Dear Mr. Dad,
It seems that every one of my wife's friends have had c-section deliveries. She's about a month away from her due date and we're both worried that she's going to have a c-section too. The childbirth preparation class we took didn't spend a lot of time on c-sections. In case it happens, what can I expect and what can I do to stay involved?
You're right. The majority of childbirth preparation classes spend the majority of their time emphasizing natural, unmedicated deliveries. That, of course, puts a ton of pressure on women to deliver vaginally, which ends up making a lot of them feel that they've failed if they don't -- especially after spending hours and hours in labor that wasn't "progressing."
You, on the other hand -- if you're like about 90 percent of men -- are likely to feel relieved, thankful that your wife's pain and suffering is finally going to stop. Once she's been drugged, the operation happens so quickly and painlessly that it'll probably make you wonder why she didn't do it hours before.
Relief to the side, your wife's c-section can still be an emotionally trying experience for you. In a lot of hospitals you'll be left alone while your wife is taken away and prepped for surgery. And depending on whether the c-section is considered an emergency, you may or may not be given any information at all on what's happening. You're likely to feel scared for your wife and baby as well as completely useless-all those classes and breathing patterns out the window-as doctors and nurses busy themselves with your wife.
Once the prepping is over you may, or may not, depending on the hospital, be invited into the operating room. Even if you are, you may, or, again, may not, depending on the hospital, be able to watch the actual incision and removal of your baby.
One way to reduce some of the uncertainty about whether you'll be allowed in the room and what you'll be able to see once you get there is for you and your wife to discuss the c-section possibility with her doctor and to let him or her know up front what you want if the situation arises.
As routine as c-sections seem to be these days, it's still major surgery, which means that your wife is going to need some special care afterwards.
Odd as it sounds, after having a c-section she may feel kind of left out. Within seconds after a vaginal birth the mother usually gets to see and touch and cuddle her new baby. But after a c-section the baby is usually quickly whisked away to have his lungs suctioned out. (This is standard procedure. In a vaginal birth, amniotic fluid is squeezed out of the baby's lungs as he passes through the birth canal. Because c-section babies aren't getting that natural Heimlich maneuver they sometimes need a little help.)
After that, the nursing staff will probably clean the baby up and do some routine medical checks. In most places this is all done in the room where your wife will be able to see the whole procedure. If not, stick with the baby. Sounds harsh, but it's bad enough for your newborn to be deprived of snuggling with one of his parents right away, but it would be worse if the baby couldn't be with either of you.
On the other hand consider the circumstances. If your wife wants your support as her incision is repaired (which can make even the toughest guys squeamish), spend your time with her; the nursing staff will do a find job taking care of your baby. And if the baby had any kind of a rough start, stay with your wife while the doctors tend to your newborn. I know you want to be with the baby but leave it to the pros.
One final thought: Never, never, never suggest to your pregnant wife that she consider a C-section. You may be acting with the very best intentions, thinking only of her and how to end her pain, but for some women delivering vaginally is some kind of macho thing that we guys will never be able to understand, and they'll interpret your suggestion as incredibly insensitive. So no matter how much pain she seems to be in, let her doctor make the first move.
-- "Mr. Dad"
A nationally recognized parenting expert, Armin Brott is the author of The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips and Advice for Dads-To-Be, The New Father: A Dad's Guide to the First Year, The New Father: A Dad's Guide to the Toddler Years, Throwaway Dads: The Myths and Barriers That Keep Men from Being the Fathers They Want to Be, and The Single Father: A Dad's Guide to Parenting Without a Partner (New Father Series). He has written on parenting and fatherhood for the New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, Newsweek and dozens of other periodicals. He also hosts "Positive Parenting," a nationally distributed, weekly talk show, and lives with his family in Oakland, California.