Watch out for the ball-peen hammer

Posted: Sunday, January 23, 2000

So my wife and I are preparing for childbirth.

When I say ``my wife and I,'' I of course mean ``my wife.'' She will be the most directly involved. On behalf of all men, I just want to take a moment here to get down on my knees and thank whoever invented our current biological system, under which the woman's job is to have the baby somehow go from the inside of her body to the outside of her body, in clear violation of every known law of physics, and the man's job is to stand around looking supportive and periodically, no matter what is actually happening to the woman, say, in an upbeat and perky voice, ``You're doing great!''

My wife thinks the only fair system would be if, every time the woman had a contraction, she got to hit her husband on the body part of her choice with a ball-peen hammer. Of course she is kidding. But only because her contractions have not yet started.

We've been going to Childbirth Classes, which involve sitting in a classroom filled with expectant couples and a mounting sense of dread. The teacher usually starts with a scientific discussion of childbirth, in which she shows us various diagrams and models to give us an idea of what will be happening when the Big Moment arrives. In my opinion, the most informative way to do this would be to hold up a bowling ball and a drinking straw, and say: ``Basically, THIS has to go through THIS. Ha ha!''

But our teacher keeps it fairly technical. After a while, we're starting to feel confident about this childbirth thing. We're thinking, ``OK, all that has to happen is the cervix has to dilate to 10 centimeters! How hard can that be? I wonder what a cervix is? Also, a centimeter.''

So we're pondering these abstract questions and maybe thinking about what we're going to have for dinner later, when suddenly, with no warning, the teacher turns out the lights and shows a horror movie.

Oh, it starts out innocently enough: There's a nice couple consisting of a woman who is pregnant and a man who is supportive-looking and generally has a beard. They seem happy, but you just know she's going to go into labor. You want to stop her. It's exactly like those scary movies where the heroine goes down into the basement, and you want to shout, ``DON'T GO DOWN INTO THE BASEMENT!'', except in the childbirth class you want to shout ``DON'T GO INTO LABOR!''

But she always does go into labor. It seems to last a LOT longer than necessary. Hours turn into days, and still she is in labor. Outside her window, the seasons change. Her doctor grows old and gray and is eventually replaced by a new doctor, and STILL this poor woman is in labor. Her husband keeps telling her she's doing great, but you can tell from her expression that he's very lucky she doesn't have a ball-peen hammer. Eventually she becomes so deranged that she apparently does not even notice that there is a cameraperson shooting extreme closeup footage of . . . OK, let's just say that it is not her most flattering angle.

When the woman gets to approximately her 15th year of labor, she begins making noises that you rarely hear outside of nature documentaries, and her husband edges back a little bit in case she gets her hands on a scalpel. The movie now becomes very explicit, causing the entire childbirth class to go into a mass cringe, all of us hunched up and involuntarily protecting as many of our body parts as possible. I use this time to practice my squinting, which is the most important thing the husband learns in childbirth class. I use a special Lamaze squinting technique that enables me to prevent virtually all rays of light from penetrating my eyeballs.

When the woman in the movie makes a noise identical to what you'd hear if a live yak went through a garlic press, I unsquint just enough to see it happen, the Blessed Event, the timeless miracle that makes the whole thing worthwhile: An alien bursting out of the woman's chest cavity.

No, seriously, what happens is that the woman has a baby, via a process that makes what happened in ``Alien'' look like an episode of ``Teletubbies.'' Then our childbirth-class teacher turns the lights on, and the pregnant women all turn to face their husbands, and they all have the same facial expression, which says: ``This is NOT fair.'' We husbands respond by smiling supportively and patting their arms in a reassuring manner. Because we're sure they're going to do great.

Dave Barry is a humor columnist for the Miami Herald.



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