He is pacing. He is nervous. This is his first baby and he is scared to death. His wife is getting settled into the delivery room with fetal monitors being applied. The nurse is asking health history questions in between her painful contractions and quickly places an IV and draws labs. The soon-to-be new Dad pretends to busy himself with setting up pillows and figuring out how to work the fold out chair that will serve as his bed if he can even consider sleeping at some point during the process.
I start to discuss the routine hospital consent for delivery. We review the real risks of possible maternal injury: blood loss, infection, or need for surgery or other medical interventions. We also talk about fetal risks. He is listening attentively and his wife looks to him for reassurance before she signs the papers. He gives a quick nod and places his hand on her back. For a second he feels useful, she needs him to be her advocate and he is grateful to have this role.
We talk about the actual delivery and any preferences. He looks a little squeamish when I ask him if he wants to cut the umbilical cord at delivery and he politely declines.
Over the next few hours an epidural is placed and the labor progresses quickly. She is ready to begin pushing. He stands by her side, holding her hand and applying a cool cloth to her forehead. She is getting exhausted after over 2 hours of pushing and he is starting to fidget. Concern is evident on his face as he keeps looking at my eyes behind my mask for reassurance. I tell them both she is doing great. Baby is fine. All is well.
He is her protector, but presently is left feeling utterly helpless. His entire life, and all things that ultimately matter to him in this world, are out of his control. He starts pacing again, breathing a little more rapidly but keeping it together to appear calm for his wife. She needs him to believe everything is fine. She needs him to be her rock at this moment. She grips his hand with all her strength and finally the baby delivers. The umbilical cord is wrapped tightly around the baby’s neck twice. I calmly ask the mother to stop pushing and untangle and quickly remove the cord from around the baby’s neck. The rest of the baby’s body delivers and a small squeak emerges from the baby boy right before his loud bellowing cry. The mother realized she has been holding her own breath while waiting to see if her baby is ok and she inhales deeply with relief, gratitude, and amazement at what just happened.
I look over to Dad. He is crying. Actually sobbing. The experience is like nothing he could ever have imagined. He clenches his wife’s hand so tightly that it turns white. He kisses her sweaty forehead and leans his head into the crook of her neck. His love for his wife and newborn baby is palpable.
My own eyes are welling with tears. It is not lost on me the utter importance of this moment in their lives. It also comforts me to know how much this baby will be loved. I ask one more time if Dad would like to cut the umbilical cord, a second chance to take part in this tradition. This time, Dad shakes his head yes. He walks over and his trembling hands grab the scissors and cut through the surprisingly tough and gummy umbilical cord. I quietly complete my routine assessments of blood loss, deliver the placenta, and help to make sure Mom is now comfortable.
Before parting, I give Mom a hug as we have become close over the past 9 months with frequent visits and I have come to know her very well. I shake Dad’s hand and congratulate him one last time. His eyes meet mine and he holds my grasp an extra second. He doesn’t say an additional word but his unspoken gratitude speaks volumes to me.