A Tale of Two Births—One Father’s Radically Different Experiences
Once upon a time, there was a young man and his wife. They enjoyed spending time together, and that time was spent watching movies, playing games, talking until the late night hours and sleeping well into the morning. She was working toward her Masters’ degree at a local university while he was a library worker, sitting in a cubicle, daydreaming as he maintained the catalog and processed books.
One day, this young man’s phone rang. “Hello?” he answered, just as one usually does when answering a phone—and this time was, for sure, no different than any other time.
“Honey? There are two lines. There’s two lines on the…on the stick. Honey? I’m pregnant.”
That young man then proceeded to run about the office exclaiming that he was going to be a dad. Moments later, he had his computer off and his belongings packed, and he made his way home to pick up his wife to visit the doctor…for a second opinion. Just to be sure.
And it was sure. She was pregnant. They were going to have a baby.
And nothing was ever the same, ever again.
Sure I became a dad once I held my daughter for the first time, but my transformation—and that of our lives, our world–began much sooner. A room which was an office became a nursery painted lavender with a teddy bear border, big painted wooden letters spelling out her name adorning the wall over the crib. Weekend outings almost always included trips to the baby store to peruse items, clothes, toys, books. Bedtime included belly rubs (with a beautifully-scented lotion bar), talking, singing, even reading to our in-utero daughter, and—something VERY new–perineum massage for mama (as we were told this could reduce the risk of tearing during labor).
Feelings and emotions also started to change and adjust—but not all of them were the feelings of elation or normal jitters about the impending parenthood. After our first birthing class where we learned about fetal development, stations of labor, and some techniques for birthing that weren’t the usually-seen-on-TV-and-in-movies “on her back facing up screaming for drugs,” we went home and…
Where was MY support? There’d been numerous check-ups, the influx of books, the support of friends who had been pregnant or were pregnant, and now these classes, telling mom what to do and how it would go. What about me?!
Then, with that anger, came frustration. Anxiety. Panic. What am I supposed to do? How? Where? What if I can’t? What if I don’t remember? What if I do it wrong? Mom breathes like this. Mom pushes like this. Mom delivers like this.
My mind became a swirling, whirling mess. What was my role in all of this? How do I change a diaper (until the day our daughter was born, I had never changed a diaper before)? What, truly, were the things that were necessary on the “must-have” list for the baby’s room?
That last question got answered at Daddy Boot Camp—a small gathering on a Saturday morning in the same classroom where we had our birthing class. We dads-to-be sat in a circle, the “experienced father” sat amongst us (who, in all actuality, was chosen because he was as an alumni of the course and now a “pro” at this—having been a father for a whole 6-ish weeks by that point). I asked him what was the one thing he now found invaluable—the one thing that every parent must have in their arsenal.
“A wipe warmer,” he replied.
Honestly, I felt doomed. I was elated to know I would soon be the father of a little girl, but on the flip-side I had no clue what to do. Imagine being in a room full of auto mechanics who all know each other and they are discussing putting a car together. They all nod in agreement step-by-step and then go to it—and you sit there, dumbfounded. Not knowing the jargon, the parts, and not even feeling like part of the group, you feel directionless. Hopeless.
This feeling only intensified—exponentially—when our hopes for a natural birth were dashed and my wife ended up having a Cesarean. The doctors said this is how it had to be and I nodded in bewildered agreement; I didn’t know any better. When the failed attempt at inducing using Pitocin left my wife in a shaken, terrified, overwhelmed state—so much so that I guided her hand to sign the papers needed to approve the Cesarean—I became, in many ways, my wife’s voice. And although I’d listened for weeks, months, learning all I could leading up to this moment, I suddenly felt like I knew nothing at all. For better or worse, I had to speak for my wife and allow exactly what she had never wished for and, in her current state, couldn’t deny. As for me—who was I to disagree with a doctor, a midwife, a hospital? They surely knew more and knew better, right?
This may all seem scary and overwhelming; indeed, it was. Our second child’s birth experience was radically different—a home water birth with a midwife and doula, my wife accomplishing a VBAC despite being told after that first attempt that her pelvic ridge was too small and she wouldn’t be able to deliver vaginally—naturally–as she’d hoped. I stood and pressed on her hips to help open her pelvis through labor. I filled the birthing pool with warm water. I lit candles and played soft music. I waved cloths scented with peppermint oil to stave off nausea. I was part of it. I was not only a supporter but I was supported. I felt educated and empowered to be an active member—knowledgeable and competent.
The vast difference between birth one and birth two was the birthing team. Our midwife, our doula, our prenatal chiropractor, our hypnotherapist—they all made me feel, throughout, like I was part of a team. Each person explained the hows and whys, the processes, the roles they’d be playing and how I figured in. At the check-ups, I was asked how I was doing as much as my wife was—making sure, throughout, that I felt educated, empowered, and on board.
There are dads and partners who may feel just as well taking the sidelines during birth, for whatever reason. I encourage them, and any partner, however, to be informed as much as possible about all that mom will experience in bringing baby from womb to world, thus becoming educated and—hopefully—empowered to be an active participant in the process. Following the unplanned C-section, I felt very guilty and saddened that I was unable to “stick up” for my wife’s wishes by asking more questions, asking for more time, and advocating for her desire to deliver her baby the way she had wanted. Ultimately, my wife told me, simply, that I couldn’t have known; that I did, and reacted, the best way I could. The distinct difference, however, of feeling that I was part of the process, educated and empowered, was huge, and the confidence that came with it was, probably, the best part of all.
Andy Malinski is a writer and aspiring motivational speaker in Northern Colorado. Inspired by the home birth of his son (which also included a midwife and birth doula), he created The Dadvocate to help dads (and moms) be educated about the many decisions and dynamic changes that come with pregnancy and birth. He uses humor and raw insight to show the birth world and parenthood from a dad’s point of view. His articles have appeared in such online blogs as Macaroni Kid and, here, at Doula Spot.