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Delivery Room Advice for Dads: What Scared and Surprised Me During My Child’s Birth

Thirteen fathers on what moved, surprised, and scared them during the birth of their child.

Kala Bernier/ Inspired Photography

The delivery room is a place of infinite variables. No two births are exactly the same. Health histories vary. Nurses and doctors have different dispositions. Hospitals confront you with a multitude of decisions to consider. Soon-to-be dads have a specific vantage point: They must take in the variables, while dealing with the cocktail of anticipation and worry that bubbles up, and try to support their partner in every way possible. There’s a lot going on, and even the most prepared dad will encounter his fair share of surprises. Because hindsight is always sharper, we asked a variety of fathers to talk about the moments that surprised, moved, and even scared them during the birth of their child in the hope of preparing soon-to-be dads. From worry over bodily fluids and umbilical-cord cutting to the shock of hearing their children’s cries for the first time, here are the delivery-room moments that stood out for these dads.

When the Doctor Wiped Her Forehead

“I’ll never forget this. I’m sure it’s a normal thing and, in the heat of the moment, with all the body stuff happening, I bet it happens a lot. But what freaked me out was when the doctor, who had been in my wife, wiped her forehead. She got blood, and … goo … on her face, and just went about business as usual. I like to think she was aiming for her hair cap. If not, that’s pretty hardcore.” — John, 36, North Carolina

Realizing That I Was Actually a Dad

“The first noise my daughter made just snapped me into reality. Up until she came out, ‘having a baby’ was sort of just an abstract concept. It was really happening, of course, but all I had to go on, for reference, were other people’s babies. When my daughter came out, and let out that first loud cry, that’s when shit got real. She was real. And I was really a dad.” — Matt, 37, Ohio

Nothing Went According to Plan

“This will make me sound like a lazy asshole, but what freaked me out was the amount of work I had to do. Or, rather, how much of what actually happened in the delivery room didn’t even come close to our ‘birthing plan.’ I had to improvise. I had to adapt. And I had to keep up with the situation. I’m a planner, so I was in pure ‘fight or flight’ mode. Luckily, I didn’t freeze up or run away. Labor goes on for hours, but the short time when the baby is actually arriving is just pure chaos.” — Liam, 40, Michigan

I Psyched Myself Out

“I was freaked out going in because I’d been binging on articles and blog posts about ‘The 10 Mistakes Men Make in the Delivery Room’ and stuff like that. Don’t act bored. Don’t ask if she’s close. Don’t this. Don’t that. I psyched myself out. I kept thinking I was going to screw up and do something stupid. It was actually my wife who calmed me down — she told me just to be there, keep her safe, and to keep the baby safe. One or two articles about delivery room tips are good, but I don’t recommend going overboard.” — Jason, 38, Ohio

The Fluids

“I wasn’t prepared for all the fluids. Blood. Mucus. I’m sure there was a little pee in there somewhere. It looked like Mortal Kombat. I knew there was going to be blood. I knew that. But I wasn’t expecting The Shining. Part of what freaked me out was the actual mess, but I also got worried that my wife was hurt, or something had gone wrong with the delivery. Blood is usually bad, right? Apparently I was just a wuss, because mother and baby were fine.” — Aaron, 37, Illinois

My Wife’s Grip

“You know what freaked me out? My wife’s kung-fu grip. Our son’s birth took a long time, and I held my wife’s hand through it all. Every time she pushed or contracted she would squeeze it like she was crumpling a beer can. I didn’t say anything during the whole thing, but my hand and wrist were actually bruised for a few days afterward. Pregnant woman strength is real, guys.” — Gary, 44, California

How Insignificant I Felt

“I was freaked out by how amazingly insignificant I felt as I watched my wife give birth. Not to her but, like, to the universe. I know that sounds pretty trippy, but it’s true. There I was, watching this amazing person transfer this other amazing person into existence. And I just stood there. I mean, I wiped her forehead, got the ice chips, held her hand — all that. But she did all the work. Not just the delivery, but the carrying the baby, keeping it safe and healthy. Women are fucking amazing.” — Neil, 37, California

The Realization I Had Another Life to Care For

“This was actually right outside the delivery room. After our baby was born, I stepped out to go change, and I saw another man crying down the hall. I don’t know how, but I could just tell right away that he was a father. I had no idea why he was crying — they could’ve been tears of joy. I hope it was. But, when I saw him, my brain flooded with all the ‘What if’s?’ that could’ve happened. It made me thank God that everyone was safe, but also freaked me out because now there was another life — my wife being the first — more important than my own. Maybe it was pressure, or my insecurities about being a father, but it all swept me up in that moment.” — Al, 44, Ohio

The Amount of Poop

“The poop. Everywhere. I didn’t know whose was whose. My wife’s poop. The baby’s poop. I think it was poop — I don’t know if newborn babies can actually poop. But, it was a perfect storm of poop. I was prepared for it — I’d read plenty of books and blogs that said it’s very common for a woman to lose control during childbirth — but I guess I wasn’t prepared enough.” — Collin, 38, Ohio

I Could See My Wife’s Guts

“My wife had a C-Section. I couldn’t be directly behind the curtain, but one of the nurses gave me a mirror. I could see my wife’s guts. It was like when you first saw the frog in biology class — freaky, but also kind of cool. I was as freaked out as I was interested, I guess. They put this big ring in the incision to keep it open – it looked like a volcano. When our baby was delivered, of course I was awestruck and instantly in love, but I’ll never forget how weird it felt to see the inside of my wife like that.” — Sean, 37, Pennsylvania

The Delivery Room Nurse

“This might be a weird one, but I was freaked out and intimidated by how ‘in charge’ the delivery nurse was. She was like the quarterback, barking orders. Not mean, just really firm and instructive. I think even the doctor was a little intimidated. But, ultimately, she was a godsend. She knew how to deal with everything that came up, and really held things together. After the birth, she sort of simmered down and became a bit more comforting when she would check in. But for the actual labor? Man, she was in beast mode.” — Jeff, 44, New York

The Arrival of the Placenta

“Oh, the placenta. Hands down. It comes out after the baby. I knew it was a thing, I guess I forgot to expect it. Our son came out, and the doctors held him, checked him out, all that. All good. Then the nurse says, “One more!” We weren’t having twins, so I was completely floored when this bloody meatloaf thing fell out. They offered to let us keep it. I guess that’s a thing, too?” — Guy, 41, Maryland

Cutting the Cord

“Cutting the cord was definitely the most uncomfortable thing. It’s connected to the mother and the baby, and it feels fleshy and firm. Like human flesh. I mean, it is human flesh. And, it’s tough to cut! I thought I would slice right through it, but it was more like trying to cut a coat hanger. And I felt like I was stabbing both of them. The doctor and nurses all assured me that there are no nerves in the umbilical cord, though, so I wouldn’t be hurting my wife, or our baby. I checked that on Wikipedia — it’s true.” — Ben, 34, Connecticut