My wife is pregnant. Very pregnant. She’s starting week 36 today. I’m getting nervous.
Her first birth went quick. I was out writing in a café when she called me. It’s happening, she said. As I got my salad, I ran out, shouting I CAN’T EAT THAT NOW I’M GOING TO BE A FATHER!
Luckily, the café was just around the corner. And luckily, my wife’s mother was there with her. And luckily, the bag had been packed many weeks ago, with everything she might need at the hospital. Clothing, diapers, slippers, deodorant, cable for the telephone, a couple of books… (Bags, I should say. Plural.) And luckily, we lived just next to a taxi stop at the time. My mother-in-law carried half of the bags, I carried the other half and supported my wife to a taxi.
It’s going to be alright, the taxi driver said. Reassuringly. She’s fine.
Apparently, he had been driving many pregnant women to the hospital, and most of them were a lot less calmer than my wife. Yes, I said, reassuring the taxi driver, I got this. No problem.
We got to the hospital, my wife got out of the taxi, I noticed my hands were trembling, and it took some time for me to find my wallet. I paid the driver, stumbled out the door, put some bags on the pavement, got back into the taxi for the other bags, stumbled again, dropped a bag, felt like a character in a silent film trying to balance one bag too many on my shoulders.
No, the taxi driver said as he drove off. She’s got it. You should thank your lucky stars your wife isn’t as clumsy as you.
Just a few hours later, our first son was born. I remember crying and the midwife’s irritation with me for, well, for not doing anything helpful in any way, just standing there and feeling overwhelmed. And I remember his ear, like wet paper, it was bent the wrong way and the midwife bent it back, where it stayed along the head. The right way.
Our second son came when we lived in Prague. My father had just left us (in the nick of time, as he said), and again my mother-in-law was there with us. One morning, my wife complained about some pains. Perhaps we should go to the hospital, I said. Nah, she replied, we’ll wait a bit and see what happens.
Half an hour later, things started happening.
We drove to the hospital in our own car this time. Through down-town Prague, a city we didn’t know that well. I used my GPS, of course, I always do, but when your wife literally screams that you should turn left instead of going straight, you listen to your wife.
Unless, of course, she is wrong.
No, let me rephrase that: even if she is wrong.
When we got to the hospital, I started driving around looking for a parking space. I am Norwegian, you see, I follow rules, even when I don’t have to. My wife, however, was an ex-Yugoslav on the brink of giving birth. She screamed again, as I suppose you can imagine.
We went up some stairs, we knocked on a door, we were told to wait. Wait! But we waited, my wife while swearing in several languages at the same time. After a while, the door opened, they let her in, and I was left outside with the bags. (Fewer bags this time, but they were still reluctant to be carried gracefully.)
I waited. I heard my wife behind the door, but I waited. One should not just barge in closed doors.
Twenty minutes later, they let me in. My wife lay on a bed, saying something in Czech. (She had prepared and memorised a list of Czech phrases, just in case no-one understood any other language — phrases like “I want my husband” and “give me some painkiller”.)
Ten minutes later, it was all over. Another boy had been born. A nurse gave me a piece of paper and said something to me in Czech, I couldn’t understand, she rephrased it and pointed at a dotted line. Jmeno. Name.
Oh, we hadn’t decided upon a name yet, had we? But the nurse was adamant, and spoke only Czech, and since my wife was a bit preoccupied at the moment, I put the pen to paper and wrote a name. At least it was one of the names we had discussed the most, it couldn’t be that wrong.
Now, there is a third son on his way. And al the old anxieties and worries I had forgotten all about come creeping back. The what ifs and the hows. The general helplessness of a man when his wife gives birth. He can’t do anything, just be there for her, massage her, hold her, give her something to drink. I probably can’t do that either: if the trend continues, our third son will spend only a few minutes being born. In that case, I’ll have to step into the role of midwife, and I must say, I don’t know many men who are as badly equipped as me to do that.
Perhaps except my brother. But don’t tell him I said that. (EDIT: And absolutely don’t tell his girlfriend!)
And so when I woke up tonight around 2AM by a strange clicking sound, and realised it was my wife googling the net for information about home births, I got a little worried. I fear I might give birth soon, she whispered. Sorry for waking you up.
(When I was 20 years old, my appendix ruptured. (All that uncooked pasta, apparently.) As I was being prepared for operation, in the middle of the night, a nurse asked me whom she should call. I gave her the telephone number to my mother. But, I said, don’t call her just yet. No point in waking her up, she can’t do anything anyway.
My mother still talks about that: in all my pain, I managed to think about her sleep!
My wife thinks about my sleep when she might be on the verge of starting labor. I would say that’s quite a bit more impressive.)
Don’t be sorry, I said, I want to be a part of this all the way. But in my head, all the fears and worries and anxieties raised their ugly heads simultaneously. What if he is born at home, tonight? He will be premature! What if he is born the wrong way? What if there are complications? What about the other kids, how can I look after them and be a midwife at the same time? Will they be scared? Or even scarred for life?
And the scariest question of them all: What if something happens? Something unknown I haven’t thought of, perhaps even can’t understand when it happens? How can you prepare for that?
My wife clicked calmly through diverse forums and web pages. She thought about calling the hospital, just in case, but they would probably just say that she should come to the hospital anyway, and she didn’t want to do that yet.
I took a deep breath and tried to remember what one should do in a time of a quasi-panicking head. First imagine the best and worst scenarios and then decide the most realistic course of action.
OK, the worst I have already been through. The best? Well, we live one kilometer from the hospital. An ambulance can be here in a minute or two. We know many neighbours, and they will be glad to help. A birth is not a disease, usually nothing bad happens. The other two births went great. And my wife is amazing when it comes to solving problems and overcoming obstacles: if I freak out, she won’t. But I won’t freak out, either. The baby will pop out, we’ll put it on his mother’s chest, lay some towels over them, and it will all happen really quickly while the other kids are at school. And when they come home, the baby has been washed and their mother greets them with a smile and a big hug.
What happens is usually somewhere in between the best scenario and the worst scenario. In other words, it’ll be alright. I made my wife promise me to wake me up whenever she thought something might be happening, she turned off her phone, and soon we were both fast asleep.
Except my wife, who lay there pondering and thinking and preparing for her third child; she couldn’t sleep for some time, she said in the morning, her head was full of thoughts.
And yet she woke up at the crack of dawn (ie before dawn, the sun rises late during winter) and took the bus to her office downtown as if nothing had happened.
Before our marriage, I also tried to imagine the best and worst scenarios of our life together. Sometimes, what happens is not somewhere in between the worst and best imaginable scenarios.
And when it’s not, it usually even better.