I recently visited my sister MaryBeth at the hospital where she was in the early stages of labor with her first child. While I was there I recovered a repressed memory from the birth of my first child and realized that it was a worthy successor to the advent candle story. The common thread to these two stories (and most of my good ones) is that I am a doofus, my wife is a saint, and that I am unusually qualified to provide “what not to do” advice to the next generation….
I woke up quickly. My very first wake up as a father. Stiff after 3 hours sleep in the recliner chair in our hospital room, I was full of energy. After 14 hours of induced labor and the birth of our first daughter Stephanie at 4:34 am I was short on sleep but excited to start this new phase of my life.
I got up and stretched and looked at my beautiful wife who was sleeping peacefully in her hospital bed. A warm feeling came over me and I decided to go see and hold our daughter. Maybe bring her back to the room so when Mary woke up we would all be together.
I was feeling very good about myself. I was a new dad, had performed well in the delivery room and had even cut the umbilical cord without injuring anyone. In the couple hours after the birth we basked in the glow of bringing a new child into the world. Every single person we interacted with was all smiles and congratulations. Nurses, doctors, technicians, everyone was great.
With a big smile on my face, I opened the door and headed to the nursery to see my daughter.
Walking down the hall I smiled as I approached a nurse working the floor. She however did not smile and as I passed her she said, “look who’s awake.”
Huh? What? Is she talking to me? Whatever.
I walked on to the nursery and they have a check-in desk before you can go inside where the babies are. With a big smile I said I was there to see Stephanie Riley, and the clerk said, “well good morning Mr Riley.” But not in a nice way. Not cold exactly, but more than a little sarcastic. And with it came that first twinge of “did I miss something?”
So with just a touch of paranoia, I walked into the nursery half expecting that people would be whispering and pointing at me. And sure enough the nurses whispered and nodded at me. I checked to make sure I was fully dressed. Check. OK, so what’s up?
I walked over to Steph’s crib but she was sleeping so I didn’t pick her up. After a couple minutes being lost in the moment of viewing our newborn baby I looked up and saw two nurses who appeared to be openly talking about me. OK, I thought, now you are just being paranoid.
Typically in moments like this I laugh at myself for thinking it’s all about me, and move on, because of course it’s not really about me. And this was exactly like that except that one of the nurses walked up to me, grabbed my sleeve and said, “I need to talk to you.”
She backed me up against a wall and began to talk about how a father’s responsibility doesn’t end with making the baby, and that I need to be supportive and involved. It was a solid 3-minute lecture on parental and spousal responsibility and included her wagging a finger in my face.
We had gone through Lamaze classes at the hospital, and I know there is a lot to prepare for as a new parent, but the whole in your face, don’t be a jerk, discussion was really throwing me off. And on top of it all, the nurses seemed to be genuinely upset with me specifically, not just new fathers as a category. I don’t think I am a talented enough writer to capture the utter sense of befuddlement that I was feeling as I tried to figure out what could possibly have happened to make them all hate me.
In the course of about 10 minutes I had gone from the new father walking the hospital with the stride of pride, to one very confused, self-conscious, tail between his legs dad (with a small d) scurrying back to the safety of his wife’s hospital room.
When I arrived back at the room, there was yet another nurse in the room and my wife was now awake. I timidly said hello to the nurse, who scowled at me and then left the room. Yup her too.
As soon as the door closed I went to the side of the bed and said to my wife, “everyone here is being really mean to me.” Then without taking a breath I related the entire story from the time I woke up until I came back into the room. I was expecting that my wife would tell me it was all in my head, and hoping for a little sympathy.
Instead as I related the story, it became clear that whatever had happened to turn everyone else against me, it apparently had included my wife. Instead of a smile or sympathy she just shook her head at me.
I was looking for sympathy, but what I got was an explanation.
When we were transferred from the delivery room to a regular room my wife had traveled by wheel chair, her legs still being completely numb from the epidural she had gotten during labor. The nurse and I had lifted her into bed and got her comfortable and she advised us to get some sleep. I pulled a reclining chair up next to the bed and promptly passed out.
Shortly thereafter a nurse came in and told Mary that she needed to try and use the bathroom. So she helped her out of bed and into the bathroom. The nurse asked if she should stay and Mary said no, her husband could help her back into bed.
After a few minutes, Mary begins calling out to me. Gradually raising her voice until she is practically shouting, but I didn't even stir. This goes on for more than 10 minutes. As Mary describes the situation she was becoming quite uncomfortable, was getting very annoyed that she couldn't wake me, and her only fallback plan was pulling that emergency chain found in hospital bathrooms - and she really didn't want to do that.
Several nurses responded to the emergency call and helped Mary get back into bed.
“wow your husband is asleep right over there…” “yeah I know”
A few more nurses came in and out of the room as they reached the decision that Mary needed a catheter. And they were all commenting on my incredible sleeping prowess, although they didn’t see it as a gift so much as an assholic character trait.
At some point they just pushed my chair into a corner of the room so they could work on Mary. And still I slept.
Invasive procedure complete, Mary was finally able to get comfortable. The last nurse, who later became the first nurse I saw, asked “what should we do with him?” and Mary said “push him back over here.”
A few minutes later, I woke up quickly….