Whenever I tell anyone that I delivered each of my three children, I get an odd look. When my wife, Barbara, became pregnant with our first child, she was determined to have the child delivered in a birthing-room, which was a novelty at the time. For those unfamiliar with this term, a birthing-room is different than the usual room where one gives birth at a hospital. Instead of the cold, clinical room where this event usually takes place, a birthing-room, which is also in a hospital, has a regular bed, an easy chair or couch, a television, and perhaps a refrigerator. The idea is to make the person giving birth as comfortable as possible. Unfortunately for us, the nearest hospital that had a birthing room was in the next state, two and one-half hours away. During the drive to the first visit with the obstetrician, I was informed that this doctor was famous for allowing expectant fathers to be present during the birth. I figured that being present during the birth was the least I could do. During the meeting that we had with the doctor, he asked if I wanted to deliver the child, with him present. This was a new concept that he was trying to foster. His rationale was that the mother carried the baby, gave birth to it, fed it, and the inevitable result was that mother and child would naturally bond. By having the father deliver the child, the father is expected to feel that he has been part of the process, and consequently, bond with the infant and child better than if he had not. The doctor asked me if I was interested. I said I would do it because the due date was so distant that I thought that they would forget that I had said I would. They didn’t. I told my mother what I was going to do and she told me that when she was giving birth, my father hid in the woods. When I told my father, he said I was crazy.
Because of the distance from the hospital to our home, I was given books on emergency child birth. I studied them. We took Lamaze classes. Lamaze is intended to involve the father in the pregnancy and make the birthing process easier for the mother. I’ll tell you now that it didn’t work for Barbara. Pain-killers would have worked, but she had planned on a drug-free birth.
One day after work Barbara told me that she was having contractions and that it was time to drive to the hospital. Actually, she had been having contractions all day and had waited for me to get home. We made the drive to the hospital, settled into the room, and as she was having the very painful contractions, I tried my Lamaze skills out. Either Lamaze doesn’t work or I was doing something wrong. I blame it on the former. I did my best to comfort her, but it didn’t help. I confess that I spent the rest of the night watching old World War I movies on the television in the room. She had contractions all night. There was much screaming and every now and then a nurse would come in, or my wife would send me to get the nurse, who would come in, take a look and say that it wasn’t time yet. If there had been woods nearby, I would have made a run for it. In the hours just before dawn, it was finally time. The doctor showed up and told me to put on a gown, scrub my hands and follow his instructions, which I did.
After the head emerged, he said that the umbilical cord was wrapped around the infant’s neck, and he guided me through unwrapping it, and we finally had the successful birth of a boy. I have failed to mention that my wife is as tough as nails. After a couple of hours she announced that it was time to go home and we did. On the way, we stopped beside a stream; she sat on a rock and held the new baby while I took a picture. The baby’s name was Mark.
For the second child we went to the same hospital and used the same doctor. When it was time, my brave wife told me that it was time to go and we drove to the hospital. We were told that the old birthing room was taken and we were steered to a newer birthing room. When it was time to give birth, the doctor and two nurses showed up. One of the nurses pushed a few buttons and panels slid back in the ceiling and flood-lights emerged. Hidden panels slid back in the walls and trays came out. What had been a bedroom turned into an operating room. For everyone but Barbara, it was a fairly easy birth. I had brought a tape player and played the song “Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder right after the birth and the nurses started crying. It’s the song that he wrote after the birth of his daughter. After a little while they wanted to take the infant out of the room to take foot-prints and blood samples. Barbara insisted that I not let the baby out of my sight, so I followed a nurse around the hospital and made sure that the same baby that had left the room was the same baby that came back. After a two hour nap, Barbara insisted on going home, so we did. We stopped at the same stream as previously, Barbara sat on the same rock and held the baby while I took their picture. This baby’s name was Elizabeth.
For our third child, Barbara decided to use a midwife and have the baby at home. The closest one lived over an hour away. During a snowstorm in the middle of winter, in the middle of the night, Barbara announced that it was time. She called the midwife who arrived two hours later with a nurse in tow. In the meantime, I was told to take the other two children to their grandmother’s house. My wife had told the midwife that I would be performing the delivery. This did not sit well with the midwife. She tried to get me out of the way by making me ill. She said that if you fried the afterbirth with onions, it tasted great. I turned green and got nauseous, but I didn’t leave the room. I delivered that baby too. His name was Erich.
Here’s what I learned. My wife is a very, very tough person. If men had to suffer through pregnancy and give birth, no children would be born. Finally, if you have a chance to be present during the birth of a child, do it.