Mel called me on a Monday to say that she was going into labor.
The night before, she’d been up most of the night with cramps. I found her in the living room at 5AM, hunched over a copy of “What To Expect When You’re Expecting”, her right hand holding a flashlight.
“I think I’m having contractions,” she said.
But she didn’t really know. This was our third child, but Mel had never gone into labor. Tristan, our first child, was an emergency C-section. And after having one C-section, doctors recommended that Mel have all the other kids that way. Norah’s birth was scheduled. And Aspen’s was to be the same.
She went on, describing the pain and symptoms she was struggling with.
“I’m going to email the doctor,” she said.
Even though she’d been up all night, and was obviously uncomfortable, she seemed elated. This had been a rough pregnancy for her, and the thought of getting the baby out early put her in a very good mood.
As she typed on her computer she said, “I just want to be done.”
“Should I go into work?” I asked.
“Yes. I’ll call you once I hear back from the doctor.”
Most of the day, all I could do was look at my phone, and wonder when she was going to call. Unlike Mel, I wasn’t as excited for the baby to come early. While she was looking forward to feeling better, and I wanted that for her, all I could think about were the long sleepless nights. The horrible, fall asleep, get up, fall asleep, and get up nights. I thought about the first two nights in the hospital, where I was expected to sleep on some shitty fold-out vinyl thing that the hospital provides. In every room there was a bed, but none of those are for new fathers. They don’t give beds to new fathers, they ask them to sleep in a chair, or on some other piece of shit, and then they have the audacity to wonder why some men run off after a baby is born. It’s hard not to wonder if those first few nights spent in the hospital reflect your future as a father.
I finished up a few emails, told my boss that I was leaving, and then rushed out the door. I work about 30 minutes from home, and by the time I got there, Mel had the car packed up and ready to go. My mother in law was in the back seat, and Mel had her hands on her hips and a look on her face that said, “What the hell took you so long?”
Indeed, I had taken longer than usual to get home. I do things like that during life changes. For example, I took a back road and got a little lost on the way to my wedding. I usually do these things subconsciously. I’m not even aware that I’ve made a wrong turn. Sometimes I wonder if it’s a defense mechanism, some primal need to avoid responsibility.
We picked up the kids from school and started driving. Because of our HMO, Mel was giving birth in Salem, a 45 minute drive from our house in Small Town Oregon. Our insurance was amazingly affordable, less than $100 a month for the whole family. However, everything we needed was 45 minutes away.
Joan, my mother in law, the kids, and Mel were all talking about normal things as I drove. Tristan was going on about his new passion, rubber band bracelets, and Norah was singing a song. They acted like it was any other drive. Mel must have not been in that much pain, because she was chatting away, although every once in a while she’d shove a fist into the side of her stomach and say, “oh.”
And as we hit the freeway, I started imagining Mel spitting the baby out right there in the car. I’d seen this in movies, scenes where anxious fathers pull the car to the side of the road, lay their wives down along the back seat, use the door frame as stirrups, and deliver their child in some gritty truck stop medical procedure.
While this always seemed funny on film, the bumbling father trying to act like a medical professional, the thought of me actually assisting with the birth of my child made me nauseated. It was something I never wanted to do.
So I drove faster.
As we got closer to the hospital, Mel said, “We can park in the parking structure and walk, or we can park in the round-about outside the building. I took a tour of the hospital, and they said I could park in the round about without getting towed.”
“Let’s park in the round-about,” I said.
“I’d rather park in the structure,” Mel said. “That way I can walk some. The doctor said it’s good to walk while in labor. It makes the baby come faster.”
“No. No,” I said. “That’s a bad idea. What if the baby just falls out on the ground?”
I could hear Joan laughing in the backseat, and Mel leaned in and whispered, “My vagina is not a trapdoor.”
We parked in the round about. The kids stayed with Joan in the waiting room, while Mel and I went into an examining room. Mel stripped down and changed into a gown. She laid down on a hospital bed in the dark room. We chatted with the nurse as she hooked Mel up to this and that, and then we sat there, and waited.
So much of giving birth has to do with waiting. Sitting and wondering. And as a father, all of this means feeling helpless. Sometimes I’m a cheerleader, other times I’m a bench warmer, but for the most part I am just there, feeling inactive and worthless.
Perhaps this is why they don’t give me a bed.
We met with a doctor, who was well intentioned and jolly. But as he stuck his fingers inside my wife to see if she was dilated, I couldn’t help but feel the urge to punch him in the face. Partly out of jealousy, partly because I felt so helpless and unneeded, that part of me felt like getting pissed would make me feel in charge.
They poked and prodded Mel. They left a cotton swap inside her. They checked readouts.
Finally, after over an hour, the doctor said, “You are definitely having contractions, but they’re mild. I don’t think you are going into labor just yet, but I’m going to suggest to your doctor that he move your delivery date up.”
And that was it. We were sent home. I told Norah (our four year old) that the baby wasn’t going to come yet, and she got angry, “No!” She said, “Go tell the doctor to cut Aspen out right now!”
It was funny, and we all laughed. But as I looked at Mel’s tired eyes, I could tell that she agreed with her. And as we walked back to the car, I was a mix of emotions. Part of me was relieved to not be spending the night at the hospital, part of me was coming down from all the excitement, and part of me was feeling compassion for my wife who looked deflated and worn out, and wished that she was done being pregnant.
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in New York Times Motherlode, Huffington Post Parents, Huffington Post Weddings, and The Good Men Project. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley