THE EARLY STAGES
Nobody really expects their baby to arrive on the due date, which is why the night before it's perfectly normal to go out and have many adult beverages with your friend while your wife stays at home groaning with pregnancy-related pains and annoyances.
That said, you should not be surprised when she calls you at 2:15am the date of expected delivery to tell you she doesn't "feel well." This is in fact woman-code. Rather than alarm the male by screaming "It's happening!" the female has learned over thousands of years to simply hint at being "unwell" so as to encourage the male to finish his mojito, pay his bar tab and return to the domicile.
Unlike movies and television suggest, the beginning of labor is not an occasion to rush to the hospital at 100 miles per hour. Rather, it is time to prepare oneself mentally for the coming event: the $24 taxi fare. It is also not unusual for impending parenthood to cross your mind.
Childbirth classes encourage those in early labor to mill about the house, take a long stroll, do laundry or even as we'd been told with a straight face, "see a movie." Unfortunately for us, Alien vs. Predator was not playing anywhere near us in the wee hours of Sunday morning. Instead, my wife cleaned the kitchen while I repeated "Are you sure? Are you sure?" until I was able to catch a quick nap, its quality greatly reduced by the aforementioned adult beverage consumption.
Eventually there will be a moment when your wife believes, quite strongly, that it is time. No matter how much the male asks "Are you sure? Are you sure?" the answer becomes and stays "Yes!" delivered with an increasing amount of confidence and belly-holding. At that point, no matter how much of a nap he is wanting, the male must concede defeat and assume that his partner really is sure. To the male this means he is soon to be a father. To the female it means she is soon to be a mother, married to a drunkard.
GOING TO THE HOSPITAL
Assuming you haven't decided to risk the life of mother and child by giving birth at home for "holistic" reasons, you'll be on your way to a hospital. For childbirth, hospitals are arguably better than home because they have appropriate technology and medical staff as opposed to your home, which has your dishwasher and a cat.
The cab ride to the hospital is always tension-filled. One tends to wonder if they've waited too long to go to the hospital and are destined to give birth in the rear of a taxi. There are pros and cons to such a thing. Any child that survives such a filthy, germ-ridden environment would certainly be immune to any future diseases or a fanatic Islamist's pox-bomb. On the downside, if it's not one of the new Extend-A-Cabs there's not much legroom for you to assist your baby's delivery properly. You'll have to step aside while Ikbar from Pakistan guides your new child into the world with hands that handle currency 12 hours a day.
When you arrive at the hospital, your wife will most likely be recognized as being in labor, or at least thinking she is in labor. It's not too late to ask "Are you sure? Are you sure?" a few more times. The lightning-quick hospital staff will fill out a visitor card in Spanish, hand it to you and direct you to the elevator. They may even wish you good luck just as blackjack dealers in Las Vegas do when dealing a re-shuffled deck. One hopes that the hospital staff is more sincere.
Assuming the baby is not crawling out of your wife's vagina, you will be directed to the Triage unit for an evaluation. This is when they decide that you are either in labor or not. If the male is still delirious from his night out this is a good chance to grab 10 winks, or 5 depending on how fast the doctor is.
Your wife will be asked numerous questions and hooked up to some external monitoring of her and baby's vitals. For the male this is the last chance to ask "Are you sure? Are you sure?" before you have a qualified professional opinion. When the doctor decides that your wife is without doubt in the early stages of labor, it will become quite apparent that you are a World Class Moron for going out the night before.
THE LABOR AND DELIVERY ROOM
Depending on the hospital you've chosen, your labor & delivery room might be a spacious, ultra-modern unit (New York's Columbia Presbyterian) or a sinister, depressing spider-hole (New York's Beth Israel). This is one of the occasions in life when it pays to do a little homework before the last minute.
If you've chosen well, you will have plenty of space to mill about while your wife is tethered to the hospital bed. Most likely she'll be getting an IV, as well as more external monitoring of her vitals and baby's.
If you have a good OB/GYN, he or she will already be there checking on the mother and letting the hospital staff know about the mother's medical background and the father's neuroses.
Length of labor varies from woman to woman. It can range from remarkably short to gruelingly long, depending on numerous factors. If the male has been out drinking the night before, the labor will be long and arduous due to the Just And Vengeful God factor.
After early labor's initial rush of excitement - getting to the hospital, admissions and triage - there may be a bit of a wait before you find yourself in a more advanced state of labor. Rather, you'll find your wife is in a more advanced state of labor, and you're milling about the spacious delivery room looking for the TV's remote control.
You'll know when labor has advanced because the contractions will be much stronger. This will be obvious when your wife stops saying "Oooo-waaa" and opts for "OOOOOO-WAAAAAAA!" This means the uterus is gearing up to squeeze your progeny out. In real estate terms, it's the same as a landlord filing the necessary legal paperwork to issue an eviction notice to a tenant in default.
At this point your wife will start using medical terms like "epidural" and "help me." She may be mad at you for introducing her to such discomfort. She may curse you and the day you were born, the day you met, the day you got married. You will have to take all of this in stride, though make sure to keep it all in mind so you can bring it up at a later date and make her feel guilty.
At some point, the "epidural" talk may influence the OB/GYN enough that she calls in an anesthesiologist. Do not be alarmed that when he enters the room your wife will never have been so excited to see another man. Don't get jealous, that's simply the pain talking; unless the anesthesiologist looks like George Clooney. If that's the case, you can be a little jealous but still remember it's her day. Don't bring it up until you get the baby home.
After the epidural, your wife will be much relieved. The OOOOOO-WAAAAAAA-ing will have ceased, the contractions no longer bothering her as they initially did. After she's mentioned that you and the doctor are fools for not allowing her the epidural earlier, the pain will have subsided enough that she'll be able to nap through the contractions. For a non-refreshed, hung-over father-to-be this downtime is also a great chance to not be awake as well. However, know that after your nap all hell will be breaking loose and the end result will be 18 years of lost sleep. Nighty-night.
PUSHING IT GOOD, PUSHING IT REAL GOOD
There are two types of birth. Vaginal birth unsurprisingly relates to deliveries through the vagina, which is what the male used to associate with fun. The Cesarean section is an expedited delivery via a cut made just above the groin. This is done when there are vaginal-birth complications or if you're a twisted celebrity and would like to schedule your childbirth for convenience and aesthetics.
Vaginal birth requires a great deal of pushing with accompanying pain. For males to relate, this might be best described as your wife and a chorus of enthusiastic strangers cheerleading you to pee a rhinoceros.
A woman requires constant encouragement during the delivery. Epidural or not, the pain is rather unpleasant. Your sense of humor will not be valued, and it is advisable to not make too many attempts at lightening the mood lest you be banished from the room, or worse, the marriage.
As a husband in the delivery room, your job description is such: You are to provide ice chips when requested; you are to pat the wife's head and face with a cold towel; you are to offer your extremities to be gripped, torn, clenched, squeezed, mauled, and dug into with nails; you are to shut up when asked; you are to offer encouragement in the form of "Push!", "Good girl!" and "Oh My God!"
For perhaps the first time in your relationship, your wife will believe everything you say, as you're the only one in the room she knows and trusts. The moment you start screaming "Holy Shit!" she'll know she's getting closer.
THE IMPENDING ARRIVAL
Again, the length of time between the start of Major Pushing Operations (PushOps, in Pentagon-speak) and the arrival of the baby (UmbiliConOne) varies from person to person. During a first birth it can be expected to take longer, as the woman's vagina is not used to footballs passing though it unless she's worked at a bar in Thailand.
Your wife will complain that she's not making progress but she is. The baby is making its way down the birth canal, and that will be pretty obvious should the male look in that direction. It is up to him whether or not he'll want to glance vaginaward. What was once Disneyworld is now Newark Industrial Park.
Regardless, to see your child being born is an amazing and surreal experience. When that final push sends the child out into the world you will feel a rush of excitement, bliss and amazement. Then your OB/GYN will ask you if you have a pediatrician lined up and if he's on your insurance. The next thing you'll know, you're cutting an umbilical cord, and your tax returns will never be the same.
There is a post-partum flurry of activity certain to scare the snot out of any newborn. The baby's nostrils and mouth will be suctioned, the baby dropped on a scale, weighed and measured, cleaned and prodded. The stunned father simply staggers about the delivery room, shocked and awed at the human reproductive system and the concept of responsibility.
One should be advised that after the baby is born, the vagina is a No-Eye Zone. Do not look there. Do not look there. There is a great deal of blood, fluid, and oddness about the place. It is a crime scene the likes of which would easily garner an NC-17 rating. Not to mention, several minutes later the placenta comes. Placenta looks like a deflated alien basketball found in a puddle of pasta sauce, and you'd be wise not to witness its arrival. Should you, you'll be rendered as permanently flaccid as Michelangelo's David.
Any father's fatigue or hangover is completely unable to compete with the emotions surrounding a child's birth. In the chaos and the glee, you'll have forgotten that nineteen hours ago you were in the Flatiron Lounge, finishing off yet another mojito. Indeed, childbirth acts as a giant aspirin and stimulant. All that fatigue and insobriety is a distant memory, but one that will return immediately after you finally lay your head down and the baby commences ShriekOps.
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