When I walked into a crash childbirth course in my third trimester of pregnancy, I knew precious little about what to expect from labor and delivery. I’d vowed not to read or listen to too many accounts of labor/delivery horror stories in order to keep my stress low. And I figured I’d wait to watch birthing videos until the five-hour Saturday childbirth class I signed up for. I’m glad I waited. I may have been freaked out by what I heard and saw that day, but it was great to have so many myths dispelled and so many decisions settled all at once. It’s amazing how much misinformation is out there about what to expect from the birthing experience, and a lot of it has to do with a phenomenon I like to call the Myth of the Sitcom Birth.
Here are a few examples:
1. Water rarely breaks dramatically or publicly.
It’s so simple on sitcoms, isn’t it? On TV, you know it’s time for the big show when a woman’s eyes go wide and her face becomes a mask of distress. “My water just broke!” she exclaims and begins looking down and lifting her soggy feet, mortified. This isn’t usually how it goes. For one, the “water-break” — also known as the rupture of membranes — often isn’t a large gush of uncontrollable liquid that results an instantaneous puddle. Sometimes it’s a gradual trickle, and other times (and this was the case with me), a woman’s in active labor for hours without her water breaking at all. They actually had to break mine, about a half-hour before it was time to push. Even if you do experience a sitcom-level “my water just broke” moment, it usually occurs at home. Not in a grocery store, a broken elevator, or in a corporate meeting. That far into the game, you’re sticking close to home as much as possible, and the likelihood that others will witness the onset of “go time” is slim.
2. Dads in the delivery room: not as universally “touching” as we’ve been led to believe.
As beautiful as it is to witness a child entering the world, let’s not forget that it’s also gory and, for some, disturbing. As progressive as our culture’s become and for as many as have had great experiences with men in the delivery room, there’s something to be said for that time before, when men stayed out in the waiting room, and women rallied in the birthing space. This is a delicate issue. If a man is enthusiastic about witnessing the birth of his child, and his partner is equally enthusiastic, that’s wonderful. But if during the entire length of the pregnancy, he’s expressing how much he’ll dread being there, he jokes about blood making him faint, or he’s generally the type of impatient or insensitive person who’d have a hard time sitting around waiting for a 20-hour labor to “kick into high gear,” there’s nothing wrong with you both agreeing that it’s best for him to sit it out. And even if he’s not the one with the objections — even if it’s you who’s interested in being surrounded by a circle of supportive women — don’t be afraid to voice that to the father of your child. He may be fine with it. And if he’s insistent on being there, at least you’ll both get the chance to work through your concerns about things together.