"Boys, we're gonna run the picket fence at 'em...Now don't get caught watchin' the paint dry!"
If you have ever seen the movie Hoosiers, you undoubtedly remember that classic line. It was uttered by assistant coach Wilbur "Shooter" Flatch, the recovering alcoholic recluse, during a timeout as he diagrammed the game-winning final play. Norman Dale, the head coach, had purposefully been thrown out of the game to force Shooter to take the coaching reigns in his absence. When Coach Dale gets tossed, Shooter realizes he is going to have to coach the team on his own and gets a terrified look on his face. His expression looks eerily similar to Kevin Garnett's when he gets the ball with less than three minutes to play in a close playoff game. Shooter ultimately gains his confidence, draws up the Picket Fence, and leads Hickory to victory.
Most Normal Mormon Husbands have been forced to be terrified coaches just like Shooter, except we tend to be under the legal limit. A few times during our lives we get thrust into a do-or-die situation for which we feel completely inadequate and unprepared. I'm not talking about being called to coach the Deacons team to the Stake championship. Oh no, I am referring to a much more difficult coaching assignment.
I'm talking about being a "labor coach".
I was a labor coach for the third time last week when our daughter was born. After the birth I had a phone conversation with my brother who was just made a father for the fifth time. We chuckled about the awkward "coaching" moments, fear of messing up, and different tactics we employ as we assist our wives through the labor process. My brother and I are separated by only 14 months and we are pretty similar people, all things considered. Despite our personal similarities, our labor coaching styles differed enough that I thought it would be interesting to get your perspective on this awkward role played by husbands throughout the world.
Before getting your input, I just wanted to say how silly I think it is that we are called "coaches". In my mind, the coach is the undisputed leader and has total control over the situation. He sets the strategies and people are accountable to him for precisely executing on his game plan. If the coach is unhappy with your performance, he can pull you out of the game and replace you with somebody else. This would not fly during birth. A husband could not say, "Honey, we practiced using the 'cleansing breath' until you were a seven and then we would transition to 'hee-hee' breathing. You were slipping into the hee-hee's while you were still a four. Go ahead and take three laps before hitting the showers. I'm replacing you with the woman down the hall. Her breathing has been on fire tonight." Calling the husband a "coach" is like calling a truck driver an "Inventory Relocation Engineer". Call us what we really are: Goose from Top Gun. The woman is the pilot of the fighter jet (Maverick, in this example) and will take the plane where she wants to take it. She is the hotshot at the center of the attention, and rightfully so. The husband is along for the ride in the back seat (like Goose) occasionally saying something interesting like, "Mav, don't you dare buzz the flight deck again!", or, "Yee-haw, Jester's dead!", but a trained monkey could be just as helpful at times. If we ever have baby number four, I am going to officially request that the hospital staff refer to me as "Goose".
So here are this week's discussion topics and poll questions. Please follow-up with some additional detail in your comments:
-Guys: What type of labor coach are you?
-Ladies: What type of labor coach do you wish your husband would be?
After giving this topic a considerable amount of thought, I have narrowed the three main labor coaching styles into sports-related headings - NFL head coach, NBA head coach and MLB manager. There are also five scenarios that labor coaches commonly encounter and your response to these scenarios will help you determine your style. The common scenarios are pre-birth preparation, the hospital bag, being a "fetcher" (in the literal "I need to get my wife something" sense, not the 1990's fake Mormon swear word), contractions, and the umbilical cord.
1. The NFL Head Coach - These husbands are meticulous planners and are exceptionally prepared for the birth, but are hands-off enough to let the doctors and nurses do their jobs. NFL head coaches are notorious for preparing for their upcoming games by watching game film until 3:00 a.m., sleeping in their offices, and then waking at 6:00 a.m. to watch more film. They know how to get ready for every game. However, NFL coaches generally allow their offensive, defensive, and special teams coordinators to call most of the plays and handle the substitutions. In short, NFL coaches are prepared for the action but trust their staff enough to execute on the details. These are the husbands who know exactly what to expect in the hospital and then get out of the way while the doctors and nurses go to work. Here is how the NFL head coach husbands handle the common scenarios:
-Pre-birth Preparation: Reads the entire book of "What to Expect When You're Expecting", Tivo's "A Baby Story", attends every birthing class, and subscribes to babycenter.com updates.
-The Hospital Bag: Has all of his clothes meticulously folded into his bag several weeks before the due date. Does not forget any toiletries. Even remembers to secretly pack light snacks and reading material for his wife.
-"Fetcher": He sees his wife's needs before she expresses them (she is low on ice chips, needs an extra blanket, wants the TV turned down, etc.) and proactively takes care of her needs.
-Contractions: Times the length and intervals of the contractions and knows when the doctor needs to be notified. Only reminds his wife to breathe or push when absolutely necessary and only says, "You're doing great!" toward the end of labor.
-Umbilical Cord: Understands why the umbilical cord needs to be cut and how to do it, but he prefers to have an expert, like a doctor or nurse, make the cut.
2. The NBA Head Coach - Unlike the NFL coaches, NBA head coaches do not spend a significant amount of time preparing for games. Instead, they are extremely involved in the action itself. NBA coaches are constantly barking instructions to their team from the sideline, calling offensive and defensive sets, diagramming plays during timeouts and harping at the officials. Husbands who follow this pattern are the ones who communicate almost constantly with their wives from the moment they arrive at the hospital until he is repulsed by the sight of the afterbirth. These are the guys who constantly chat with the hospital staff about what is going on and what the next steps will be. He routinely tells his wife what to do, when to do it, and then tells her how she can do it better next time. NBA head coaches handle the common scenarios like this:
-Pre-birth Preparation: Skims "What to Expect When You're Expecting", has watched a few minutes of "A Baby Story", attends some birthing classes, and spends more time on espn.com than babycenter.com.
-The Hospital Bag: Throws most of what he needs into his hospital bag the day his wife goes into labor. After getting to the hospital he realizes he forgot his deodorant.
-"Fetcher": Repeatedly asks his wife questions like, "Do you need more ice chips?", "Can I get you a Ginger Ale?", "Do you want to watch Myth Busters or Sports Center?", and "Should I get the anesthesiologist?"
-Contractions: Times the length and intervals of the contractions from the time they begin until the time they end. Constantly relays the information from the monitors to his wife (e.g. "That contraction reached a 68 and the baby's heart rate dropped to 136 from 142."). Tells her to follow his breathing pattern and repeats the word "breathe" twelve times through every contraction.
-Umbilical Cord: Grabs the scissors and starts cutting before the doctor is finished explaining where to cut.
3. The Major League Baseball Manager - Let's face it. There is no other coaching position in professional sports that is as unnecessary as the MLB manager. There are some games amidst the 162-game schedule where the manager sets his starting lineup, watches his pitcher throw a complete game, and makes no substitutions. Other than perhaps talking to the pitcher once or twice during the game or seeing how much tobacco he can stuff into his bottom lip, the MLB manager can get by without doing much of anything some days. His base coaches tell the runners when to run. The Catcher calls the pitches. The players just play. Easy as pie. For example, on April 27th the Rays beat the Red Sox 3-0 and neither coach made a single substitution the entire game. (Man, why didn't I become an MLB manager? It's a sweet gig when you think about it. Except for the tobacco part, of course.) The MLB manager husbands are the guys who are unprepared for the birth and cannot offer much help to their wives throughout the process. Some of them secretly wish we still lived in the 1950's when nervous dads would smoke cigars in the waiting room until the baby was born and did not have to interact with the child until he was nine years old. Here is how they tend to stumble through the labor and delivery:
-Pre-birth Preparation: Plays in his county rec softball league while his wife goes to birthing classes.
-The Hospital Bag: Has no idea that he was supposed to pack a bag because he did not realize that it may be 48 hours before he leaves the hospital. Ends up sleeping in his Levis and brushing his teeth with a peppermint Life Saver.
-"Fetcher": Repeatedly asks his wife questions like, "Do you mind if I get myself another Ginger Ale?", "Can I watch Sports Center?", and "Do you want a burger from the cafeteria?" (He is then horrified to learn why it is not recommended that women eat solid food immediately before or during the labor process.)
-Contractions: Feels like he should be able to play his PSP until his wife dilates to a six because, "five sounds like a pretty low number."
-Umbilical Cord: He is so freaked out by the delivery that he cannot produce a coherent response when asked if he wants to cut the cord.
As for me, I was more of an NBA coach with our first child but have gradually morphed into an NFL head coach. The NMW gave me some positive feedback after our daughter was born last week and thanked me for only reminding her to breathe when she was needing to be reminded. However, I did ask her if she minded if I watched Sports Center while she was in the early stages of labor and I did tell her what the monitors were reading after hard contractions. Hopefully this is what my wife needed. Some wives may need a more hands-on approach and want an NBA coach in the room with them. Others may be relegated to realizing that no matter what they do or say, their husband will be the MLB manager and she will just have to make do with what she has.
But hey, if a drunk hermit can coach Hickory High to a big win, maybe we can help our wives pull through in the clutch every once in a while as well.