The micro-blogging site Twitter has given an increasing number of expectant dads something to do while their wives are giving birth: Provide the world a real-time account of what may be the most intimate experience of their lives.
Tally Wilgis couldn't wait to tell family and friends details about the birth of his second child, Ainsley, in January at St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson. As his wife, Kristy, endured her contractions, the pastor from Timonium kept his 800 Twitter followers up to date with a continuous, online play-by-play.
Or is that tweet-by-tweet?
"Doc came back from the emergency across the hall. He seems eager to get to work," Wilgis tweeted a few moments before Ainsley was born. "He's going to get the team. We'll see.
"Contractions over 135 ... Kristy is ready to fight somebody. Poor nurse says, 'Hopefully you'll have amnesia when you get through this.'
"Baby Ainsley is here!!!!! 5:17 p.m. 7.8 lbs. She's beautiful! Kristy did an amazing job. I am so in love with that woman. [Three] pushes and she was out! I'm going to hold my daughter now!"
The free San Francisco-based site allows users to post entries (or Tweet) what they're doing in 140 characters or less. Expectant parents are using its versatility to keep loved ones informed in an instant.
Some expectant parents like Wilgis bring laptop computers into the delivery room and post updates for those who follow their entries. As his daughter was being born, he captured emotions - including his own - that might have gone unrecorded had he waited to talk about them over the phone.
Matt Tatham, media relations director for online measurement company Hitwise, said it's not surprising that sites such as Twitter have become popular in delivery rooms. He said that such sites are compatible with new electronic devices such as the BlackBerry and iPhone, and deliver posts that their receivers need not log on and search for.
"It happens because it's there and it's possible," Tatham said. "The biggest hurdle is always ease of use. People can do it from their cell phone. It's a way for their family and friends to be there with them whether they want to be or not."
As the company's name has become all but synonymous with cyber dialogue, Twitter users keep coming up with venues for tweeting. Tatham said he posed the idea of tweeting during the delivery process 15 months ago with his then-pregnant wife.
Wilgis said tweeting during the delivery beats blogging, which he did with his first child, Caleb, four years ago.
Matt McDermott of Lauraville, who tweeted in September when his wife, Wendy, gave birth to their son Ferris, said he had a couple of reasons for doing so. "It was to keep friends updated, yes, but also it was an experiment for me. I'm in advertising and I was interested to see how followers responded and which tweets were most popular."
For some fathers, tweeting during the delivery is a chance to keep busy. It also gives them someone to talk to while the physicians tend to mother and child.
"As a new father you feel lonely in the delivery room because all of the attention is on your wife and the child," Wilgis said. "It gave me something to do while I was sitting there, and a lot of the tweets express the boredom and frustration of just sitting there waiting. To an extent, it's like talking out loud and wondering if anybody hears you."
Michael Schwartzberg, media relations manager for Greater Baltimore Medical Center, said she's recently heard of about a half-dozen expectant parents tweeting during deliveries at the hospital.
"It started perhaps when Lance Armstrong did it in June; that made it popular, I guess," said Schwartzberg. (The cycling star announced the birth of his fourth child, Max, on Twitter.) "But social media is emerging as a communications tool."
Schwartzberg said that when another couple mentioned they would tweet during their delivery in August, he cleared the move with doctors, who said they had no problem with it.
"They said, 'As long as Dad is in a corner out of the way,' " Schwartzberg added. "Most times, the birthing companion is in the room anyway, and it's not as if they're wheeling in heavy equipment. Most people use BlackBerries or PDAs, and it's commonplace to take pictures after the baby's born with either a cell phone camera or a regular camera. It's not as if they're causing problems for anyone."
But not everyone is sold on the idea of fathers constantly communicating with others during a most delicate period in a couple's life.
"I think it's terrible," said Dr. Renana Brooks, a Washington-based psychologist. "The world is divided, and one of the few rituals we have in terms of giving each other undivided attention is that time in a delivery room. To be spending time writing to someone else destroys the whole ritual. That's like Twittering on your wedding night. You can blog about it afterward."
Kristy Wilgis disagrees. She said that she welcomed her husband tweeting during the delivery in part because the family had just moved from Virginia Beach, Va., and it was one of the best ways to keep everyone informed.
"Frankly, there was nothing he could do for me then," she added. "I didn't want to be touched or massaged; I know some expectant mothers like that, but I was just the opposite. It was the best outlet for him, to talk about it via computer. It was really cool, and I got a chance to see it from his perspective. Things were really fuzzy the whole day and it refreshed my memory of things I had forgotten about."
Sometimes expectant fathers discover that continuous tweeting is not possible. McDermott began tweeting early on during a delivery process that began at 8:30 a.m. and ended when Ferris was born at 6 p.m., but he had to stop when he was called upon to assist his wife's pushing for lengthy periods.
He did manage to tweet when the doctor gave the couple a half-hour break between pushes. After the birth, he returned to Twitter; his final tweet was accompanied by a photo of his wife holding the baby. He says he looks back on those photos at least once a week.
"My wife isn't as sold on Twitter as I am," McDermott added. "I'm an evangelist, and she's a skeptic."
But Cheryl Knauer of Parkville is sold. She has asked her husband, Jason, to tweet during the delivery of their third child next month and has given him free rein to post whatever comes to mind.
"I think I'll be busy," she says with a laugh. "For us, we talk through Twitter and Facebook with most of our family and friends on a regular basis, so it seems like a natural thing to be communicating with them during the delivery and telling them how things are going."
Wilgis has copied his tweets and will save them with the hopes of one day passing them onto his daughter. Then she'll know about the most memorable moments of the day - including when her big brother Caleb cried when he and dad got stuck in an elevator shortly after Ainsley's birth.
"I think it's amazing to be able to look back on that moment in life," said Wilgis, "and my daughter is going to be able to know exactly what her dad was thinking every few minutes, over the course of two days, when she was being born."
Tally Wilgis, pastor of Captivate Church in Baltimore, tweeted while his wife, Kristy, gave birth to their second child, Ainsley, at St. Joseph Medical Center. Here are some of Wilgis' tweets from the labor and delivery:
* "Remember when we were late to deliver [Caleb] because I had to break and shovel 2 inches of ice from my driveway that [sits] on a hill?"
* "Check in is like the TSA at the airport and a CIA background check all in one."
* " 'Hope for the best,' isn't what I like hearing when they're doing IVs."
* "Kristy thinks she has it bad but this is torture for a guy with A.D.D. - It's like the final question on Jeopardy with no end to the music."
* "So I have my mocha, berry muffin and wi-fi. I feel like I'm at my local coffee shop except people keep talking contractions and IVs."
* "Doc just gave Kristy pain meds. Kristy gave me a signal of 'I'm loopy.' Doc said, 'Don't fight it, just sleep.' She's out. That was fast."
* "YAWN ... having a baby is BORING right now ... last time was drive-thru compared to this."
* "We're up to some more regular and stronger contractions. My guess is we're about 3 hours away from the doc using the catcher's mitt."
* "Doc just wants to place a monitor on the baby and get rid of the belt monitor to keep good readings. Says we're pretty close."
* "Things settled down. Baby was stressing during contractions. They adjusted K and put new monitor on. Everyone gone now. Again we wait."
* "Yeah ... we're getting closer. K's in pain. I'm useless. It's not boring anymore but it's not fun either. C'mon baby Ainsley. Daddy's here."
* "No baby yet. Thanks for prayers. They are appreciated. By the way, K doesn't like to be touched or coached so my best use is updating."
* "Doc came back from the emergency across the hall. He seems eager to get to work. He's going to get the team. We'll see."
* "Nurse turned on oxygen next to baby warmer. Game faces on. Somewhere I think they're playing the Star-Spangled Banner."
* "Doctor - 'We're going to have a baby in like 3 minutes!' Okay folks, I'm going to see my baby born!"
* "Baby Ainsley is here!!!!! 5:17 p.m., 7.8 lbs. She's beautiful!"
- Joe Burris