Friday, January 17, 2014

Labor and Delivery: One Man's Trials and Travails

Fourteen and a half years ago I was in the hospital in Logan with my wife.  We were anxiously awaiting the arrival of our first child.  As I watched, and provided what support I could, I was amazed at the entire process and what a woman goes through to become a mother.  My appreciation for my wife and my own mother grew by leaps and bounds that day.  

A few short days later I got myself into hot water at our church meeting.  It was a fast and testimony meeting where we have the opportunity to stand and share our feelings, beliefs, and thoughts with the other members.  Having just gone through an incredibly emotional and spiritual experience, I felt compelled to share some of my feelings.  I stood at the podium and talked about my gratitude for my wife for what she had just done.  My last words were, "After seeing what she went through, I am so grateful to be a man."

It was an attempt to show my gratitude for what she had done and to highlight my own weakness in facing such a physical trial.  Unfortunately, I managed to offend a number of the sisters in the ward.  A number of them made their way to the podium, and while glaring at me, told me how wonderful it is to be a woman.  I don't think they understood what I was trying to say.

Either way, and this is meant to be humorous in my own serious way, it is important to share the trials and travails that the husbands and fathers suffer through during the labor and delivery process.  I'll try not to avoid any mention of our suffering that occurs during the pregnancy...that may be too much suffering in one post.

Mothers spend a lot of time sharing labor and delivery stories.  They relish the experience, even if it does frighten soon to be new mothers and young male bachelors.  It is my hope that my experiences will not scare any soon to be fathers.  You can be prepared and weather the storms that will come.

Please note that the couch for the spouse is to close to the bed to allow for any meaningful rest.

First Time: A Rookie's Story
The Beef & Cheddar That Wasn't, Until Later
As we entered the hospital for the birth of our first child, I was unbelievably anxious.  For weeks I had been anxious for this child to be born.  I was excited to be a father.  (And I was excited to quit my job at the cheese factory.)  At the end of her pregnancy my wife was suffering from a serious rash and a few other things.  The doctor mercifully decided to induce labor.

With all of the attention on my wife and my high level of excitement, I had forgotten to eat all day.  By five o'clock that evening I was starving, not literally, but rather strongly in a figurative way.  Luckily, my parents and sisters were at the hospital.  They ran to grab me a Beef & Cheddar from Arbie's.  They delivered it to me in the room and my wife kindly gave me permission to eat it quickly.  As I sat with the bag in my hands, the nurse came in to check on my wife's progress.  Just as I begin to unwrap the warm, delicious smelling sandwich, the nurse said loudly, "It's time.  Get the doctor in her now.  The baby is coming!"

For a split second, my excitement for the birth of our first baby and my deep physiological need for nourishment battled for my attention.  Coming to my senses, I wrapped up the sandwich and put it back into the bag.

Throughout the delivery process my wife was amazing.  We were blessed with a beautiful baby girl with a shock of dark hair on her head.  She was beautiful!  I split my time between telling my wife that she had done a great job and admiring the baby as the nurses cleaned her and checked her vitals.  At some point, the nurses took our daughter out of the room.  Thinking that most of the important work had been done, I decided to go back after my sandwich.  

I was wrong.  The process was not complete.  Picking up the bag with the sandwich, the doctor looked at me and said, "You'll want to see this."

He turned with the placenta in his hands and placed it in a large metal bowl.  My raging appetite quivered and then died.  It was another couple of hours before the hunger returned and I managed to choke down the now cold and stale sandwich.

Stay the Night With Me--Or, the Graduation I Don't Remember
Our first child was brought into the world at an exciting time in our lives.  Not only were we starting out as new parents, it was also the day before my college graduation.  Grandparents held their new granddaughter and rejoiced.  By the end of the night my tired wife fell into exhaustion.  Thinking of my graduation the next day, I begin to think of how to tell my wife good night so I could go home to get some much needed sleep.  

Before I could say anything, my wife reached up and took my hand.  Looking at me with her tired, beautiful eyes she said, "Will you stay the night here with me?"

Looking at the small, hard couch that would be my bed for the night if I stayed, I had to fight the urge to tell my wife that I would prefer to go home.  Somewhat reluctantly, I agreed.  It was a rough night.  Not only was the couch uncomfortable, but the nurses kept coming in to check on my wife and the baby.  Nobody checked on me, yet I survived the night anyway with little to no sleep.

At around six in the morning I stumbled out making my way back to my apartment so I could shower and get ready for my graduation.  After my shower, I woke my parents and sisters up so they could join me at my graduation later.  Once I was on campus I met up with my best friend.  We walked with other graduates from the College of Business to the Spectrum for ceremony.  I was feeling fine, excited for the moment, right up until I sat in my chair.  I have no idea who spoke or what they said.  One of my classmates kept elbowing me in the side each time I slumped over.  One time she leaned over to ask me, with some humor, to quit snoring.  If it hadn't been for her, I never would have known when to walk across the stage to receive my diploma.

Doctor Eye Candy
I have to tell one story about some suffering that occurred during our second pregnancy.  We were stationed at Vance AFB in Enid, Oklahoma at the time.  As my wife searched for a local doctor, one came very highly recommended.

At our first appointment it was immediately obvious why he had such a stellar reputation among the mothers.  He was pure eye candy in the likeness of a Calvin Klein model.  Now this was probably her toughest pregnancy out of all six.  She was miserable and the heat in Oklahoma made it worse.  Yet each time she had an appointment she would get excited.  While I never felt seriously threatened, I did make sure I wore my Battle Dress Uniform to each appointment with the sleeves rolled up.  (I may have even spent a little more time working on my biceps than usual.)

The Worst Night (Maybe Not Ever, But It Was Bad)
With our third pregnancy, my wife was measuring very large as we approached the last week.  Once again, for the third time, the doctor decided to induce labor.  This time her doctor, instead of being a version of McDreamy, looked to be about as old as Methusaleh.  Anyway, for some reason he asked us to come to the hospital later in the day for the induction.  

Based on previous experiences, I figured it would all be over by early to late evening.  We finished packing her bag and left for the hospital.  Since it was a warm day in June, I left the house wearing shorts and a t-shirt.  I figured that once the baby was born and my wife was somewhat recovered, I would go home to pick up my mother-in-law and two daughters to bring them back to the hospital to meet their new brother.

Things didn't go as the doctor planned.  He tried a different type of induction method that just wouldn't get things started.  Finally, late that night he decided to hold off on actively pushing labor until the morning.  Even though she wasn't in full, active labor at that time, it could go by itself at any moment.  So, once again I faced the prospects of a night in a labor and delivery room.

It was worse this time.  She was hot and so they kept the room frigid.  I was in shorts and a t-shirt remember and going home to change at that point didn't seem prudent.  As I shivered on the small, lumpy couch, the nurse brought me a thin sheet from a warming cabinet.  It was heaven, briefly.  Eventually the heat dissipated and I was left to suffer.  

A number of times I was able to relax enough, despite the cold, to begin to fall asleep.  Each time, just as I would start to slip away, the nurse would come in to check on my wife.  Now, I understood the need to check on her, but a little more consideration and quiet would have been appreciated by me.  Heck, even a little attention thrown my way would have been appreciated.  

"Would you like some hot chocolate?"

"Would you like some hot soup?"

"Would you like a real blanket?"

"Sir, are you still alive?"

Any one of those questions would have made me feel like a valued person.  All I received from the staff was silence.  Now, the few times when my wife asked me for ice chips or something else, I was happy to get up and help.  Despite my desperate and destitute situation, I was wise.  I did not speak out loud about my discomfort to anyone that night.  Well, I might have mentioned to my wife once or twice that I was a bit cold.  

While the next day was rough for me, it was undoubtedly rougher for my wife.  It was her first time making a go at it without an epidural.  (Men, this is a big conversation topic.  Make sure you know enough to nod and agree with your wife's opinion on the matter.)  
As my wife and I experienced three more labor and deliveries, we learned to handle the pain, stress, and exhaustion.  It helped that the deliveries began to happen more quickly with each child.  For the last two she instructed doctors and nurses on what she wanted and how it was going to be.  They listened.  (On the last one I had to help the doctor get suited up because the rest of the labor and delivery team weren't there for the start of the festivities.)

Throughout my years as a husband, father, and birth coach, I understood that the needs and sufferings of the husband are often neglected.  Often, as I have come across expecting husbands, I make it a point to warn them.  I give the a quick run down of things to expect, things to take, things to do, and when to speak and when to be quiet.  In response to my warnings, many people laugh and some expecting moms and some experienced moms get a look of annoyance in their eyes.  I understand that they and the new babies are the stars of this show, but the forgotten ones have needs as well.

So, here are some of my...

Lessons Learned
What to Bring
- First, whatever your wife tells you to bring.
- Layers of clothing to include long sleeve shirt(s) and pants.  You can go to the hospital in shorts and a t-shirt, but make sure you have something else to put on.  A word of caution, you might not be given enough time or privacy to change.
- Snacks.  Bring the snacks you like but make sure they aren't the type that might annoy your very agitated wife.  She may not want you chewing on something that is crunchy or chewy.  She may not appreciate certain odors.
- Entertainment.  Tread lightly here, very lightly.  It's okay to bring a book or some type of electronic device.  Only pull them out when your wife approves their use.
- Cash.  Bring small bills and coins for quick runs to the vending machines.  If you have time to run to the cafeteria, take advantage of it but be prepared in case you can't.

How to Select a Doctor
- Let your wife select the doctor but try to steer her away from former Calvin Klein models.
- Also, try to steer her toward doctors who go to the quality hospitals.  (Definition of a quality hospital is below.)
- Always agree with your wife's opinion of the doctor (except for when she talks about how handsome he is).

How to Select a Quality Hospital
-  A quality hospital has three things: good food in the cafeteria, good food that brought to the rooms, and great amenities (snacks and drinks) that are available for both you and your wife.
- Take the tours of the labor and delivery wings of the hospital.  Ask questions about the amenities available to the husband.  Can you get drinks and snacks from the amenities room?  If the answer is no, then observe how closely it is watched.  Are meals for you, in the room, included in the service?  Who is their cable or satellite tv provider?
- Eat a meal at their cafeteria.  Some hospitals have had amazing food.  

Try to guide your wife to pick the doctor that goes to the good hospital, but realize you can only say so much.  Anything you do say should be couched in terms of how it benefits her, so look for those things so you can maintain your integrity.

Getting It Right (Mostly)
As we entered the hospital for our sixth labor and delivery, my wife was excited.  This was going to be her first time without pitocin.  I expected things to go quickly and wasn't too worried about my comfort.  Before my wife changed into her hospital garb she reached into her overstuffed bag and pulled out a surprise for me.  It was a homemade blanket that folded into a pillow.  Stuffed inside the blanket was book, some Twizzlers, some Pringles, and a few other of my favorite snacks.  My eyes, as they did when she handed me the blanket, are tearing up while I write this.  We were truly prepared.

My wife's labor progressed rapidly this time.  The doctor and I had to set the bed up and get her dressed without the assistance of the labor and delivery team.  They were still wrapping up another one in a nearby room.  A backup nurse was called in to help.  

Now, an important aside.  This last doctor was her first female OB/GYN to deliver one our babies.  She was a lot of fun to meet with throughout the pregnancy because she runs a lot of marathons and other races.  Several times she and I swapped stories about various races in our pasts and futures.  

In the delivery room, the contractions started to come on more frequently and powerfully.  I stood holding my wife's hand so she could squeeze it hard during the contractions.  Due to my wife's experience and strength, there wasn't much coaching from the doctor or the nurse.  To fill the silence the doctor started to talk about my upcoming race that was taking place the next week.  She told the nurse about it.  The nurse then proceeded to ask me questions.  I love to talk about running and races, especially to someone who really wants to know.  Under the circumstances, however, I knew I was walking on thin ice.  I tried to keep my answers informative, yet brief so that I didn't annoy my wife.  I even made a concerted effort to quit talking during the contractions.  But the nurse kept asking questions.

In the middle of one my informative, yet brief answers, my wife crushes my hand and says, "Shut up!  Just shut up about the race!"

Never forget, no matter how cool you are or your stories are, you are not the star of this particular show.


Tommy W said...

Ha ha ha, what a great post! The miracle of life is pretty phenomenal, isn't it?

I remember with the birth of our first, things were moving slowly at first, and my wife gave me permission to run out to Sonic. When I got back, the labor had intensified, and the nurse shot me a seriously dirty look!

Tiffy Ann said...

Love it!