Television and movies lead us believe in a very particular birth narrative. Labor starts instantly (after the mom's water breaks, of course), and everyone comedically or dramatically rushes to the hospital whereupon pushing begins immediately. More often than not, this experience is shown from the perspective of the father-to-be instead of the laboring woman (I've rarely encountered same sex/queer parent birth scenes), yet neither of the perspectives shown are especially accurate. So I asked partners to describe what it's like to be in the delivery room for the first time. Because birth partners are important, and their experience deserve honest examination, too.
The only time I've ever been in a delivery room was to give birth myself. I've never accompanied a friend, family member, or romantic partner. So I asked my own romantic partner, my husband and father of my two children, what his first delivery room experience was like when I had an emergency C-section after 18 hours of labor. "Whirlwind," he told me. "We went from no baby to baby so fast. I thought the process would take a lot longer." I mean, this is fair, but from the perspective of someone who was actually in labor for almost a full day, "so fast" is not the phrase I would think to use.
But hey! That's why we have these conversations, right?! For insight! For clarity! To give our partners the opportunity to let other would-be parents know what they might expect, like the following:
"My wife had an emergency C-section, so we had to make the trip to the OR. I had to get changed into these flimsy, cotton/paper coveralls and a face mask. When the nurse brought me in, there was a whole team already there who didn't even notice that I came in (they were understandably busy). I felt so nervous, not about the birth itself but about my place in the room. I felt like a kid playing dress up."
"[I felt] useless. My partner was in agony — back labor — and there was nothing I could do to make them feel better. My cortisol was through the roof."
"I kept waiting for things to feel real and they never did. Even now, it's been over a year and it still feels like the director is going to yell 'cut' any minute."
[Writer's note: They never do, Kev. They never yell "cut," even when you super wish someone would.]
"I was weirdly preoccupied with the colors in the room — a combination of turquoise and pink. I'm into design so I guess paying attention to those details was my way of getting into a comfort zone and feeling less anxious in a space that could otherwise make me very anxious. My wife and I chatted about it between contractions, which she handled like a champ, as well as the bizarre dune-buggy pattern of the robe they gave her."
"My girlfriend was overdue, so by the time we finally got to the delivery room I was running in there like Rocky, fists in the air, ready to do whatever I had to do to help her evict the tenant."
"It was a traumatic birth for her and, to a lesser degree, me too. Thank God our son is OK, but if we ever have another child I'm going to have to come up with a plan to be OK going into a hospital again, because I'll always associate a delivery room with those negative feelings."
"Loss and a tough pregnancy had everyone on edge, so the delivery room felt like a finish line and a final boss battle in a video game at once."
"We did the hospital tour, so I knew what to expect in terms of the room, but I felt like I was floating above myself the entire time. It's like when you have a dream and the world around you is going at regular speed but you're in slow motion. Before I knew it there was a baby's head poking out of my wife's vagina."
"We hadn't taken the tour ahead of time, and I was shocked by how small the room was. I wasn't expecting a palace or anything but when they set up all the stuff I really didn't know how the doctor and nurses were going to fit in there, too."
"I don't do well in hospitals and tried to just remain very focused on holding my wife's leg while she did all the hard work."
"The delivery room was our living room with a big inflatable pool in it, so I felt pretty at ease. I actually thought it would feel a lot weirder to have a baby in our house, but it was surprisingly not weird at all."
"I had a child from a previous relationship, so when my partner and I decided to have children ... she wanted the opportunity to be pregnant. (I think she probably second guessed that a few months into hyperemesis gravidarum!) ... When it came time to have the baby it was very strange [to be the non-gestational partner], knowing what she was going through. After our daughter was born I actually called my ex (we're on good terms) and thanked him for making me feel so at ease during my own birth experience when he was probably nervous, too."