Male Partnering in the Birth Experience (Or, You Can’t Fire the Coach, No Matter How Big a Dufus He Is)

Since a previous post about preparing for parenthood was received well, here is another chapter from my tongue-in-cheek guide to parenting called How to Raise the Perfect Child, Or At Least Lie About It. Thanks for indulging me as I take a brief respite from the murder and mayhem of writing thrillers to luxuriate in the humor and mayhem of parenting.

Maybe I’m biased, but I think this deserves its own whole chapter.

When my cousin and his wife were taking Lamaze classes for the first time, the instructor gave the soon to be mothers an important piece of advice at the outset: you can’t fire the coach. Left unsaid was the remainder of her sentence: no matter how big a dufus he is.

Coaching is the generally accepted term for the soon to be father’s role in delivery. He’s supposed to guide his wife through the process, letting her know what’s coming, praising her and just generally being a supportive, loving and caring force for her during this difficult, yet triumphant and empowering, experience.


When I think of coaching, I think of Vince Lombardi prowling the sidelines at frozen Lambeau Field. A master tactician. Making all the right moves. In control of everything. Marching the Packers on to victory. That certainly wasn’t my role in the birthing process.

I wasn’t the coach. I wasn’t even the assistant coach. I was the coach’s sister’s idiot son, sitting on the end of the bench. A senior who never had and never would see a minute of playing time and whose biggest athletic attribute was the ability to separate the home from away uniforms. I wasn’t in control of anything. At best, every now and then, I could contribute a feeble “Go team” from the sidelines.

When my wife and I were in Lamaze for the first time, our instructor showed us a video of what the husband should do in the delivery room. Maybe you’ve seen this video. There is a lovely red-haired woman sitting in a rocking chair, slowly rocking back and forth. She’s enraptured. She smiles constantly. In fact, she smiles through the entire delivery. I thought it was a commercial for Crest. Either that or she was an Osmond.

Now, the only inkling you get that she is, in fact, in labor is that every once in a great while she sucks in a small amount of air and then lets it out slowly. This woman goes through the entire labor without once swearing, crying or even mussing her hair. She spends most of it cross-stitching. Now I won’t say that my wife feels that that woman misled her about childbirth, but if you hold your screen close to your ear, you can still hear her swearing. Just keep this away from the kids.

Perfect, unruffled woman was not alone, however. By her side was perfect, supportive man. Her husband knew precisely what to say and when to say it. He knew when to remain quiet. He was calm and reassuring. And I’m pretty sure he was reading from a script, because I certainly don’t know any guy that facile. Most of us are like the second guy in the video: the just shut up guy. This guy couldn’t do anything right. The entire delivery was one long monotone: you’redoingfineyou’redoingfineyou’redoingfine. All the women in our class cheered when, after the delivery was finished, his wife looked at the camera and said: “I wanted to tell him to just shut up.” All the men in our class glanced apprehensively at each other. We knew. We were going to be the just shut up guy.

Some of my friends made the just shut up guy look good. One friend, seeing his wife in greater pain than ever before in her life, decided the moment needed a little levity. He broke in a new stand-up routine. As she writhed in pain, trying to bring his first child into the world, he did his best Jerry Seinfeld impersonation. For their second child, this friend abandoned stand-up for a career in sports broadcasting. He did play-by-play on the telephone to his parents for the entire delivery. “And the doctor hands the baby to the nurse. It’s an end-around. Oh no! Fumble!” His stitches will come out soon.

Another friend had it even worse. Now, most guys picture themselves Rambo-tough. The kind of guy who would never become squeamish at the sight of blood or anything, to use the scientific term, gooky. And this friend is a pretty tough guy. Unfortunately, not on this day. As he’s standing next to his wife, holding her hand, trying to be supportive, suddenly the room starts to get a little wavy. Being a tough guy, he doesn’t want to say anything, but that room keeps getting wavier. He lets go of his wife’s hand, who by the way is being of no assistance to him, and wipes his forehead when suddenly the instrument tray lunges against him and crashes to the floor, scattering the instruments around the room. Then the monitor smacks into him. Just trying to be polite and get out of the way, he backs into the wall and triggers some alarm. Seeing no graceful way out, he faints dead away. He wakes up on a gurney in the delivery room next to his wife’s gurney. His stitches come out soon, as well.

Another one of our friends took the complete opposite tact from the fainter. He LOVED the delivery. Not five minutes after his wife, battling dangerously high blood pressure, delivered his first child at great personal risk, our friend turned to his wife and, with a smile on his lips and love in his heart, proclaimed: “THIS WAS GREAT! LET’S DO IT AGAIN!” I don’t think his stitches will ever come out.

Now I was sure that I was ready for a starring role as coach. I had read how to be a good coach. The book said to bring a tennis ball to massage my wife’s back, so I did. The book said to bring a book to read to distract her from the pain, so I did. None of these ever left the overnight bag.

Instead, with our son, Morgan, my job was to watch the pain monitor. Unsure what the appropriate term for this was, I called it the “Holy Mother” box. As in “Holy Mother of God, a big one’s coming!” The nurse turned the monitor away from Erica and explained that the thin line tracking across the screen would show the strength of the contraction she was having, the one she just had, and the one coming. That placed me in a bit of a moral dilemma. I felt like Keith Jackson on the Weather Channel during tornado season: You think that one was bad, wait until you get a load of the next one coming. Whoa Nelly!

I struck a compromise with myself. I would tell her about every third contraction. The others I would swear the machine didn’t show. It led to priceless conversations like:

My wife: Arggghhhhhh! Is it almost over?
Me: (glancing nervously at the pain monitor): Ah, yes?
My wife: Seriously. Just tell me. Is it almost over?
Me: (a little more definite now) Yes.
My wife: Are you lying?
Me: (turning machine farther away from her) Absolutely not.
My wife: (next wave hits) ARGGH! BASTARD!

With our first daughter (second child), I was demoted. I was still on the sidelines, but I was primarily the student trainer who walks the injured athlete back and forth. That was my job. Walk my wife up one hallway, then down the second. Then back to the first. Then, oh heck, let’s see that second one again. For approximately six hours, my wife and I walked up and down these two hallways. After the first hour, I stopped asking her how she felt every two minutes and concentrated on not being the Just Shut Up Guy.

Then, suddenly, the Head Coach decided it was time my wife joined the game. Within twenty minutes, my wife shot from four centimeters to full dilation. We raced for the delivery room. More accurately, my wife proceeded at full waddle while I buzzed around her like some hopped-up mosquito. The nurse told Erica that the doctor hadn’t expected her to progress so rapidly, but would be in our room in “two minutes.” In her best Clint Eastwood impression, Erica informed the nurse that the doctor’s two minutes were up. At that point, I hid under the gurney.

When the doctor arrived, I figured it might be safe to crawl out from under the gurney, because, at that particular moment, my wife hated him even more than me. Just the sound of his voice ticked her off. “Push?” I offered meekly. “I can’t, it hurts,” she panted. “Erica…” the doctor began. “YAAARGHHHH!” she responded. Two pushes later, our daughter shot into this world. It’s a good thing the doctor had his catcher’s mitt on, or Shannon would have ricocheted around that room like a pinball.

I congratulated everyone on playing a good game, but, I have to admit, I had a few misgivings. While I was no longer the Just Shut Up Guy, I had become the Were You in the Room Guy. I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

Things didn’t improve with the birth of our second daughter, Maura (third child, for those of you still counting). I wasn’t even the student trainer any longer. I was the star athlete’s groupie friend, hanging out in the hot tub and trying to score drugs for the star from anyone and everyone. Erica’s mother took her up and down the hallways to “walk it off” while I played with the buttons on the hospital bed. They gave my “Holy Mother” monitor to a nurse; like she would know what to do with it. Basically, I spent the game parked in Row ZZZ.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. By the third time, Erica was no longer a rookie. She knew what she was doing, and didn’t need the coach. It’s just the state of the game these days. No one listens to their coaches anymore.

Given recent history though, that might not be a bad thing.


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9 Responses to Male Partnering in the Birth Experience (Or, You Can’t Fire the Coach, No Matter How Big a Dufus He Is)

  1. Skye says:

    A wonderful post, and one which brought back memories ( good ones) of when my children were born and my husband was in your role. Thank you for sharing the miracle of life.

  2. LOL. Great post, Brendan!

  3. L.C. Rooney says:

    Priceless! (However, I won’t be showing this to my daughter, who’s expecting her first next month.)

  4. Gram says:

    We didn’t have all that stuff when mine were born….it was grin and bear it for hours and hours – I’m slow!

  5. Cheryl Gillespie says:

    Just watched my son-in-law do this eight days ago. After reading this, Brendan, I’m thinking he didn’t do so bad. Of course, for first baby my daughter decided to have Mom on the sidelines, too. A cute read while I sit waching my granddaughter in her swing. I think they put too much pressure on Dads now. On Madmen, Don just smoked and drank in the waiting room. Maybe a happy medium there somewhere!

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