The Essay

The Masters of Lamaze

I was three months shy of my nineteen birthday when I married. My wife was five days younger than me. It seems insane to admit this in the early twenty-first century, when kids are still kids well into their twenties – and a few into their thirties.

We lived differently, my young bride and me. We were not seeking a safe space to hide from ideas contrary to our own. There was no one to coddle us and cradle us in the arms of safety from the meanies in the world. We had no time to shout down dissenting or aberrant voices on a school campus. We had no compulsion to march anywhere or protest anything.

We were in a big hurry to become adults. We wanted the challenge of making it on our own, forging our way in the world, being our own boss. Of course, being the boss meant we assumed the responsibility and risk associated. We lived in an economy-sized, one-bedroom apartment on Randol Mill Road in Arlington, Texas with our sleeves rolled up and our backs to the proverbial wall.

Times were tough. Money was tight. The extra dollar for a night out was rare.

Never mind. We had our own ideas for entertainment. We got lots of practice making babies. That was fun while it lasted, those practice sessions. Only, a couple months into our fledgling marriage and little home we were building on ever-so-shaky financial ground, practice was over. It was game on.

My wife came up pregnant!

We had gone and done it. Playing house was cool and all, but playtime was over. We had to prepare ourselves for a baby.

Hello, Doctor!

This was when Dr. Fernand Lamaze waltzed into our lives.

I mean that figuratively, of course. The crazy old French sawbones never waltzed anywhere topsoil after March 6, 1957. That was his expiration date.

Lamaze did, however, leave behind a method of child birth preparation and pain management. His method – coupled with the notion of “natural childbirth” – was the “in” thing in the 1980s. There was a general backlash among obstetricians against the generation of women who went the epidural and “give me drugs!” route of birthing. Young mothers were encouraged to eschew such aides and birth the way it was meant to be done…in mortal agony. Of course, most of the obstetricians espousing this method were male and none of them had given birth to my knowledge. (Men didn’t start having babies until sometime in the 2010s.)

Our obstetrician, one of the most respected young doctors in Arlington, fell solidly into the Lamaze camp. He was a graduate of the University of Texas – a Longhorn – so I figured his opinion was gold. Besides, how bad could it hurt? Women have been giving birth since Eve and most of that time without being numb from the rib cage down.

Count us in!

Put me in, Coach!

I might have jumped on this prematurely. I did not realize until I had agreed (as if I had a choice) that there were couples classes involved.

Wait! What?

Yeah, so once a week you must go to this class with other pregnant couples for Lamaze training. This isn’t Camp Pendleton. It’s not Marine boot camp. But still…

The way I remember Lamaze is like this: The pregnant wife lies on her back with her knees bent and her hands gently caressing her swollen belly while the husband kneels beside her with the same loving look in his eye as Joseph in any random Nativity scene.

Then the fun begins.

Lamaze is all about breathing.

“Wait! Teacher? Why am I here? For breathing lessons? That it?”

“You are here to help your wife with her breathing.”

“Um, Teacher? I know she is not yet 20 and all, but she is 19 and she has been breathing all by herself this whole time.”

“You are here to be your wife’s coach.”

Ah! Coach. I can do that. I love team sports of all types and I have always fancied myself coaching material. OK. I’m in.

Lamaze breathing is not as easy as it sounds. It has a rhythm to it. A pace. Moreover, you have to make special noises with your mouth. Slow, at first, when the contractions are mild and separated by minutes.

“Heee…hooo…heee…hoo.”

Got it!

Then, when the contractions get harder and closer together, It’s “heehoo…heehooo…”

When the contractions get to the point that your wife is cussing you and cursing the day she met you, it’s “heehooheehooheeheehoohoo.”

It’s harder than it sounds. Lucky for my wife she had a coach, a real baller, been preparing for moments like this his entire life.

I don’t remember whether we got a certificate, but we graduated with flying colors. In Lamaze history , never had a wife been so fortunate to have a coach like me. To this day, I can do the Lamaze chant with the aplomb of a whooping Apache warrior doing a war dance.

Game Time

The other thing about the 1980s: we were in that first generation of Americans where the husband was not only invited to the birthing chamber; he was expected to be there. I think I am supposed to say right here that I was thrilled to be there to witness the miracle of my child’s birth.

  1. There, I said it.

At least I got to focus on the top half of my wife. Bending over her, wiping her brow, watching the veins pop out on her forehead and neck, coaching her.

“Breathe! Heehooheehooheeehooohoo.”

I will not repeat her response.

I will say that my wife is one tough woman. You think Jack Youngblood was a big deal because he played an NFL game on a broken leg? Ha! Let him birth a baby that has a football-sized noggin with no solace but a “coach” in your face shouting, “Breathe!”

We did it! We breathed our way through to a beautiful baby girl. And then two more. We were Lamaze masters.

I didn’t faint once.

essay Two Excerpt

This was it! This was the river of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, the river of my boyhood fantasies winding its way to the Gulf of Mexico, supporting commerce, hosting vacationers, supplying fishermen, fueling childhood dreams.

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