When I found out I was going to be a father, my self-identity changed to one of greater power and responsibility, which resulted in me “stepping up my game” in many areas of life. Our actions in life are largely influenced by our beliefs and how we view ourselves. This has never been so clear to me as it is now that I view myself as a father. Being in charge of my son Axel’s wellbeing empowers me to take charge of my emotions, my fears, dramatic situations, quick decisions, and my career.
Even before the birth, I started to feel the “dad effect”. I had the most productive nine months of my life—I picked up dozens of new business coaching clients, launched a new podcast, had a successful pre-launch campaign for my first book, ran my first adventure retreat, gave talks on three continents, played in an international Ultimate Frisbee tournament, went on a vision quest in the mountains of Montana, and faced down a mountain lion in the wild. But the peak challenge came during labor and delivery when son’s birth almost went horribly wrong..
After waiting more than 40 weeks for Axel to be born, Heidi was getting antsy to deliver the baby. We tried camping and hiking and spicy foods —all kinds of things to coax Axel out. Labor finally started at two in the morning at 41 weeks and we got to enjoy walking around the neighborhood in the middle of the night. Midmorning we went in to the birth center where we were told labor was “just getting started” and to go back home. Not long after we arrived home, Heidi’s water broke and her pain went to a nonstop 10/10. “Crap, now I have to turn right around and get her to the birth center while she screams in pain!” I found myself taking charge. I enlisted the help of my mom to drive while I was in the back seat pressing on Heidi’s hips to ease the pain.
After hours and hours of intensely painful labor in the birth center, Axel’s heart rate started to drop dangerously low because his umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. Our birthing center was in a hospital—it is set up to be like a home birth, but you are in the hospital in case of emergency, and we were in the two percent that needed it. To monitor Axel’s heart rate closely the midwife and I made the call to abandon our idealistic natural birth plan and move up to the delivery floor.
Not long after we changed floors, Axel’s heart rate dropped and did not recover due to Heidi’s rapid dilation enabled by an epidural. The monitor beeped, the delivery nurse hit the button on the wall and yelled “Code White!” Immediately, Heidi was whisked down the hall to the operating room. In just under four minutes, a team of 25 people had Heidi fully prepped and ready for an emergency Cesarean section.
Amazingly, right before it was time to cut, Axel’s heart rate stabilized and everyone paused.
And we waited.
After half an hour, Axel’s heart rate was still high enough and they canceled the surgery. This basically never happens—less than one percent of emergency C- section situations end up with a normal delivery. During the rush to the surgery room, I felt utterly focused and confident. I was learning as much as I could to keep Heidi informed and help us make good decisions.
After all that drama and miracle reversal of fortune, the hard work was still to come. Heidi pushed for hours, and I have never seen anyone go that deep into the well of courage to give their best effort over and over again. How hard did she work? She burst blood vessels in her eyes that made them red for weeks. This whole time, even after being awake and on high alert for over 24 hours, I never felt tired. Rather, I knew that I would be strong so that everyone else could be too.
When I first found out I was going to be a father I talked to another fellow who had just delivered his son. He said it was the most powerful experience of his life. I did not want to miss out on such an experience, but I was worried about whether I could handle it—I have a long history of passing out whenever I see blood. When I first touched my son as he emerged into this world, he was gooey and wet and surprisingly hot. His head was all deformed and he was purple. But far from wanting to check out, I was absolutely present, capable, in awe and in love. I felt totally confident that Axel was in safe hands. My hands.
My skills and talents aren’t any different now than they were before I became a dad, but now that I am a father, I act in accordance with this newfound identity and take care of business. Being a dad has been easier and more natural than I expected. I guess that is just psychology’s way of helping us adapt. If this highlights for you how strongly our beliefs and our self-image shape how we act perhaps you will consider your own empowering identity.
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