Fatherhood’s First Stress, Part 2

On a pleasant autumn night similar to the night of our daughter’s birth, when we drove past the hospital and I started to reminisce fondly about that daughter’s planned delivery, my wife objected.  Not only was induction significantly more painful than spontaneous labor, but also she had always wanted to start labor naturally and to experience…  well, whatever women experience when that happens.

Then we exchanged highly exaggerated looks of horror.  Her look asked, “Why would you want to simultaneously deprive me of something beautiful while replacing it with something awful?”  My look asked essentially the same question.  Naturally, I had to explain mine.

First let me say that, from a father’s perspective, there are a lot of things to fear during pregnancy.  For example, while I can strive night and day to protect my daughter from things that might choke or strangle her, she grew in a sack with four feet of rope.  (To my dying day I will shudder at the thought of umbilical cords.)  Everywhere I looked I discovered some new gestational danger, absolutely none of which could be solved by my bulk or willingness to apply extreme force.  While I may not actually want human babies to come to term in a place where they’ll be attacked by wolves, if they did I would at least have some way to help.

That being said, fear isn’t necessarily stressful.  Eventually I accepted that there were dangers that I couldn’t address.  That left me with the one activity which is universally ascribed to fathers: getting their pregnant wives to the hospital in a safe and timely fashion.  If you go too early, the hospital either sends you home again or puts you in a lobby somewhere so that other more timely fathers can judge you as you pace your frustrated wife around lobby chairs.  If you go too late, you end up delivering your baby in the gravelly stretch of grass between the highway and a cow field, after which you still have to drive to the hospital, but with two messy crying people strung together by the aforementioned four feet of rope.  (I’m not cutting that.)

That’s a lot of pressure.  My wife didn’t help matters by constantly nudging me to read books about how to deliver babies.  That just reminded me about the stakes involved.  We don’t live near the hospital; I had to plan a pretty long drive.  It didn’t help to read accounts of women whose labor advanced quickly and suddenly, and who found themselves stranded in strange places with only their surprisingly competent husbands.  My wife didn’t have a competent husband!  (Still doesn’t.)

Thus, I spent the last four months of her pregnancy in a decaying orbit around panic.  I reminded my wife of that as a way of justifying my position on induction.  Specifically, I reminded her of the following story:

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve injured my back a few times.  One happened while my wife was very pregnant.  An ambulance took me to the hospital; they medicated me for the pain; I responded disproportionately.  My wife then took me home, helped me fall into a recliner, and left me there for hours, occasionally making sure that I hadn’t drooled too much.

During that time, she decide that she would watch some reality television.  She had discovered a show about labor and childbirth, then started watching it almost non-stop.  I never understood the appeal–it seemed a bit like watching a horror movie in preparation for being brutally murdered–but I wasn’t in a good position to complain even on days when I was conscious:  I wasn’t the one who was going to be going through it.  On the particular day of this story….  See the above reference to drug-induced drool.

However, at one point a pregnant women in tremendous distress called out to her husband in a voice reminiscent of my wife’s, “Honey, it’s time!”

I had an injured back.  I couldn’t sit upright without help; it hurt to turn my head.  Even more, I was in a medicated fog so thick that my brain might as well have been viewing events from the far side of the moon.  Nevertheless, the frazzled father in me heard the phrase it had been dreading for months.

All at once I was awake, lurching out of the recliner and trying to sound calm as I mumbled, “What?  It’s time?  I’m ready!  Let me just get…  something.”  My wife tells me that I was clearly struggling to sound comforting, which might have been more convincing had I not also been clearly struggling to figure out where I was and which of the many nearby things was the floor.

I only vaguely remember any of this.  But I remember the stress clearly enough.  That’s what induction alleviated.

My wife wasn’t persuaded by this story.  Next time I’m hiring someone else to drive her to the hospital.


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