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Isla Grace Nelson

It gives me the utmost pleasure to announce the birth of Miss Isla Grace Nelson.

Isla Grace Nelson

Following a ludicrously speedy labour, Isla entered the world in an ambulance on the eastbound A64 near Bilbrough services on Tuesday 28th April at 18:09 local time (see this time in your time zone).

Her birth mass was 3.750 kilograms (8 pounds 4 ounces), and length was 50 centimetres (20 inches).

Now, a few people have asked me to blog more details about Isla’s birth, notably the events that led to her being born in an ambulance and not, as had been planned, at York District Hospital like her big brother. So, here goes. Inevitably, this is all from my perspective, though as Jocelyn’s side of things seemed to consist mostly of agonized screams and wailings, perhaps those aren’t the kind of details you want to hear anyway.

Isla Grace Nelson

Call #1 – It Begins

I was working in Leeds on Tuesday. The first inkling I got that something was about to happen was a phone call from Jocelyn at 14:10. She told me that she was experiencing pains of a largely indeterminate nature, but not to bother coming home from work at that stage, as it might be nothing. Fair enough. Apparently she had been out to aqua natal that morning, then run some errands, and had only just put Ben down for a nap and started to think about what the pains might be. The conversation lasted 2 minutes 6 seconds, and I went back to my work.

Call #2 – Come Home

The second phone call came at 14:50. It was just 17 seconds long:

“Hi Ian. So, these pains don’t seem to be going away.”

“You want me to come home?”

“Mmmmm, yeah – I think you’d better. Can you make the 3:15 train?”

“If I run. Speak to you soon.”

As I arrived at the station, I wondered whether I should pick up a copy of the day’s newspaper, for posterity in case the baby should be born that day. In all honesty I thought it a remote possibility, but bought a copy of The Times anyway, reasoning that at least it would be something to read on the train home.

Isla's Birthplace

As it happened, on the platform I bumped into Ruth, mother of one of Ben’s pals, so I had some company and conversation for the journey. That evening Ruth posted a comment on my Facebook page saying “Talk about cool, calm & collected. You were more in control than me when I saw you this afternoon!!!”. This is true – Ruth had something of an “eeek!” expression on her face for most of the train ride. I, meanwhile, anticipated many hours of agonizing (and for me, boring) labour ahead before any real excitement (little did I know!), so I avoided Ruth’s panicked gaze by tweeting.

The train pulled into South Milford at around 15:45, and Jocelyn was there to pick me up (she’d waited for a contraction to pass before making the short journey to the station!)

Call #3 – Summoning Backup

Before we could think about heading to the hospital, we needed someone to look after Benjamin. Fortunately my mum had been on standby for this task for several weeks, denying herself her usual daily allowance of wine in preparedness. I placed the call around 16:00:

“Mum, we need you please. Joce is in labour.”

“Oh. But I have a pot of chutney on the hob. Hmmm. How urgent is it?”

“Contractions about 10 minutes apart.”

“Oh. Well. I’m just going to have to leave the chutney, aren’t I?”

“Yep, I’m afraid so.”

Mums, don’tcha love their sense of priority? 😉

As we waited for backup to arrive, Jocelyn started pacing around the house in the way only a woman in labour possibly can. Benny thought this was hilarious, and walked behind his mother, playing “Follow the Leader”. I’m not entirely certain how much this helped Jocelyn’s situation – by this time most of the sounds emanating from her mouth were primeval groans. I just kept out of the way, and tweeted again.

Call #4 – We’re Coming In

When my mum arrived at ours around 17:00, I instinctively went to make her a cup of tea, and a drink for myself. It was at this point that the pacing, grunting, Jocelyn, stopped holding everything in and found her voice again.

“Call the hospital. Call the hospital. Need to go in,” she said, stabbing a forefinger at her green NHS notes. I did as I was told.

“Hello, my wife is in labour, and we’d like to come in, please,” I politely told the lady who answered the maternity ward phone.

“Well, you’re very direct and straight to the point!” she curtly replied. I hadn’t realised that I would be expected to make small talk. “Can I at least have some details?”

After providing the details requested (including “can I have a number beginning with ‘D’” – what kind of number begins with ‘D’ I wondered? Hexadecimal? I decided not to pursue that discussion at the present) she asked to speak to Jocelyn. I don’t know what they talked about – Joce just said “yes” three or four times, then put the phone down and told me we were to go to the hospital immediately. I was a tad disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to drink the cup of coffee that I’d just made myself, but thought it wise to keep this thought to myself, too.

Call #5 – 999

Google maps tells me that the 17.3 mile journey from our home to York District Hospital takes around 33 minutes. It’s strange, in my head I always think of it as being much shorter, I don’t know why. On this particular day, travelling at rush hour, it would have taken us even longer, due to heavy traffic and road works.

Ian and Isla

By the time we were just a couple of miles from home, Jocelyn was screaming almost continually. Glancing at my watch as I drove, I timed the contractions to be three minutes apart, then reasoned with myself that I must have made a mistake and forgotten the original location of the minute hand – surely eight minutes would be more appropriate at this stage? But then the subsequent contraction came another three minutes hence, leaving lit
tle doubt. I didn’t share these timings with Jocelyn, but I’m sure she was well aware of the immediacy of the situation.

My heart sank when we reached the A64 to find the eastbound carriageway moving at a snail’s pace. We trundled along for a mile or so, before Jocelyn spoke the truism that I’d not dared admit to myself:

“We’re not going to make it to the hospital. You’re going to have to call 999.”

Now, I’ve never had cause to phone 999 before. I had flashbacks to primary school assemblies wherein visiting police constables soberly explained the problems caused by hoax calls, and made it crystal clear that we should only think about dialling 999 if we were on the verge of death itself, lest we would surely go to hell, or at the very least be grounded for a good few weeks. These sessions obviously had a big influence on me, and I briefly hypothesised about an alternative solution to our problem, such as trying to force a route between the two lanes of near-stationary traffic. Jocelyn’s response came in the form of another anguished scream, and at 17:31 I placed the call. Mercifully my mobile had a charge, a signal, and Windows Mobile 6.1 hadn’t decided to crash when I wasn’t looking. Here’s how the conversation began:

“Emergency, which service please?”


“Ambulance, can you tell me the number you’re calling from?”

“07901 828483”

“What’s the address to which you need an ambulance sent?”

“I’m travelling eastbound on the A64, east of Tadcaster. My wife is in labour, we’re trying to reach York hospital but we’re not going to get there in time.”

“OK. I need to figure out exactly where you are. Have you gone over the river?”

“Er, I’m not sure”. I wasn’t certain to which river she was referring (Ouse, Foss, Wharf?) and I couldn’t remember which was which anyway, so it seemed futile asking.

“Is there a lay-by or somewhere you can pull off the road and park?”

“Er… yes, we’re coming up to a small exit road now. Signed to Catterton and Healaugh.”

At this stage I was now glad that I’d made the call. The patient, calm lady on the other end of the phone told me to get off the A64, stop the car, put my hazards on, and await the assistance which was on the way. I used the “Where Am I?” TomTom functionality to confirm my location, and confirmed the colour and make of our vehicle. Then the operator told me I should “prepare and reassure my wife”. I think my efforts in respect of this task resulted in an epic fail.


Jocelyn and Isla

After 9 minutes and 34 seconds the cavalry arrived, in the form of a down-to-earth Yorkshire chap in an ambulance responder vehicle. His initial words, on handing Jocelyn some nitrous oxide, were “There you go love, cop a load of that. Suck it in, there’s plenty!”. On being told that Jocelyn’s waters hadn’t broken, and nor was there any sign of a head, he frowned in my general direction, seemingly giving the impression that we were wasting his time, and I felt certain that he would dob me in to Mrs Lound, my primary school head teacher.

“Weren’t you listening during assembly, Ian?” I envisaged her asking me sternly, as she proceeded to instruct me, a grown man of 33, to stand on the naughty steps of a school building that had long since been demolished.

Then he glanced at his watch for a second time, and it seemed to dawn on him that, broken waters or not, contractions of only a minute apart indicate an imminent birth. He confirmed with the disembodied voices on his radio that an ambulance was on its way, before glancing up and down the length of our shiny Toyota Verso.

“What reg’ is this?” he asked me.

“Too new!” I shouted back, and he grinned back at me.

“We’d better get an ambulance then, hadn’t we?” he replied.

The ambulance duly arrived, and Jocelyn was transferred into it. I abandoned the Verso and joined her. The all-female crew, Jo and Jo, told us that the plan was to try to reach York Hospital. Being safety-conscious ladies, they instructed me to sit down and put a seatbelt on, leaving me unable to offer much support over and above shouted encouragements and gripping Jocelyn’s ankle supportively. Not for the first time that evening, I began to think that I probably wasn’t helping much.

Jocelyn and Isla

We’d only got a mile or so down the A64 before another blood-curdling cry and waters breaking all over the ambulance caused the crew to abandon all plans of reaching York Hospital in favour of delivering the baby at the side of the road, near to the services at Bilbrough top. From this point on, everything happened in double-quick time, and Isla Grace came into the world at 18:09.

We later learned that Isla was only the second baby that Jo and Jo had delivered in nine years of manning an ambulance. I wouldn’t have guessed; they seemed to know exactly what they were doing, and exuded an air of professionalism at all times. I was so thankful that we’d called the emergency services. Everyone grumbles occasionally about the enormous tax burden of the NHS, but there’s no denying that, in one’s hour of need, they really come through. God bless the Yorkshire Ambulance NHS Trust.

The high quality service continued as Isla and I transferred into a second ambulance whilst Jocelyn travelled ahead in the original vehicle. After checkups and a few stitches, Jocelyn was discharged from hospital later that evening. I took a £30 taxi ride to recover the Verso, we popped into a McDonald’s drive-thru for our supper, and we were all home and safely tucked up in bed by midnight.

It’s not an experience any of us want to relive, but as the bard said, All’s Well That Ends Well. And it’s a great story to tell Isla in a few years time.

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