Hey, Dads! Put down the cigars, she needs you too.
Before my wife enrolled us in a birthing class or prepared our birth plan, I already knew the dad’s role during labor. I had seen it in plenty of movies and TV shows. I was to pace back and forth outside the delivery room, box of cigars under my arm, waiting for the sound of a screaming baby so I could burst into a waiting room filled with family and friends and shout: “It’s a boy!”
Nope. It turned out that none of that was in my wife’s birth plan. (Thanks for nothing, Hollywood.) As we talked about her labor, I shared my hesitancy to be in the delivery room for the birth. “No, no,” she said, “You’re going to be with me… the entire time.”
“But that stuff makes me queasy,” I said.
“Well, get over it.”
The easy-queasy part was true, not just a lame excuse to sit on my phone in the waiting room instead. But I also didn’t see how I could be any help during her labor. With all the experts in the delivery room – doctor or midwife, nurses, doula – what would I do? (Other than pass out.)
In our birthing class, I learned different ways I could support my wife during labor. But the most important thing I learned was that every mama is different in what she wants or doesn’t want, needs or doesn’t need. And that can change at any moment. While my wife had a few ideas on how I could support her, some things would have to wait until we were in the moment.
When our big day arrived, I found out this would take some trial and error.
As I floored the gas pedal on the way to the hospital – contractions two minutes apart – I hit a pothole and she winced in pain. “Sorry,” I said, “I thought it might help him out – literally.”
With her feet on the dashboard and her arm slung over her face she said, “Please. No jokes. I can’t.” I tried to explain it was meant as a distraction but she cut me off. “No.” Strike One.
At the hospital, I took another swing at the helpful dad thing with a comforting hand on her knee. “No,” she said again, brushing my hand away. “I don’t want to be touched.” Strike two.
As the professionals entered the room and took their positions (the people who actually knew what they were doing), I felt a little squeezed out. Then my wife called for me. She wanted me up top with her. “I’m here,” I assured her. “I’m not going anywhere.”
This is where I found my place. She needed reassurance from the person who knew her better than anyone in the room. And I didn’t need any training or certifications for that.
This is where I found my place. She needed reassurance from the person who knew her better than anyone in the room. And I didn’t need any training or certifications for that. She just needed me to be me.
As her contractions intensified and our midwife instructed her to push, she doubted herself. “I can’t do this,” she said.
“Yes, you can,” I reassured her, reminding her that she had prepared for this and was ready.
She shook her head. “I can’t do it.”
“You ARE doing it,” I told her.
Soon after, she cried out, “He’s stuck!” The midwife laughed and told me to look. Peering over her belly, I saw a small dome of fine hair and realized –
“I see his head!” I shouted, holding back tears.
“Seriously?” she asked.
“Reach down and touch it,” the midwife suggested. She did and began to cry. I may have too.
A minute later our baby boy was curled up on my wife’s chest, trying out his lungs for the first time with lip-quivering wails.
I was so proud of my wife. Watching her give birth to our baby and being with her through every contraction and every push was the greatest experience of my life. And I didn’t get queasy once. Between helping her and capturing some moments with our camera, there was no time for that.
And there are no cigars in the delivery room. Just blood, sweat, and tears – even Daddy’s.
Aaron Schmidt is a writer and lawyer based in Cleveland and Columbus. He has written essays for Cleveland Magazine, The Plain Dealer, and The Huffington Post. He tweets at @byaaronschmidt.