Disclaimer: Please be advised that the following testimony is based solely on my experience alone; I do not purport to be an expert in the field of childbirth. This autobiographical entry is written to function as a gentle guide for that father-to-be, or perhaps, that father who could benefit from a few new suggestions. But first, allow me to articulate this thought: The birth of my daughter ranks number 1 on my list of greatest days in my life – like seriously. After all of the doctor’s appointments, diligent research, scouring of books, attending birthing classes, etc.; the culmination of those arduous 9 months provide a mental euphoria that is unlike any feeling one could anticipate. So, how did my wife and I arrive at that point? Well, let’s get to story.
However, before I dive deep into the details, I must formally announce that my wife is truly a strong woman. We opted to deliver our daughter naturally – meaning no drug intervention unless it was medically necessary due to unforeseen complications. Let me reiterate: no drugs. That translates to no pitocin, no epidural, and no narcotic would be used during delivery. So, again, my wife is an extremely strong woman, and she deserves every bit of praise for what she endured for nearly 24 hours of labor. Yes – 24 hours. Because, without the usage of drugs, and to paraphrase Ray Charles, you have to let the body “do what it do baby”. The level of mental and physical fortitude required is unfathomable. Yet, my wife endured until the end and never wavered, never relented, and never crumbled. She’s my champ (wink, wink – inside joke).
Now, the way I envisioned the birth of our daughter went down like this: Stephanie would wake up in terrible pain in the middle of the night and we would go speeding to the hospital at 3 in the morning. It didn’t go down like that. However, my nervous energy precluded any restful sleep for nearly 2 weeks heading into showtime anyway. There was one night when she woke up screaming, but that was a charley horse in her calf. Scared the living daylights out of me. I’m fumbling around under the sheets, half asleep, trying rub out a charley horse in the dead of night. But I digress, how her labor did go down: While at work, in the throes of Polar Vortex 2013-14, I received the phone call. Yes – that phone call. Actually, it was two phone calls that I received from Stephanie. The first went something like this: my contractions are starting ramp up, I will keep you posted. The second call (approximately 30 minutes later): you better start driving home now!
And with that, I notified my supervisor that it was go-time and I bounced out the door. Was I nervous? Well, nervous in the sense that I was about to be a father for the first time; I was excited. You have to understand that at 37 years old; after mentoring other people’s kids, being a godfather, and volunteering in children’s ministry – I was to finally have a child that I could call my own. I was ready! So, I drove safely home, retrieved our bags, and set out with Stephanie to the Alternative Birthing Center. We made our way to the second floor and the nurse looked at me and laughed. Well, I was lugging two bags on each arm with one extra scheduled trip back to the car to retrieve more. “How long do you think you’re staying?”, she bellowed. I responded, “Just following orders maam.” And so, the night had just began.
The first few hours of labor was spent waging battle against the fierce onslaught of contraction after contraction. Retrieving an exercise ball, Stephanie and I ducked into the shower for a 3 hour marathon meant to assuage the intensity of the contractions. With a soft meditation soundtrack on a continuous loop playing on Stephanie’s tablet, I darted back and forth from the water & ice machine to fill Stephanie’s water bottle to keep her hydrated. What followed next was a medley of birthing exercises that we had learned from classes. And then walking up and down the hospital hall. And then more birthing exercises. Next was jacuzzi time, as the warm water would act as a soothing and relaxing agent. Somewhere around 5 a.m. I blacked out in a creaky wooden recliner. Comfy.
The next morning was a rotation of the previous night. However, baby Ava was still in the same position and had even rotated to a weird position. The nurse had an idea. It would be painful, but it was worth a shot of making baby rotate to an optimal birthing position. The nurse called it the knees to chest position. Stephanie would probably call it hell. As close to a fetal position as one could get, Stephanie was instructed to lie face down, palms flat, posterior arched in the air, with her knees pulled up as close to her chest as possible. Remember – she’s pregnant and doing this. Oh, I failed to mention that she had to hold this position for 30 minutes.
I say this with all seriousness. To get through with what we had to get through; a wife and husband need to be on the same wavelength. Mentally. And emotionally. For my part, I had to be part drill sergeant and part supportive husband. For my drill sergeant part I implored Stephanie to fight and ignore the pain. I called out 10 minute intervals as a countdown, gently coaxing her to the finish line. As a husband I ran back and forth from the bathroom with cold rags to cool her down. I re-purposed the hospital menu into a fan to wave over her sweaty brow. I waved that flimsy menu like a madman. And I continuously reminded her that her strength lay within our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and she could do it. And then – the 30 minutes were up. Exhausted, she collapsed into the bed and cried tears of joy.
At this time, I would like to send a special shout-out to my sister-in-law Brandi for shoveling the sidewalk at home while we were holed up in the hospital. Brandi had flown in the previous night and had went home to freshen up. It was during that time when Polar Vortex 2013-14 decided to wallop the Detroit Metropolitan area with a fresh blanket of 8-10 inches of snow. The trooper that she is, Brandi armed herself with a shovel, waved a middle finger to the impromptu blizzard, and plowed through the glacial hell with reckless abandon. And I would be remiss if I didn’t send another special shout-out to our adjacent neighbors who used their snow blowers to cut through the heavier paths. We were all #TeamAva.
Next on the agenda, yes, more birthing exercises! The natural birthing process is not a joke people! Now, sometime during the afternoon, I needed to refuel, so I dashed to the cafeteria for a turkey burger with pepper jack cheese, red skin potatoes, and an orange juice. That hit the spot. Up until that point, I was so pumped with adrenaline, I had not eaten since the previous night. So, I bounded back to the room and the contractions were starting to intensify. Stephanie dove back into jacuzzi for physical and mental respite. However, the jacuzzi was not having any effect, Ava was on the way. Involuntarily, Stephanie’s body started to push. But after all that hard work, Stephanie was not dilated enough. At that point, Stephanie had the are-you-$#%^*-kidding-me face going on. Nurse Dee instructed Stephanie to hold tight. A few minutes later, Stephanie looked at me and instructed me to call Nurse Dee back into the room. Stephanie could not halt the arrival of our beautiful angel any longer.
I beckoned Nurse Dee from the hall. She entered and checked Stephanie for progress. And then things started to move very swiftly. When nurses start clearing tables and moving furniture to make room for more staff and hospital supplies, you know it is go-time for real. Dr. P. was phoned in and Stephanie was moved from the jacuzzi to the bed; it was time to deliver our daughter. Allow me to digress a bit and speak to the room itself. Given that we decided upon the natural birthing route, our room was specifically designed to mimic an at-home experience. It was more of a hotel room than hospital room. Stephanie was able to move around with freedom without being hooked up to a machine that constrained her movements. It is designed to make the woman feel less a patient and ease her stress a little. Now, back to the bed.
A majority of the deliveries that I had seen usually goes like this: Woman in bed with a big white sheet draped over her, nurses are off to the side, the physician stands at the foot of the bed, and the husband (if he’s not camped out in the hallway) is by his woman’s side for moral support. My experience: Same scenario, but delete the big white sheet, enter my sister-in-law & mother-in-law, and place me in the bed with Stephanie. Yes, the nurse directed me to jump right in the bed with her! Ladies and gentlemen, I was right in the thick of things. So, I grabbed left leg, a nurse grabbed the right leg – and then the pushing began.
The team work was unbelievable. Nurse Dee, firm and concise, would look Stephanie square in the eye and enforce that Stephanie had all the tools as woman to deliver Ava into the world. Dr. P., calm and collected, called out instructions, and directed everyone where they needed to be and what they needed to do. Brandi shouted on encouragement, telling Stephanie to smile, because one can’t tense up when you’re smiling, as it forces you to relax. I was to Stephanie’s left, whispering encouragement and reinforcement all the way. You can do it baby. You can do it baby – I said over and over. Ava was still traveling sideways, but through the hard work of Stephanie, Dr. P. and the nursing staff (one of whom tossed Stephanie a towel and leveraged herself in a tug-of-war position with Stephanie to grant more pushing power) delivered Ava at 5:03 pm – almost 24 hours after the labor had begun.
The moment was surreal. One minute your wife is pregnant, the next minute, this little baby is looking at you like – what’s up? The nurse placed Ava on Stephanie’s chest. There were hugs. There were tears. There were high-fives. The jubilation was unreal. I had escaped with all my phalanges intact. Stephanie had not called me every profanity known to man. It was nothing like they warn you about or what you see on television. It was quite beautiful. As a new family, the nurses let us chill out in the bed as Ava lay on Stephanie. And then I got to cut the umbilical cord. Then Ava was wrapped up and placed in my arms. I could relive that moment over and over. There is nothing like it. Nothing. It wasn’t until hours later that Ava was weighed and measured. In the Alternate Birthing Center, they are firm proponents of leaving baby with the parents for as long as possible, barring any medical need to separate. The next day we were discharged. I could not have asked for a better labor and delivery. Now, every gentleman’s experience will be different from the next, but I have compiled a few suggestions that a guy may not think of as the main event draws near. So, here you go gents:
Gentlemanly Hints For Labor & Delivery
- It is paramount that a gentleman not only attend birthing classes with his mate, but it is also important that he absorbs the knowledge that is being offered. If her water breaks, it would behoove you to know what color it should be and if it is odorous. Vaginal bleeding – recognize if there is any sharp abdominal pains associated with it and how heavy is the bleeding. Discern false labor from active labor. Time contractions. Understand when it is okay for your infant to sleep on his or her stomach. I was shocked to discover that SIDS is highest in the black community – by a considerable margin. Look, there is plenty of information that can be extremely beneficial for the both of you. Don’t be like the guy in my birthing class who paid more to his smart phone than he did his woman or the instructor. Proud Daddy Moment: As Stephanie was trying to focus through painful contractions, I suggested we employ the exercises we learned in class. To which she looked at me and said she couldn’t remember. Understandable, performing single leg lunges was probably the furthest thing from her mind. Luckily during class I wasn’t texting and actually remembered what the instructer taught us.
- Pack your bags early. We learned in our class that around the 36-37 week of pregnancy, baby can arrive well before the due date. So it is best to be prepared. And yes, that means packing a bag for yourself. You are going to be there right? Pack comfortable clothes and shoes. This isn’t a fashion show, so don’t stress too much. My wardrobe consisted of tee shirts, track pants, sneakers, and scrubs. Oh – and fresh underwear & socks! Pack the usual gentlemanly toiletries that will suitably prevent manly funk from creeping in.
- Ensure that both of your bags house a cadre of small snacks and beverages. Hospital food is expensive. So, it would be wise to grab a couple of bottles of Gatorade (or whatever sports drink of your choice), some snack bars, and some fruit. You might be in for a long night, so you will need the energy as well. You don’t want to be drained and irritable as your lady is experiencing probably the most mentally and physically taxing day in her life.
- You want this moment documented, so don’t forget camera and video camera!
- And speaking of early preparation, ensure that baby essentials such as the crib, any swinging or vibrating contraption, and tummy time play mats are assembled well ahead of time as well. And don’t forget to install that car seat. Call your local police or fire station and inquire about a possible inspection. Our local station checked to ensure it was properly installed.
- Squeamish around blood? Get over it friend. If you dive into the trenches of birth, you will be exposed to any and all types of body fluid that will expel from your woman’s body. But since you’re in a tee-shirt and scrubs anyway; who cares right? Proud Daddy Moment: Okay, this is going to sound weird. Stephanie drank a ton of water during labor & delivery, and consequently, numerous trips to the little ladies room was needed. However, during her extended stint in the jacuzzi, her surroundings precluded her dashes to the bathroom. Now, before I go any further, a little background on me. I worked as a laboratory assistant for 3 years where I handled sputum, blood, fecal matter, pleural effusions, urine – if it was a fluid that came from the human body, I probably handled it. That being said, when it was time to tend to matters of the bladder, I gloved up, grabbed a plastic bed pan, manned up, and tended to my woman. My daughter was coming into the world, a man does what he has to do.
- You and your mate have to be on the same page. There cannot be any surprises. Sit down and discuss how you would like the day to proceed. Discuss topics such as whom will be allowed in the delivery room, how many visitors is acceptable, etc. If I can make a suggestion, that first night post-delivery should consist of you, mother, and baby. That’s it. This is bonding time. This is the time where you look at your mate, she looks at you, you both look at your baby…and just say wow. It really is a special time.
- Lastly, you have to get your mind right. Meaning, your focus must be sharp and acute. The media, sometimes, likes to portray men as incompetent and buffoonish during childbirth. Please, avoid being that stereotypical nincompoop. Sure, a gentleman cannot prepare for everything, as life rarely goes 100% as planned. Nevertheless, you can position yourself to handle labor & delivery better by performing your due diligence and prepping for the big day. So, watch videos (there are a ton on the Internet), read as much material on childbirth as you can, pray and get your mind right with whatever deity you believe in, and most of all, communicate with your mate. The lines of communication must be open at all times. A continuous, positive discourse between yourselves can certainly add ease to a jam-packed day.
Now, of course, these are just my suggestions. You may not follow anything I recommended and still have a beautiful labor & delivery. And there may be things that I did not even think of. If you are a father, please feel free to chime in with your own suggestions. It is a learning process. We all can benefit from the knowledge. Well, hope you enjoyed the passage, and I hope you were able extract at least one nugget of wisdom from my experience. Be easy, talk you good people later.
*Blog Appreciation – Please feel free to share on your social network of choice. Spread a little positivity. Not all fathers, especially fathers of color, fit the mold of a negative stereotype. There are plenty of fathers handling business as men.