“Be on your best behavior today.”
At BJJ last Thursday, Kristy and I paired up for techniques and early drills. At one point, I mentioned to her that Meg and I had our Child Birth class (or Birthing class, as I was calling it for some unknown reason) this weekend. Her immediate reaction was to launch into breathing drills. “Hee hee phoo. Hee hee phoo.” For those of you that understand BJJ, realize I was in her open guard when she did that, which was an eerie, ironic visual as she burst into labor breathing patterns.
“But even Brad and Kristy laughed during their class, and Brad isn’t even a fraction of the jackass that I am.”
“Exactly. Keep your mouth shut.”
Moments later, we walked into the conference room at the Mount Holly hospital where I unabashedly asked if this was where I came to learn how to get the baby out of my wife’s stomach. I am pretty sure I wouldn’t have been in as much trouble had I not moved my arms in a swimming gesture as I asked.
In my defense, we had to show up at class with two pillows and a blanket. So before we even got there, my head was stirring with all the comic potential of this class. After all, humans have been having kids for thousands of years; I suppose when the time came I assumed we would naturally know what to do. I wanted to use a quote from Bill Cosby: Himself here about academics going to school to study what people know naturally, but unfortunately I couldn’t find the exact verbiage. As a side note, if you’ve never seen that particular stand up (it’s from about 1982), get off your ass and check it out. I don’t have a copy now and haven’t heard it in many years, but from what I remember from his bits on child birth, dentists, and drinking are damn genius.
The class was pretty full, with eleven other couples besides me and Meg. I immediately come to a realization. With that many pregnant women, I could totally fart at will and not be the first person everyone expected. I would become the guerilla terrorist of the Child Birth class. Not even a hummingbird could catch me in action.
Frustratingly, the class started at 8:30am. That meant I had to wake earlier than I normally do for work, not to mention actually having to leave the house. To make matters worse, the classes started off by thrusting us (no pun intended) straight into the physiological facts of child birth. What that means is that at about 8:31am on Saturday morning, I was staring eye to eye with a diagram highlighting the uterus, birth canal, placenta, and mucus plug. If anyone thinks I’m being over dramatic, I defy you to turn to your spouse first thing in the morning and say “mucus plug” without getting an adverse reaction.
I glance around the room to find, not surprisingly, every other guy in the room searching frantically for the exit. Also not surprisingly, every woman in the place was eating. At 26 weeks, Meg was the least pregnant of the group, which had become quite competitive in pillaging the continental breakfast they provided.
After about two hours of the biology lesson, the instructor (Lori) announces we’ll be watching a video. I am naive in certain respects, but I didn’t trust this shit one bit. It began innocently enough, with women describing how they felt during “Early Labor”, the first level in the first stage of labor. Yes, it’s that complex. They all looked happy enough, and continued with their active lifestyle for the 7-8 hours that level can occupy. Yes, 7-8 freaking hours from “I think I’m going into labor” until you even bother going to the hospital. I don’t pretend to be a patient man. That’s just plain gonna suck.
They transition into, um… shit, I forget the name already. Labor level 2. I do remember it is the painful level. Here’s where contractions start to hurt more, last longer, and you can’t push yet. After a few minutes of this, the narrator announces that it’s time to begin pushing. We flash to an image on the screen that seemed to last for hours. The image was… gee, how do I say this one nicely. It was of the top of a baby’s head. At least, I had to assume it was a baby, since the body was still inside the mother. Speaking of the mother, I couldn’t recognize her right now if I were to run into her on the street, since I wasn’t exactly looking at her face at this point. Rather, I was looking at a gateway into hell. Remember the scene in Poltergeist where the little girls’ closet door opens and tries to suck her in? Er, nevermind, I’ll just punch out of that train of thought now.
Who the hell agrees to have this exact moment in her life– and more importantly, from that particular angle– recorded and shown, repeatedly, to complete strangers?
I glance around the room. One father took off his glasses. Another was hunched over, head in his hands, as his wife rubbed his back. Sweat was noticeable on many others. Myself and another father had to wrestle away a plastic spoon from a third father who was attempting to stab himself in the eyes with it.
It wasn’t over either. Grabbing on at the head, the doctor yanked the rest of the baby’s body free. Yes, yanked. Immediately, he brings the slime covered newborn (again, think Poltergeist) up to the mother’s chest. I notice at this point that for some bizarre reason, the mother was completely naked. It marks the first time in my life that I could honestly care less that a woman was naked on my screen, I just wanted the movie to end.
But no, it was not to end yet. For my non-parent readers, let me share with you a small piece of information I learned today. The baby isn’t the only thing the mother expels from her innards. The placenta is a large sack that connects between the mother and the umbilical cord and provides food to the baby. No baby, no need for a placenta, so that has to come out too. After fitting a baby through the birth canal, the placenta is pretty easy. Yet the doctor on the video insisted on using the umbilical cord as a rope and yanking the placenta forcefully out of the mother. Plop.
I’ve had many jobs I’ve hated. They all pale in comparison with the doctor’s job at this point. He has to check the placenta to make sure it all came out. The check is to ensure the baby didn’t leave anything inside the mother, like his iPod.
“Ok, who’s ready for lunch?”
It takes a truly sick individual to schedule lunch immediately following that video. And after seeing the placenta in the video, if they serve fava beans and a nice chianti, I’m gonna start swinging.
Lunch ends and the pain begins again. We get introduced to some of the tools the doctor may use during labor. Lori called them “forceps”, but I’ll be damned if they weren’t a giant pair of solid steel salad spoons.
“Oh please Lord, don’t let her show us what they do with them.”
Thankfully, there was no video. However, there were some graphic images describing their usage. My own assumptions were a bit off. Yes, you simply, uh, insert them into the, um, mother. But the goal is to maneuver the salad spoons around the baby’s head and pull. I will repeat that. The goal is to pull the child– by its head– out of the mother. Over time, science has shown that this isn’t an ideal approach. I wondered just what doctor finally mustered the ounce of common sense required to come to that brilliant conclusion.
Instead, a technique called “Vacuum Extraction” has been invented. I have to admit, the first visual my mind could muster at hearing the term “vacuum extraction” involved a toilet plunger and three of my closest friends. I was quickly proven wrong. The idea is that you place a miniature plunger on the baby’s head. After a few quick pumps on the handle, a vacuum is created which acts as a handle for the baby. The doctor places a foot on the bed for leverage and yanks the baby out, again, by pulling on its head.
Amazingly, class got scarier from there. They described, in intricate detail, what exactly an “epidural” entails. All kidding aside, this part got me to cringe. I don’t know if it was the needles they use, the lovely images they had to depict the procedure, or simply the prospect of jamming something into the center of a person’s spine, but I was really uncomfortable. To pass the time, I debated what brand of beer I was going to drink that night to attempt to destroy some of these memories that I’m so lovingly committing to the Internet for my kids to one day relive.
“Does anyone have to go to the bathroom?”
The hands of every pregnant woman in the room went up. Sheepishly, mine did too.
We next sat through a series of wonderful pictures outlining all of the completely healthy, yet aesthetically disturbing ailments a newborn might endure. I’ll skip the exhaustive list and point out that if my child comes out yellow with salad spoon bruises on its cone-shaped head, milk-spewing baby boobs, and a disturbingly large scrotum, only to within minutes shit out a tar-like substance that smells as if a Clydesdale got hold of some tainted grass, he will be completely normal. I, on the other hand, will have lost my friggin mind.
Class ended with a tour of the hospital. I have to admit, the hospital is very nice. We saw the labor room and the rooms we’ll be staying in for the following two nights after birth. Both sets of rooms were very comfortable, and thankfully not painted antiseptic white or smelling like a hospital (though from what I heard about breast fed babies and their shit, I might wish for the generic smell of a hospital). We’ll have our own room and the dad (me) gets to be there 24 hours, which is really cool. That’s an especially good thing in my case, since based on what I learned today, there’s a solid chance I’ll be sick to my stomach for at least a day after the baby is born.