Papa Was a Foaling Clone
I'm the only student who isn't hypnotized and I feel like a sucker.
I should be used to it by now. This is our fourth HypnoBirthing class, and I haven't been hypnotized yet. Not even close. Each time the instructor reads a script and my classmates drift off to their "happy place," I sit wide-eyed and restless thinking about the nursery that needs another coat of primer, or the floor that needs sanding, or any of the myriad tasks that hang over my head like a mobile.
Luckily, I'm not the one who will give birth. Jennifer is far more successful at relaxing, and as long as she studies the course book, listens to the hypnosis CD, and practices her Kegels each time she's stuck in traffic, she'll have a natural birth. According to the HypnoBirthing literature, she'll use "self-hypnosis, guided imagery, and special breathing techniques to bring about a shorter, easier, and more joyful birth, free of harmful drugs." No epidural, no IV drip, no string of expletives. It'll be as quiet and freaky as your average s`ance.
And she will do it. Jennifer is blisteringly smart, relaxed, open-minded, and strong (not to mention beautiful). She loves our baby and she'd do whatever is best for him. She'd wear a tinfoil hat and sing a Beatles' song backward if it'd give our boy a head start.
But what am I doing in this class?
Now, go easy. I know it's impossible to broach this subject without courting pure vitriol, but before you cast me as some fledgling deadbeat or heartless skeptic, you need to know two things.
First, I'm ridiculously excited about the little scamp, and I was totally psyched to start the first birthing course with Jennifer. I dutifully attended each class and participated unreservedly. When we were three weeks away from graduating our first (more mainstream) birthing course, Jennifer pulled us out of the class and enrolled us in HypnoBirthing. She felt it was better for her, and I was completely supportive. When we started the new course, however, it was apparent that the course material-aside from the chanting and chakras and whatnot-was virtually identical to the one we'd nearly completed.
Second, I have full confidence that HypnoBirthing works. For starters, the instructor is excellent: she's passionate about her work, she's engaging, and, most importantly, she acknowledges the course's outward corniness while remaining undeniably assured of its core benefits. I can't say enough good things about her. More persuasive though, is HypnoBirthing's effect on the only other guy in the course. When he's not in attendance, the other guy is working the hardcore offshore commercial fisheries in the North Atlantic. I have a hunch that the half tooth he sports in his generous smile is the victim of some barroom melee. He's about as removed from the hippie fringe as pre-war Elvis. Nonetheless, when he's in class, his head nearly melts off his shoulders every time our instructor starts a script.
And yet I remain obdurately alert.
I understand that hypnosis is a shared activity; that the hypnosee has as much an active role as the hypnoser. I know I'm supposed to work with the script and allow myself to simply let go, but it simply doesn't work. For instance, one of the scripts says, "I would like you now to picture yourself on a bed of mist-a soft, strawberry-red mist that gently envelops your entire lower torso, taking away all tension, all stress, all fear-bathing you in a soft, gentle relaxation. Breathe in the red mist."
When I hear this, I feel like a Times Square movie audience: "Oh no you don't! Stay away from the red mist, man. Don't breathe that stuff."
And when I hear, "Give yourself permission now to relax-both physically and emotionally," the editor in me wants to revise it to something more economical, like, "Relax."
This simple truth is, I can't relax, I can't let go, I'm impervious to suggestion, and no amount of awareness can overcome this. (I suppose awareness, in this case, is the roadblock.)
So what am I doing in this class?
Support is the obvious answer. I'm there to support Jennifer as she learns the ins and outs of birthing, so to speak. But support is almost too obvious. For instance, I'm wholly supportive of Jennifer while she's in her master's program to become a nurse practitioner. I help out wherever I can. If it means my chore load doubles or I sacrifice her company for four out of seven days every week, I'll do it. It ain't easy, but I'll do what has to be done. But supporting Jennifer's schoolwork doesn't mean I'm licking my thumb to turn each page of her textbook. That would be invasive and, honestly, unhelpful. I'm a far-better resource when I'm filling whatever inconsequential domestic gaps appear while Jennifer is busy with big-picture, life-and-death stuff.
The same applies to childbirth.
Don't get me wrong, I'm thankful that our culture has evolved to a point where fathers are active participants in the lives of their newborns. And I'm very thankful that Midcoast Maine is hip to the Second Wave. I'm awestruck that Pen Bay has HypnoBirthing, water births, homelike hospital amenities, and a nursing staff that puts the experience of childbirth miles ahead of administrative efficiency. I'm thrilled that a new mother at Pen Bay can spend the first two hours of her child's life with her child. That's terrifically progressive.
All I'm saying is, let's not ignore the scrappy little Third Wave. Let's suppose for a moment that the main pedagogical reason dads are included in HypnoBirthing is to encourage their participation in their child's life. It is meant to say, "Hey, man, it's time to turn off the Sox game and engage your reality. You're going to be a father soon."
But what if you're already down?
What if you spend your days and nights thinking about teaching your child how to sail, or how to ski, or how to slap a bass guitar? What if "your mind's eye" is already assembling a new bicycle in the wee hours of some distant Christmas Eve? What if you want to give your firstborn son the most kick-ass nursery that's ever been constructed? Isn't that equally important?
Maybe that's beside the point.
The truth is, if I can't relax in a darkened room full of sleepy people, what good will I be when my beloved wife is experiencing a pain that I'm powerless to affect? In the two birthing courses I've attended, I've seen a total of nine births on videotape. Aside from the comical hairdos and cheesy synthesizers, each video has been a white-knuckled terror express. If these videos are any indication of how queasy I'll be at show time, I need to wear a helmet to this thing. Trust me, I'm going to be a shrieking, collapsing heap of deadweight. I'll be utterly useless. If Jennifer manages to put herself on a relaxed, self-guided journey through a pain-free birth experience, I'm liable to derail it. I know myself too well.
I guess what I'm saying is, maybe I should prepare for this child in my own way. When the time comes, poor Jennifer is going to feel the pain. If I could bear the burden myself, I'd do it - I can't imagine how crazy I'll be when I see her in agony. But the simple fact is, I can't. I'll hold her hand. I'll reassure her. I'll do my best to stay upright and conscious.
In the meantime, let me figure out a true and resounding role in this process. I want to feel more like a cog than a token. I know pushing a wet roller across bare plaster doesn't seem like much-it's infinitesimal compared to what mothers must do-but it's tangible. And, in some small way, it gives me permission to relax-both physically and emotionally.
Ben McCanna is Editing Manager for a publisher of how-to books on sailing and outdoor sports. He lives with his wife in a fixer-upper in SoRo. They are expecting their first child in September.