It’s going to be pretty hard not to be ready for the baby’s arrival at this point. In the next 5 weeks, Janelle and I will be visiting the doctor or hospital a minimum of 15 times. 16 if you count the actual delivery. We’re getting a rolling start to the baby being in charge of our schedule.

In the last month of her pregnancy, Janelle is scheduled to meet with the doctors once a week. But on top of that, she has to go in for non-stress tests (NSTs). Non-stress testing involves sitting the mother down on a bed and hooking up two monitors to her belly. One will keep watch on the baby’s heart-rate and the other tracks contractions in the mother’s uterus. Mom is also given a clicker, like a Jeopardy buzzer, to poke every time she feels a distinct movement from the baby. The idea is generally to see the baby’s overall activity level and to ensure that if there are contractions in the uterus, that the baby doesn’t freak out and do fun things like stop breathing.

Stepping into the room for the NSTs has an odd mass production feel to it. When we were set up for the test, we made the fifth active test in the room, meaning you can hear a rhythmic shooshing thump coming from the heartbeat of each of the other babies in the room. It ends up sounding like some odd radio-static masked recording of galloping horses, and calls to mind pistons driving production machinery.

The experience captures at once all the worst and best parts of the hospital experience. The nurses are busy and a bit gruff at first, but once it’s clear that they’re not super busy, they’re nice and helpful and will answer all your questions. The goal is to get you in and out as quickly as they can… but you can tell that they have performed the tasks they are undertaking thousands of times and are expert at it by now. Plus, if anything goes wrong, you don’t have far to go.

What I took away from the experience was a sense of feedback. This is what really began to help for the attachment to the baby for me, and why I think it seems like new mothers are so much more easily bonded to their babies. For a father who is not attending doctor visits for whatever reason, and who does not take time to interact with the belly a bit, the baby is just a lump until it pops out of Mom and is crying. But for the Mom the baby is a living and responsive companion who shapes and is shaped by daily activity. Tagging along for the NST is going to let me experience a bit of that reflected through a muffled heartbeat and a pulse monitor.

I could watch the readout from the little EKG-ish type machine Janelle was hooked up to and see what the baby was doing, or even predict what it was about to do. Its little heartbeat, normally around 120 bpm, would jump to 140 or even up to 170 when it was about to be or was in the midst of squirming about. I could see the heart-rate begin to rise and then watch Janelle start poking on her buzzer to record movements from the baby. I could also watch as the machine recording minute spasms in Janelle’s tummy muscles and then say, “Oh, baby’s gonna start moving around after that one.”

It’s the give and take that has me excited for the baby. Being able to the poke the belly and see the baby move in response, or to talk at the base of Janelle’s tummy (where the baby’s head should be staying all the time at this point) and then have the baby go all crazy in response because it can hear me or putting a hand on the belly to provide pressure to calm the baby’s movements is what says to me that Mom’s not the only one who gets to have a relationship with the baby before it enters the world.

And for a total non sequitur, I was pondering the other day how it’s amusing that male naughty bits are measured in inches here, but the female bits are measured in centimeters (though they’re really only ever measured during birth). And you may feel free to use Imperial Penis or Metric Vagina for your band names.

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