The bun has been in the oven for nine months, and now it's toasted golden brown. Time to get it out!
Photo courtesy of FilmDistrict.
As the expectant mother completes another set of kegels and rearranges her birthing playlist, you, the non-pregnant person, should be laser focused on one objective: Safe delivery of your partner to the baby-catching facility of her choice.
This will be a kinetic operation. You'll serve as escort, confidant, valet and bodyguard. Your discomfort, embarrassment, hunger or sleepiness is irrelevant. Success is a new mum holding a tiny infant to her chest. Failure is a Gumtree ad for a used Subaru Forester with a navigation system, tinted windows, and a front passenger seat soaked in amniotic fluid. Do not fail.
Learn all the possible routes to the hospital. Drive them on different days of the week, at different times of the day. And yes, you should drive. This is no time for public transit. Some things are meant for the privacy of a personal automobile: Singing along with P!nk, farting, scream-breathing through contractions. Does your wife want to star in a viral video, shot by some disgusted teenager on the train? No, she does not.
The second half of recon is putting eyes on the hospital itself. Do you enter through the ER? How many steps from the curb to Labour and Delivery? When is shift change? How's the lighting at night? Know the place well enough that you could pull an Ocean's Eleven-type heist if George Clooney asked you nicely.
Only when my wife and I shuffled into the hospital at three in the morning did I realise that the front door was about 90m from the registration desk. She would walk a few steps, shriek through a contraction, then walk a little farther. According to Guinness, she holds the record for the slowest 40m dash of any bipedal mammal. Her achievement is my fault. Do better.
Going through labour is painful and hard, but it's slightly less terrible at home. Hospitals are cold and brightly lit. They're full of cranky people, and the snacks are garbage. Home has a solid Wi-Fi connection, dim lamps, fuzzy slippers, and the implicit permission to get weird. At home, your partner will feel emotionally free to scream obscenities at you, weep, laugh, and eat ice cream half naked.
Once labour begins, don't go to the hospital too early - but don't wait too long.
As the confidant and valet, you must be proactive during this time. Don't wait for your partner to ask for help or for comforting items. She'll be in pain whenever a contraction hits, and if it's her first time in labour, she'll probably feel anxious or scared. It's hard to articulate your needs in that state of mind!
Learn what the stages of delivery look like. Take a birthing class. Read about coping mechanisms. Hire a doula, if you're worried that you'll be too overwhelmed. But mostly, think about the times you've had to convince your partner to do something she's reluctant about. Which persuasive techniques work best? Rely on that learned experience when the situation becomes intense.
As we attempted to leave the house in the middle of the night, I stood with my wife in the driveway for 20 minutes. The passenger door was open. She had one hand on the armrest and one hand on the door frame. No matter what I said, she wouldn't get in the car. She was frozen, locked in her own head.
Finally, I went back to basics. "If you don't get in the car, we can't go to the hospital," I said. "Oh," she said, and climbed in.
When it's go time, be the dude in Drive, not the one in Baby Driver. Both dudes get their people where they need to go, but one takes unnecessary chances. You don't need to rev the engine and pull a bunch of J-turns. Be calm, controlled, confident.
Giving birth is much more dangerous than it should be. The chances of complications increase if your partner's health history includes circumstances that are outside the norm. The second time she gave birth, my wife elected to VBAC. Most women who try that succeed, but there is an increased risk of uterine rupture.
My wife and I are by-the-book people, and so we followed the guidelines. When the contractions were right, we went to the hospital, where a nurse we'd never met did some tests and told us to go home. False labour.
About seven hours later, we returned to the hospital. My wife gave birth 10 minutes after we arrived. During those seven hours, as she moaned in bed, as her body shook in the bathtub, as she took on a thousand-yard stare, I kept thinking, False labour is no joke!
Later, the risk of what she experienced became clear to me. We did what we were told. But her doctor was off that night, and the people on staff and on call only knew what the charts and the devices were telling them. And so my wife endured active labour and transition with only my help. And I faint at the sight of blood.
Of all the roles, bodyguard is most important. You must be an active advocate. Don't bow to authority. Question the information you're told if it doesn't jibe with how your partner is feeling. Be respectful, but direct and insistent. Ask for more tests or more time for observation. Ask for another doctor to take a second look.
People might give you the side-eye. Don't sweat it. If things get dangerous, you'll be in the right place. And if all goes well, you'll just be another high-maintenance patient whose concerns amounted to nothing, just another example of the routinely boring miracle of life.