Why I’m here
I’ve known I wanted to be a Dad from a very young age. The vague memory I can muster of the first time it came up is my devoutly religious mother giving me my first Bible. (That’s right, I would be gifted many more Bibles over the course of my life, one couldn’t possibly be enough to my good ‘ol Mom.) She shared the story of when she was given her first Bible, and how she chose to write something in the first pages before the beginning. (Or uh, The Beginning…) She chose to write, I can’t remember. She chose something and it was meaningful to her and somehow God read her words and it came to pass or came close enough to passing that she could give Him credit. So, she asked me to think about it, and write something down. I think I was five? Maybe six, since judging by my daughter’s writing at 5. I don’t think I could’ve achieved the following passage – “I want to be a Dad with two kids and a wife like Carrie.” I probably misspelled two thirds of those words, but I remember getting made fun of by my older brothers for that exact sentence many times. Yeah, Carrie. My middle brother’s hookup at the time. She was nice to me and older so of course I thought she was the world’s most incredible female.
So, thirty-ish years later when my pregnant wife pokes me at 1 AM and says “I’m pretty sure this is it, I’ve called the doctor and they said we should come in.” I was excited, but not terrified. Certainly, whatever primordial hormones kicked in appropriately and I was on hyper-alert, but I was ready. I had wanted this my whole life. We got this, or at least she got this, right?
You see, we were first time parents in Brooklyn. Calm down, it wasn’t Park Slope Brooklyn. Which is the world’s most concentrated area of birthing mafia. Everyone there has a better plan than everyone else that has ever birthed. We were a couple of neighborhoods away in Cobble Hill, but the trickle-down effect was certainly in play. A younger couple in our birthing class announced on the first day that their plan was to achieve an orgasmic birth, so there you go. My wife and I scoffed at the craziness of all of this. We weren’t going to pretend that we could plan any of this. The one thing my wife was clear on, was she wanted the drugs. She wanted an epidural as early as possible. By that one decision alone, we were pretty sure we were better than all these super-planners, naturalists, and granola folx. We figured it out by not figuring anything out. Our plan was, we didn’t need a plan.
Well guess what, that sucked. It wasn’t a horror show like I’ve heard from most people. They didn’t end up inducing, or switching prematurely to a C-section, or anything that people fear happening to them in these massive money-making machines we call hospitals. But I did get to listen to a resident stop by every 45 minutes or so to just rudely and loudly count to ten at my wife while I held her left leg and she pushed. I noticed people getting nervous and a frantic energy in the room when the baby’s cranium didn’t seem to be making as much progress as expected. Then my wife becoming completely exhausted and turning to me while I held her hand, “…tell them to stop. Please, I don’t think I can do this anymore…” while her eyes rolled into the back of her head. Thankfully, by the grace of something (yeah, the God thing didn’t stick for me.) our OB happened to be in the hospital that day for some other reason and came in the final hour with forceps in hands. She turned the whole room on its head, jacked up the bed, looked my wife in the eye and told her “We are not going into an operating room today. We are going to deliver this baby.” And then calmly pulled my wife, and my baby’s head, so hard with those two giant serving spoons that she almost pulled both of them off the bed. And a couple of minutes later there’s a crying little girl that I held for a split second before they took the baby away to the NICU for observation. Something about her heart rate escalating too much during delivery. I was just happy my wife was still alive. It felt like the triage unit in a war zone after the battle had ended. It turns out our middle-aged doctor had specialized in emergency deliveries in the 80s before later starting her own practice as an OB/GYN. Hence the forceps.
Ok. One baby down, one to go. Bible plan still in place. The second time around we had learned a couple of lessons, but let’s be honest not that many. We had moved to California to be closer to family, so we did have the access to my sister in law to watch our now 5-year-old on D-Day. (By the way, the forceps left no marks, she has the most perfectly round head, we literally called her dumpling for the first year of her life.) We knew natural birth still wasn’t really for us, and honestly, we kind of thought we would go in this time with our previous experience and more questions and we would be ok. I read more books, she read more books. We [thought we] were prepared with open minds and fully expected some craziness to go down. For some reason, about 3 weeks before the birth we decided to go ahead and call a doula. We kind of naturally arrived at the notion that more help from an expert seemed like a rational decision, so why not? We ended up having time to meet with her maybe twice before the big day arrived. A saint, she was kind enough to squeeze us in amidst a whole mess of births around the same due date. And sure enough, one of the other Moms went into labor on the same day we did. But she texted with me throughout and even got on the phone a couple of times while we waited in triage for a room. There was a bit of a panic in triage as my wife’s contractions got closer and closer really fast. When I finally pulled a nurse aside and let her know we seemed to be close and might need a room soon, she had one question, “is it a first time Mama or second?” I said “second…” and all the sudden we became a priority. (Make a note second time parents, things can escalate quickly. Tell every new hospital worker you meet if this is not your first birth!)
Once we got into the room everything went more smoothly, as second births tend to go. We were more in sync. I was calmer and so was my wife. By the grace of the same [not-god] that helped us the first time around, our doula was able to join us not long after pushing began. The relief we felt to have a “professional” in the room was worth any amount of money in the world. I can’t tell you how much more serene the room became once our doula arrived. She asked for dimmer lighting and put my wife’s comfort first in ways that hadn’t even occurred to the rest of us. Even for partners to get a break, and to come back a little fresher, a little more focused for our birthing mothers is worth it. But she had the right massage in the right places at the right times, it just made the whole experience so much more fulfilling. Not to mention, she grabbed my phone and took a million photos right after our second girl was laid across my wife’s chest. This would be the first time my wife was able to experience that. We never would have had those photos without our doula there. We cried, just like the first time. But this time it was tears of elation. Ok and yes, also exhaustion and relief and dehydration and all that other stuff.
Let’s get this straight, I’m not a doula. I’m not an expert. I am just fortunate enough to be a guy that the Silicon Valley Doulas team trusts to share a few thoughts from a Dad’s perspective. Also, I am a Dad that doesn’t mind sharing my experiences. My hope is that other partners might relate to some of my feelings and start a conversation with their soon to be mothers, or maybe you can just read these and feel a little less alone in your role in this birth. It may not be as physically stressful for us but birthing a child must be one of the top 5 most stressful things in any couple’s lives together. You also need a space to work through this. Hopefully this can be one of them.