With Father’s Day approaching, it’s a great time to celebrate the father figures in our lives. One of my duties as a Pediatric Hospitalist is to attend “high risk” newborn deliveries. Essentially, if the baby seems distressed at birth – there is meconium in the amniotic fluid, the heart rate isn’t acting normally, or the baby is premature – I get called to the delivery room to resuscitate the baby if needed. Honestly, most babies come into the world with an amazing drive to live, which makes my job pretty easy. As we stand at the ready, waiting for the star of the show to make their grand entrance, most energy in the room is focused on the co-star, the laboring mother-to-be. I, however, like to look to the other major player: delivery room dads.
These are my observations drawn from over a decade of attending deliveries. Not all dads will exhibit all behaviors, while some dads completely rewrite the book! But these are some common trends I’ve noticed. Also important: while I’ve used the term “dads” for ease of reading, this is meant to represent all supportive partners in the room with the laboring mom.
They Will Try to Push.
While it’s true that we women do the vast majority of the heavy lifting when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth (and by “vast majority” I mean all. All of the pregnancy and childbirth), delivery room dads are also going through a massive life-changing experience. Over which they have literally no control. Dads don’t get to feel the quickening, when you feel those first tiny flutters of the baby moving. Dads don’t get to imagine they’ve developed a psychic link with their baby over which hopes and dreams are communicated without sound (or is that just me?) They don’t get to feel the pain of the contractions indicating that the time has come. And they don’t get to push the baby out. But delivery room dads will try. They will stand by your bedside, hold their breath, grimace, and bear down every time your nurse says to push. It won’t work, obviously, but they will do it.
They Will Be Tired.
During your labor, dads may try to get some rest, but it’s unlikely to be truly restful. Hello, sleeper chair! Once the pushing starts, they really have to kick into high gear. They need to hold your leg, adjust your pillow, get you a drink, rub your back, and try to maintain a calm and steady head. Delivery room dads will be on their feet, sometimes for hours. They will stretch in the time between your contractions, or perhaps try to sit down for a minute. Then they’ll be right back at your side when you groan, “Another one is coming.” Occasionally, dads will go white as a sheet after the hours of labor. Sometimes, they’ll pass out. But I have never once heard a dad-to-be complain about his own fatigue during this process. They are truly performing their duty in a supporting role, offering unfettered support.
They May Develop Verbal Diarrhea.
Some dads-to-be mindlessly repeat what the nurses say. They yell, “Push! You got it! Good! That’s the push! Just like that! Keep going! Pushpushpushpushpushpush!” Others crack bad jokes, proving that dad jokes precede fatherhood. Either way, I don’t think you can hold either parent accountable for what they say in the delivery room.
They Will Feel Out of Place.
If you end up needing a Cesarean section, that’s when delivery room dads seem to really feel uncomfortable. In the delivery room, they had time to establish a presence. Electric candles, special items from home, snacks – those were the things they were prepared for. They were doing a good job. You might be having contractions, but as long as he could load your labor playlist, everything would be okay. But the sterile, foreign operating room is an entirely different matter. Add to that the concern that not one, but two of the people you love most in the world are about to undergo major surgery, and the stress is sometimes palpable. Dads are ushered in, scolded to not touch anything, and then they have to sit and wait. They’re not even allowed to hold your leg or pretend to push anymore. They will continue to crack bad jokes, though, don’t worry about that.
They Are Scared.
Most of the time, babies go to moms first. Appropriate since, again, moms did all of the pregnancy and childbirth work. Occasionally the baby isn’t breathing, or their color or muscle tone isn’t right, so I intervene. Or they were born in the operating room, which doesn’t yet lend itself to immediate skin-to-skin time with mom. Whatever the reason, when the baby ends up on the warmer, I usually need to invite the brand new dad over to meet their child. Reactions range from silent awe to whoops of joy, to what sometimes seems like apathy, but I know it’s just a realization that life has just unalterably, irrevocably changed. With the babies that end up on my warmer, grabbing their dad’s hand is usually the first real skin-to-skin contact the baby has. What seems universally true, is that after hours of being in the supporting role, new dads are all scared of actually touching their newborn star.
Delivery Room Dads are Loved.
My career gives me the privilege to see the birth of not only babies, but of mothers, fathers, and expanding families. Yes, I watch the delivery room dads during labor. But I also see the looks exchanged between moms and dads when their baby finally comes screaming into the world. I see how babies, only minutes old, will calm when they hear their father’s voices. We moms are clearly integral in the delivery room, but dads-to-be truly shine in their role as supporting actor.