“Umm. No.” said Rich’s wife, so quickly, so confidently, so coldly.
Rich thought about it for a second, trying to recall if he had ever seen anything so beautiful. He thought about the seeing the splendor of the Grand Canyon for the first time, he thought about the cherry blossom trees blooming around Washington D.C., and he recalled that time in Alaska, seeing a whale and her calf come up for air then slap their tails against the water, almost like they were waving at him. But none of that compared to beauty, of the look on the male nursing student’s face, when Rich’s wife denied his request to observe her delivery.
Rich wasn’t sure why he found this moment so magnificent, magnificent enough to rival the Grand Canyon. Maybe it was the suddenness of it. Rich wasn’t expecting this guy to walk in. Rich’s wife wasn’t expecting this guy to step in. The male nursing student wasn’t planning to get a stiff arm to the jaw the way he did. It was a surprise and awkwardness PB&J, separate still good, but when put together, in that delivery room, it almost brought a tear to Rich’s eye.
It’s because Rich’s wife is not a cold person. She’s the complete opposite of that. She is by far the most caring person Rich had ever met in his life. It’s one of the things he loves about her. She’s the type of person that makes friends in grocery lines, never avoids the Girl Scouts selling cookies outside the store, and would never leave an empty cart in the parking lot. So when the good-looking male nurse entered the room, and she reached into his chest, pulled out his still beating heart, and threw it against the wall with a SPLAT, everyone was surprised.
Rich thought about the moment, trying to figure out what he loved about it so much. It wasn’t that Rich's wife said no, it wasn’t because the nurse was a man; she comes from a family of nurses male and female and has great respect for the profession and the people. It was his stupid disappointed face that Rich loved so much. It was that he appeared so shocked. Like no one has ever in his life had said no to him before in such a cold manner. It crushed him as much as it warmed Rich’s heart.
And he entered the room with such confidence. A cocky strut, a smile, and Rich was sure they were half a second away from receiving a “finger guns” howdy. But he never got there. Rich watched the poor guy, head down, still rubbing the hand sanitizer into his hands, slowly turn and head back to the door he just entered like a sad human boomerang. Only pausing for a moment to reach out and get even more hand sanitizer, because that’s what you do every time you enter and leave a room even if you’re only in the place for three seconds.
Everyone looked at each for a moment, Rich, his wife, a nurse (female), and the midwife, as if trying to decide if anyone was going to acknowledge what just happened. There was a telepathic decision made to let the moment pass, and everyone went back to what they were doing five seconds ago. Rich appreciated the lack of discussion about it, he was sure his wife did too, there was a baby that needed to be born, and this wasn’t time to worry about the male nurse who Rich was sure was crying in the hall. Rich went back to rubbing his wife’s back, he’d been rubbing it for a couple of hours now, and it was beginning to take a toll, on him of course, not his wife.
His wife was in a zone, almost a trance. It was quite a thing to see. They had been taking hypnobirthing classes for months now. It was not something Rich had wanted to do or how he wanted to spend his Sunday evenings. He kept that to himself of course. Rich might not have believed in hypnobirth, but it didn’t matter, he wasn’t the one having the baby. And his wife was determined to have a natural delivery. Which was also something that Rich never understood but was smart enough also never to bring up. In a parallel universe, Rich thought, if men had to deliver the babies, if any would have a natural delivery, then almost immediately decided the human race would have gone extinct eons ago, and either chimpanzees or border collies would rule the planet.
But now, today, in the room, watching his beautiful wife focus her mind, he watched in amazement as contractions passed over her as little more than discomfort. She was in such a zone the midwife didn’t believe the nurse when she told her how dilated Rich’s wife was. Rich had no clue how his wife was supposed to act, but he knew it was nothing like what he’s seen on TV and in movies. She wasn’t screaming; she wasn’t cursing, she wasn’t blaming him for doing this to her. Rich's wife was focused, staring at a spot on the wall that no one else could see but with such determination it was like Rich's wife was trying to look through it. She was handling this like a champ, Rich thought to himself.
Then, realizing how easy it was for him to think that, seeing he wasn’t the one giving birth, he rolled his eyes at himself and went back to his job, doing whatever his wife wanted him to do and trying not to get in the way. That wasn’t his official job title; they didn’t give him a nametag with it on it. Though that would be sweet, Rich thought. And it’s a perfect job title for him. It’s like being a sous chef if the head chef wasn’t allowed to get out of bed, and you had to massage the head chef’s back a lot, and the only thing the head chef was allowed to taste was ice chips.
The second part of his title was the tricky part, staying out of the way. Rich has been feeling like he was standing in the wrong place or backing into someone or something the whole time they were in the hospital. He wanted to be helpful but also didn’t want to accidentally trip and unplug anything vital or step on the toes of someone who had way more responsibility than him. Rich needed a taped off area where he could stand, preferably near his wife, so he could continue rubbing her back. It then occurred to him, all the old TV shows and movies, how the dad would sit in the waiting area pacing, that’s because the hospital just wanted them out of the way, and dads were a little more “hands off” back in those days.
Luckily for Rich, all those classes, books, and videos started to pay off and instead of being a 6-foot potted plant that kept crowding people he was part of the team, someone useful actually. Or so he thought, of course, he was only helpful because of the hospital staff was so proficient at their job that they made Rich look remotely competent. While it took 100% of Rich’s energy and attention to focus on the one task assigned to him, the nurses and midwives ran circles around him, dodging his big dumb feet and gently repositioning him to help Rich’s wife. It reminded Rich of old Disney cartoons where the heroine was going about her daily life or making a dress and it looked like they were doing a lot of work when it was all the woodland creatures fluttering and scurrying around her that did everything. Sewing, cutting, washing, scrubbing, while Cinderella just bobbed around the room singing.
Yes, Rich thought, he was Cinderella.
Another thing TV and movies lied to Rich about when it came to childbirth was how long it takes. TV and movies have a set amount of time to tell a story and can’t spend all of it just showing the birth of a character. No one wants to see that. And they couldn’t show how long it takes because the movie would be 12-15 hours long sometimes. Or sometimes, it’d be 5 hours long then you’d have to go home and wait for the film to start again and rush back for another 5-10 hours.
Rich knew of exceptions, ones that were more “movie-like.” His neighbor was driving his wife to the hospital and had to pull over and deliver the baby himself, in the car, on the side of the road. The baby did great, not sure what happened to the car. Another of Rich’s friends almost had the baby in the waiting room of the hospital, sitting in a wheelchair, waiting to get checked in. Rich, on the other hand, was about to take a nap, at the hospital, while his wife was in labor, at the insistence of his wife of course. He’s also watched a bit live sports, in the room, while his wife walked the halls trying to “walk the baby” out. He asked if he could accompany her on her hallway walks, which she insisted he stay put, something about needing to focus and how the sound of Rich’s Kermit The Frog-like voice made her want to punch him in the throat.
“There’s no point in both of us not sleeping.” Is the sentence Rich’s wife said at 2 am after they had been in the hospital for 12-hours. It’s one of those sentences that sounded, to Rich, like a trap. One where if he took the bait and laid down on the pull out chair/bed, six nurses and midwives would burst through the door and start pummeling him with metal bedpans, shouting “Shame!” as they clanged him upside his head. These are the thoughts of a crazy person. But Rich was too tired and decided to risk it. It was the most enjoyable 26 minutes of rest he ever had.
At the 27th minute, Rich was awoken by a sharper than usual “Rich!” from his wife. In one quick movement and to the surprise of Rich’s abs, he was sitting up, staring at his wife and the blurry motions of people who were still not in focus. He mumbled something about ‘mucus plug,’ then in an instant, Rich snapped to, and he was up. Rubbing his wife’s back until it annoyed her, handing her ice chips until it annoyed her, standing in the corner until it annoyed her. Rich became one of those toy clowns that you punched in the nose only for it to slowly rise again looking for more.
And Rich was glad to do it. It was “Go Time,” and the energy in the room was different, more frantic. The team of nurses and midwives were still smiling, but it was a different kind of smile, one that seemed more pressing, and only flashed when they made eye contact with Rich's wife (and sometimes with Rich. ) They had scrubs on top of their scrubs, and some now wore masks, and there was a tone in the midwife’s voice when she directed the nurses a sound very similar to how Rich’s wife was talking to him. Not disrespectful but direct. Before Rich knew what was happening a nurse was guiding him into a position where he could see both his wife and soon his child. He became acutely aware of a new nurse standing just behind him; Rich turned to her and jokingly asked if she was there to catch him if he passes out. He couldn’t tell if she was smiling behind her mask, but their eyes met and she just gently nodded affirmatively.
The next few moments were like a dream for Rich. Granted, not the type of dream where you hit the game-winning homer in the bottom of the 9th in Game 7 of the World Series. It was one of those hazy dreams. He remembers images and sounds. Someone, possibly him, screaming, “It's Happening!” over and over again with great intensity, he remembers the hand from the nurse behind him gently touching his back when she thought she saw him swaying, and he remembers seeing his son for the first time and thinking, “….Ewww.”
The last way TV and movies lied to Rich was how they show newborn babies on screen. If you think about it, it’s no wonder they aren’t realistic. One, who is going to bring a newborn to a movie set. That seems dangerous and wrong. And two, no one watching wants to see a real newborn. They want to look at cute, pink, chubby, babies. The way babies get when they are a couple of months old. But when they’re first born they’re not pink or plump, but instead sort of bluish grey with a white film, blood, and goo covering them and eyes so puffy they can’t open them. And a face that looks like was pressed through one of those Play-Doh shape makers.
It’s a weird feeling being so happy to see something so gross looking thought Rich as his son let out a scream that fills the room. His wife, ugly crying tears of joy as her son, is placed on her chest and Rich can feel himself becoming overwhelmed with emotion. Rich loses all trace of time. That is until he hears someone ask if he wants to cut the umbilical cord.
Rich is suddenly aware of everyone in the room is staring at him. His wife, the nurses, the midwife, and Rich swears even his newborn son is giving him the side eye of “you got this in you big fella?” He always assumed he would cut the cord. That’s what the dads do on TV and in the movies, don’t they? Rich looks at his wife, who gives him the slow nod of “you want to do this.” And he does want to do this. He's pretty sure he wants to do this. How many opportunities like this will he get? One? Two? Maybe three? Dear lord, hopefully not more than three.
Before Rich knew it, he had scissors in his hand and guided to what looked like, well, Rich didn’t know what to think of this. He’d never seen an umbilical cord before. It’s never crossed Rich’s mind to look one up. There it was, held by the midwife, awaiting Rich’s cut. To him, it looked like an overcooked noodle or an intestine. He placed the scissors on the cord and began to cut. Immediately Rich realized that this wasn’t going to be like cutting the ribbon at the opening of a Smoothie King. The cord was thicker than expected, more robust, more organic than what he’s used to cutting through. The scissors stopped halfway through and in one quicker than expected movement Rich crumpled to the floor and passed out.
There was a thud followed by Rich’s wife giving a surprised, “Rich!” Then silence, the nurses, and midwife turned to look at one another then slowly turned to the nurse who stood behind Rich during the delivery. She had her mask off, standing next to Rich's wife admiring the new baby. She had a sheepish look on her face.
“I thought he was good?!”