EXCERPT: 'Don't Say I Didn't Warn You'

These bizarre prenatal visits seem like enough weirdness, but there is a need for gestation education; in the 1980s, it was called the Lamaze classes. They don't call it that anymore; it's now called childbirth classes. These classes are more for the dads than the moms. Dads don't really want to know anything about what is going to happen. If they could vote on it, most of them would choose to return to the 1950s when they got to stay out in the waiting area and prepare for childbirth by purchasing cigars to give out afterward, pacing back and forth and rubbing their foreheads in a concerned manner. Women, however, want to know all about the birth process. We are the people buying and reading What to Expect When You're Expecting. We are Googling childbirth, talking to friends, stocking up on anecdotal tidbits in case our labor is like any of our friends' experiences. When we are at our own baby showers, we are listening with rapt attention to every detail of the stories about labor and delivery from our friends and family. At the Lamaze classes I went to, they made us watch films. The people who make these childbirth films seemed somehow convinced that if they showed footage of all the details of birth, we would come away enraptured by the miracle of new life. In reality, these films were a weird science hybrid of those you'd see in biology class and the ones they'd make you watch in Driver's Ed—fascinating and disturbing. I think that's the first time most men get a clue about what is going to happen to their woman, and frankly, they really do not want to know. But they also now know they are somehow expected to overcome the urge to flee (inspired by images they have just seen) and fulfill their destiny by become great birthing partners.

This is a relatively new development in civi-lization. For thousands of years women tended to other women during the labor and delivery of ba-bies. Men waited outside. For them childbirth was a womanly mystery, and men liked birthing like that. I believe that one day there was a secret summit of the women of the world, and they concluded, "This is not fair. If we've got to suffer to bring offspring into the world, the very least men can do is be there and watch us do this heroic thing." But men wouldn't be there and watch unless they could be convinced that they were needed there. So women had to think up a job for the man during labor and delivery. Unfortunately, the best they came up with was: Feed us ice chips and distract us with baseball-like chatter, "Breathe, honey. Focus, honey. Breathe, that's right; that was a good one. Good work, honey. Hey, batter, batter."

Lamaze must be French for "give him something to do." My husband, John, did all the approved Lamaze phrases during the birth of our first child. In fact, there was a point where I told him that he might be overachieving in the massaging and talking area; he was so nervous that he practically rubbed a hole in my hand. For the second baby, he decided the talking part might be overrated; he just patted my hand empathetically and got the nurse when I needed her. By the time we got to baby number three, John sat in the room reading the newspaper and watching TV until it was time for me to push. Still, I was glad he was there for all three births, if for no other reason than it was a persuasive argument in favor of the doctor's note, which forbade anything south of the equator for a good six weeks.

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