The ‘V’-Word: Birthing Classes
My girlfriend and I didn’t really know what to expect from birthing classes. Sure, we’d seen our share of coming-of-age American comedies on pending parenthood – laden with breathing exercises, crash courses in nappy-changing and, probably, a disaster-plagued journey to the hospital – but otherwise we were both as green as Kermit the Frog.
What I did know is the classes would need to be both informative and entertaining to justify giving up three Saturday afternoons in a row. Not that I said this to my partner.
Our approach was to act cooler – or less concerned – about the looming life change than everyone else. It was a ploy that lasted about as long as the bedroom performance of a drought-breaking single bloke who’s unexpectedly cut a diamond from the herd.
We were five minutes late to the first class. A sea of earnest faces – puffy, crimson-cheeked chicks; attentive, roving-eyed guys – stared up at us as we tried to find space in the ridiculously small reserved area at the hospital. Scanning the room I counted 30 of us: 14 couples, mostly in their thirties, and one woman (having her second baby) accompanied by her mother. Fifteen bumps of varying size.
On the midwife’s instruction we sorted ourselves into a circle and, one by one, offered our names and due dates. Some couples were only a few weeks away, including one expecting twins. The twin-expecting couple glowed with love and anticipation: as she gushed and he enthusiastically shoulder-rubbed, a sickly mix of admiration and jealousy formed in my throat.
The women did most of the talking, some offering extra snapshots of their life, such as residential suburb, length of marriage and even pets’ names. There were plenty of rings on fingers; we were clearly one of the few ‘living in sin’. It turned out we were among the last due.
It’s the real deal, alright, the dress rehearsal for the big show. Was I ready to play the supporting role?
Two midwives took the sessions over the three weeks. In the opening class we were led by an aloof, middle-aged midwife who repeated herself over and over. She was entertaining without knowing it. “I just want you to make doubly sure you’re doubly sure about everything,” she said.
To combat boredom during one of the lessons my partner and I kept a “vagina” count. Each time the midwife uttered that word, we marked it down on our handout and sniggered like schoolkids. The unofficial tally was 26, compared with just the one “penis”. This imbalance got me thinking: did it encapsulate pregnancy from a guy’s perspective – that we only need to be involved the once? And was this 26-to-1 ratio a microscopic equivalent to the pain levels felt by women compared to men during labour… unless, of course, the man passes a kidney (or was that a baseball?) through his penis at the same time?
In the second and third weeks a woman of spiritual persuasion – and, pertinently, a mother of four – took an even bigger group under her wing. My partner hung off her every word. With a calm, wise voice she alleviated concerns on epidurals, C-sections, potential risks and what to expect from the first contraction to the final push, all the while smiling and ensuring everyone – blokes included – had their respective curveball smashed before moving on. When it came to nappy-changing time, I knew I’d be forever thankful for being around in the Velcro-tabbed era.
At the end of the final session a DVD detailing the ‘highlights’ of a typical birth was screened. All of a sudden the ‘V’-word wasn’t so funny. The tears streamed down my partner’s face as an exhausted mother – blood-and-goo-lathered newborn wailing at her breast – sobbed with joy. Not even a shoulder-rub – every bit as earnest and meaningful as the twin-expecting bloke – could keep the tears at bay.
The mid-wife placed a comforting arm around my partner. “It’s OK to cry,” she said, “giving birth is a very emotional experience.”
I sat there, watching on helplessly as the expert comforted my girlfriend in a way that was, seemingly, beyond me. “You’re going to do just fine,” she said.
It was the nerves, the excitement, the expectation, the unknown. It’s the real deal, alright, the dress rehearsal for the big show. Was I ready to play the supporting role?
Daniel Lewis is the co-founder & editor of The Dad Website. This post is an extract from his first-time fatherhood memoir, X Years, 9 Months.