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My Birthing Class Instructor Hates Me

Hospitals have programs for new parents on range of parenting topics. My wife and I signed up for a prep class for the birth event. Because American health care is failing, we choose to have the baby in Kuala Lumpur Kaiser Hospital. (Okay, not really. I’m changing the name to protect the innocent, namely me.)

So I’m not learning that much that I didn’t already know. I didn’t know about the baby urinating and defecating in the womb, which is gross but tolerable because I don’t have a womb. However I feel for my wife and future kid.

I got the sense from the instructor that most, if not all, first time parents expect the baby to drop quickly, come out without any blood, shit, mucus or dry skin, and be a perfect angel. Apparently from her repeated threats of “You have no idea what’s coming! You’re not prepared at all!” the hospital has been the target of angry parents who didn’t experience bliss when the baby came. The course seems designed to scare the hell out of us. I’m not laboring under any blissful assumptions, although a painless delivery would be nice since Terry hates needles, especially needles to the spine. The baby will be swollen, cone-headed, covered in every body fluid you can imagine and a few you can’t, and you are totally unprepared for what is about to hit you. I get it.

I’ve had experience with childcare before; I’ve changed diapers, I’ve babysat for newborns, I’ve visited postpartum mothers and newborns in hospital. So I have some idea about the delivery and how our lives will change over the next decade. I’m much more worried about getting Ronan to age 18 then about changing diapers or losing sleep.

I pass the time in class watching one soon-to-be-Dad who announced on the first day that he didn’t really want to be there. He completely freaks at every bloody video they screen for us. He’s more entertaining than the videos. He scrunches his face and looks like he’s really, really not enjoying this at all.

The videos are good for some unintentional laughs. The Dads are either monotonous robots or energizer bunnies during the delivery. I’d have to slap the monotone guy and tranquilize Mr. Bunny. The Moms say calm and collected things in voiceover like “I was very calm about ordering an epidural. I discussed it with my doctor and we decided I should have pain relief.” Meanwhile I’m picturing myself as Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment – “Give my wife the shot!! Give my wife the shot!!”

Coming from a family that does not parade naked on the front lawn or in the tabloids, I was impressed by the women in the pregnancy videos. Besides being incredibly calm about labor pains they are also quite comfortable with a camera crew videotaping them in really, really intimate situations. If fact, most of them are completely naked. For everything. Giving birth, I can understand. But do you have to be completely naked to breastfeed? I know, I won’t be doing it, but still – only one woman wore clothes for breastfeeding. I think Terry will wear clothes as much as possible for all the child rearing, and so will I.

Normally I’m attracted to calm, naked women, but the videos are as unerotic as possible. The birth videos have the gross factor of, well, birth. The nursing videos (have I mentioned how confused I was about every breastfeeding woman being naked?) have about ten people watching a naked woman breatfeed. Since I make movies, I’m always thinking about what when into that shot. “Okay, Ms. Newmom, if you could get naked, I’ll introduce you the crew – this is the cameraperson, the other cameraperson, the sound person, the boom operator, the producer, the lactation consultant and your husband, who will have no part in this whatsoever, but will stand to the side and try to look like he has a role here.”

The instructor has 35 years of obstetric/maternity experience. Her teaching style was machine gun facts –

“Thebaby’sfirstbowelmovementiscalledmeconium.Itcansticktothelungs iftheyaspirateit.That’swhatwehavetosuctionthebaby’smouthassoonas it’sborn. Any questions? Thebabywillbecoveredwithlanugo,whichis finehair;Alsopossiblyacreamcheesesubstancecalledvernix,which protectsthebabyinthewomb.Justrubitintotheskin. Any questions?

I’ve never been good at taking notes. I get so involved in taking the notes, I get lost in the lecture. I’m much better in discussion groups because I love the sound of my own voice. Terry, who excels at everything, is a great note taker. Still, she had trouble keeping up. There were a lot of lists of things to buy. As a teacher, I would give students lists of things on paper so they could get them. Our instructor would just rattle them off. Plus, she would ask for questions but not stop for questions.

I expected the class to be more about breathing exercises. Apparently the theory today is that breathing only helps somewhat. So only about twenty minutes of each class was breathing. For this exercise, I would play the role of a contraction. I like to think of myself as a strong guy, being tall and fat, but I couldn’t crush my wife’s shoulder hard enough. She couldn’t tell when the contraction was beginning or ending. So in my one role in the class, I was a miserable failure.

Actually, I hadn’t really considered my role in the birthing process until we took the class. The Dads in the video got really into their role, even if they couldn’t modulate the tone of their voice. They pulled out photos, food, rubs, and all sorts of stuff. They gave back rubs and foot rubs to their naked wives. In short, they were the perfect caregivers. Pretty much the entire class and the instructor wanted to kill them because they were so annoying.

But inherent in the videos was the fact that the Dads were just standing around waiting for something – ANYTHING – to happen so the could prove their value. It seems they have little value. The instructor repeatedly warned the caregivers that I we didn’t make Mom comfortable, if we hindered the process, we would be ejected. After all, we’re wanted but not necessarily needed.

Which is kind of deflating. After all this preparation, doctor visits, comments from friends and family, I suddenly realized that I couldn’t stop the pain of labor, I couldn’t take the burden myself, and I couldn’t really do anything but hold Terry’s hand and remind her to breathe. It’s a shock (at least for me) that I can’t really help with this. Then I got into a cycle of guilt. I felt bad that I can’t do anything more than hold her hand, then I felt guilty for being so self-centered and thinking this was about me, then I’d feel guilty for over-thinking something I can’t do anything about, and then I’d go back to feeling bad about not being able to do anything.

So, to change things up, I picked a fight with the instructor. Actually, I didn’t realize I picked a fight until the fight was already over, and I was apologizing for picking a fight. I’m not even really sure who started it. (Our instructor thinks I did.)

Actually, it wasn’t really a fight, since the instructor dressed me down in front of the entire class and I just took it so we could all get on with our work. What happened was this: She came into class full of road rage after a long drive, and I allowed her to vent her anger all over me. Apparently we couldn’t visit the birthing center upstairs because they were too busy, so we were going to visit next week. I asked what would happen if they were busy next week as well. “We’ll visit anyway.” She said. “We just won’t see one of the rooms.”

“As long as someone shows me at some point where the ice chips, popsicles, and apple juice are, that’s fine.” I answered. I had just read a Slate article about the birthing experience where the Dad said he knew where these things were and it helped a lot because he didn’t have to wait for the nurse to bring them. Some people in the class laughed.

“Popsicles!” The instructor didn’t laugh. “I am in no mood to be challenged today.” She was really angry.

“I’m not trying to challenge you.” I responded.

“I’ve already had a hard day. I don’t want to be challenged by you today!!”  Everybody had stopped laughing. She was kinda yelling at this point. I felt very much like I was back in high school.

“I’m sorry, I was just trying to be funny.”  I said. That’s when Terry squeezed my hand, which means Please stop talking, she’s going to kill you dead, ding-dong. Actually Terry doesn’t say ding-dong, I added that part in my head as I slowly realized that the instructor was really angry. I think she tought I would park myself in front of the refrigerator and gorge myself on popsicles, ice chips, and apple juice while Terry was wallowing in pain in the next room.

“I’m not in the mood for jokes. You’ll get upstairs when you’re allowed upstairs.” Actually I don’t know what she said then, because I was already beginning to worry if I would ever be allowed in the hospital again.

Meekly, I said I would need to know where the machine was to get ice chips for Terry. “You are pushing my buttons. I don’t want to be challenged today.” Said the instructor.

So she started a video and left the room to go into the bathroom and scream and punch the mirror, pretending it was me. Actually I’m making that last part up; I don’t know where she went. As we watched the video of supernaturally calm pregnant naked women, I was thinking, what the hell just happened? Did I just piss off the instructor? What did I say? What the HELL just happened?

After the video we took a break. The instructor left the room to drive a forklift into cars in the parking lot, pretending they were mine. Actually I don’t know if she left the room or not, but I did. I went to the bathroom. One of the other Dads was in there too. “Way to piss of the instructor!” he said. “Ah, yeah.” I said. “I felt bad for both of you. I’m glad that I didn’t say anything this morning.” He said. “Yeah.” I said, displaying my famous spur-of-the-moment wit. But what I was thinking was, Sorry for both of us! Why are you sorry for her?

I’ve always had problems with my sarcasm. I used to worry about it because it turned so many people off, but then I realized I was at Brandeis University, and people there don’t have much of a sense of humor. So I stopped worrying about it so much because plenty of people find me entertaining. Sure, my friend and former student recommended a neon “sarcasm” sign so that people would know that I’m not kidding, but generally people like my stories, unless they are married or related to me, and then they find them too personal and embarrassing.

I can be moody and unapproachable too. Some kids at the school where I used to teach were afraid to come in to the Media Lab because they thought I was really stern all the time; until they got to know me, then they thought I was very cool. My uncle on my Mom’s side once suggested a game show where my Dad, my uncle and I would form a circle and get really angry. Whoever survived the combined anger of all three of us would win the game show.

But I didn’t feel angry or sarcastic the day I pissed off the instructor. Terry, being very supportive, quickly pointed out after class that I can’t read body language and I should’ve stayed silent. I quickly pointed out that I asked one question and then tried to end the conversation. I’m pretty sure I didn’t deserve to be yelled at.

So we had a pancake party the next day, and I told everyone what happened and they were sympathetic. And by sympathetic I mean they made jokes about me.

A week later we had to go to the next class. Surprisingly, I wasn’t really excited about this. I dragged my feet the whole way, which is a good way to piss off my wife, who arrives exactly, and I mean exactly, on time everywhere she goes. I was scared that we’d arrive and it would be the instructor and us.

Thankfully many people were already there. Another Dad asked me, “How are you going to piss of the instructor this week?” The instructor arrived, class began and we all pretended that nothing had happened the week before. However, people asked few questions. I don’t know if that’s because of what happened to me or if that was because people didn’t have questions. We went on the tour, and without asking, Terry and I located the ice chip machine. Hah! Victory!!

I was much relieved by the comments of a friend of Terry’s, who told me that maternity nurses repeatedly yelled at her husband, who is a social worker. He accepted it as part of his job. So maybe it wasn’t me.

However, now that I’m prepared for a goopy, bloody, gross baby, I will treat the maternity nurses with respect and care.

Who am I kidding? I’ll be my sarcastic self.


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on January 28, 2007 2:47 PM.

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