Being of the male persuasion, I’m not technically qualified to offer an opinion on what it’s like to give birth on 25th December, or any other day for that matter. However, as a father who spent Christmas 2013 supporting my wife through the delivery of our first child, I do have a little experience.
We weren’t even supposed to be in a hospital
The original plan was for a home birth, and with everything running smoothly during the pregnancy it hadn’t really crossed our minds that wouldn’t be a possibility. A due date of 13th December suggested we'd be spending Christmas in our flat with a very tiny new addition.
The photos and good news messages from our fellow NCT members kept on coming. Baby one on 24th November, and baby seven on 9th December. Baby eight didn’t seem to want to face winter and was staying snug in the womb.
Calculating a due date isn’t an exact science
To determine a likely due date in the UK we add 280 days (40 weeks) to the first day of the expectant mother's last period. In France, doctors add two weeks and nine months. The original calculation concocted in Germany sometime in the 18th century suggested adding one year to the first day of the last period, subtracting three months then adding seven days. But there’s enough to worry about during pregnancy without going into advanced mathematics.
fewer babies are born on Christmas day than the daily UK average
Source: How popular is your birthday?
With birth being a fundamentally natural process, it’s surprising that artificially created diary dates have such an impact on birthing trends. Between 1995 and 2014, approximately 1,800 babies were born each day in the UK. However on December 25 and 26, that plummeted to around 1,400.
New Year's Day sees a similar decline with 200 fewer babies born than the average rate; an 11% drop. On the opposite side of the coin, eight of the 10 top dates of birth are towards the end of September. People are far more likely to be conceiving a baby than delivering one on Christmas Day.
This is more than a statistical anomaly or a quirk of the calendar. Part of the reason is down to parents opting against a yoletide baby, and hospitals wanting to avoid an ultra busy maternity ward.
A caesarean is carried out in 26.2% of births, half by choice and half as an emergency procedure. Then another 25% of babies are helped into the world by one of the various induction methods. So for around a third of people there’s an element of control in the timings.
That’s why the wards were so quiet
None of the books, classes or blogs can prepare you for the time you spend in hospital waiting to become a dad. There’s no way I would have ever switched places with my wife, but as all the attention is focused on her, you do end up being a bit of a spare part in proceedings.
Between the various tests, checks and stolen moments of sleep you end up running pointless errands, or aimlessly wandering the halls offering cursory nods to the other lost male souls sharing your circumstance.
That’ll generally be the case on the other 364 days of the year too, however at Christmas your options for distraction are severely limited. Late on Christmas Eve my attempts to grab a sandwich were foiled, with a tinsel-bedecked vending machine providing the only way to quell my hunger pangs.
The NHS maintains 'round the clock services'; the doors are officially open as usual. But, it's very much a skeleton staff with a clear recognition that even healthcare professionals deserve a little time off to spend with their loved ones.
There is some Unsocial Hours Pay compensation for those on the festive rota - somewhere between 60% and 88% depending on your pay band. For those who don’t fancy spending Christmas with their family, that probably feels like a nice little bonus, while for those who didn’t want to be on the roster, it’s nowhere near enough.
Martha, the angelic midwife who (finally) delivered our baby, was more than happy to be on the ward as it meant she was off on 31st December.
Apart from a few wise men and a donkey, everyone you'd expect to be there at the birth was available. From the anaesthetist to the paediatrician, it never felt like we were waiting longer than you'd expect for attention.
Even the Mayor of Brighton turned up in all his regalia to deliver a teddy to each newborn. Not exactly Santa coming down the chimney, but not a bad alternative.
The only area where things were lacking was in the food department. Having heard stories of surgeons carving turkey for patients and staff, we were a touch disappointed by the limp beige offerings on a paper plate that came our way after the birth. Not exactly the best way to replenish your nutrients after labour.
A very slow sleigh ride
With baby Betty arriving at lunchtime (12:53 to be precise) we were all signed off and ready to be on our way by early evening. Whether that's usual procedure I'm not sure, but we were probably more insistent than we may have been on any other day. We were determined to spend at least some of our first Christmas at home as a family.
For anyone who's ever driven in Brighton, you'll know that, journey times are a bit of a lottery. Not on Christmas Day. Being a carless couple at the time, we arranged a taxi and after fitting in the car seat very firmly (and checking it twice) we set off, instructing the driver to be wary of the very important passenger.
There wasn't another soul on the road. We barely crept over 10 mph, but it was a blissful ride. At home I whacked some pigs in blankets in the oven and we sat staring at the best Christmas present ever.
Betty shares her birthday with some illustrious company. As well as Shane MacGowan, there's:
- Isaac Newton
- Humphrey Bogart
- Sissy Spacek
- Chris Kamara
- Annie Lennox
- Alastair Cook
Would I choose to have another baby on Christmas Day? Having had a second in mid-May, there were honestly few differences between the two experiences apart from the songs on the hospital radio.
I'm sure we'll encounter a few awkward gift giving situations in years to come, but with the help of NHS staff keeping things calm and on course, it's just as magical as any other day of the year.