When I die: Lessons from the Death Zone


Philip Gould was the unsung hero of New Labour. Possessing a unique understanding of people, he was able to get to the heart of their hopes, fears and aspirations. The intelligence he gathered from polls and focus groups was utterly crucial to the project both in terms of presentation and policy.

When I die is his personal account of his battle with Cancer. A battle he tragically lost. Far from being depressing however (though, take it from me, it is not something to read on the tube) this is an uplifting and inspiring book full of hope and promise.

By choosing to accept that death will come to him Gould releases both himself and those around him, making their final weeks together ones of joy and intimacy rather than despair and solitude.

Perhaps most impressive is that first him then, in his final days, his daughter manage to capture every moment and emotion in words so that we can share in it.

It finishes with an e-mail from Alastair Campbell to Philip, written just a few days before his death. In it Campbell quotes The Queen, from a speech first spoken in the days after 9/11

“Grief is the price we pay for love”

Go read it now.



The day I delivered a baby


It snowed last weekend, and I mean snowed. But more of that in a moment. At 3:40am on Sunday morning Charlotte woke me with the slightly delayed words ‘I think my waters have broken’. It stirred in me a mixture of excited anticipation and relief – we were after all nine days overdue. Our first labour had been a shade under four hours, quick by first-time standards, but not alarmingly so. I woke Carol and Piers (my in-laws) and phoned my own parents, then put the coffee machine on; it could be a long night.

The first inkling that things might not go entirely to plan was when Piers and I went to get the car. The moment we stepped outside our shoes sunk down into the four inches of newly fallen snow, the car was going nowhere. A sense of hope not really bedded in any reality led us to the porters lodge to see if they had a solution. Whilst Piers was chatting to Howard I noticed a car stuck in the snow and went over to help. After a fashion we managed to get the car moving again, as thanks the driver kindly offered us a lift to hospital. It only took a quick look towards Piers before we both politely declined. It was time to call an ambulance.

When I got back up to the flat it was apparent Charlotte’s labour had progressed. She was in a lot of pain, but dealing with it in her normal stoic way. It reminded me just how amazing it all is – she could be shouting out in pain one moment and then able to hold a perfectly normal conversation the next. At this point I still assumed we would be having the baby in hospital, however two things quickly disabused me of this. First, Charlotte announced that, in the last seven minutes, she’d had three contractions. Second, in response the ambulance call-handler (who stayed on the line throughout) very calmly but assertively told me to get her somewhere comfortable, get some towels (it turns out you do need them) and check ‘if you can see the head’. Thankfully it was all clear, but equally clear was that it wouldn’t be long until I could. I handed the phone to Carol and got ready to deliver a baby.

Lots of people over the last week have asked how I felt at this point. The answer always seems to disappoint. I felt remarkably calm – I knew I had to take control of the situation and be able to make decisions on Charlotte’s behalf, allowing her to focus solely on the childbirth. This much we had already agreed in our birth plan (though that had assumed a midwife might also be there to help out a little). It sounds strange now, but my overwhelming feeling was that it was no big deal – she had chosen now to enter the world, all I had to do was guide her out. What’s more we were in a safe, warm environment and an ambulance was on its way. Things could have been a lot worse.

And so the time had come. After two contractions where Charlotte had resisted the urge to push on the third I told her to let go and push as hard as she could – what felt like seconds later I could first feel and then see a little head as it emerged to join us. There was a small moment of private panic when I thought the cord was stuck round her neck, it was just a hand, temporarily trapped by her shoulder. There was a moments pause as Charlotte caught her breath and then, with a final heave she was out and in my arms. We wrapped her up, placed her in her mothers arms and waiting for the pros to arrive. Our work here was done.

Writing a week after the event, there are a couple of things that don’t quite fit into the narrative of the story – the first is my sheer admiration and love for my wife. It is impossible to imagine the feelings and emotions that must have been coursing through her as first plan A, then plan B were torn-up before her eyes. Yet she never showed the slightest bit of panic and dealt with everything as if it was entirely routine. Even better she made us the perfect baby girl. I should also thank Carol and Piers who not only allowed us to turn their beautiful home into a temporary birthing centre but also supported us in the whole thing with a contagious sense of calm.

There is nothing to compare to the pride you feel on becoming a new father, and this doesn’t diminish second time around, The emotion that comes with being the first person to hold your baby and to have actually delivered her into the world is however off-the-scale. Even as I look at her feeding now, I can’t quite believe that it happened. It is a night that will never leave me, and one that I am sure will haunt Alba as I bore first her and then her friends recounting the tale for many years to come.

Memories of Joshua’s birth – Charlotte’s Story


I have handed the blog over to my darling wife Charlotte for the day – read on, I promise it’ll be worth it.

This is how I remember Joshie arriving in the world. My account has been rather a long time coming – Joshie now being nearly two and a half. However, I thought it necessary to match Boris’ account with my own, and before the memories of going through another labour blur these ones.

I think it was a sunny morning, Saturday the 1st of August 2009. I woke up at 6.30am, having had a surprisingly good night’s sleep, and rolled my rather large and unwieldy self out of bed. I waddled down the hall to the bathroom and sat sleepily on the loo, at which point my waters broke. It was his due date, but my brain hadn’t got as far as processing what might be in store for us that day. It did now. I yelled down the hall “Boris…! I think my waters have broken!!” And my bleary eyed husband came to assess the situation.

So things seemed to fairly swiftly swing into action. I called the hospital, as I didn’t seem to be having any contractions. They told me to come in, as they want to check if your waters actually have broken, as they’ll induce you after 24 hours if you haven’t gone into labour already. However, within about 15-20 minutes I was certainly having contractions, though they were somewhat erratic…they seemed to be happening all on top of each other. None of this slow steady business, with big waits in between. This wasn’t what I was expecting from all the NCT briefings! I called the hospital back – primarily to say I was having contractions so shall I just wait and see what happens rather than coming straight in. We’d been briefed heavily on not going in too early, and given it had only just started it was supposed to be hours and hours before we got to the hospital bit. In hindsight it was very lucky indeed that they told me to come straight in anyway.

It was after 7 by this time. I had a few things to sort out – firstly I tried ringing Mum & Dad. I rang Hampstead and Mum’s mobile and left messages – I thought Dad must be asleep and Mum having a swim. I had to ring Phil the builder to tell him that we weren’t going to be there so he better stop the painter from coming round that morning. The main thing on my mind was that I didn’t want Mum finding out that I was in labour from Phil the builder! I had no idea that they’d gone off to Wiltshire the evening before with Dad proclaiming the boy wouldn’t be coming yet!

We eventually got into the car, my seat bedecked with maternity mats. I only remember the contractions becoming a bit more regular at this point, as I had to lean forward strongly gripping the door handle each time one came…and they were coming quite fast! We were driving down the A4 towards Earls Court and with an odd clarity I remember the billboard just before the junction with North End Road showing a British Gas poster saying “He’s on his way”, which he was. I wasn’t really thinking much about what was happening, and I couldn’t tell you how I felt about it. The focus was so on the moment that I don’t remember feeling a sense of anticipation, or anxiety, or excitement. Boris on the other hand, as I have been since informed many times, was timing the contractions and thinking 2-3 minutes apart isn’t supposed to be happening yet! And he was also thinking – if she’s being such a wuss about these contractions, what’s she going to be like in 12 or more hours’ time?!

We got to St Thomas’ at about 8.30 I think, and I waddled leakily to the lift, where I remember there being other people, but not caring in the slightest. As we went into the maternity reception there were various women with their assembled birthing pals sitting around. There was a midwife on reception and she was processing the crowd. Everything was very calm – there didn’t seem to be any urgency with any of the pregnant women there. I was leaning forward resting my forearms on the high counter and having strong and frequent contractions – which I only remember in contrast to the others who didn’t seem to be in any kind of discomfort whatsoever.
It wasn’t long before another midwife appeared and seemed to survey the scene and ask the reception midwife who was furthest along – at which point all heads turned to me. So we were ushered swiftly into the birth centre – into our adorable room which was bright and sunny and overlooking the Houses of Parliament and the river (though I can’t tell you if I clocked all that then, more likely afterwards!).

On first examination the brilliant, lovely and ever-so-professional midwife, seemingly impressed, said “Well here’s one to tell the NCT group – you’re already 9 centimetres!” Well that explains a lot thought Boris, and I think I thought that was quite a relief, but can’t quite remember as I was busy having contractions. It was about 9 by now. We got to grips with the gas and air and I was standing and leaning forward over the raised bed. It’s a bit of a haze, but I recall trying to lay my head down and have a nap in between each rather-too-frequent contraction. I also became rather irrationally demanding about getting a hair clip to keep my fringe out of my face – and Boris disappeared off for a while getting the stuff from the car. Though all of this seemed to pass by in a bit of a blur. It must have been on his return that he turned into the Breathing Police! By recollection, I’m thinking the contractions were getting a bit sore, and the gas and air was fine but I don’t know how effective it was – however the breathing policeman was on the case, and it helped. Lots. It’s easy to forget in between contractions what you’re doing, but not if you’ve got your trusty PC Boris by your side threatening to caution you if you don’t breathe the gas and air in properly J.

So it wasn’t long again before it was time to start getting the boy out. It was quite clear to the assembled midwife 1, midwife 2, student midwife chap, breathing policeman that it was time as I started exclaiming frequently “I need to poo!” Calm and professional midwife reassured me that I didn’t, it was just the urge to push the baby out. Which clearly I knew, but had lost the power to join up thought and speech, so persisted with the exclamations. I was pushing sitting on a birthing stool on floor mats with Boris on one side and midwife 1 and student chap alternately lying down on the mat peering up my nethers and taking Joshie’s heart rate. I have to say it was pretty sore. At the NCT classes I asked about the pain of actually delivering the baby, and the general answer was that everything else was so painful you won’t really notice the delivery bit. Not so much. This was the worst bit!! I was pushing, but there was certainly a little bit of me holding back the full-on push because it was just a little bit too painful. However, after a while midwife 1 said that Joshie was showing some signs of distress and that if he wasn’t out soon we might have to transfer to the delivery ward. Incentive enough to do a proper bit of pushing. And all of a sudden his head was out, and then the rest of him. I had expected him to be handed straight to me, but he was whisked up by midwife 2 as I was helped onto the bed…it was all a blur and I think I was being dealt with matter-of-factly by midwife 1, and that Boris was next to me…but Joshie wasn’t breathing. I think there was an air of suspense, but not anxiety in my case, as I felt a complete sense of calm trust in those two wonderful midwives. I have no idea how long it was, not long I think, but the cry came and then he came to me. And he was so lovely, just so lovely. And that’s what I said to him: “You’re so lovely”.

And then all the excitement came…. Nanny and Grandad arrived to see the lovely one. Granny and Papa arrived, having been eventually got hold of by Boris, and sped back to London at breakneck speed. Having spoken to my brother straight after the birth, whilst midwife 1 was in the midst of stitching, he then whizzed up with Philippa, Morley & Henry. Bev came too, later in the evening, and whisked Boris away for probably the speediest bottle of Champagne he’s ever drunk.

So there he was, Joshua Piers. He came at 10.30am, only 4 hours after I’d sleepily rolled out of bed that morning. He was 7lb 10oz…about average size, but so little as he was cradled in Boris’ giant arms. And after all the excitement it was just us, and a beautiful sunset, and a beautiful boy, and a sense of awe and amazement, and he was so lovely. And he still is. And he always will be.

If you want to read Boris’ memories of Joshua’s birth – click here

Josh’s Birth Day

Josh is 18months old tomorrow (1st Feb) – it has been an amazing time and over the weekend C and I started talking about his birth day. We decided it would be great to record our memories of the day and then compare them… Here are mine. Apologies for the length, but it was a busy day.

It was the evening before Joshua’s due date, but neither of us were really expecting anything to happen. Charlotte hadn’t been sleeping well so the priority was very much about getting a good nights sleep. We went out to Richmond for a bite to eat and then went to bed fairly early (very early by anyone else’s standards). The next thing I remember is Charlotte getting out of bed again, it was 6:30am. About two minutes later there was a call from the bathroom “Boris! I think my waters have broken”. There is something in the sentence that hits you pretty quickly and I was up, out of bed and running into the bathroom within seconds. C was sitting there looking excited and committed. I remember us taking about labour throughout the pregnancy and she had always talked about treating it like a rowing race – ignore the pain and focus on the end-goal. It was clear that this is exactly what she intended to do.

I had expected to feel nervous, out of control, helpless and so many other emotions, but when it came I remember feeling excited but calm and ready. Charlotte phoned the hospital who suggested we come in and be checked out – though also warning we might have to go home again if nothing was happening. And then the contractions started coming – the first couple were not too bad, but they soon became fairly intense and more frequent. Still, everything was going like clockwork. We packed up the car, got in and set off to St Thomas’s.

As we were driving along I was also trying to inconspicuously measure the time between the contractions – either I was in such a state that I could no longer do basic addition, or they were getting really quite close together. By the time we were on the Kings Road I had them at less than 4 minutes apart and, from the look of Charlotte, they were beginning to get a trifle painful. I put it down to my inability to count, and also started to worry that if it was this painful barely an hour into labour what would it be by the time C got to ‘transition’? (For the uninitiated that’s the bit where a women is between 9-10cm dilated and can do anything from punching their husband in the face, through to Mooing like a cow.)

Once at the hospital we made our way as quickly as possible to maternity. By now Charlotte was feeling really sick with the pain of it and I had started adjusting to the possibility that this might be one of the births from hell we had heard about at our NCT (National Childbirth Trust) sessions. For the first ten minutes or so we stood in the reception area with half a dozen other mothers-to-be. None of them looked in as bad state as Charlotte…this was really going to be a bad day out. Seemingly the clinicians agreed, a nurse appeared from nowhere took one look at Charlotte and asked us to follow her. A minute later we were in the quiet surroundings of our own room. I should take this opportunity to say that, if you get the choice, there are few better places than St Thomas’s to have your baby. Besides housing some of the best clinicians around (more on that later) it also has some of the nicest delivery suites around. The rooms themselves are fine – they are individual and have a little sofa-bed in so the birthing partner can stay overnight and have somewhere to sleep – but what really makes it stand out is the view. 8 floors up and situated just by Westminster bridge you can see directly across to the Palace and Westminster and up and down the river. It is a truly incredible sight. With that aside over, I shall return to the story.

So, we were now in the relative tranquility of our room, although I was still feeling anything but tranquil. Watching someone you love in real pain is a truly horrible experience, and this is only compounded by the fact there is nothing you can do to ease it. I think all partners find a way of making themselves feel helpful and therefore more in control, mine was to be (and I quote from Charlotte now) the breathing police. My logic was that if I could help Charlotte control her breathing, it would help her with her both with pain and to conserve energy. I honestly couldn’t tell if you if it made the slightest difference to her, but it certainly kept me busy! That said, we were now about two and a half hours into labour and it already looked like we would be dipping heavily into the drugs cabinet, another 9-10 hours of this was just not doable. It was with these thoughts and fears that I welcomed the midwife into the room to do her first inspection.

“9cm” she said and then repeated it “you are 9cm dilated, chances are you are going to have your baby very soon”. The pain we thought was just the beginning was actually full-blown, heavy duty labour. Despite everyone telling us that first babies take at least 9-12 hours, it looked like ours was coming in less than four! There was still little time for emotion – I called my parents again, and we continued to try and get hold of Charlotte’s parents (I shall leave the story of Charlotte’s parents builder knowing about Josh before they did for her account!) I then took the opportunity to get some food, drink and a book – I really had very little idea of when I might be able to leave the room again!

I really can’t remember much of the next hour or so… I remember Charlotte first sitting, then standing, then squatting, then leaning over the bed, then squatting again, and I remember being told off by the midwife.

Charlotte – I feel like I need to do a poo
Me – That’s it my love, just imagine you are doing a really big poo
Midwife – That really isn’t helpful

However, other than this I don’t really remember much until they started talking about it taking too long and Josh’s heart rate starting to slow a little. However emotional it was for us, and physically tough for Charlotte, it was a different ball-game for the boy. After a very quick start he was starting to get tired and if we couldn’t get him moving again they would have to start interventions. Very little happened for another few minutes and we were warned that theatre was now a very real possibility. And then suddenly the midwife could see a head! I immediately asked if he was Ginger (cue another look from the midwife). Charlotte and Joshua had both found new strength and we were moving again, and at some pace…before long we had an actual head, out and there for real.

Now for any of you who haven’t done his before, there are a couple of things to understand and consider. First, it is weird to see a baby’s head sticking out of a fully grown person and despite what you might think, no amount of emotion can change that fact. Second, the midwife will ask both you and your wife if you want to have a look and/or feel – the only right answer to this can be “No”. Finally, and again despite what you might see on the television, the baby doesn’t all come out at once. So, for a few minutes there is literally just a head dangling from between your loved ones legs. Then one more push and a shout and there was Joshua, collapsed in a tiny heap in the hands of the midwife. No cry though, nothing… Babies need to cry when they first come out, it inflated the lungs full and then off they go. But from Joshua there was nothing, the birth had taken everything out of him. The midwives (there were now two in the room plus a student) gave him z little shake, a slap on the back but still nothing. What felt like minutes went by and still just silence. They brought in the resuscitation trolley, things were beginning to look a little serious. Then, after a few blows with the bag a little cry came out, followed by another and then suddenly the boy went from blue to red… Everything was good. We had a healthy little boy.

Writing 18months later, the last paragraph has left me with tears in my eyes and a sick feeling in my stomach. That Joshua was in real danger is in no doubt. However the clinicians were so calm and efficient that it never really felt like that at the time. Everything was done quickly but always explained and we we constantly reassured by their level of professionalism. There is no high enough praise I can bestow on the staff so just a humble ‘Thank You’ will have to do.

And so we were parents! Our nine month wait was over and somebody had given us helpless little ginger boy to look after. Did I mention he was Ginger? There wasn’t much hair, but what hair existed was definitely orange. He was an incredibly lovely and beautiful little boy and bore no signs of the battering few hours he had just experienced. I just remember feeling absolutely and totally overwhelmed, to feel total and unconditional love for something that a few minutes before hadn’t really existed (this might be different for mothers, where you have nine months of something growing inside you but for me at least this was the moment where everything became real) is an enormously powerful emotion. I also felt a whole new love and respect for Charlotte, she had delivered us this most incredible little thing and had done it with such stoicism and grace that I couldn’t help but sit and look at her in almost bewildered awe.

Once he was born there was another flurry of activity. Josh was weighed (7lb 10oz since you ask), fingers and toes were counted (10 of each) and his basic responses were checked. All was good. Whilst all that was happening I was busily on the phone, first to Mum and Dad and then to my brother. Charlotte was been patched up whilst also talking to her brother! Our first visitors were my Mum and Dad, closely followed by Charlotte’s parents. Everyone was truly overjoyed, but being honest, 18 months later I can barely remember anyone else being there in those first few hours. All I can remember is Josh and Charlotte.

Between visitors we tried a first feed, but he wasn’t really interested the first few times – something that changed dramatically once he worked out what was going on. Then more visitors, Charlotte’s brother and his family and then a little later our friends Bev and Gemma.

Bev and Gem’s arrival meant an opportunity for Charlotte and Josh to rest for a bit and for me to pop out, grab something to eat and have the obligatory glass of champagne. Walking back to the hospital was the first time I had really been alone all day and gave me a few minutes to reflect on everything that had happened. Again tears came to my eyes and a huge smile spread across my face – I was a Dad!