Guys, let’s face it. When it comes to pregnancy, labor and the whole birth process, we’re clueless. And we’re even more clueless about what actually happens on the day of delivery. You see, we’ve got it in our mind that things will work out pretty much how they do in the few movies we’ve watched about a couple having a baby. Your wife’s water might break or she might suddenly go into labor, you’ll rush her to the hospital speeding all the way, wheel her into the emergency room where the doctors and nurses will immediately take over, put you both in a room, a couple hours of intense “Push! Breathe! Push! Breathe!” later and you are now the proud parents of an adorable baby.
Needless to say, this is not reality. Not even close. Okay, maybe a little close, but not much.
In an effort to help my brother-in-law who is about to become a father for the first time, (or anyone else out there reading this) I would like to explain the process of delivery from a guy’s perspective. Some of the details may be different, but hopefully overall this will be of some help to you. (Ladies, no offense intended with anything here, but this post is not for you. Read at your own peril.) This will also be a rather long read, so buckle up.
Before we get to the trip to the hospital, let’s back up a few weeks. You may have noticed that your wife is cleaning like crazy or packing things for the baby every couple of days. This is her mothering instincts kicking into overdrive. See, for almost 9 months now, she’s been bonding with this little person inside her. She is way more aware that this is in fact, a person who will in just a short time be occupying your house and waking you up in the middle of the night. Plus, if she is anything like my wife, planning is simply her forte. Believe me, you’ll be glad she’s doing all this. She knows that the stork doesn’t leave the delivery sheet with you to wrap the baby up in for the trip home. Yep, the baby does need to clothes for the trip home. And diapers. And more clothes. And more diapers. (It’s absolutely amazing the amount of clothes and diapers a newborn can go through in a day!) But whatever you do, make sure you keep up with everything that is being packed. Make a list and tape it to the front door if you need to.
Okay, fast forward to the day of the hospital trip. Your wife is experiencing some pretty intense pain and you’re thanking God that he made you a guy. You have now reached a crucial point: do NOT argue with your wife about ANYTHING from this point on until you get back home with your baby!! You do and your wife may just be wishing that God DID make you a woman just so you could go through what she’s going through. As you head out to the car, it’s at this point where that list you made earlier comes in handy. Your wife may not be able to think straight about what needs to be brought, etc and it’s up to you to make sure you bring it. Diaper bag – check. Overnight bag – check. Your bag – che-what?
Yep, you need a bag too, albeit one not quite so packed as the other two since you’ll have the wonderful freedom of being able to leave the hospital anytime you want (theoretically speaking, of course). If you plan to stay with your wife and are able to, you’ll need some things like toothbrush, deodorant, etc. But (and here’s what they don’t tell you), you’ll need a book or something to do during your stay. You see, the whole process can be very quick and adrenaline-fueled. But more than likely, it will be slow. Painfully slow (just ask your wife). And boring. Yep, you read right – boring. (It’s at this point that any women still reading want to shoot me. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, ladies.) Well – I should say that it can get boring if your wife chooses to have an epidural. Otherwise, not so much, I’m sure. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Just note that you should take something to read and something to snack on as well.
Okay, you’ve got the bags, you’ve driven to the hospital, and you’ve made your way to the emergency room. Even though it’s quite obvious to you and everyone else in the waiting room why you are here, part of the Hippocratic Oath that all medical personnel are required to swear to makes them ask “Why are you here?” As much as you are tempted to say “Well, I’m having my tonsils out and my wife sitting here groaning in the wheelchair decided to come along and dramatize the pain I’m feeling” – don’t. You’ll have to fill out some forms, including your wife’s birthday, full name, SSN, etc. If you don’t know these things, start memorizing them NOW. Especially her birthday. Most definitely her birthday. Since your wife will be in a lot of pain, you’ll need to be on top of things in answering any questions you can.
Next comes triage. This is a special place with the French term that means “We’re going to ask you the same questions again.” Here’s where you’ll be asked about insurance, fill out some more forms, your wife gets to wear a shower curtain, and where the nurses will double check just to make sure that your wife really is having a baby. (As frustrating as this is, just keep remembering that it’s all part of the Hippocratic Oath. I’m sure of it.) Once they’ve verified that, yes, this is the real thing, you’ll be taken to a room and your assigned nurse will check on you every now and then. Here’s where the difficult part starts.
All this time, your wife will be in immense pain every few minutes. During this time, she might scream. She might yell. She might say some things that aren’t exactly loving. Although it will be very difficult, DO NOT TAKE ANY OF THIS PERSONALLY! Women in labor are very rarely in their right mind. But this isn’t something you should point out to her at this time - just be aware of it. Due to heavy breathing and the pain she is in, it will be very helpful to keep her supplied with water and ice chips. Also it helps to count the seconds of each contraction. When she has her contractions, both you and the nurse will more than likely be holding on to her legs to give her something to brace against. This might seem a little weird, but apparently it helps. This entire time, she needs you to be as encouraging as you can be.
There might come a point where your wife decides she’s had enough and wants to call in reinforcements, otherwise known as an epidural. This is a type of anesthesia that brings a huge amount of relief “by blocking the transmission of signals through nerves in or near the spinal cord” (thank you Wikipedia). Once administered, your wife will think this is the best drug ever created and wonder if it comes in prescription form. The tricky part is getting it in. More than likely, she’ll need to sit up on the edge of the bed and hold on to you while the doctor finds the right spot in her back and – whoa! that’s a huge needle!! The doctor will have what will probably be the longest needle you’ll ever see in your life and, yes, it’s going into your wife’s back. So, let’s back up a few minutes and say that if you have a problem with needles or even think you have a problem with needles, now is the time to say so. Picking you up off the floor is the last thing that’s needed right now. Good with needles? Okay. As your wife is holding on to you, you get the pleasure of seeing the longest needle you’ll ever see disappear into your wife’s spine. Once that is in place, your wife will not be in near as much pain even though the contractions are still going. Here’s where it could get boring. While you certainly want to help her in any way you can, the sense of urgency brought about by screams of pain is gone and you almost feel like you can relax a little. Good thing to because you might be there awhile. Waiting. And waiting. And then after that, you wait some more. So unless your wife objects, read a book or take a walk, or something.
Here’s where the details might vary from story to story. Some guys get the pleasure of seeing the baby born “naturally” (whatever that means). Or the doctor might conclude that a C-section is necessary. Since this last option was the route we took, it’s what I can describe. After getting suited up, you’ll get to wait outside the surgery room for what seems like an eternity while they get all situated inside with your wife. A nurse will come and bring you in, warning you not to touch a thing. The doctors are all huddled around this thing draped in a blue canopy – that’s when you realize that that’s your wife on the table. You get to sit at her head while listening to the soothing sounds of snipping, sucking and clinking of surgical tools. Once again, you thank God that you are not a woman. If your wife doesn’t feel particularly chatty, it’s because someone other than the baby is rummaging around inside her.
Then you hear a tiny cry and your heart melts. It has got to be one of the best sounds in the world. You’ve just heard your baby announcing herself to the world for the first time.
The nurse will bring your baby round to a warming bed thing (pardon the technical terminology) to clean the baby up. While the baby looks like a squinting, slimy piece of baloney, she is at the same time a beautiful site to behold. (As an aside, I would highly recommend bringing a camera into the surgery room.) There is one part that you as the father get to play in this whole process, should you choose to. Once they’ve got her all cleaned up, you get to take a pair of scissors and cut the umbilical chord. Personally, I can stand needles and blood and yelling, but cutting body parts just isn’t my thing. If you don’t feel like you can do it, no problem. The nurses will then weigh and measure her, wrap her up, and give her to you to hold for the first time. And your heart will melt again.
Meanwhile, your wife is still being rummaged around in, tugged, vacuumed and sewed back up. If she doesn’t want to talk or look at your baby just yet, it’s nothing personal and certainly nothing against your baby. She is simply trying desperately not to get sick from all the weirdness going on beneath the blue canopy. Once you’re out of surgery, believe me she will be more than happy to revel in this moment.
If you stay overnight at the hospital with your wife, it is perfectly okay to have the nurses take care of your baby in the nursery for a little while. You’ll be feeling tired and your wife will most certainly be feeling tired and need her rest. Don’t feel guilty when the nurses ask if the both of you would like to get some rest and have them take your baby for a little while. In fact, you may need to insist on it for your wife’s sake.
And now you have joined the elite ranks of dadhood. There will be many more lessons to learn, joys to share, butts to be wiped, and tiny fingers to kiss. Welcome to the best job in the world.