We’re all home now. Abi, Alex and Fiona are all asleep upstairs. I’m kicking back with a glass of very nice malt whisky (thanks, mum & dad!) and some chilled out grooves. The last couple of days have been pretty intense.

On Tuesday evening just before midnight, Abi said that she was experiencing regular, painful contractions, about ten minutes apart. They had started at around 11, but she hadn’t said anything until she was sure they were really constraction, and were really regular. It looked like the start of labour. We called the hospital, and they advised us to sit tight and wait, and call them again if the contractions started happening about once every five minutes. Abi took a warm bath to relax her a little and ease the pain. She said that around 2am the pain seemed to be backing off a little.

We thought it might have been a false alarm. But false labour often closely preceeds real labour, so we went to bed to try and catch some sleep in case the next day turned out to be a long one.

Sleep didn’t really happen. I was too wound up, and Abi was in too much pain. The contractions were still coming. They were coming about seven or eight minutes apart, each lasting almost a minute. Abi occasionally drifted off to sleep, but only for a minute or two each time before the next contraction arrived. At 4am we both got up again. Abi took some painkillers and called the hospital again.

The hospital agreed that labour was properly established, but again they recommended that we wait before coming in–at least until the contractions were closer together, or until Abi’s waters broke. Realising that labour was underway, though, we called my parents and got them to head over. (We had arranged for them to catch Alex while we were busy with the birth.)

While we were waiting, we tried to catch some more sleep, and were at best only partly successful. My parents arrived at about 06:15. Alex woke up at about 07:45. Despite everything, I think I managed to pull together an hour or two of sleep, but I don’t think Abi had much more than an hour, if that. Her waters broke at 08:45.

We stuffed some last-minute bits and pieces together into our bags, and drove to the hospital: the Simpson Centre for Reproductive Health at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. (The RIE, despite being one of the largest hospitals in Scotland, appears to have no web site of its own. How quaint.) The RIE is only about a mile away from our house, so we got there pretty quickly.

Abi was taken to an admissions room, where she was poked and prodded and monitored by various midwives and doctors. At just before 10 she had an internal exam, and the doctor was surprised to see that she was already 5cm dilated. This is apparently quite far advanced for so short a time after waters breaking, and they got her transferred up to the labour suite pretty soon afterwards.

By the time 11 came around, the contractions were coming every couple of minutes, and were extremely painful. Abi was sucking down large volumes of entonox (an N2O/O2 mix) for the pain, and the anesthetist had only just finished administering the first dose of epidural. (Abi, being a freak of nature, still has sensation even after doses of epidural that would fell a rhinoceros. So she was still in a lot of pain at this point.) Normally, contractions expand the cervix by about 1cm per hour. “Fully dilated,” the point at which the baby actually heads down the chute, means about 10cm of dilation. So when the doc performed another internal examination shortly after 11, he was surprised to find that Abi was there already–several hours earlier than expected.

At 11:15 she started pushing; at 11:56 Fiona arrived.


I didn’t feel nearly so overwhelmed by this experience as I did by Alex’s birth. When I first left the hospital to make the Phone Calls right after Alex was born, I was amazed to see that people were still going about their everyday business. How could they possibly be acting like nothing had happened, when the whole world had just changed?? Fiona’s birth was very special, but it was also a lot more matter-of-fact. With Alex around, we can’t just drop everything to spend all our attention on the baby. There’s a toddler here who needs attention–a lot of attention–just to get from one end of the day to another. We can’t just drift into a dreamy eat/feed baby/sleep cycle: we have to be proper grown-ups this time round. I suppose it’s like going to the moon for the second time. It’s a big step, but it’ll never be that giant step again.

The doctors and midwives kept Abi in the Labour Suite for most of the afternoon, and didn’t transfer her to the maternity ward until about 5pm. My parents brought Alex along for the evening visiting hours. As soon as they’d heard the news, my mum and dad went shopping for cute pink clothes (inevitably). They’d also made sure that Alex had a wee toy to give to Fiona as a present. Scott and Angela and Kyle, their three-month-old son, also came to visit, and we broke open a bottle of champagne to launch the good ship Fiona Chenoweth Sutherland on her way.

Abi, Alex, and Fiona
The Sutherlands

(The name “Chenoweth,” by the way, is an old family name from Abi’s side of the family. I assume she’ll explain it on her own blog at some point. We knew we wanted to use Chenoweth as a middle name almost from the start of the pregnancy, and because it’s nicely gender-neutral, that’s what we’ve been calling the baby for the last nine months. We’re still calling Fiona Chen or Chenoweth much of the time; it’s going to take a while for us to get used to her new name. Alex has known her by the name of Chenoweth until now, so it’s strange for him, too. Also, thinking of her as a girl is still odd. We’re so used to using male pronouns around Alex.)

I came home yesterday evening. My parents were staying overnight to help out with Alex. We all had pizza for dinner, and a very early night. I slept like a log, and made it in to the hospital just after 10 this morning. Abi and Chen Fiona had had a reasonable night’s sleep, and they were looking well. We were hoping to get them both home by lunch time, but Abi’s haemoglobin count was very low, so the doctors and midwives wanted to keep her around longer for some more observation. We pointed out that we only live a couple of minutes away, so if anything were to happen (like Abi’s fainting episode yesterday afternoon–I’ll let her tell you about that one), we could get back to the hospital quickly. The doctor reluctantly agreed that, if nothing untoward happened in the afternoon, Abi could probably go home in the evening. Yay!

Martin and Fiona

Because I’d forgotten my phone, I want home to make further arrangements at lunchtime, and came back to the hospital in the afternoon. My parents and Alex came round to visit again, and when the visiting hours were over we left Abi and Fiona alone while we went out to buy Alex a present.

You see, Fiona is an extraordinarily generous girl, and very well-spoken for a newborn. She told us that she wanted to get Alex a special gift because he’d been such a good big brother while she was in the womb, and because she loved him very much. So she asked us if we could get Alex…a bicycle!

We brought it back home and only just had time to assemble it before we had to rush back out the door again to pick up Abi and Fiona. My parents headed back off to Murthly, and Alex and I drove back to the hospital. When we got there, Abi was discharged already, so we bundled her and Fiona into the car and took them home. Sweet home.

Martin and Fiona
Martin and Fiona

The adventures will continue…tomorrow.

Fiona Chenoweth Sutherland

Born 11:56 on Wednesday 28th January 2004, by natural birth.

4.1 kg = 9lb 0.5oz

At the Simpson Centre for Reproductive Health, Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland.

Mother, father and baby are doing fine. Alex won’t be meeting Fiona until this evening, though, so we won’t know how he’ll react until then… 🙂

Fiona and Abi
Fiona and Abi


Looks like Abi may have started labour.

Update 28/01/2004 01:59 False alarm. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Update 28/01/2004 08:59 Not a false alarm after all. The contractions that started last night lasted all night long, and Abi’s waters broke ten minutes ago. Looks like we’re about to head into hospital! Woo!

University top-up fees

I’m not going to talk much about the Labour government’s narrow, shallow, hollow victory in the House Of Commons this evening over university tuition fees, because it makes me too damn angry.

The bill, which gives the go-ahead for universities to charge students variable fees of up to £3,000 per year doesn’t apply here in Scotland. So why should I be bothered? First of all, Scotland is part of the United Kingdom, and as such benefits from the education of all its citizens. Secondly, the Scottish Executive is going to be watching this bill with great interest. There is going to be pressure on Scotland to introduce a similar system. Maybe not this year or next, but soon enough.

Top-up fees are a huge step down the road towards turning university education into a commodity that is bought, rather than obtained through intellectual effort. And as with all commodities, the rich will have more and they will have better. Talk to me all you want about loans and grants and scholarships allowing gifted poor students to attend expensive universities, but those are exceptions. The rule is that those universities will be populated by students whose parents can afford the fees.

A £3,000 fee might not seem like much, but it’s their very existence that poses a threat to the future of British further education. Once the fees are in place, and universities are benefiting from the money they provide, it will be almost impossible to remove them again. Doing so would be seen as cutting money from education, and that’s political suicide. But when universities come clamoring for more cash, as they inevitably will, the chancellor will have two options: allocate more money from the public pot, or raise the maximum fee universities can charge. What chancellor is going to be able to resist the latter option?

This bill is an arrow straight to the heart of our education system twenty years from now. And it has come about because of two stupid, stupid pieces of public policy. One is the desire to keep income taxes low, and never be seen to raise them. This leads to governments raising funds in back-handed, circuitous ways that don’t affect the bottom line of your pay slip, but suck the money out of your wallet nevertheless. The second is Labour’s target of 50% participation in higher education. This second policy has numerous consequences, one of which is the need for universities to offer a much wider spectrum of courses, which means they need a lot of extra money.

Individually, those two policies are reasonable, but put them together and suddenly you hit a funding crisis. Outgoings exceed income, and what do you do then? You have to raise money by other means. The chancellor could either borrow more money, or cut funds elsewhere, but that’s not acceptable to the Labour leadership. The “third way” is to allow universities to charge students directly for top-up tuition fees. This allows Tony Blair to stand up at the next election and make three claims: 1) he hasn’t increased taxes, 2) he hasn’t increased public borrowing, 3) he hasn’t cut spending.

What he has done is move university funding out of the purview of direct taxation (income tax) and into indirect taxation (taxes on things you “choose” to buy).

In Britain, income tax is a progressive tax, whish is to say that the rich pay proportionately more than the poor. In 2003/04, you pay 22% tax on income up to £30,500, and 40% on income above that amount. Indirect taxes, however, hit everyone equally. You pay the same 17.5% Value Added Tax (VAT) on a new television whether you earn £10,000 a year or £100,000. The difference is that the 17.5% is pocket change to someone on the higher income, whereas it makes a material difference to the lower earner.

Is this what we want? An education system where the rich can choose whatever university they like, but the poor have to scrimp and save, jump through humiliating bureaucratic hoops, and place themselves in debt for the next twenty years of their lives to get a degree? How do we, as a society, benefit from turning education into a fashion accessory for the wealthy?

Well, it looks like I talked about it after all. Grr. I can’t believe it’s a Labour government introducing this measure. One more reason to be voting Scottish Socialist.


The due date was yesterday, but there’s still no sign of the baby yet. In the meantime, here are some pictures before, during, and after installation of our new garden shed. My dad and I spent most of last Monday shifting earth from the back corner of the garden to level it off, and burying old railway sleepers (you can see them on the first photo) to provide a solid foundation for the shed to rest on. The shed itself was delivered and put up on Tuesday.

Shed: before
Shed: during
Shed: after

Favourite albums

While I’m on a music tip, I might as well put down my top ten list of favourite albums. I’ve been meaning to do this for a while, but the list keeps changing on me. Also, now that I listen to music mainly on MP3 on my computer, the very concept of “album” is blurring. If I’m in the mood for some Barenaked Ladies, I’ll spin up a playlist of my favourite songs spanning all of their albums. It’s actually quite rare nowadays that I listen to a single album all the way through. (The main exception being when I get something new, and want to find out which songs I’m going to like.) This is probably why some of my favourite bands, such as BNL and Toad The Wet Sprocket, don’t feature on this top ten list: they have no one album that I would choose above their others.

Anyway, here’s the list. It’s in alphabetical order, because ordering them by preference would just be too difficult.

Ah, sod it. Here’s the next ten, too: