Of all the things misunderstood about pregnancy and birth, I'm going to suggest that labor is the most misunderstood of all. If you watch any TV show or movie, labor looks like this: water breaks, woman immediately goes into very painful contractions, goes to the hospital, and delivers a baby quickly. It's almost never like that. Expectation versus reality is weird and emotional enough for moms, but what about dads? I asked a few fathers to describe how they felt when their partner went into labor and what they thought the moment they knew it was "go time." Their answers run the gamut from typical Hollywood explanations (hey, those media executives do get some things right) to, "OMG, seriously, dude?"
A lot of the dads I talked to told me something that confirms the myth of the Hollywood labor: more often than not, the woman in labor wasn't sure she was actually in labor, or that "real" contractions were starting right away. It took a while of guessing, checking stop watches to time contractions, and calling professionals before they finally realized, "OK, yes. This is labor."
Most of their stories pick up from about the moment they finally realized, "This is happening and probably pretty soon and before I know it, I'm going to be a parent." Whether new parents are facing chaos or a surprising amount of leisure, the start of labor is a somewhat surreal time one way or the other. So what did these 10 dads think as it began? Here a synapsis their unique experiences, in their own words:
"Both of my kids' labors were kind of anticlimactic. There was no, 'oh my god, we have to go to the hospital now,' moment for either. With our first, my wife's water broke two weeks early, in the middle of the night when she got up to go to the bathroom, but she had no other signs of labor. She woke me to tell me, and I jumped out of bed, instantly ready for action...and then nothing happened. We spent the next 24 hours trying to get things moving in every way imaginable, but eventually (because her water had broken and there was a risk of infection), our midwife told us to head to the hospital. With our second, my wife was in early labor for almost two weeks (our daughter was born 2 weeks late), but again, nothing was really happening. Eventually, we decided to go in for a natural (drug free) induction to jump start things. I certainly didn't expect to have a totally uneventful ride to the hospital, but that ended up being what happened with both kids. Part of me feels bummed that we didn't have that escalation experience, but I'm relieved we had the opportunity to be present for the beginning together. (Also, get a doula.)"
"I thought, 'I need to clear the memory card on the camera.' Because it would suck if we got there and couldn't take any pictures because there was no memory left. I'm an amateur photographer, and I really wanted quality pictures, so it was seriously the first thing I did. We didn't go to the hospital until the next day, but that was all set as soon as she went into labor at 3 a.m."
"It was the first time the pregnancy felt real to me. ... Not because I didn't want to be a dad, but because I couldn't imagine it. Actually, I take that back. It was the only time the pregnancy felt real to me. Because once we got to the hospital a few hours later the delivery was like watching a movie: I was totally outside of my own body. But then as soon as our son was here it was like he'd always existed. There was no life before him. That probably sounds crazy."
[Writer's note: It really doesn't. I feel you, Jesse.]
"Our daughter was a surprise home birth. You know that show I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant? My girlfriend could be on I Didn't Know I Was In Labor Until I Had To Poop And A Baby Came Out. She hates when I say it like that. Can you change my name?"
[Writer's note: Yes. Yes I can, "Gus."]
"'Yay! This exciting!' Followed by. 'My life is over.' Followed by 'Yay! I get to be a dad!'"
"I was kind of annoyed, actually. That sounds bad, and I really was happier than annoyed, but we didn't have insurance at the time and went into labor labor right around midnight. That's significant because if we got to the hospital before midnight, we would have been charged for essentially an extra day. She was annoyed too! It's like 'Couldn't this have waited just a little?' Anyway, we drove to the hospital around 11:15, just in case, but didn't walk through the doors until 12:05. The baby was born around 2 a.m."
"I feel bad, because I totally kept mansplaining it to her. Like. 'No you're not, it's probably just Braxton Hicks.' I think it was a combination of denial, hubris (I'd read all the pregnancy books with her) and, in my defense, the fact that my wife saw signs of labor in everything, for months, so there was a little bit of crying wolf going on. Finally she was definitely in labor and I apologized and got her an egg sandwich from the bodega as a peace offering."