Similar to pregnant women, men who are about to become first-time dads have a glow about them. Whether this phenomenon is a result of their excitement or overactive sweat glands stirred by their paralyzing fear is hard to say. What is certain is that they’re playing Russian roulette with their lives and don’t even know it. It all boils down to sleep. I often told my pregnant wife that, first and foremost, I wanted a healthy baby. Beyond all that, however, I wanted one who slept through the night and napped well, even if that meant the child emerged with antlers, giant bat wings and walrus tusks. This was usually when she’d grumble something in tongues and throw some kind of red powder in my face—and now I’m fairly certain I’m carrying a curse of some kind.
I was all set to go for the delivery of our first child: I’d watched the videos, read the books, taken the classes and all that jazz…I was ready. What’s more, all of those sources made me realize that, even though I wasn’t the one going through the extreme pain, exhaustion, emotional stress, extreme pain and the extreme pain of childbirth, I was somehow just as important in all this as my wife was and had my own significant role to play, too.
The first thing I learned was that all those sources lied to me.
Sure, dads can help run the house a little while his pregnant wife is struggling (though I still wasn’t allowed to fold laundry), but when it came to the actual labor and delivery, I was better suited as a martial arts training dummy. Once the action happened, the nurse told me where to stand, what to do and to shut the hell up and get out of the way, you worthless, worthless husband. Of course, she didn’t use those words–she was actually very sweet about it (I can still feel the condescending pat on the head). Nevertheless, my role had become clear. It should have dawned on me how little help I was really going to be when, hours earlier, I tried setting a breathing pace (as taught by the damn birthing class) for my wife to follow when she started having really bad contractions. The result was a sustained squeak out of her and a flush of panic out of me.
The classes and videos hadn’t prepared me for any of this.
To be clear, they did help in some small ways, but mostly just to settle our fears a bit by sharing the science of what was to come. I now know that understanding the science and experiencing the horror is the difference between understanding that bears are dangerous and poking one with a stick after lathering your skin with honey and berries. And no, I wasn’t so stupid as to compare my pregnant wife to a hungry bear. That would be ridiculous.
I feared the bear much less.
Let me give you an example of how those pregnancy classes, while helpful, do not tell the real story. One lesson in particular was meant to simulate what a contraction felt like. Both the pregnant women and their husbands/partners/etc. were instructed to pick up an ice cube in one hand and hold it tight in their fingers. At first, my ice cube simply felt cold. As I held it a few seconds longer, that coldness turned into discomfort, which grew more irritable the longer I held it. To her credit, the teacher did say that contractions were worse than this, but that it at least gave us an idea of the kind of discomfort a woman might feel from the real deal.
Now, I’m no doctor but, judging by my wife’s facial expressions during her pregnancies before the epidural kicked in, I’d say that holding an ice cube is probably nothing like the feel of a real contraction. It looked so bad that, when the epidural guy was doing his thing, I asked if I could get in on some of that action.
So, no, first-time dads, you are not all that important, at least not in terms of the actual delivery. It’s best you understand that now.
The other thing to note about the birth-giving process is that, if you have more than one child, it will most likely be a different experience each time you go through it. With our first child, my wife experienced a fairly long labor process (we were in the hospital overnight and she spent most of it pacing and trying to deal with the contractions, while casting the occasional hex on me as I slept on the guest bed). The pushing process was quick, however, and the epidural worked wonders for her. With our second child, the epidural did not work and I heard sounds come out of my wife’s mouth that I never want to hear again. I was this close to summoning a priest and a vat of holy water. The birth of our third child, however, was about as easy as can be hoped for—like one of those sitcom births, where you want to kill the producers for making people think pregnancy is that simple, where the mother-to-be gives a little huff and—forty-three seconds later—out pops a strapping, five-year-old child. Our doctor even stopped my wife mid-push to ask if she could dial the pushing back to about half. When the doctor gave us additional instruction, I replied with, “Don’t worry, doc. We’re good; we watch House,” and to my amazement, my wife laughed through the next series of pushes.
That’s right. She is a superstar.
Now, women, before you start throwing jabs at me for daring to assess the difficulties of each of my wife’s pregnancies/deliveries, understand that it’s coming from a good place. I recognize that I’m the husband, the doofus standing on the sidelines whose only real stress came from making sure I took lots of pictures (but none that accidentally included my wife making some otherworldly pregnancy expression). I recognize that women are warriors in this birthing process and men are sad little peons whose only real contribution entails a favor his wife did for him one night nine months prior.
When a family friend had just had her baby, a mutual female friend said something the next day about how the girl was over-dramatizing the birth story and that the pregnancy really wasn’t as bad as her own. To this, I pointed out that I was a dude and as a dude I contend that any woman who has had a baby is entitled to describe the birth however she sees fit. I, as a dude, am then obligated to believe the woman’s story without question. For starters, she’s earned it. Secondly–and let me be crystal on this–if modern science ever reaches a point where men are able to carry and birth a child, I don’t ever, ever want to have to eat my words.
Hear that, honey? You win.
And because I feel the need to believe any woman’s birth story, my understanding is that child birth is comparable to: 1) flushing out a family of manatees from a garden hose, 2) setting one’s crotch aflame and then poking it repeatedly with a branding iron, and 3) sneezing a bowling ball out one’s nose. This is why, while I admire mothers for going through this process, I secretly judge the ones who have a desire to do it more than once.
As for first-time dads, my advice to you is this:
- Be there; be present (and I’m told these aren’t always the same thing)
- Get the frig out of the nurse’s way, for the love of…
- Do not tell your wife that she shouldn’t worry about accidentally pooping during the delivery. Seriously, this is a fear of all pregnant women and, for that reason, you’re probably better off not bringing up the topic at all.
- Wear a cup and a bring a prosthetic hand for her to hold. You won’t regret it, especially if you plan to have more than one child.