This month, Pregnancy & Newborn’s Book Club is reading up on one husband’s hilarious recount of becoming dad. BirthCONTROL, by James Vavasour, is a man’s guide to the joys, anxieties and downright absurdities of pregnancy, but you don’t have to be on the path to fatherhood to get a kick out of his side of the story. Expect plenty of snark, but even his blunt (sometimes pessimistic) take is comforting because it’s definitely not sugarcoated. So dads-to-be, here’s the truth from someone who made it to the other side—and moms, you’ll be laughing too. Here’s our chat with the author:
Pregnancy & Newborn: The back cover explicitly states you wrote each chapter as it happened, “long before the blurred baby goggles of fatherhood were firmly affixed.” What made you start writing? Did you know it would be a book from the get go?
James Vavasour: I had no idea I was writing a book. It was meant to be a pregnancy journal. Oddly enough, I had no interest in writing a pregnancy journal until my wife mentioned she was going to write one. I immediately imagined my wife sharing her doting account of our pregnancy with my adult daughter years from now, while I moaned from the next room about all the inaccuracies. It was at that moment that I decided I would write the true account of our pregnancy—the story of what really happened.
As we speak, it’s actually being adapted for film, which is beyond shocking to me. I never could have predicted that.
P&N: What did your wife say when she read it?
JV: I started reading it to her about four months into the pregnancy. Initially she said, “This is hilarious. You should try to get it published.” Of course, once I announced that I had somehow landed a publishing deal, she immediately said, “I don’t want you to publish this. It is way too personal and embarrassing.”
P&N: You got very swept up in preparing the nursery, what with the mural and the tree branch ordeal. Why was that such a key part of the pregnancy experience for you?
JV: Most of the time, it felt like my wife and I couldn’t agree on anything pregnancy related: baby names, birthing classes, and of course a whole lot more, as you may have read in my book. So pouring myself into the nursery gave me a sense of contributing to a process that, after conception, had very little to do with the father anymore. My wife had no interest in slaving over the nursery, so she let me have my way with it. I knew the birth of our first child would be the most important event in my life, but I didn’t want to wait until the baby showed up to start being a dad. I wanted to participate in the pregnancy as well—mostly because I’m a control freak, but also because I wanted to set the precedent that I would be an active father.
P&N: What was the biggest shock in your nine-month clash with pregnancy? Was anything like you thought it would be?
JV: The biggest shock was probably the changes my wife’s body underwent. Clearly I was completely neurotic about the whole thing. I never imagined how protective, or, more accurately, paranoid and panicked, I would become with regard to harming our baby through normal everyday activities like grocery shopping and intimate contact. By the seventh month, I would have been more likely to lie down on a live grenade than on my wife.
As far as preconceived notions about pregnancy itself, I don’t think guys without kids spend too much time imagining pregnancy. I know I didn’t. It wasn’t until my own wife was pregnant that I recognized how many pregnant women I saw in a day. I was blind to it, which probably explains why I was so woefully unprepared when it happened to me.
P&N: The birthing class was a big part of the story—and a reliable joke source. It’s pretty clear that you didn’t enjoy going, but what did you take away from those 18 hours?
JV: Birthing classes were more than a little traumatic for me. My wife, for obvious reasons, recognized my distress and did everything she could to help me relax. In time, the classes eventually made me more aware of my role and ultimately prepared me to be a better coach for her. If nothing else, they helped us develop a birthing plan and forged the instructions I so desperately needed when labor was underway.
P&N: I laughed out loud while reading your book, but was it that funny when it was happening to you? How’d you find the humor in the chaos?
JV: It was stressful, but I deal with stress by joking about it. The book was just a way for me to process what was happening. At the time, I would hang out with friends—some of who were pregnant and many who were not—and recite a lot of what I was writing conversationally and they would just crack up. I couldn’t understand why; I was completely stressed out and they thought it was hilarious. At times I found it frustrating, which I discuss in my book, but eventually I embraced it.
P&N: What is the one thing you wish you knew about pregnancy beforehand?
JV: Probably that pregnancy could just as easily have been an opportunity for me to relax and settle into my new role. Nearly everything I obsessed about during pregnancy had little to no impact on anything after the birth of my daughter. Life resets after the birth of your first child. Nobody says, “Gosh, maybe I should have spent a few more hours on that mural in the nursery.” You’re just trying to survive.
P&N: Other than reading BirthCONTROL, what advice would you give all the dads-to-be out there?
JV: Skip the birthing class during pregnancy and find some car seat classes. If nothing else, at least practice on a doll. Strapping our new baby into our car seat for the first time was far more complicated and terrifying than the entire nine months of pregnancy. I wasn’t even sure if our child’s elbows worked at that point. Halfway through loading her into the car, I abandoned the whole exercise and took her back into the hospital because one of the straps had grazed her neck. The ambiguity of tightening the straps was the worst of it. How tight is too tight? It’s not like tightening a dog collar; I can tell you that the two-fingers rule is nearly certainly a fur-dependent rule.
I won’t even begin getting into the whole drive home, which plods along at twenty-five miles an hour while you scan the horizon for road debris, drunk drivers and collapsing overpasses.
Name: James Vavasour
Job title: Engineering Manager/Naval Architect
City of residence: Houston
Children’s names and ages: Abby is 3 years old; No-Name is negative-8 months old and due in February.
His five faves
Celebrity: John Cleese
Indulgence: Coffee-Mate Coconut Creamer (with small traces of coffee)
Workout: CrossFit (at the moment)
Grooming product: Lagoom Jam
Weeknight dinner: Egg in a Hole