When we walked through the door to the labor & delivery class I felt naked. OK, maybe not naked, but "awkwardly conspicuous." The heads of the fifteen on-time people turned to examine me and my wife. We wouldn't have been late if the old man parking his car in front of us could have rolled down his window. He made his decrepit wife hobble out of the passenger door and inch her way around their car to take a parking ticket -once she figured out how the button worked. She had to be at least 80, bless her heart. The guy behind us shouldn't have honked.
Back to our grand entrance... The teacher, a short black woman with obvious wig looked us up and down and asked, "Why are you here?" I could tell that our tardiness annoyed her. She raised her eyebrows at me like the weapons of shame I'd seen wielded as a boy when old ladies in my church lifted eyebrows at me for making any noise. Deadly -those brows.
"Is this labor & delivery training?" I asked. Her eyebrows sank and she bucked her head toward a stack of chairs in the back. I wished her wig would have flown off.
My anxious stomach was already knotted from my premonition of zoomed-in birthing videos, so I didn't need her slingin' attitude at me. After all, I was one of only four guys in the room who had taken the time to support his wife.
While I fetched chairs the teacher resumed teaching class by touting her qualifications. I made eye contact with a guy across the room. His nod and crooked smile was an unmistakable male-to-male message that said, "Can you believe we're here, dude?" I mouthed, "Help me," to him and his stifled laughter made his shoulders shake, earning him a high-eyebrow glare from the teacher. When he looked again at me, I grimaced to apologize.
Don't get me wrong -I didn't resent attending class; I volunteered and my wife hadn't needed to coax me. I was excited to learn about the process that would bring my first child into the world. But the sternness of the teacher mixed with my fear of graphic video visuals had me on edge. My attitude had been great until the parking lot incident.
During the next two hours the teacher described signs of labor, items to pack for the trip to the hospital and what to expect during the stay. She even held up a variety of donuts corresponding with levels of dilatation.
When she opened the floor to questions, a bald man whose entire head turned red easily, hollered from the back of the room. "How 'bout circumcision? I mean, how do I make sure they don't mutilate my boy?" We all turned around to find him on the edge of his chair, almost standing, almost angry.
"Nothing is done without parental consent," the teacher replied -a bit stunned at his outburst, she patted the back of her wig. The man settled back into his chair wiggling down like a bird into its nest. His color returned to white and his face looked relieved -as if he had gotten the only answer he needed from the two hour class.
I raised my hand and asked, "I know each woman is different, but is there an average time of labor for first pregnancies -in general?"
"How can I tell you that?" the teacher replied -her voice annoyed and raised enough to reveal a Jamaican accent that hadn't manifested earlier. "Every woman is different." She pointed at my wife. "I can't tell you how long her labor will take!" she snapped.
"I realize every woman is different, that's why I said 'in general'." I defended my non-naivety. I then raised my eyebrows at her -surprising myself. She countered by widening her eyes and leaning in to me and I caved to her intimidation by turning away.
She pivoted and flung her hand toward the television, announcing, "We're starting the movie now." My stomach clamped down with a sensation I imagined felt like a contraction. Then the teacher cautioned, "Those of you who are queasy you're gonna see a baby come out and then the placenta." Her words didn't feel like a considerate warning. They felt like a sentence to be carried out.
I knew I could appear strong to my classmates if I stared at the TV power button during the "exodus" portions of the video. Now I only hoped those scenes would come with fair warning. My strong wife, God love her, squeezed my clammy hand. She understood my battle and loved me for taking it on.
I made it through the video without needing to stare at the TV's power button. Before dismissing the class the teacher asked what we thought of the video. "Why, there was hardly any nudity!" I joked. The teacher's head snapped my way and her eyebrows shot sky high -poised to punish my audacity. "Thank you for your training," I said, winking at her. Her eyebrows fell down and she smiled for the first time.
"Wow, the power of a compliment backed by a wink," I thought.
Despite my experience in the labor & delivery class, I can't wait to be a father and to go through the steps we learned. I'll be sure to tell Jr. about the class where daddy learned how his boy would enter the world. Then I'll teach him about the weapon combo that can defeat the dreaded raised eyebrow.