I’m finding it difficult to talk about being an expectant father. There are many reasons, not the least of which is that I have no idea what I’m talking about. Tell a story to someone who’s a parent already and they’ll look at me like they’re listening to a 15-year-old girl pontificate on the subject of love. It’s cute.
“Awww. Honey, come here and look at the stupid man.”
And if I tell a story to someone who’s not a parent (like I was for 40 years), they’ll look at me like I’m part of the problem.
So, with such broad ambivalence on either side, the least I can do is try to make it entertaining.
But, it turns out that there actually is a small demographic who can relate, and my wife and I spent six hours with them last Saturday when we, and 11 other couples, went to our first birthing class.
Now, the first thing you think when you see another pregnant couple is: “Wow, those two totally did it.” Well, maybe you don’t think that, but the 10 year old boy who operates my sense of humor certainly did.
The instructor had us stand in a line based on our due date, which also served at the order in which we would introduce ourselves. My wife introduced us, told everyone we were having a girl and announced our due date. Any normal couple would leave it at that, but I had to chime in with: “It’s not mine, but I swear I’ll raise it as if it were.”
An uncomfortable silence hung heavy in the room. My wife hung her head.
“I’m just kidding. It’s mine. Ha ha,” I said, but 2 minutes and 45 seconds into our six hours, the trust had already been betrayed.
Then they showed The Video. If you’ve been to a birthing class, you know the one I’m talking about. If you haven’t, just recall the film you saw in Drivers Ed, and replace “devastating car crash” with “woman in labor.”
The narrator was cheerful and upbeat, but every scene showed a sweaty woman in absolute agony, and a shell-shocked husband crouched beside her like a shortstop waiting to field a live grenade.
Then, the instructor passed around a chart illustrating the various stages of dilation. That’s when I learned what “10cm” was. Centimeters always seemed fairly benign to me, as if, someday, if they worked hard enough, they would become inches. But now I know that centimeters are bastards.
It’s no coincidence that 10 centimeters equals 1 decimeter, and that the word “decimeter” shares a root with “decimate.” And this, gentle reader, is why America rejected the metric system.
So clearly there’s going to be pain, and a lot of it. Ideally, I learned, the husband is there to help alleviate some of the pain, which is much better than my initial plan; pulling my knees up to my chest, rocking back and forth and weeping until someone hands me a baby.
The last half of the class was devoted to the intimate massaging designed to sooth the mother’s contractions and general discomfort. Coincidentally, this was one of the many moments that our baby chose to make Mommy use the bathroom. Without my wife to focus on, I had no choice but to glance around the room.
What began as a normal class full of normal people now resembled Caligula’s Rome. There were couples on the floor, on all fours, sitting on exercise balls. There were tilting pelvises, clumsy rubbings, and I swear the couple next to me was demonstrating how they came to find themselves in a birthing class in the first place.
Until that moment, I never knew how hard it was to try and focus on absolutely nothing.
We have another six-hour class next week. I’m going to bring a bottle of wine.