Sunday, June 25, 2006

Delivery Room Confidential

My best friend’s wife just had a baby girl. I had a great time talking to him on the phone about becoming a daddy for the first time, because a lot of our childbirth experiences were virtually identical. I had wanted to do a post about what becoming a daddy for the first time is like, but they had the kid before I got around to doing it. I’ve seen a lot of articles about what childbirth is like for women, but few about what it’s like for men. So here it is.

All the time leading up to the birth of the child is spent focused on the mother’s needs. They learn what to buy, how to breathe, what to pack for the hospital, how to nurse, etc. I actually decided to go for Husband of the Year Award and show up to the breastfeeding classes, just to support my wife. When I walked out of the room after the class, I was clutching my chest because my nipples hurt so much just from watching the breastfeeding movies. If men had to breastfeed, the human race would have died off about a hundred thousand years ago and a pterodactyl would be sitting at your desk doing your job right now.

As much as you prepare for the actual moment you have to go to the hospital, you will completely lose your mind when it happens. You scramble around the house like a hamster on Red Bull to get your bags together and thrown into the car. The only upside is that you get to drive like a complete maniac on the way to the hospital, just like they do on TV – my driving was so bad, I’m surprised the baby didn’t jump out to tell me to slow down (nothing more irritating than a nagging inter-uterine driver).

When you get to the hospital, they will put you in a little waiting room where they do a preliminary check to make sure you’re really having a baby and you’re not just there pulling an elaborate ruse to get the free mini-Pepsis from the OB snack bar. After they check the mother out, they will tell you that there’s a chance that despite your rush to get to the hospital, the baby may not be ready to come out and you may have to go home for a few hours. At that point, you will tell them that you are leaving the hospital with a baby, whether it’s yours or someone else’s.

Soon, they put your wife on drugs to try to induce the child to come out. This is far more effective than your idea of dangling two free Packer tickets down between her legs. Now is the time to take pictures, as within hours she will have convinced the staff at the hospital that you are an active al-Qaeda operative. Once the contractions start, you and your wife will enter an entirely new phase of your relationship. For details, see any Bill Cosby standup routine from the last 30 years.

Obviously, during this time your wife is in extraordinary pain, and any man that suggests otherwise is secretly shipped off to a remote internment camp for insensitive men and never heard from again. But you will feel a deep sense of utter helplessness, and it’s hard. Standing before you is the person you care most about in the entire world in extreme pain – and the most you can do is offer her the occasional ice cube. Jokes are not appreciated. The only thing that would possibly make her feel better would be the sight of a pack of rabid dingoes attacking your crotch.

During the entire night, hospital staff is running in and checking your wife’s progress. There are doctors, nurses, interns, and other staff that have an all access pass to her womb. It won’t surprise you a bit to find out that some guy examining your wife’s cervix is the Pepsi machine mechanic just coming in to see if everything was alright.

Finally, it’s time for an epidural, which will numb her from mid chest down and completely change the trajectory of the evening. For one, you will find out that your relationship may not be as strong as you thought after she proposes on the spot to the anesthesiologist. She will treat this guy like he’s George Clooney handing her an Ann Taylor credit card with no limit. You instantly become the fifth most important person in the room (behind the doctor, your wife, the baby, and the soft drink mechanic, who won’t leave for some reason).

Finally, it comes time to push the baby out. You rush to your wife’s side and grab her hand, reminding her to breathe. She’s pushing as hard as she can, swearing that she can’t push any more. If you had half this much determination, you’d be running your company instead of sitting on your butt reading anonymous blogs all day. For some reason, you bend your knees and get in an athletic crouch, not unlike how your little league coach told you to stand when you played shortstop (it may also be helpful to wear a cup to protect yourself in this situation, too). This may make you feel like you’re helping, but really has nothing to do with whether the baby is coming out or not.

When the baby refuses to come out, the doctor will ask you to grab your wife’s leg and pull it back to get her in a better position. You jump right in, not realizing that this isn’t exactly what you signed up for when you joined your health plan. Later, you will ask the doctor for a discount since you had to do some of the work yourself. Seriously – if I’m getting a new muffler and have to bring my own screwdriver, it better not be full price.

And finally, within a split second, your life will change forever. You’ll hear the most important sound you’ll ever hear – that of your child crying. You’ll be in such shock, that you won’t even notice when the doctor asks you if you want to cut the umbilical cord, and you actually do it – despite being completely grossed out by the concept an hour earlier.

You look around the room and see your wife’s blood, and you will be scared out of your mind. You’ll look at her and suddenly your entire relationship will flash before your eyes. In an instant, you’ll think of the night you met. You’ll think about your first date, when you stayed up all night laughing nervously, wondering if she really liked you or not. You’ll remember the night at the UW Memorial Union Terrace when you finally realized that this was the woman that you wanted to spend the rest of your life with, and how you proposed to her on that spot. She’ll be laying there with tears in her eyes, drenched in sweat and hair messed up, but at that instant, you will never have seen a woman so beautiful in your life.

You can't believe that any woman would ever have so much faith and trust in you that she would go through such excruciating pain to deliver a child. Fortunately, in case you forget that, you will be reminded of it approximately 8,345 times over the next twelve months. You thank the Lord that you could be there to witness the birth of this child, seeing as there's really only an even-money chance you were there for the conception.

You fumble around for your camera to try to get pictures. You start sobbing like Richard Simmons after meeting an 800 pound guy that has to be removed from his house with a crane. Your wife starts breast feeding the baby, and you try to get a picture of it without getting too much of the breast in the picture (your friends will be looking at these, after all). It is incredible that babies have the innate ability to breast feed right out of the womb – much like you were born with the uncanny ability to watch the Brewers, listen to music, and scratch yourself all at the same time.

Apparently unaware of your court record, the doctors hand your baby over to you. It is at this point precisely that you are overwhelmed with about 100 feelings simultaneously. You can’t believe this is all real, and that something so great could happen to you. I mean, you are the guy, after all, who used to throw lawn furniture off the top of your fraternity house to see if it would break. You’re the guy who would have girls drop you off three blocks away from your house after a date so they wouldn’t find out exactly where you lived. You’re the guy that used to get drunk and wash all the cars on your block at three o’clock in the morning, hoping some hot chick would appreciate the gesture.

And here in your hands is the greatest thing that God ever created. It feels like you are now the first person ever to figure out procreation – that nobody could have ever done this before. You can’t believe that somehow this actually sometimes occurs without the father being involved. Sure, you may be a sap, but it’s inconceivable to you that fathers leave and don’t come back, or don’t even know that one of their children is born at all.

It is at that point that suddenly you realize your life has a purpose. As listlessly as you may have lived your life, now you are responsible for another human being. Sure, it took you an extra year or two to finish college, and you may never have gotten the job you really wanted, but suddenly all of your personal ambitions and travails seem trivial. Your life is clear as day now – I have to take care of this baby, and do the best job I possibly can. And that’s it, really. Nothing else even comes close.

For years, you have been wondering whether anyone will ever remember you when you're gone. What have you ever done that's really affected anyone in any real way? You never wrote a hit screenplay, never played in the NBA, never volunteered at the Boys and Girls club. You're afraid that if you were to disappear, nobody would even know you were there at all. Now, all at once, you realize what your legacy will be - you know that by raising this kid to be a kind, generous, and hard working adult, you've given the world the best possible gift you can.

What you don’t realize at the time, however, is the fact that you are no longer writing your own life story. Those days of going boozing with the boys? Done. Movies? What are those? You won’t ever eat in a restaurant again that doesn’t offer you the option of “Biggie Sizing.” You will soon come to recognize that you are now relegated to a bit part in your own autobiography. The seven pound, four ounce conspirator in your arms has now taken over as head writer of your life story. And you will never mind a bit.

The digital clock above you says 7:12 A.M. You’ve now been awake all night waiting for this moment. It’s time to catch what little sleep you can before your life starts all over again. You doze off thinking how great it is to be a dad. And wondering if you have to prove the baby's yours for the hospital to validate your parking ticket.