Gone are the days when a man sits in the waiting room of a hospital, cigar in hand, waiting to hear if the fruit of his handiwork is a boy or girl. Today’s man is in the delivery room.
The delivery room experience is crazy. There are all these fantastic, decisive, incredibly smart nurses running around taking care of your wife and child. If you’re like me, you will compare yourself to them and feel like a doofus. That’s okay.
What the hell am I supposed to do in there, you ask? Good question. Your wife is doing the hard work, but you can actually do a lot to make it a better experience for her. And you won’t be just the token dude in the room. You have an important job. This is your guide to coming out of the delivery room a hero.
Don’t Be on the Sideline
The day of your child’s birth is gameday. Don’t be a spectator. Of course, your wife is the star player. She is quarterback, runningback, kicker, and receiver. But you can be the blocker she thanks after the game.
I was well-prepared for this with the birth of our first child. For our second — different story. Maybe it was overconfidence. Maybe it was simply not having enough time to prepare because we had a small child. But during the birth of our second child, I froze. I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t prepared. This was difficult for my wife. I never want to feel that useless again.
For the birth of our third child, I actually prepared. And now whenever the delivery story comes up she talks about how she couldn’t have done it without me. She totally could have, but still, it feels good hearing her say that.
Preparation is Key
Ask your wife what kinds of comforts and distractions she might like during labor. The time to ask your wife these questions is well before the delivery. Not while on the way to the hospital.
Maybe she knows that she wants you there holding her hand the whole time. Maybe she wants to watch reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond. Maybe she wants you to have an order of sushi at the ready the minute that baby is out because not having seafood during pregnancy is killing her.
An important note: every woman and every birth experience is different. I think the coaching tips I outlined below will be helpful for most women, but not all. Just like any good coach, make a plan, but be ready to adjust.
Your lady is having extreme anxiety, especially as the labor progresses. She is sitting on a stick of dynamite and the fuse is lit. “Wait. This isn’t a good idea. I shouldn’t be doing this. I want to quit.” She needs encouragement to know she’s got this. She needs to know she is is doing great, and that you are in her corner.
Tell her this, in your own words: “You’re doing fantastic, Sweetie. You’re so strong. You are amazing. You’ve got this! I know you can do this! We’re almost there — soon you will be holding our baby.”
And tell her that repeatedly. Many births go on for quite some time, and you might feel like a broken record. But she needs to hear it.
Tellling someone to remember to breathe sounds so dumb. Breathing is automatic, right? Well, sometimes people need a gentle reminder. I don’t know how many times in the gym I was holding my breath during a deadlift or a bench press and someone had to remind me to breathe.
The tendency for a woman in labor is to hold her breath. Just as with lifting weights, breathing is going to help the process.
How do we repeatedly remind someone to breathe without being annoying?
With my wife, as I was there holding her hand or massaging her back I gently made an audible inhale and exhale sound. That reminded her to breathe, but was also more soothing because I was breathing with her.
I would also occasionally actually say the word “breathe.” But I’d say it gently, softly, and slowly, while exhaling.
The medical team is not going to let your wife eat. Strange, right? But in the event of a c-section, they will have to administer anesthesia. And when someone is under anesthesia, the doctors want the patient’s stomach to be empty. Therefore, during labor, no food. They will, however, let her eat ice chips. She is in a major athletic event, probably pouring sweat, and something cold will sound good. Ask for some ice chips. A nurse can get some for you. You just set them in her mouth with that plastic spoon and she will be forever grateful.
Another way to comfort is massage. This is an excellent thing to discuss, and practice, with your wife well before delivery. Does she like long, broad strokes down her back? Or does she prefer deep pressure on a single spot? Upper back, lower back, shoulders? Many women like pressure applied to the lower spine.
Maybe there are areas where she doesn’t want to be touched, like the feet or arms.
Ask her what she likes. Practice it. Then on gameday you’ll be ready.
It is so important to distract her from the pain, to keep her mind on the prize.
Remind her she is so close to holding her new baby. “We’re so close, Sweetie! We’re so close and you are going to be holding our baby in your arms.”
Does your baby already have a name? If so, use it! “Catherine is almost here!”
Talk about little, physical details. “We’re going to see her tiny little fingers and toes. We’re going to hear her cry. We’re going to see her open her little eyes.”
Talk about what you’re going to do after the hospital. “We’re going drive home and you’ll sit next to her while she’s sitting in her carseat. We’ll get home and set her in her crib.” If you have other kids, definitely conjure up the image of them meeting and holding baby.
Encourage, breathe, comfort, distract.
Prepare beforehand. Talk to your wife about it. Go over the plan in your mind. Make a cheat sheet if you have to. Then in that delivery room: encourage, breathe, comfort, distract.
Don’t be on the sideline, and your wife will thank you.