A Father Tells All

The Next Family

By: Jamie Beth Schindler

Jamie Beth Schindler and Sam Schindler are the parents of one child (so far!), a one-year-old girl, N. They are in their mid-30s, have been together nearly 13 years and both work outside of the home. They live in the San Fernando Valley but next month they are moving to Lancaster, Pennsylvania where they will be closer to their families of origin.

Just in time for Father’s Day, Jamie Beth interviewed Sam. They discussed labor and delivery, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and what Sam has learned about fatherhood in his first year as a dad.

JBS: We had a hospital birth with an epidural. I ended up pushing for four hours, the last hour of which they had turned off the epidural. Can you talk about the crucial role you played during labor and delivery?

SMS: At first, I was very nervous and I thought that you needed silence in order to focus, so I just kept my mouth shut and didn’t disturb you. I had internalized all of those goddamn TV shows and movies in which the wife gets all mad at a dumb husband who says and does all the wrong things, so I didn’t want to be that guy.

I had discussed this with E, our doula, a bit beforehand, but I really had no idea how it would go in the moment. At the outset, I was pretty silent. I didn’t tell you how I was feeling, because I didn’t think it mattered. I wanted to be supportive but you are very independent and I didn’t want to get in your way.

Gradually, I began to realize that you were kind of stuck — the labor wasn’t yielding any results. This was frustrating for everyone: you, E, the nurse, the doctor, everyone.

I talked to E in the hallway, and I said something like, “Should I take a more active role?” and she said I should, so I did.

I went back in and began to talk to you and was uplifted when your reaction was good. You didn’t tell me to shut-up, or ask for me to say more, but rather, you just listened. This is something you don’t do all that often — listen without rebutting, and this encouraged me, so I got more into it. What was happening for me was that I chose to be in the moment, instead of watching it. I was initially afraid to do that. I guess because I thought subconsciously that if I got involved that would mean it was really happening, and that soon we would have a baby and all the craziness would start, and I was very scared of that. But once I made the decision to let go of fear, or really, just be afraid and do it anyway, I got really into it, and figured I should just pull out all the stops!

I began to remind you of your Pittsburgh Steelers and the Superbowl game they had played versus the Arizona Cardinals just a few months before. I talked about particular plays in which Steelers showed great resolve and spirit and did amazing things.

For example, one player, not known for his speed, ran back an interception 100 yards for a touchdown – a crazy play, one of the greatest in Superbowl history. I recalled that play and said, “Do you think James Harrison was tired when he hit the 50-yard line? I’ll bet he was, but did he quit? No, he did not…” like that, like a football coach.

JBS: I feel the need to interject here that there may be people reading this who are rolling their eyes thinking “What a typical man, using a football analogy during labor?!” I feel the need to explain that the level of my Steeler fanaticism made this kind of the support the exact thing I needed at the moment and something my doula couldn’t have known or provided.

SMS: Right. Later I brought up the last drive, in which the quarterback, defying panic and fear in the face of real pressure, led his team down the field for the game-winning touchdown. To my amazement, these stories actually worked, and you made real progress with your labor, and N got closer and closer to being born.

Also, I was afraid of “seeing” – seeing all the stuff that was happening, the blood and all that, and so I was tentatively holding your leg when the nurse asked me to. But after I started the pep talk I grabbed your leg for real, where I could see all the “action,” and just said to myself, “ok, you’re in it, there’s no going back, you might as well just be there.”

JBS: After what seemed like an eternity of pushing with no success, N just popped out when no one was expecting her, making for a messy, uncontrolled delivery. What was that like for you?

SMS: I feel like I could have been more help when N was actually coming out — in retrospect I want to go back and protect you from that yucky doctor, and I wish I could have had the presence of mind to tell him to go screw himself when he asked me in this pedantic voice to come look at the area he was sewing up. I should have said, “hey, asshole, this isn’t 1950 and I’m not my wife’s keeper, so shut-up, sew her up and don’t make a big deal about it!”

I did sort of direct things during labor when, at one point, he was getting antsy about the lack of progress. I took him outside and told him that if we needed to we could turn down the epidural but that he wasn’t getting through to you and I would help you see that we needed to make some changes to make some progress. At least he listened to that so I exerted some power in the end.

JBS: In your family, both parents work fill-time out of the house talk a little about the division of labor. What works and what doesn’t?

SMS: I think the thing we have going for us is communication. That sounds trite, but what always works for us is talking through situations, talking about how we feel and listening to the other person respond and really giving them the chance to speak honestly.

Oftentimes if one of us feels that the other isn’t helping in the way that he or she needs, we’re at the point where we can say it. That wasn’t how it was in the beginning, in the first six months or so.

Since it was so new, we were working through how to live our lives as adults and be parents at the same time, and still have a relationship as husband and wife – very hard to do. A lot got lost in the mix. You are still the “default parent,” in a way. You make a lot of the decisions, about feeding and napping, etc., and you are the point person when N gets sick. I sometimes feel guilty that I’m not more proactive and I sometimes truly appreciate [without guilt] the fact that you are the point person. Some of this changed this past weekend when I had N to myself for four whole days, and I realized I COULD be the point person and do it well; I actually enjoyed being fully in charge because I didn’t worry about doing it wrong and being second guessed and my confidence in myself grew because I knew I HAD to do it – there was simply no one else to feed, change, clothe, etc.

This weekend helped me with the main thing that I think bothers both of us, me worrying that I won’t make the right choice or that I am doing a bad job as a parent. This leads to me hesitating and waiting for you to make a decision, which I think you sometimes resent. I think you just want me to have confidence and go with my instincts so that you DON’T always have to be the point person. I think you want a break sometimes but you don’t always say it. I think you tend to be a bit sacrificial, not in order to lord it over me later, but because you’re like that in general.

Often during the year (I’m a teacher) I would have work to do over the weekend and I think that you felt sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes, overburdened because my job REQUIRES me to do work over the weekend whereas technically yours doesn’t (even though it totally does) and so the balance there was lacking. But recently you’ve managed to give voice to that and when you heard me say that I understood your feelings about this it changed the dynamic. I’m not sure the balance of duties necessarily evened out, but you saw that it was ok to say, “hey, I need help here,” and that I wouldn’t see it as an affront to my “time.”

JBS: what have you learned in your first year as a parent that you wish you would have known before or that you would like to pass on to other new parents?

SMS: That there are NO patterns! Even if she does something one way for 15 nights in a row, there’s absolutely NO guarantee that she’ll do it again on the 16th night. The temptation to ASSUME that she will is what gets you into trouble. I would say the best thing to do is to recognize that you have very little control over what they do early on, especially in the first six months or so. For your sanity it’s much better just to let go and say, “Ok, whatever she does she does,” and not to think, “Well, she did it this way for this long, so that must mean that….blahblahblah.” That’s a disaster waiting to happen. Because its just you the parent TRYING to maintain some semblance of control over the situation, which you don’t really have.

Also (and I have to do a better job of this), act “as if.” Even if you’re totally stressed out and mad and sad, when they get older they see it and know it, and they need you, most of all, to be calm. Even if you’re not calm, even if you’re the furthest thing from calm, you have to try your best to be calm, because that will get you closer to them calming down more quickly. (Again, not necessarily, but it’s much better than running around tearing your hair out.) A microcosmic example of this would be when N falls down and looks at us as if to say, “Am I fatally injured? Should I cry?” if you react impulsively and say, ‘Oh no!” she will cry. But 9 times out of 10, she’s not really hurt. She’s just checking in. So best to stifle that impulse and say, “Haha! that was a really big fall! That was silly! But you’re fine.” And she’ll realize, “Hey, I’m fine, and my daddy’s a big doofus,” and then you’re spared a lot of unnecessary chaos.

Another thing would be to support your partner, even if you don’t necessarily agree with what she’s doing, especially if she’s breast feeding. Breastfeeding can be a very precarious process; it is NOT intuitive and NOT simple, so even if things don’t seem logical or practical to you, just go with it, because in this case, she most likely DOES have knowledge you don’t have and it will make sense later on. Now, this may be unique to our relationship, but it’s certainly something very important that I’ve learned in the past year.

JBS: Your first father’s day was shortly after N was born – what do you remember about it and what would be an ideal way to spend father’s day #2?

SMS: I was totally stressed out. The first 3-4 weeks were really hard, additionally because of some health issue with my family back east. It was so new; I was so lost because everything was so hard to anticipate; there was so little sleep being gotten; it all seemed totally overwhelming and I couldn’t imagine it EVER getting easier. I was really down, feeling very sad, feeling that I couldn’t connect with N because she was just this screaming red thing that hated me. But you wrote me a fathers day card “from” N that totally killed me – in a good way. it was so sweet and it made me realize that I wasn’t useless and that you were very happy with me even though I wasn’t happy with me and that you loved me and thought I was a good dad even though it was really hard. I remember that day feeling really empty in a way because of what father’s day is “supposed” to be, but the card saved it for me.

This year is TOTALLY different. N is the cutest, sweetest, smartest little bear there is. I love the hell out of her. And I love my you more than ever for being such a relentlessly efficient and loving and terrific mother, managing to be a good wife and partner also. Just being with the two of you on that day, feeling as I do about fatherhood which is so drastically different from a year ago, all of that is cause for real celebration and a celebration in itself. it’s the world cup so we’ll watch games together and maybe get some food I like. It’s a special time for us as we get ready to move on to new things, so everything feels like a celebration — fatherhood more so than ever.
[Photo Credit: 2nd Photo- (c) Matt Cohen]

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