One of the funniest things anyone said to me before I became a father came from the mother of one of S.’s best friends. In her unique way of offering to help us, she casually mentioned that she would be happy to come “sit in the waiting room with me” while S. was in the delivery room. What is this, 1950? We laughed a lot about that.
One of the areas of potential danger for a prospective father is the dreaded passing out in the delivery room. From speaking to other people who have been through the process, it seems to be a combination of all the stress inherent to childbirth, the conditions unique to each birth, and then a healthy amount of concern after seeing your heavily sedated wife go through the most difficult process we humans can go through short of dying. That sounds about right for where I found myself around 7:30 AM July 25.
I had been awake for about 24 hours at that point, which isn’t awful compared to what some go through. I was also quite hungry; I had been contemplating grabbing some breakfast around 6:30 when it seemed as though we had several more hours to wait. I slammed a beer right before we left for the hospital, ostensibly to calm my nerves, but I believe it had in fact compounded my feelings of hunger and weariness. Most of all, I was riding a huge wave of adrenaline which is always a recipe for disaster if you push it too long.
Jumping back a moment, as I said around 6:30 I was getting ready to head across the hall to grab some cereal. Although I knew I risked puking it all up if my eyes wandered too much during delivery, I felt I needed the energy boost since I had no idea how much longer we would be waiting. Several nurses came in to check on S., who had been dilated to 5 cm on the last check (Quick primer for the men out there who haven’t been through the process yet: 10 cm is the magic number. S. had been steadily if slowly progressing throughout the night.). Coincidentally, the OB came in for one last check before he went on his morning rounds. “Wow, you’re up to an easy 7 cm,” he said. The pace seemed to be picking up. He said he’d be back shortly, but it shouldn’t be much longer.
Roughly 15 minutes later I noticed a lot of activity among the nurses. The comforting sound of the Little Girlfriend’s heartbeat on the monitor was becoming irregular. One of the nurses said, “I can’t find a heartbeat.” Another nurse flew out of the room to find the OB before he left the building. Bear in mind, I digested none of this at the time. Things were just happening so fast that no one took the time to turn around and tell dad what was up. The OB runs back in, checks S., and informs the room that she’s up to 9 cm as the nurses rocked her body from side to side trying to find a good reading on the baby’s heart. Alarms go off. People go running out of the room. S. is wheeled away. The OB turns around and says several things to me, none of which I can remember, excepting his final comment, “Someone will be in to get you,”. I was just out of it enough to have no idea what had just happened. Was this good, bad, very bad, or totally normal?
I had several minutes alone to contemplate before a nurse came in and helped me struggle into a jumpsuit, booties, cap, and surgical mask. She escorted me into the operating room where the medical team was preparing to preform an emergency C-section to get this baby that didn’t seem to be enjoying the ride out of her mother’s abdomen. I was seated on a stool by S.’s head. My rule all along was No Cutting, No Catching. I’m a bit squeamish when it comes to innards and blood and whatnot, so I pledged to do everything I could do to help S. as long as it involved remaining above her shoulders. Things were moving so rapidly that the team failed to get the surgical screen up before the docs started cutting. It took an immense amount of willpower to stay locked in on S.’s eyes and block out all the sounds and medical jargon that was floating around. I later learned that there was never any real danger, but at the time, I had no clue that was the case. I didn’t know if the baby was crashing, if S. was crashing, or what. Being the ER fan, I had about 20 nightmare scenarios shoot through my head before I told myself to cut it out and concentrate on S.’s hand that I was holding. Maybe five minutes, maybe an hour later, I hear screaming and I see my daughter’s little grayish-blue face pop up out of her mom’s stomach. She was making the same face S. makes when she’s sad, which I thought was pretty funny. At this point, I began a 15 minute process of continuous crying while managing to go about everything else as though nothing was the matter.
M. was fully extracted and taken over to the nurses for the initial tests and vaccinations. I eventually made my way over and held onto her bright pink ankles while she screamed and screamed. Never has a totally inconsolable child ever sounded so wonderful as she did. After about ten minutes with her I really started to notice the heat of the warming lamps. I noticed how I was re-breathing the same air inside the mask over and over. I noticed that I was a little queasy. I thought it might be a good time to go check on my wife. I slowly made my way back to the stool and sat down by S.. She asked what M. was like, and I found it difficult to get words out. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
“I’m feeling a little lightheaded and queasy.”
She started waving at the nurses.
“What’s wrong, honey?”
“I’m fine,” she said as her stomach was stitched back together. “He’s feeling lightheaded and queasy, though.”
Three nurses picked my up by the arms and escorted me out of the room before I could protest. I kept thinking, “Don’t be the dad that passes out in the delivery room. Don’t be that guy!” As soon as they got me through the doors, they ripped off my mask, sat me in a chair, and slammed an ice cold towel on my neck. I weakly tried to explain myself as I wiped tears from my face, “I think I”m just really hungry. I get this way when my stomach is empty.” Almost before the words were out of my mouth I had a glass of orange juice and a package of crackers handed to me. This wasn’t so bad, after all! I quickly regained my bearings and was taken back to our room where S. and M. joined me a few moments later.
So it wasn’t really all that dramatic, although it certainly seemed that way at the time. When you spend almost eight hours watching a process unwind rather slowly and naturally, then suddenly see your wife go under the knife to get your baby out, I think you’re allowed to have a reaction. Later, I likened it to narrowly avoiding an accident. The adrenaline gets you through the moment, but later you get the shakes when you realize what happened. Once I saw my daughter was breathing and screaming like normal and my wife was in good shape as well, the shakes hit. Since any future kids we have will be born via C-section now, I just have to hope they’re scheduled and not stat so I can make sure I’ve got a full belly before they wheel us into the OR!