It was with great interest that I recently read Feeling Her Pain, a Washington Post article about some men’s ambivalent feelings about being present in the delivery room at the births of their children.
In a recent Coffee Talk, someone asked me to share some of my birth stories, and while it’s not at all my style to blog intimate details about labor and delivery, this does offer me an opportunity to share about this popular topic. And I feel I can speak to the “dad being there/dad not being there” topic because I have experienced both.
Dan totally missed Daniel’s birth.
In the week before Daniel was born, our whole family suffered some kind of horrible virus. We think it was a coxsackie virus. And while “coxsackie” is a gross sounding name, I don’t think it does justice to the horribleness of this virus. It gave me a wretched eye infection, but I was feeling loads better by the time I went into labor.
Dan wasn’t. He was in my hospital room bent over in pain and positively miserable with a fever and body aches. His throat was so sore that he couldn’t speak. He was whispering things at me like “This is not normal” and “I have never before in my life felt this awful!”
The nurses took pity on him. They set up a cot for him in the corner and told him to get some rest. But he was in too much pain to rest.
I don’t know about you, but when I am in labor I have precious little tolerance for other people’s aches and complaints — however legitimate they might be. We were an hour from home and the kids were with my parents. I told my husband to go get a hotel room. And he did.
I told one of the nurses to call Dan whenever I got close to delivering and she promised she would. And I labored alone. For real. I had a call button to use if I needed anything, but I was alone. And I felt it acutely. Even if all Dan ever did at my previous deliveries was stand awkwardly at my bedside, I was lonely for him. I didn’t need him to do anything else but be there. But I had sent him away.
After a couple of hours, Dan called to check on me. I was woozy with pain and don’t remember much of the conversation. Dan said he had taken some medicine and thought he could handle coming back. I said okay, we hung up, and Daniel was born 10 minutes later. Dan showed up about 15 minutes after that — totally bewildered.
Throughout labor, I always feel like I am holding off a panicky fear. I fear the pain. I fear a C-section. I fear something going terribly wrong with the baby. And labor is stressful for Dan for all those same reasons. I can’t imagine how horrifying it would be to watch someone you love suffer enormous pain while you stand by helplessly. And to feel pressured to “coach” them through the experience to boot? Insane!
At previous deliveries, I counted on Dan not so much to coach me, but to be my advocate and protector during a very vulnerable time on my life. He has always taken this role quite seriously. So seriously, in fact, that his outrage with a lying, incompetent doctor led the nursing staff to call security on him at Ambrose’s birth. But that’s a whole different blog post.
The fact that I missed Dan during my labor with Daniel made me realize what I need him there for. Not for participating, but for supporting. Not for coaching, but for protecting.
But the fact that I didn’t care a bit about him missing Daniel’s birth after the fact, tells me something else. Whether he’s present at the birth or not, the most important kind of support a man can be to his wife and children is being there for the real labor — and that’s the lifetime of work that begins after delivery.