Dear Mr. Dad: I'm taking a childbirth class with my wife but it really seems geared toward the perfect birth. I know they can't cover every single unexpected thing that could happen, but how can we prepare for contingencies?
Armin answers: As important as childbirth education classes are, there are a few things they won't teach you but that you really should know.
First, it's okay to ask questions -- as many as you need to. No matter how much reading you've done or how wonderful your class was, something unexpected is bound to happen during labor or delivery -- it almost always does. In those cases, don't let the hospital staff steamroller you. Have them explain everything they're doing, every step of the way. If you miss something the first time, have them explain it again.
Second, it's okay to stand up for what you want. Most people are wowed by academic credentials and degrees and have a tendency to step back and let the doctors and nurses take control of the whole process, particularly when something a little out of the ordinary happens. Unless it's a true medical emergency, keep in mind who's baby is about to be born and insist on having things done your way, to the extent possible.
Third, don't give in too quickly. Like most busy people, doctors and nurses are sometimes too quick to say "No" to requests--not because it's the right answer, but because it's easy. But here's the deal: If you want the lights dimmed for the delivery and the staff refuses, do it yourself (assuming, of course, that there's no medical reason not to). If you want to videotape the birth and the doctor won't let you, ask for an explanation. If you don't get a good one, do what you feel you should do.
Keep in mind that there's a big difference between being assertive and standing up for yourself (and for your wife) and being overbearing, obnoxious, and antagonistic. So be nice.
And finally, it's okay to ask for help. Most childbirth prep classes focus on how you can help your wife -- breathing with her, rubbing her back and her legs, telling her stories, feeding her ice chips, and all sorts of other things. But you'll rarely, if ever, hear that it's exhausting and sometimes even scary and that you -- yes, you -- could use some relief and comfort too. One excellent solution to this problem is to get yourself a doula.