1st February, 9.40am
I’ve escorted the Duchess to the antenatal ward at St James’s for a ‘stretch and sweep’. The Second Coming is five days late, so the docs want to try and push things on a bit. When we got to full term plus seven days with the Boy Wonder, the Duchess had one of these procedures and later that night, a few hours after we’d fallen asleep, her waters broke and we left our house as a mere couple for the very last time. So, as much as the Duchess is dreading the discomfit of having a stranger prod and agitate her cervix, part of her hopes history will repeat itself. She’s nervous when we enter the treatment room but the consultant is lovely – the NHS in all of its human glory – and helpfully tells her that she did an excellent job giving birth to the Boy Wonder after 36 hours, and should expect an easier ride this time. The Duchess accidentally calls it a ‘Sooty and Sweep’, which lightens the mood. The nurse remarks that the Duchess doesn’t seem to have any stretch marks, despite the size of the bump. I retort: ‘That’s because she’s spent about five grand on luxurious oils and creams. We can’t afford a cot or a buggy but her skin sure is smooth.” We all laugh and after 30 seconds of obvious pain, the Duchess rights herself and we leave together strangely buoyant and optimistic.
1st February, 8.45pm
The Duchess crashes into the dining room with hot flushes and a cramp in her lower abdomen. She heads to the toilet and after a few minutes I find her on the bed, grimacing and holding her tummy. I return a few minutes later with the ‘big football’ (as the Boy Wonder describes her birthing ball) and every few minutes she grips the adjacent drawers and breathes rapidly for 30 seconds or so. I’m no expert but they look like contractions to me. She rings the maternity ward at St James’s and they agree it might be the start of labour. The supportive midwife takes the Duchess’ name and tells her she’s ‘in the book’. Get in. Our name is on the list and, if this is heading where we think it is, it looks like we’ll be allowed into Leeds’ most exclusive nightclub. I run a bath and help the Duchess in and out, before tucking her in bed for some important rest.
1st February, 11.30pm
The Duchess is dosing. Meanwhile, I’ve packed my bag. It looks like I’m off to a festival, not the Gledhow wing: I’ve assembled a book, my iPod and speakers, batteries for said speakers, the camera, a power cable for our iPhones, a pen and the baby’s journal (so I can do some old school blogging), a pillow, a toothbrush and a can of deodorant. While I’m getting the toiletries, I catch sight of myself in the bathroom mirror: it’s a harsh judge at the best of times but I look blotchy, tired and a sniffle has reddened my nose. This is before the official start of sleepless nights. I should have got a haircut because the Second Coming is going to look back one day and wonder why Ken Barlow was there at her birth, rather than her daddy. I head back downstairs to pointlessly pace around, stare into space and worry that it’s a false alarm.
2nd February, 12.45am
I’ve set up the camp bed in the Boy Wonder’s room so my sniffles don’t keep the Duchess awake. I just lay my head on the pillow when I hear her shout for me. Her waters have gone. This is no false alarm. I call Jenny, a dear friend who is going to look after our little boy. The Duchess calls the maternity ward. I go into the garage and retrieve the pack of frozen water bottles from the spare fridge – a genius idea that will supply her with cold water for the hours ahead.
2nd February, 1.15am
We set off for St James’s but we have to stop at the garage round the corner. The Duchess needs mints. I mouth my request through the glass to the night attendant, who heads towards the fridges at the back. Surely they don’t sell beef mince? He says they’re out of stock but I know he misheard. I point to the Duchess, in the throes of a contraction, and explain that she’s in labour and wants some mints, any kind, to suck or chew. The man nods and returns with Tampax and Nurofen. They’re not going to help her now, fella. I try again, point to soft mints in the window. Finally, he understands. The Duchess screams through the windshield and I send him back to get a Kit-Kat. Nope, she meant Tic-Tacs. We’ve now got every make of mint on sale and he throws in best wishes for free.
2nd February, 1.20am
I hurtle down the road but in between shallow breaths the Duchess scolds me a few yards from a speed camera. We get green lights all the way and then I’m turning off the main road into the city centre on to Skinner Lane, a sharp corner manoeuvre I’ve simulated for months. Apart from us, there are only taxis on the road and minutes later I’ve dumped the car in a disabled bay and seated the Duchess in a wheelchair. She can moan all she wants but I’m not slowing down this time.
2nd February, 2.30am
We’re in the maternity assessment centre waiting for the dilation to increase from 4cms towards the magic 10cms. A monitor is keeping track of the Second Coming’s healthy heartbeat – which visibly soars from around 135 to 150 when the contractions kick in every couple of minutes. I explain that I must have kissed the Boy Wonder goodbye half a dozen times. The Duchess turns to me and says: ‘I didn’t have time. What if I die?’. It’s the saddest face I’ve ever seen so I lean across and cuddle her.
2nd February, 4.00am
An hour ago, the Duchess had an injection of diamorphine to take the edge off her increasingly strong contractions. She was dizzy for a while and then suddenly she mellowed and told me how much she loved me. Doped they call it. I ask Kath, our warm, honest and funny midwife, for a blast. She smiles. Okay, I get the message. But there’s always the gas and air.
2nd February, 7.00am
I’m shattered. I crashed about an hour ago, my adrenaline overwhelmed by 24 hours without a wink’s sleep. Even then, Monday night was broken up with visits to soothe an unusually restless Boy Wonder. Maybe he wanted to prepare me for the return to babyworld? I say all this but it’s really no different to the Duchess and for the last 10 hours she’s been battling cramps and intense pressure on her bowels and wave after wave of contractions. This, after lugging around 10 pounds and a few gallons of fluids for the past few months. This is why men feel pathetic and women agree. If the biological roles were reversed, I reckon enough of us would give it a go. But we’d never have another.
2nd February, 7.30am
The Duchess is in quiet agony and her polite but pained requests for an epidural are becoming more urgent. Debbie, who replaced Kath at the 7am shift change, is in no doubt as to what the Duchess expects of her: a room on the delivery suite and the most powerful drugs the NHS can offer. Time is passing in achingly long minutes now. Even though we had the experience of waiting 36 hours for the Boy Wonder to emerge from his shortbread-infused haven, we’d been told this time it’d be like shelling a pea and we’d be lucky not to have it on the bathroom floor. The maternity ward seems overrun and the midwives are working flat out but I’m starting to worry that we’re being too nice when I hear patients who have been screaming through the night get prioritised for delivery rooms and the hard drugs. Just then, Debbie appears to examine the Duchess. Fuck me. She’s 9cms, almost there. There might not even be time for that epidural because we’re now being rushed along the corridor to the room that will change our lives.