Delivery room dad doesn't fit Ehrlichs' `traditional' world

Observation

October 18, 2003|By Susan Reimer | Susan Reimer,SUN COLUMNIST

Amid the excitement over the news that his wife is pregnant, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. made a little of his own news: He does not plan to be in the delivery room when his second child is born in March, he said. He was not witness to the birth of his son, Drew, four years ago, either.

"I'm more of a traditionalist," the governor said.

These days, however, it is much more "traditional" for the father not only to witness the birth of his child, but to assist the mother. That's what all those childbirth education classes are for - so dad won't be helpless when the time comes.

The fact is, hardly any fathers pace in waiting rooms anymore, and health care professionals think this is a good thing. For the mother, for the father and for the child.

My husband was there for the birth of both our children, and I was glad to have him there to scream at.

But, frankly, this men-in-the-delivery room business is an elaborate plot hatched by women like me, who don't want their husbands having any fun while they are in labor. If I am suffering, he doesn't get to watch SportsCenter in the waiting room.

First lady Kendel Ehrlich seems to be OK with her husband's plan to absent himself, especially since their second child could arrive just at the peak of the next legislative session.

"The governor will be governing. I will be in very good hands," she told reporters. "He will be there in spirit with me if he can't be there for the exact time of birth."

And if it turns out that the Republican governor is actually wrangling with Democratic Speaker of the House Michael E. Busch while the first lady is in labor, he surely will be able to understand her suffering.

Truth be told, I'm not sure how much help men are in the delivery room.

I could not have found a better father for my children if I had taken applications, but he wasn't exactly a pillar of strength in the birthing suite.

There I was, in labor a month early and waiting for an emergency Caesarean section. And there was my husband, dressed in hospital scrubs to accompany me, regarding himself in the mirror and saying, regretfully, "A `C' in organic chemistry and this could have been me. I could have been a doctor."

Uh, hello? Not exactly what I needed at the moment.

Whenever I hear stories about how a father wept as he watched his child enter the world, or how his hands shook with the import of the moment when he cut the umbilical cord, I am reminded of how my sister and her husband described the birth of their first child: It doesn't sound like they were in the same room.

He: "I was in the middle of a trial, and I called the court and told them I wouldn't be in. Being a father is more than conceiving the child. You have to be there for the start, and you have to follow it through."

She: "I started labor at midnight and woke him up. He was hungry, so he asked if I could hold off until he got some Chinese food."

He: "If I hadn't been there, we would have had a problem. Thanks to the Lamaze classes, I knew when she was ready to go. I had to practically fight with the hospital staff about it. Finally, they checked her, and I had been right."

She: "He's down the hall eating pretzels with the nurses and my water breaks. I'm shrieking for him or for a nurse or for anybody. Finally, he comes in, breathing pretzel breath all over me, saying, 'Honey, what's the problem?' "

He: "She had back labor. It was really painful for her, so I spent the whole time rubbing her back. She got pretty irritable. A husband might be the only person who would put up with that."

She: "He wanted out. Four hours of labor was beyond his attention span. I just decided then and there that any more kids and it was going to be a real short labor."

All kidding aside, though, husbands really ought to be there for the birth of their children, for more than sentimental reasons.

If there is something wrong with the child, if the child does not live, that tragedy is too much to be borne by the woman alone. It must be borne by both; that is part of the marriage contract. No job should supersede that.

But I suppose if it is OK with Mrs. Ehrlich, the waiting room is close enough.

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