at this news.

We returned to a childless house for the first time since he was born, edgy but – if we’re honest – utterly delighted by the calm. Collapsing into our quiet bed, I noticed the toothbrushes, underpants and makeup bag I’d forgot to pack earlier and stowed them in the getaway bag before she saw. Now, I thought. Now, we’ll be ready.

Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Séamas O’Reilly is out now (Little, Brown, £16.99). Buy a copy from guardianbookshop at £14.78

Follow Séamas on Twitter @shockproofbeats

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