OG DAD: Insane in the Membrane



So, we’re back in the OB/GYN waiting room. Our baby still hasn’t come. The suspense, as they say, is killing me.

The walls are hung with photos of other peoples’ babies—half in sunglasses, a practice, for some reason, that creeps me out even more than Ray Bans on dogs. Though somehow, shades look okay on cats. Life’s a mystery.

Weirdly, an attractive, yet massively lipsticked chinless woman facing us flashes a semi-beaver. Pink pencil skirt crawling up her parted thighs to reveal Hot Mama panties. This isn’t a judgment of some kind. The panties literally say “Hot Mama” across the crotch, in red on white, over the faux-imprint of a red-lipped kiss. Impossible to look at, impossible not to. E, noticing me noticing, dismisses the display with a shrug. “Cry for help.”

We sit another moment. Leafing through an old issue of New Mom—the cover sports a catchy headline, “SAY GOODBYE TO YOUR HORRI-BELLY!”—before she blows blonde hair out of her face, drops the mag and sighs. “I’m always uncomfortable coming here. It’s like I know when I walk in that examining room I’m going to be fisted. But not in a good way.”

Not much I can say to that.

Minutes later, we’re ushered in to the exam room. Minutes after that, E’s back in the stirrups, and the blue uniformed nurse, who could be a twelve-year-old Nina Simone, gels up the heartbeat monitor, which looks like a karaoke mike, and plants it on her mega-watermelon belly. Instantly, a sound like horror movie wraiths dragging rusty chains across the floor fills the room.  When this bit of Wes Craven entertainment is over, young Nina announces the heart rate—a stellar 143—and tells us the doctor would be here in a sec.

Like clockwork, a half hour later, the doctor whisks in, chipper as Ruth Gordon in Rosemary’s Baby, and smiles big. “Okay. What we’re going to do today is strip the membrane.” Explaining as she slides her fingers into the latex sado-glove, she bids E to lean back and slides her arm in up the elbow. My girlfriend begins to writhe on the table. I jump out of the chair, to the head of the examination table. E grabs my hand and squeezes as the doctor narrates.

“Okay, what I’m doing is placing my fingers in the opening of the cervix… Mmmmph… Trying to—ooof!—gently separate the amniotic sac from the uterus.”

When I can suppress my gorge long enough to form words, I squeak, “What, um, does this do exactly?”

“Well, after around the fortieth week, membrane stripping stimulates the release of prostaglandin.”

My head spins so fast, seeing my girlfriend endure medieval torment, what I hear is “pasta glands,” which clearly can’t be right.  “I’m sorry,” I manage, “can you, um—”

“Prostaglandin. It’s the hormone that softens the cervix to prepare it for labor.”

By now E has squeezed my fingers to total numbness.

“There’s going to be some pain, and a bit of bleeding,” the doctor goes on, withdrawing her hand and ripping off the blood-tamped glove with a flourish.  “But, if all goes well, we should see you go into labor within forty-eight hours. So how do you feel?”

“Like I’ve been raped by a potato peeler.”

Big chuckle from doctor. “I’m on call Tuesday. Call me before then if you have any problems.”

Helping my sore but admirably uncomplaining girlfriend off the table, I wait while she gets dressed, recalling a spectacularly ludicrous argument we had months ago, on a visit to our first obstetrician in Los Angeles. This was at the dawn of pregnancy. We’d tracked down an OB/GYN over the hill, in Burbank, who said he preferred  it if we called him “Dr. Tug.” Tug turned out to be a burly, marathon-running seventy-one-year-old who played Motown in his examination room and kept his sleeves rolled-up to the shoulders, showing off his guns. This lent him a strange, unseemly resemblance to an obstetric Mister Clean.

During the first exam, with me in the room, Tug got my girlfriend up in the stirrups, then asked, over a rumbling, bass-heavy Barry White, what she did for a living. E filled him in, explaining that she was an exercise rider, working, most recently, at Santa Anita, powering world-class thoroughbreds full speed around the track every morning before the races. In truth, she’d been banging around the country, working on the back side of racetracks since she left home at fourteen, giving her a history even more dangerous and crazy than my own, which is one of the things that attracted me to her. If I thought junkiedom was hard-core – the world she ran in was a whole other level. E was addicted to speed, but not the narcotic kind. Her fix was the kind that put you in danger of a broken neck, or shattered skull, or brutal violent death on a daily basis. How could you not love a woman that bad-ass? But Doctor Tug had a different take.

“You ride horses,” he chuckled. “That explains those beautiful legs.”

Admittedly, she does have amazing legs. But really, do you want to hear your obstetrician talking about them? If this weren’t bad enough, a minute later, while he was all up inside her, the old beefcake got—I will swear this to my grave—a dreamy smile on his face. As soon as I saw this, I was ready to snap. But a second later, while still probing—“looks good in there!”—he exchanged a little smile with E herself. Again, I managed to hold my mud. But back in the car, I’m not going to lie, I had to bring it up.

“So,” I said, “you like this guy?”

“He’s all right. The important thing is, everything seems to be okay.”

“Of course,” I agree, regretting what I’m about to say even before I say it, “but what I’m talking about is, you seemed to, I don’t know, enjoy the examination.”

“Come again?”

“I don’t know,” I babble on, feeling myself lurch deeper into idiocy with every syllable. I’m not the jealous type, but this is just too much. I turn the key in my old Caddy’s ignition and continue. “I’m just saying, when he was inside you… it’s kind of fucked up, but he looked like… he looked like he was enjoying himself.  You had this smile on your face, you know, the one you sometimes get when…  anyway, he’d already made that creepy remark about your legs, so I thought maybe—”

“You thought what?”

By now I know I’ve crossed the line. This has all the makings of an epic car fight. But instead of yelling, E—to her eternal credit—just turns to me as we peel out of the lot, and laughs in my face.

“Are you insane? First of all, that’s a completely bizarre thing to even think. Second of all, the man is gay. Didn’t you see all those pictures of him and his partner? While you were in the bathroom he told me he and Ted were happily married.”

“Really?” I hear myself sputter. “Did his hand feel gay when it was inside you?”

My eyes stay on the road as we nose onto the Hollywood Freeway.

“Holy shit! You’re jealous of a gynecologist?”

“Of course not,” I lie, and have to swerve to miss a fuel truck, barely managing to spare the three of us—future mom, future baby, and currently babbling dad—a fiery horrific death.

By the time we make it back to my place, we’re both laughing about it. Sort of. But later, talking to a few fathers of my acquaintance, all confessed to some version of what my friend Willie, a guitar player, calls “Gyno Up My Wife Syndrome.” Which usually manifests the first time a man sees another man sliding his hand up the woman he loves. Often—or so it seems—wearing a dreamy, distracted smile on his face. Or worse, talking about “how wonderful” everything feels in there.

This is not something I’m proud of. But hey, fatherhood is a journey of discovery. And OG Dads—having to deal with receptionists who mistake them for the patient’s father, not to mention nonstop sweat-soaked 3 a.m. meditations on their own mortality—may just get a little more winded going uphill…

Ah, memories. Back in real time, here in Austin, I help the now racked-with-pain E up into the taint-colored Honda crossover I’ve purchased to handle baby duties. And yes, possibly more traumatic than the fact that I’m going to be a father again in my fifties is the fact that I’m now driving the four-wheeled equivalent of Cotton Dockers, in Texas. But that’s a different discussion for a different time. This, after all, is not about me.

Jerry Stahl has written 8 books, including Permanent Midnight, Bad Sex On Speed, and I, Fatty. His new novel, Happy Mutant Baby Pills, is now out from Harper Perennial. More from this author →