A Husband's Guide to Labor Etiquette
By Lynda Schab
I was propped up in bed, surrounded by friends and family, having just given birth to my daughter, Lyndsey. I was glad I had decided to splurge and buy myself a new nightgown for the occasion. I didn't feel gorgeous but at least I wouldn't be caught wearing my favorite flannels with a huge hole under the arm.
"So really. How was it?" someone asked.
I took a deep breath, ready to divulge all the gory details, when my husband, Rob, cut in. "It was so---- easy!"
I looked at Rob through narrow eyes, intrigued to know his definition of "easy." I bit my tongue and waited for him to elaborate.
He explained how labor had only lasted five hours, how it only took a few pushes, how even the doctor was surprised at how well it had gone. I found myself so engrossed in Rob's labor reenactment, it was only when I shifted my bottom around on the bed, trying to find a more comfortable position, that I was painfully reminded it was I who had given birth and not my husband.
I'm sure there are other husbands out there who want to speak for their wives about how "easy" giving birth is, and although I have to say that, for the most part, Rob was a pretty good labor coach, he could have used a little pre-labor coaching of his own.
So here it is: Ten Commandments for husbands whose wives are in labor. Make sure you read through them together before your trip to the hospital, and pack them in your overnight bag so they'll be within reach for quick reference during the labor itself.
1. PUT YOUR WIFE BEFORE YOURSELF
Remember-it is your wife who is actually going through the pain. Today is a day to put her before everything else. If you stub a toe, please don't complain to her about it. And absolutely no comments like, "Come on honey, this is a piece of cake." It may sound like a nice comment to you, but I guarantee she won't take it nicely.
2. DO NOT HAVE ANY EXPECTATIONS
Do not expect your wife's labor to be perfect. If you have visions in your head of sitting at her bedside and stroking her hand while she looks lovingly into your eyes through every contraction, you will be very disappointed. Expect it to be awful and hideous and if it's better than that, be thankful.
3. DO NOT SWEAR
Today, especially, the last thing your wife wants to hear are dirty words coming out of your mouth. Despite the pain, this is still a beautiful experience and she doesn't want it turned into something ugly. Besides, the baby can hear you and now is a good time to start watching what you say around the little one. Oh-and if your wife slips up on this one, be understanding.
4. REMEMBER, THIS IS NOT A DAY FOR REST
Even if she goes into labor on a Sunday, do not just sit back and watch television while your wife does all the work. This is no time for rest. Even if there seems to be nothing to do, pretend you're busy. Let her see you making lists, making phone calls, or doing other miscellaneous duties. A word of warning: Never ever bring up later how much work you did. You might get slapped.
5. DO NOT CALL YOUR MOTHER
No matter how much you want to inform your parents that they are about to become grandparents, your wife most likely does not want Ma- and Pa-in-law rushing to the hospital, particularly if it's still early labor. You want the day to be as stress-free as possible. Creating stress like this will only prolong the labor and make it more difficult. This commandment does not apply to your own mother-in-law, whose presence may be requested. Only your wife's vote counts on this one.
6. KEEP MURDEROUS THOUGHTS OUT OF YOUR HEAD
Murder may be on your wife's mind, but keep it off yours. No matter how offended you get at the nasty remarks your wife makes toward you, revenge is not an option. If she tells you she wishes you were dead, note whether the comment was made in the middle of a hard contraction. Chances are it was, and when the contraction ends, the hateful words will too. And don't bring up the incident later and demand an apology. She won't even remember she said it.
7. NEVER LOOK AT THE NURSE
When the nurse is talking to you, do not make eye contact. Your wife may be watching and will misinterpret your look for more than it actually is. A pregnant woman does not feel attractive, no matter how often she is told she is glowing. Especially when her hair is matted down from sweat, make-up is running down her face and her legs are spread eagle. Your wife wants you looking only at her. This commandment is doubly important if the nurse is young and perky.
8. DO NOT STEAL AWAY, EVEN FOR A MINUTE
Your wife needs you now more than ever. Even if she' goes into labor during the Superbowl, NBA Championship, or World Series, stealing away for a peek at the score will not score you any points. If she tells you to leave her alone, do not leave the room. Turn your back and stand in a corner. Rest assured she will feel comforted knowing you stayed even though she's treating you like dirt at the moment.
9. DO NOT COMPARE HER WITH THE WOMAN ACROSS THE HALL WHO IS NOT SCREAMING HER HEAD OFF
Your wife will have her own way of dealing with pain and if she wants to scream, let her scream. Do not get embarrassed. The doctor and nurses are accustomed to labor-screamers. And if there does happen to be a woman across the hall who's got her breathing under control, don't rub it in your wife's face. She doesn't really care.
10. TELL HER YOU LOVE HER
There is not a woman alive who doesn't like being told she's loved. If she's shouting how much she hates you, let her know you love her anyway. This is called unconditional love she will appreciate it later.
Following these Ten Commandments will insure that your wife's labor will go more smoothly. One last reminder for husbands: never tell your family and friends how easy the labor was. Husbands who think the labor was easy simply have strong wives who do a great job dealing with pain.
It's so amazing that God gave women the ability to forget all about the pain when we look into the eyes of our newborn-a perfect little package, worth ever single painful contraction and push. Why should we make so much of the pain when the result is so much joy?
A final note for the women: try to keep in mind that your husband probably feels helpless standing by while you do all the work. He no doubt notices the pain you're in and may even say, "If I could trade places with you, I would," (knowing, of course, that he can't). But just like the pain, we have the ability to forget about how our husbands did as labor coach. Remember, through it all, you are in it together.
Exactly the same way you'll be in it together when he gets that vasectomy.
Lynda Schab is an avid writer whose work has appeared in print and online. She is diligently working on her first novel, which she hopes to finish within the year. Lynda resides in Michigan with her husband and two children. If you would like to write to Lynda, you can do so through the Letters page of this magazine.