Three things happened this week. We had some new internal doors fitted (pricey but rather nice); someone stole our blue bin (the perpetrator really needs to up their game; I mean the TV or jewellery fair enough, but the place where we put our empty yoghurt cartons?); and after nine months of sickness, flatulence and heartburn (and that was just me), Mrs Canavan had a baby.
I was furious about the latter because I was meant to be playing five-a-side in Bolton.
I was in the changing room putting on my shin-pads and thermal underpants when my wife rang.
“It’s started,” she said, “I need you to come home.”
Initially there was a bit of confusion as I thought she was talking about The One Show, which we always watch together.
‘But it doesn’t begin till seven and you know we tape it on a Friday because I play footie,’ I protested, confused.
Then she swore at me and told me not to be so stupid, and I realised she was on about the baby.
“Are you sure, could I not play football first?” I asked. “I mean the labour stage takes ages so there’s probably no rush.”
She swore again, this time with a force I’d not previously heard in our 10-year relationship - or maybe only once before, when we arrived at Heathrow airport in 2009 to catch a flight to Australia only to discover I’d left the passports on the lounge table.
It was the start of a very long night as Mrs Canavan, experiencing what she thought were contractions but couldn’t be sure because she didn’t know exactly what contractions were (how can you if you’ve not had one before?), spent the period between 10pm and 5am doing an array of heavy breathing the like of which I hadn’t heard since my mum and dad had a stalker back in the 80s.
True story this: for months they got about 30 phone calls a day from a person who said nothing, just breathed heavily into the receiver. Our stalker even arranged for people to visit us. Twice the fire service arrived - we had to explain they were hoax calls from our mystery friend - and on several occasions we had pizza delivery men knocking on our door, including once at four in the morning on Christmas Day.
‘One Hawaiian and a margherita,’ said a bloke in a motorcycle helmet to my dad, who was stood in his dressing gown, bleary-eyed, Christmas tree in the background. ‘That’ll be £12.70 please - because it’s more than a tenner we’ve thrown in a free sachet of barbecue sauce.’
A few months later the police tracked the calls to a slightly unhinged lad who lived across the road and whom, the first time I’d passed him in the street, had said to me: “Do you fancy having a fight?” to which my reply was ‘no, not really, but thanks for the offer’.
But anyway, the baby.
It went on bleeding ages this contraction stage, which was annoying as I could have played football after all (a fact I thought best not to articulate out loud).
The next morning we went to the hospital, where the very lovely nurses hooked Mrs Canavan up to some kind of hi-tech-looking machine which monitored the baby’s heart rate. I noted, with slight bitterness, that while Mrs C was given a very comfy looking padded chair to relax on, I was told to sit on a small and rather hard plastic stool. It didn’t even have a back on it. “No thought for the man in this process is there,” I smiled to the nurse. I’d meant it as a joke but from the way she stared back at me I suspect she might have taken it the wrong way.
The heart-rate was normal, but the baby - a scan revealed - was on the small side, so Mrs Canavan was given what they call a sweep.
I won’t go into detail about what this is - we’re a family paper and you may be halfway through a corned beef sandwich - but it is something the nurse does to the woman to try and speed up the labour malarkey, a procedure which, if carried out in the street, would lead to a serious assault charge.
Mrs Canavan returned moments later, wide-eyed and walking funny.
‘Things should start happening fairly soon,’ said the nurse, ‘If not, we’ll induce in a couple of days time.’
We returned home, where a few hours later the contractions started again.
This time they seemed worse, Mrs Canavan’s wailing from upstairs so loud and anguished that I had to shut the living room door in order to hear what Dan Walker was saying on Football Focus.
The pesky contractions started happening every six to eight minutes (we knew this because Mrs Canavan - finally finding a role for me - gave me a stopwatch: ‘One’s coming now, start the watch … ah … ow … oh, sweet mother of Jesus … right, press stop’).
We rang the hospital and spoke to a midwife. ‘That’s great love, you’re doing wonderful sweetheart, but you can’t come in till they’re once every four minutes’. It slightly irked that Mrs C was lovely and polite to the woman on the phone but on putting the receiver down, furiously turned to me and screamed: “Four minutes? Four minutes? Do they not understand the pain I’m… quick, the stopwatch, press start, aggghhhhhhh.”
A few hours later, at 3am, I could stand it no more (not the seeing my wife in pain bit, the fact her constant screaming was upsetting the cat) and we drove back to the hospital.
This time she was kept in. I was told to go home and return at 8am. As it was 6.30am at that juncture, and a 20-minute drive to my abode, there didn’t seem much point. But there was no other option so I did, had a brew, apologised to the cat, ate a crumpet, and dashed back again.
From then till 1.41pm, when the damn thing finally arrived, it was a long, hard, harrowing, painful slog. Probably was for Mrs Canavan too.
The role of the man during labour, as far as I can see, involves sitting in an armchair drinking coffee, reading the newspaper, and occasionally saying things like ‘oh you are doing well’, or ‘there there, keep pushing’, or ‘is that liquid meant to come out of there?’
Occasionally you are asked to rub your wife’s back, which is a simple enough request, though slightly annoying if you’ve just got comfy on the chair and are halfway through a cappuccino.
After Mrs Canavan asked me to hold her hand and rub the small of her back for about the 51st time, I couldn’t help but feel she was milking it. I mentioned this to her and was slightly taken aback when she punched me flush in the face and told me she wanted an immediate separation. ‘Now now darling, that’s the hormones talking,’ I said.
“No it isn’t,” she replied.”I detest you.”
I decided not to continue the exchange.
Finally, after much groaning and sweating, pushing and panting, the baby arrived. I’ll spare you the details suffice to say I witnessed things no grown man should ever witness and by the end of it shared the same kind of hollow-eyed look as the soldiers who went over the top at the Somme.
Mary Betty Canavan entered the world at 1.41pm on Friday February 24, weighing 6lb 9oz, and covered in an odd-coloured substance that has put me off minestrone soup for life.
Ten hours later, after the baby had been checked from head to toe and given the all-clear, we returned home, the family now three instead of two.
Exhausted (neither of us had slept for about 38 hours), we carefully dressed our new addition and tenderly and lovingly placed her in her cot.
At that very instant she vomited everywhere, and with surprising force too - spraying Mrs Canavan’s left cheek with what looked like carnation milk but smelt much more sinister. With slightly less love and tenderness than the first time, we re-dressed her and put her down again.
Our baby closed its eyes. We turned the light off. Mrs Canavan and I embraced.
Then we agreed Mary would very definitely be an only child.
Wotsit all about they must have thought...
A heartfelt thank you to the midwifes and doctors at Blackpool Victoria Hospital.
They were fantastic from start to finish and it seems to me to be quite wonderful that you can wander in off the street, be looked after and cared for by superbly professional and dedicated people, and emerge a few hours later with an extra human being in tow.
The nursing staff were lovely and put us at ease throughout. Mrs Canavan, for instance, was a little reticent about taking off her underwear for an examination early in the process, to which the midwife said, ‘don’t worry I’ve seen a thousand of them before - in fact I’ve got one myself’, which I couldn’t help but think was a rather nice way of putting it.
One thing I do need to do is apologise to the young couple in room number three on the delivery suite.
Midway through Mrs Canavan’s labour I nipped to the hospital shop to buy refreshments, but on my way back in to the ward somehow got confused about where my wife was.
I barged straight into the room I was sure I had left her in minutes before, to be greeted by the sight of a man I’d not seen before and a half-naked woman, legs on stirrups and midway through - judging by the racket - one hell of a contraction.
I thought for a moment of pretending to be a doctor but realised a doctor would be dressed in medical attire with a stethoscope around his neck, whereas I was wearing jeans and a hoodie and holding the Daily Star and a packet of Wotsits.
Instead I went bright red, mumbled an apology and ran from the scene.
If you’re reading this today sir and madam and remember the incident, I hope it didn’t affect your birthing experience too much.