When your wife is pregnant, you have nearly nine months to prepare for the arrival of the baby. We use that time to prepare the house, get the nursery ready and read every Buzzfeed list with “pregnancy” in the title. (This one was my favorite.) But somehow, despite all this preparation, my wife’s labor caught me off guard.
It all started about a week before our expected due date. On my way home from work, my wife called me and said, “I think my water just broke.” That sentence began a chain reaction, a cavalcade of confusion that I’m still experiencing to this day. Out of everything that went on in that next 24 hours, here’s what I absolutely didn’t expect.
1. My brain stopped working.
The male equivalent of water-breaking is brain-melting. The minute Sonja’s water broke, my brain was unable to process new information. I forgot how to prioritize. I forgot how to answer questions. As soon as I got home, I looked around and saw nothing but unfinished projects. As Sonja packed her bag, I was in the kitchen hanging up a curtain rod.
It did finally dawn on me that I should be packing up too, but my brain still wasn’t with the program. I knew which shirt I wanted to wear, but forgot to pack underwear. I packed the Fire Stick so we could watch Netflix at the hospital, but I forgot to bring the power cable. It was like my brain could only handle the first step of any set of instructions. Anything beyond that sounded to me like the teacher from Peanuts cartoons.
I assumed my brain would return to full function after the chaos of the moment settled down. It never did. You always hear jokes about “mom brain” but “dad brain” is just as much a thing. Why do men lose their sharp wit and tell awful dad jokes the minute they have a baby? Why do fathers get the newspaper while wearing nothing but boxers? Why do dads struggle with the computer, even though they used to be the tech geniuses in the house? All for the same reason. When a wife’s water breaks, her husband’s brain does too.
2. We had a conference about how much pain my wife wanted.
If a group of strangers asked you, “How much pain do you want to have today?” The only acceptable answer is, “None. None pain, please.”
When we got to the hospital, my wife was asked that question by a midwife, nurse and an anesthesiologist, and she was like, “I’ll take as much as I can. I want to hold off as long as possible or until intervention is medically necessary.” This coming from the same woman who nearly passed out when she scraped her fingernail.
This conversation came up during the little pre-baby conference between all the players for the evening. We talked about a lot, but the central theme was Sonja’s birth plan and how she wanted to manage her pain. Looking around the room, I realized I had absolutely no say in anything that was going on. I figured I must have been the secretary at this meeting, so I started taking notes.
Flash forward a few hours. My wife’s insides are being jerked together like the string on a nylon gym bag, and just like she said she would, she just pushed through it. Yes, this really is the same woman who needs to adjust the car’s temperature by a single degree to get comfortable. She’s literally pushing a watermelon through a keyhole, and she’s just like, “I got this.” I’m signing her up for the UFC.
3. We forgot the boundaries of human decency.
At one point during the labor proceedings, the midwife said to me, “Look you can see your daughter’s hair!” She grabbed a few strands with her fingers to show me. I jumped over there to look. It was incredible. That was the first time I physically saw my daughter. I said to my wife, “Honey, you have to reach down and feel your daughter’s hair.” She reached down and used the tips of her fingers to tousle the little ringlets. It was such an amazing moment. But then I blinked to reality and looked around. That’s when I realized that all of us – all four of us in the room – were taking turns poking my wife’s vagina.
That’s the way it is. From the moment Sonja was hooked up, medically she was less a woman and more like a scientific experiment. The banter between us and the staff became more sterile and academic as labor progressed. They weren’t there to mess around; they were there to get that baby out. That down-to-business attitude is contagious, so eventually, we’d talk about my wife’s private parts in the same way we’d talk about our car with a mechanic.
Once she started pushing, it was all hands on deck. All of us in the room were right in there, pushing, pulling and twisting some part of Sonja’s body. I felt like I was on the pit crew of the Indy 500. That’s when I again had to remember that it was my wife we were contorting; a living, breathing person and not a human PEZ dispenser.
4. The baby gets, um, shimmied out?
We went through the pre-baby classes. I also read up on the science of labor, so I had a good idea what to expect. I have enough education to at least earn an advanced graduate degree in my role as the non-birthing parent. On top of that, thanks to YouTube, I even had a clear mental picture of the delivery process. This mental picture was mostly informed by this video.
Nice right? It’s a graceful way to explain contractions and dilation. If you can’t see the video, it features a woman who put a ping pong ball in a balloon. She inflates the balloon and explains that contractions are like the balloon releasing air. The balloon keeps compressing until the ball stretches the hole open and the ball comes out. I knew delivery was going to be more painful than a ping pong ball leaving a balloon, but that’s the best way I could explain how mothers pop their babies out.
As it turns out, that video would have been way more accurate if the lady had turned the balloon so she was looking straight down the glory hole, stuck all her fingers inside it, and then twisted the ball back and forth like a cork in a wine bottle. When our midwife stuck all her fingers inside the birth canal, my gum fell out of my mouth. What, um, what was I seeing?
I knew the term “crowning” and understood the concept. I just didn’t realize that once the baby was crowning, the person delivering the baby had to corkscrew the little miracle out of there like a lubed-up St. Bernard squeezing through the cat door. There was way more stretching and pulling and twisting than I was prepared for. I gaped for so long, my mouth was dry. My wife, between pushes, asked me, “Is everything okay, are you okay?” I couldn’t even answer. I just pointed and tried to stay conscious.
And it’s that response that’s come to define my life as a father. I often have no idea what I’m looking at, am greatly under-educated on what I’m supposed to do, and now, when asked if everything’s okay, I can do little more than just point and try to stay conscious.
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