"Your job’s done. The solarium is down the hall, to the right.”
That's what a nurse told Mad Men's Don Draper when he took then-wife Betty to the hospital to deliver their baby.
I know what you're thinking.
What the hell is a solarium?
If you're an expecting dad, I can tell you that if you're using a 1960s pop culture reference for how the labor & delivery process is going to go, you're more screwed than a 10 cm dilated woman hoping she still has time to get an epidural.
You’re a modern dad, though. You know you need to be involved during delivery day.
Expectant Dads Used to Be Directed to the Waiting Room. Not Anymore!
I loved Mad Men. But Jon Hamm's Donald Draper might go down as the worst father ever to appear on TV outside of Walter White.
Don is drunk all the time, forgets his kids regularly, and has all the fatherly warmth of Elsa's parents in "Frozen" (Should we talk about how they locked their daughter up like a prisoner when they could've had her wear the gloves! They shunned her!)
But in season 3's "The Fog," the fact Don doesn't go back to help Betty through the delivery and be there at the birth of his son, Gene, is not his fault.
That's how dads were handled in those days. Don instead slowly got drunk in the waiting room (OK, the drunk part maybe not so common for most people). No childbirth class coaching, no grabbing ice chips, no cutting the cord. He was told to wait.
You, my friend, won’t be doing that. It’s time to get involved.
Here's how dads get out of the waiting room and get involved in childbirth:
The Heads Up ("Babe, it's time!")
If you're with your wife, she's probably going to say something like "It's time" or "Holy #%@#." Do not expect her water to break like in the movies. There's usually not a big signal; it's your wife starting to feel contractions.
They don't make that the signal in movies because it's much funnier to see Katherine Heigl's water break than to have her stand there and go, "Hmm wonder what that was?"
If you're not with your wife, you're probably going to get a text or call. Do not drive like a crazy person to the hospital like Richard Dreyfuss in "Mr. Holland's Opus." If you get pulled over or in an accident, you're only going to be that much later. Let her know you're on your way and you're good to go.
I had both scenarios, by the way. With my son, I was right beside my wife, asleep, when she tapped me on the shoulder and the clock started ticking. With my twin girls, I was at work when she sent me a photo of the contraction machine she was connected to at the hospital.
Dad Hacks for When the Baby Is Coming:
Ask if she needs you to call anyone in advance (assuming she has a ride to the hospital) so she can focus on her body and you can alert people.
Grab the hospital bag or have it in the car in advance.
Remember that unless her water broke or the contractions are close together, you have time! You'll be at the hospital waiting or at home waiting. Some people prefer to ride the early portion out in the comfort of home before heading over (don't wait too long or you'll need some industrial strength carpet cleaner).
Take a moment, if you can, before you rush off to the hospital and soak it in for a second. I remember telling my wife as we pulled out of the driveway, "Babe, this is probably the last time it's just the two of us." We took a moment to appreciate it, and then we were off.
Getting Ready to Deliver
It's time to go back to the delivery room. This is where Don got dropped like a bad habit, which in his case is likely alcoholism.
But not you! You can stay with your wife in the delivery room, because these days, it's not only allowed, it's encouraged.
Even before she starts pushing, there's a whirlwind of activity getting her ready. If you have a birth plan prepared, this is when you give it to a nurse (with the understanding that the birth plan is a suggested guide, not a concrete plan; they will laugh at your naïveté otherwise.)
Your wife may be getting an epidural, which, based on what my wife has said, is super unpleasant, so make sure you're around for support. She's also going to be asked a million questions by the staff.
The more knowledgeable you are in advance about everything with the pregnancy and the birth plan, the more you can be an advocate for your partner here. That's what it comes down to with a dad's role in childbirth:
You are your partner and your baby's best advocate. (Tweet this)
That's half the reason she's been telling you to read all those books the past few months. It's why you should have gone to at least a few OB-GYN appointments.
You can listen to make sure the doctors and nurses aren't suggesting something you guys aren't comfortable with, for instance. Although I've found the medical team does want what's best for you and in the manner you want it, they also have a set way of doing things that, unless you tell them otherwise, they are going to follow.
It's like your star player is in the Super Bowl and you're the coach keeping an eye on the referees to make sure they don't mess it up, except instead of going for a touchdown, the player is pushing a baby out of their vagina. I'm assuming that would be worth more than 6 points.
Dad hacks for the delivery room:
Don't forget a printed copy of the birth plan. They really will read it. Be flexible, though. If it's an emergency situation, you're not getting the scented candles and mood music variety of childbirth. The birth plan should think of best and worst-case scenarios and what you’d all prefer to happen, when it’s medically possible. C-section? Pain meds? Med students allowed to help?
Who else does your wife want in the delivery room? You can be in charge of notifying them so they can get there in time. Or, better yet, who DOESN'T your wife want in the delivery room? You can be the bad cop and keep family or friends aware the waiting room would be great, thanks. People can handle it.
This is where your hospital bag comes in handy. You could be in this for hours upon hours, so if you prepared properly, you'll have everything you both need.
Don't be a martyr. If it's clear it's going to be many hours at the hospital before it's go time and you're starving, it's OK to grab something quick to eat, but be smart about it. Bringing something with you is the best bet, or having one of those family members grab something for you can work, too. Your wife very well may not be eating for a variety of reasons, but you're going to need energy and it's OK to take care of yourself when you get the chance.
As I say often, this whole thing isn't like the movies. For my son's birth, you know what my wife and I did for several hours in the delivery room? We watched a Harry Potter marathon. Yes, she was having contractions and she'd be the first to say those weren't pleasant, but it wasn't some all-intense-all-the-time experience.
If you do nothing else throughout this entire experience, make sure you’re a supportive, steady-as-a-rock presence when it's time for her to push.
This doesn't have to be overly complicated. She's about to do the hardest thing she'll ever do in her entire life. You are there to help her through it, and honestly, dude? It's going to be an amazing thing to watch. You will be so proud of her. You'll be a little proud of yourself, too.
Assuming she wants you there beside her as she pushes, you are there to hold her hand (no, she isn't going to break it, dummy), give her verbal support (which does not involve Bobby Knight-style screaming. If you're throwing a chair, you are overdoing it), and do anything else she needs. In my case, a nurse and I held my wife's hands and also her feet so she could push against us.
You know how a lot of people say, "Are you going to watch the baby come out?" and your first response might be "Hellllllllll no!" I'd suggest you do watch your baby be born.
One, you only see something miraculous and insane like that maybe once or twice your whole life.
Two, if you see the head start popping out – be prepared that the head might have a bluish tint, and that's OK – it's a great motivator to tell your wife because she'll know she's close. Or, in my daughter Hannah's case, you see a foot pop out first and you keep that to yourself because that shit was crazy and you let your superhero wife keep on pushing.
Dad hacks for the birth:
This truly is not about you. It's about your wife and your baby. Don't try to steal the attention.
I don't care if your favorite team is on the one yard line about to win the Super Bowl. If your baby is coming out, you do not check out the TV or look at your Sportscenter app. I mean, you can if you're hoping for a divorce, I suppose. But you don't want your wife to tell your daughter one day that "Daddy missed your birth because the Steelers dropped an interception and he was sulking."
Know in advance what your wife wants, photography wise. Does she want everything captured? Does she not want any photos during the delivery part? Does she want you to focus on being with the baby when he/she comes out and worry about photos later? It's easier to have that conversation when she's not pushing out a placenta.
It's OK to be nervous! But it's all going to be awesome. Take a deep breathe.
From there, it's time to soak everything up, because you're a dad now and your partner is amazing, whether it was a vaginal birth or a C-section. Now is a good time to light that cigar and have a celebratory drink. Off hospital premises. Away from the baby. Geez, you're a dad, not Don Draper.