Many young men see themselves as macho types and have the general feeling of invincibility that accompanies youth. It is only when they are faced with a traumatic event that they find out what they are truly made of. For me, that event took place on August 8, 1991 with the birth of my daughter. The birth was not preceded by a frantic dash to the hospital in the middle of the night. This birth had been planned weeks in advance and all we had to do was show up.
I had no reason to worry; after all I wasn’t going to have to deal with the type of experience my wife went through during the birth of her first child. According to her recollection, she was in labor for about 976 hours and went through pain that would require me to sever a couple of my limbs to understand. Her son had been born by emergency Cesarean Section and the doctor felt it best that we do a C-section to deliver our daughter. So, we were set to arrive at the hospital at the crack of dawn on August 8 and have a baby.
We showed up right on time and the maternity staff prepared my wife for the procedure. The anesthesiologist applied the epidural which numbed my wife from the hair down. I considered asking for some drugs to numb me up a little but I was afraid I would sound like a wimp or a junkie. They wheeled her out and down the hall toward the operating room.
I was taken to the Expectant Father Preparatory Facility, which was basically a sink with plenty of disinfectant for me to scrub with. The appropriate attire was provided for me and, with a little help from the nurse, I managed to put on the shower cap, apron, funky booty shoes and surgical mask. As I finished dressing, one of the other nurses came out of the operating room and said, “You better hurry, they’re starting without you!”
I rushed in and headed for the little stool that was provided for me. I noticed that there was a screen placed just below my wife’s chest that prevented her from seeing what was going on. As I got to my seat I noticed that the doctor was making the incision. I suddenly felt a mild wave of lightheadedness and decided I should position myself behind the screen close to my wife. I held her hand and reassured her that everything was going to be fine while I thought to myself, “Just don’t look, just don’t look, just don’t look”.
As men often do, I ignored the common sense and advice with which my brain was repeatedly bombarding me. I rolled back just a little on that stool to take a peek at the business end of this deal. Not only was I guilty of ignoring my own good mental advice, I was also guilty of horrible timing. My wife’s midsection was pulled open far enough that a Butterball turkey could stroll out with room to spare. I found out later that the next thing I saw was the doctor “breaking the water”, but what I saw was a stream of water squirting out as if my daughter was defending herself with a Super Soaker. Beads of sweat popped out on my forehead and I suddenly felt very lightheaded.
My wife looked at me and, noticing the complete lack of color in my face, asked me if I was alright. I remember thinking to myself, “She is lying on a table having a small human being ripped out of her abdomen and SHE is asking ME if I am alright.” The nurse looked at me and noticed that I was beginning to wobble slightly on my stool. She said in no uncertain terms, “Mr. McVay, your wife and baby come first, if you pass out you will lie on the ground until we get finished with them.”
I was officially humiliated by what I perceived as a lack of fortitude. I could only breathe warm air through mask I was wearing and I thought I would be ok if I could get a breath of fresh, cool air but I couldn’t bring myself to walk out on my child’s birth to get it. I decided that if I was going to faint, I was going to do it like a man making as much noise and commotion as possible on the way down. My saving grace came as one of the nurses said, “Mr. McVay, if you turn away from the operating table you can pull your mask down if you need some air.”
I turned the other way, pulled my mask down, and got some breaths of cool air. That was enough to bring me back from the brink of unconsciousness. I got through the rest of the procedure without much trouble but I declined to cut the umbilical cord for fear of a relapse.
It is a cliché to say that wisdom comes with age but it is true in most cases. I have learned my limits and now know that I am much tougher than I was in my early twenties (as long as we don’t have any more children).
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