Most of us know a couple or two who have jumped through many a medical hoop, not to mention several bank loans, in a desperate and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to get pregnant. Angie and I feel lucky to have avoided that heartbreak. Initially, the doctor’s tests suggested that Angie could become pregnant, and that I had the requisite number of sperm. My count was in the tens of millions, a number I am perhaps too fond of sharing. (Hey, it beats my not-so-impressive SAT scores.) After trying for a number of months, and even getting pregnant once but losing the baby to a miscarriage, we opted for medical assistance. Angie was prescribed Clomid, which stimulates egg production, and we signed up for artificial insemination, which allows my sperm to be placed deep inside Angie’s womb. Other than providing the all-important sample of my swimmers, my role was just to stand there and hold Angie’s hand while, in essence, another man impregnated her. Weird doesn’t begin to describe it.
The first attempt at artificial insemination didn’t “stick,” so we tried again during the next cycle. This time it stuck. Twice. Our fertility doc heard two heartbeats. “It’s twins,” he said with smile that subtly seemed to indicate, This is great news—but better you than me!
Angie and I were both a bit stunned. I just nodded and kept saying, “Interesting. Wow. Interesting. Wow. Interesting. Wow.” Angie asked our doctor if he was sure. Yes, he was sure. We knew multiple births were a possibility. When you stimulate egg production and inject the sperm right in the sweet spot, well, a party can unfold. And indeed it did. But, as with most of life’s big events, thinking about them and actually living them can feel very different.
A few weeks later, we had our first ultrasound at the ob/gyn, which confirmed the fertility specialist’s initial diagnosis: Yep, two heartbeats, two babies. Another month or so later, we learned their sexes. “That there is Baby A’s girl part, and that there is Baby B’s girl part,” the sonogram technician said, using her computer’s cursor to point out what looked like a tiny, unidentifiable mark to me. “Two girls,” she said. “Congratulations!”
Angie had tears in her eyes. I went back to what I do best when pleasantly dumbfounded: repeating myself. “Interesting. Wow. Interesting. Wow. Interesting. Wow…”
On the drive back to my office, it hit me that there would now be five ladies—Angie, my two older daughters, and the twins—in my home, and one guy: me. I wasn’t exactly sure how to feel. Overjoyed? You bet. Worried that even within my own home I would literally be the odd man out? Well, yes.
CALL ME A chauvinist, but in my book, baby showers are definitely a girly thing. While I have been to several couples showers over the years—the ones where the guys huddle in one corner and drink while the gals huddle in another and go goo-goo over bibs and bottles—this was my first ladies-only shower. Angie thought it was best that I attend. Not wanting to upset my very pregnant wife, I agreed to tag along and roll with it. It beat staying home and painting the babies’ room, anyway.
The shower was held at a lovely country club in Richmond, Indiana, and hosted by two very close and longtime family friends. All of the guests fawned over Angie and her hard-not-to-touch beach ball belly. Everyone complimented her on how great she looked, which was absolutely true. No one had anything to say about my looks, but the ladies were eager to tell me that my life was going to change in a huge way. Some of these women, mostly in their 50s and 60s, had a certain smirk on their face when they told me this, while the younger ladies standing nearby merely nodded in agreement. They were all trying to tell me something, I think, but they seemed to be bound by a womanly code not to explicitly reveal it. It was like when you’re in line to get into a movie and you see the people leaving from the prior showing. They have a certain look on their faces, but you can’t tell whether it means “You’re in for one heck of a show—it will blow your mind!” or “The only thing that’s going to be blown is the $25 you just spent on tickets and popcorn.”
The tables in the banquet room were adorned with pink placemats and napkins, and pink gerbera daisies served as the centerpieces. One table at the front of the room was reserved for gifts, most of them in pink wrapping; another table held a pink-and-white bakery cake with dozens of tiny—yet operational—pink baby rattles on it. It was all very cute, pink stuff. There wasn’t a hint of testosterone anywhere, other than what was flowing through my bloodstream, and my manly hormones seemed to be evaporating by the second. The brunch entrée was, of course, quiche. Everyone knows that real men don’t each quiche, though I must admit an egg dish seemed particularly appropriate for a baby shower.
The generosity of Angie’s friends and family was heartwarming, even if a lot of the gifts were breast-feeding paraphernalia and little baster-like devices for sucking snot out of your kid’s nose. As Angie opened each gift and everyone ooh’ed and ahh’ed, I once again found myself repeating what had now officially become my mantra: “Interesting. Wow. Interesting. Wow. Interesting. Wow…” I also found myself fantasizing about the sort of gifts one would get at a men-only baby shower, like a stroller with a leaf blower attachment in front so you could blow the stink off your baby and get a chore done at the same time.
The shower took a turn for the better when we got to the games, which in my own mind became something of a battle of the sexes. This was my time to shine. In the first game, we had to unscramble letters to form the names of fruits and vegetables that babies love. I got hung up on “pleaps” (apples). Next, we had to complete nursery rhymes. I did fine with “Itsy, Bitsy Spider” and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” but had no clue about the one that began “There was a girl who had a little curl…” Score: Women 2, Man 0. We then had to guess the retail price of about a dozen baby products. My guesses totaled $30.90. I was way off. In reality, the goodies cost $60.25. I had only one chance left to score a point and redeem myself and all of mankind. The last game was to decipher some common parent-isms, such as “Ask your father” and “‘No’ means no.” I was the first to finish. Final score: Women 3. Men 1. My prize? One of the pink gerbera daisy centerpieces. Figures.
BREATHING IS AN involuntary muscle reaction. It’s a good thing humans don’t need to think about it, or attention-deficit-disordered people like me would seriously impact the average lifespan of our species. However, the thoughtless activity of inhaling and exhaling requires quite a bit of thought when you sit through birthing classes and learn (or at least try to) the various techniques for respirating through contractions and birth. It’s astounding how many ways one can actually breathe. And it’s just as interesting how unnatural some of the breathing options are when you’re involved in one of the most natural of all acts: birthing a baby. One technique requires you to take three short breaths and exhale after each while saying, “Ah hee Ah hee Ah ho.” It’s hard to keep a straight face when your wife is making sounds like a distorted laugh-track, but heed me, my fellow men: Laughing does not go over well, even if your wife is just pretending she’s in labor.
During the role-playing, Tepu, our delightful instructor at Christ Hospital, encouraged us guys to rub our wives’ backs and whisper pleasant nothings to them. When we had reached the stage where the contractions kick into high gear and the pain increases significantly, she announced: “Now is the time to say something sweet to your wife, to give her some good news. Can one of you guys suggest something sweet and encouraging to say?”
I looked around, hoping one of the other guys had the answer, but they all had their eyes focused on the ground. I raised my hand.
“Yes, Steve,” said Tepu, “what piece of good news would you offer to help your wife through her breathing at this tough time?”
I said: “Great news! I just saved $200 on my car insurance.”
The class chuckled. The instructor? Not so much. The correct answer, I came to understand, was something like, “You’re doing great, and it’s almost over.” I should have known.
I do know from the births of my two daughters, and from talking to other parents, that the exercises often get thrown out the window and the breathing—not to mention the grunting, and the crying, and the calling dad nasty names—goes on auto-pilot. Dad counting from one to eight to help time the pushes becomes, to the mother, like fingers screeching down the chalkboard. And for those of us who have given birth or witnessed one, we all know that hell hath no fury like a woman 10 centimeters dilated. And that takes us to the topic of pain medication.
While I understand and can appreciate the various benefits of natural birth, I struggle to understand why any woman would want to put herself through it. Sure, there are some risks with painkillers (just ask Rush Limbaugh), but there are even more every time you step into your car. Life is nothing but a big risk. Which is why I’m all for relying on the marvels of science as much as you can to medicate that pain away. Angie is in the same camp.
One of the last things we did in class was watch a video showcasing two couples giving birth. One couple took the more common route with their baby and relied on pain meds to help the process. The other couple gave birth to twins without pain meds, much to my admiration. The woman must have been made of steel, or was a certified masochist. And maybe an exhibitionist, too, as she allowed a camera crew to videotape her entire birth process, including some very up-close-and-personal shots. I had to look away at times, and now Angie thinks I’m going to faint in the delivery room. I didn’t with my first two daughters, so I think I’ll be fine this time around. At the very least, I know exactly what I’ll be chanting when our two baby girls make their appearance: Interesting. Wow. Interesting. Wow. Interesting. Wow.
Illustration by Kevin Miyazaki / Redux
Originally published in the August 2008 issue.