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Just Dad

I get a lot of questions from friends and family about my job. The most frequent question I get when I tell people my chosen profession is “Why would you choose that?” The second is “Did you deliver your own babies?”

My answer to the first usually depends on where I am, who I am with, and (most importantly) what kind of a mood I’m in. If I’m well rested, and I think you are actually interested in my response, I’ll tell you about the first baby I delivered; how it was one of the most awe-inspiring moments of my life, and what a privilege it is to help women welcome a new life into the world. If I’m tired (or at a dinner party), I’ll tell you “I thought it would be a good way to meet chicks” or “the proctologists weren’t hiring.”

My answer to the second, however, is always the same. “No. I just wanted to be the dad.”

I’d probably delivered close to six or seven hundred babies by the time my wife brought our first child and only son Jack into the world. While I will tell you assisting in the birth of a child is never routine, and I am always amazed every time I get to do it today, most of the time there is a anticipated routine that is going to play out. I coach pushing the same way, deliver the baby the same way, and make the same bad jokes about the not charging you if you cut your own baby’s umbilical cord. So as the due date approached and the overnight bag for the hospital sat patiently by the backdoor, I waited, with much overconfidence and arrogance I might add, for her water to break, or for contractions to start, so we could get on doing the same thing I had done hundreds of times before.

Then it started. Somewhere between the screams of pain (peppered with some of the most colorful profanity I have ever heard coming from my sweet Southern Bell of a wife) and the not-so-great fetal heart rate tracing, it became abundantly clear I was in way over my head. I had a head full of knowledge. I knew where L&D was, I knew how to diagnose labor, and I even knew when a C-Section would be indicated. I was technically proficient, but lacked true experience. I was prepared for the what, the when, the where and the how. What I wasn’t ready for was the who. What I wasn’t ready for was to see what labor looked like for MY WIFE.

I knew the definition of labor and how frequent someone needs to contract, but I didn’t know the look of pain on my wife’s face during a really bad set of contractions. I knew sometimes the baby’s heart rate dropped as the cervix was changing, but I didn’t know how it would feel to hear MY baby’s heart rate go to the 60s and sit there (it was really scary, by the way). I certainly have counted to 10 hundreds of times, but I was completely unprepared for how momentous it was to see the woman I love bring another human being into this world with a startling combination of determination, courage and love. I knew how to help deliver a baby, but I never really understood what it meant until I watched my wife make me a dad.

Dad’s, if you feel unprepared for your wife’s upcoming labor, you are. If you are nervous about what’s going to happen, you should be. If you’re scared about all the stuff that could go wrong, that’s OK. And if you think there is anything I can tell you that can get you ready, there isn’t. My wife has given me so much over the years (except my fair share of the comforter… she takes way more of that than she is entitled). But the gift of fatherhood is second to none. I thought I married a strong woman before she gave me Jack and Katherine. Turns out I didn’t know what strong was.

So fellas, be prepared for the unexpected. Trust the amazing staff at Greenville Women’s Clinic and Vidant to take excellent care of your wife and to bring your healthy child into this world. And enjoy every second of being “just dad.”

David Ryan

P.S. Tell the proctologists I’m all set.