As far as car journeys go, there are a few that are unforgettable.
As a mum of three boys, I can vividly remember two journeys for each of my sons – firstly, on my way to the hospital when it was finally time to give birth, and on my way home from the hospital with them, tiny and helpless in their huge car seats.
Ready to go home
With every baby it’s been a waiting game - there’s paperwork to be done, assessments to be passed and it seems like forever until they finally say you’re free to go home.
Jensen was my first baby boy, born in winter, 2010, during the snow. I was desperate to go home, but I was also terrified. I was being let loose into the real world with a baby that I had no idea how to parent.
After hours and hours of paperwork being done behind the scenes, we were finally let out into the night. It was dark, scary and there was no one around as we walked from the ground level of the maternity hospital to our car in the freezing sleet.
The long and winding road
Jensen rode in the back seat of our old red Vauxhall Astra along with me. Even though he was 10lbs by this point, he was still dwarfed by his enormous car seat and his little head slumped to the side as he slept, which worried me non-stop.
I thought we’d tootle along the roads home, deliver Jensen over the threshold, and we’d be a family. In the afternoon we’d relax with a cup of tea and a cuddle, and show him his new nursery that we’d poured all of our love into.
In reality, we’d panicked the whole trip home because the route from Winchester hospital to our house is bumpy, hilly and ridiculously unlit at night, and the prospect of colliding with wildlife or skidding off the road was all too much for me.
I sat silently in the back of the car and clung to Jensen’s car seat. In my head, it was the equivalent of white water rafting with a newborn.
Two years later, and leaving the same hospital, Lyoto (our second boy) rode backseat in our ancient Astra, filled with ‘It's A Boy!’ balloons and cards. I had lost my sight due to a migraine and this made our journey even more stressful - and all we wanted was to be home.
He was the last baby to ride in that family car, and Hero (our third boy) made his debut to our household in a Peugeot 307. This trip was perfect. Gav drove slow and steady away from Southampton as I sat in the middle back seat, peering at Hero in his new car seat, snuggled up and gazing wide-eyed at me.
Dad at the wheel
Each of our three babies were fastened into their car seats in the hospital, carried through the hospital corridors, and placed into our car by their dad.
He practiced putting the seat in and out of each car, and made sure the car was parked close to the hospital exit.
Between the hospital and car doors, he protected Jensen and Lyoto from the rain and he got completely soaked to make sure his boys were safe, warm and dry.
I still have the photograph of him with Hero, stood on our doorstep, face flushed with relief that we’d made it - we were safe and home.
When I asked my husband what he remembered about the three journeys home, he said that they were then, and remain to this date, the most horrifyingly and terrifying driving experiences of his whole life.
He told me that never had he driven so slowly, patiently, and over-cautiously as he did bringing his boys home.
Before leaving for the hospital, he'd checked and rechecked the seats - and then second guessed himself all of the way there, just in case they weren’t fitted correctly.
He’d taken the car seats up to the ward feeling mildly confident that he could in fact do this, and then when the boys were each seated in their harnesses a new worry sprang to life as to whether they were strapped in too loose, too tight, positioned correctly and wearing enough, or too many, clothes for the car.
How to plan your baby’s first drive home
There are a few things that I wish I'd known or thought about when I was a new parent.
Clear the car of bits and pieces, and daily rubbish before you arrive at the hospital
I wanted my babies to be bought home in an immaculate Bentley or Rolls Royce, but failing that, I just didn’t want to drag myself into a car filled with Oreo packets. A clean car makes for a calmer ride home.
Make sure the fuel tank is topped up
Stopping at a gassy petrol station isn’t the nicest place for your little one.
Get comfortable putting the car seat in and out
Practice in the day and night.
Park close to the hospital
Women who have given birth aren’t always ready to walk half a mile to the car - I walked like I’d been bedridden for a couple of months, instead of as a spritely new mum. If you can’t park close, bring the car to the pickup bay.
Ask a midwife to check the straps of your car seat to see whether you’re fastening too loose or too tightly
They’ve seen thousands of car seats and babies, they’re the experts.
Spring clean the house
A sink full of washing up and a basket full of laundry? If I had to choose a homecoming present, it would be a clean house.
Arrange to be discharged during the day
Night time driving, especially in wet weather, is horribly scary. Avoid rush hours too - sit and have a drink in the hospital café if you have to.
Have your baby bag with you in the car
There’s no telling whether your little one is going to be car sick, and if you have a long journey ahead of you, it’s not fun for anyone with a baby covered in milky bubbles, all sad and confused, and trapped in a car seat instead of being in mummy's arms.
Seat yourself where your baby can see you
This is their first time out into the big wide world - I made sure they could see my face and I put my finger in their little grip or held their hand every time we were out and about in the car.
Try and relax…and take it all in
This is the moment you've been waiting for - your baby’s first car journey on Earth - and they’re finally coming home.