I have been to two births in my life, and both were of my children. When it was time to watch the scenes of birth in the childbirth class we attended, I looked away, it seeming so voyeristic. I had no interest in seeing my child be born, and I don't know why. It didn't seem gross, or dirty, and it certainly didn't seem sexual. But thinking about it now, I've always shied away from the insides of things - cuts, sores, even half chewed food on display makes my stomach turn. I did not want my time meeting my child to be muffled by feeling light headed or naseaous. That seemed irresponsible. I was becoming someone's father, passing out seemed like the worst possible way to start that adventure.
When my first child was born, I was amazed by my wife. Sitting at the head of her hospital bed, holding her hand, and watching her battle with every pain and movement my daughter made, swelled the feelings of pride I had for this woman who seemed to think me a worthy partner. I always believed I had "married up," but this moment only solidified how much gratitude I needed to express to this woman, this incredible woman who chose to do give birth as a warrior.
I was anxious. I knew so little. There seemed to be so many ways everything could go wrong. Every time the nurse came into move a monitor, or adjust a tube, or take a blood pressure reading, I would hold my breath thinking she was coming into say it was time to take her back to surgery.
My wife was so angry. Every interruption caused her to erupt. She was in a totally different world, and being forced out of it, even though it was full of pain, made her rage against the people in her room. The nurse's lips would purse over and over, and she kept telling my wife she needed to get off the floor, or she needed to get in a different position, or she needed to breath differently.
My wife ignored her every time.
We had a doula for the birth of our first child. And my mother-in-law was with us as well. I was not sure how to navigate the authority of the nurse with the unmistakable authority of my wife. Every time there was a standoff, without fear the doula would glide over, rest a comforting hand on the small of my wife's back, and talk low and gently. I don't know what was said, but the soon my wife would be moving from the floor to the bed, or from one position to another, with much less fire in her eyes.
I was much less anxious at the birth of our second child, and my wife was even more powerful. She had what is called a precipitous birth, where everything happens very fast, and somehow my wife knew it would be this way. We purposefully went to the hospital before labor began, but she was already a week past her due date. When the midwife came in to discuss induction options, my wife held the midwife's hands and looked her in the eyes and I'll never forget she said, "You may not believe me, but I want you to break my bag of waters and stay with me in the room. This is going to be very fast.”
I do not believe in spiritual or religious institutions.
I am a man of science.
I appreciate facts and spirited arguments.
But I learned something very important that day about my wife - My wife is magic.
The midwife said she would need to evaluate how high the baby was, and that Pitocin is typically the way they would like to get contractions started.
After about an hour of discussion, the midwife was not excited about it, but she admitted that there was no reason she could find not to break the bag if that was what my wife wanted.
I don't really remember exactly what happened, but her bag was broke, my wife turned over so her back was facing me, and the most guttural sound came from the person I love. I didn't look. I just closed my eyes thinking my wife was being ripped apart, and in the next moment, my child was born.
It was the fastest 17 minutes of my life.
I know it is not like this for everyone. I know that we are lucky to have a medical team who stopped to hear my wife and believe her. I know that in any instant the entire world can tilt and tragedy can strike. And I also know that the way my children came into this world is seared in my brain as an unmistakable example of how fierce and reckless our existence really is.