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My daughter Maggie is an only child, so I have an only experience in the delivery room. It was, however, a doozy — one that makes me a genuine expert on the subject of a father’s decorum.
Maggie declined to be born on time, so on the 10th overdue day, the obstetrician gave my wife, Fran, Pitocin to induce labor. When her cervix was dilated 1 centimeter (out of 10), Fran, who’d taken Lamaze classes and resolved to experience natural childbirth, decided not to tough out the strong contractions and requested an epidural.
Thirty-six hours later — during which time I fetched ice chips and the like, counted while Fran pushed and occasionally felt like fainting — the obstetrician performed a fourth-degree episiotomy, cutting Fran from sea to shining sea, and Maggie dropped out as if on a water slide. I counted her fingers and toes, then heard the frightening sound of the alarm gauging Fran’s vital signs: Her blood pressure had dropped dangerously low.
In the end, everything turned out fine — Maggie was beautiful and healthy and we were happy (though Fran walked with her knees together for four months). And I’m now in a position to prepare you for what will be, I hope, a much less eventful but just as memorable adventure. These days, childbirth-education classes are pretty much the norm for fathers, but many men have fears and fantasies they’re afraid to bring up in front of others.
So for insider tips on handling some potentially tricky delivery room situations, I went to two experts — Thousand Oaks, Calif., obstetrician-gynecologist Raymond Poliakin, M.D., author of What You Didn’t Think to Ask Your Obstetrician (Contemporary Books, 1994); and Westlake Village, Calif., certified childbirth instructor Robin Gruver. Here’s their advice from the trenches.
Scenario: You decide you really don’t want to be in the delivery room after all. Assuming your wife wants you there (not all women do, by the way), you should at the very least give it a fair shot. But you also need to know your limitations — like a weak stomach or a tendency to faint — going in. “If you’re unable or reluctant to do what needs to be done, arrange to have someone else back you up,” Poliakin says. “If you can only do one thing for your wife, just be there and pay attention to her.” The delivery-room experience isn’t for everyone, Gruver agrees. “It’s unfair to insist all men be there,” she says. “But many men are glad afterward that their wife urged them to stay.”