There exists a cruel falsity in the birthing space
I have seen the headlines. I have read the books. I have listened and absorbed. And I have found there exists a cruel falsity in the birthing space. It is an unabashed cultural brainwash whispering harshly, “Papa, you are in the way and don’t belong here.” As a midwife and a woman who has birthed six times, I can with merit and volume declare the extreme value a partner’s role holds in that sacred environment.
Let me set the scene: it has been forty weeks since you both decided to stay up late to “enjoy” your partnership. Then he kneeled at her feet with one hand on her shaking knee as she watched the plus sign dance across that glorious white stick. He held her hair back as waves of nausea turned into heaves. Together they watched her skin stretch and her belly bulge as their baby twirled gracefully under his palm. He held her hand, not knowing whether he should look at his wife in awe or stare at the sonogram image of what they created. As a team, they poured over baby names until the right one picked them. She nested and added to her honey do list, while he begrudgingly checked off each task. They fantasized, “What will she look like? Whose eyes will be looking back at me?” Then…she wakes him and says, “I think it’s time.” Oh boy, a rush of emotions. It’s TIME!
A theme lives in those memories—partnership. It was a partnership from conception and a partnership that should remain constant. This is a time in space where family is being born. Evidence shows that women have superior labor and birth outcomes when support and trust envelop the experience. She trusts her partner. She needs her partner.
I am invited into their intimacy
I have a tendency in my midwifery presence to take in a room. (I am certain most midwives do the same.) I push pause and assimilate to the woman’s world. Viscerally, I take in many aspects, and one of those aspects is the complexity of the supporting dance. I stand back in delight as I am invited into their intimacy. What an honor to catch glimpses of what their relationship before and during the pregnancy must have looked like. I am taken to their familiar setting and the evolution from pregnancy to birth. Again, he kneels at her feet with one hand on a shaking knee as she works to bring their baby down. I watch him hold her hair back as waves of nausea overtake her. It is his hand on her as the surge turns her tummy into a hardened bulge. It is his voice speaking their child’s name into her ear. It is he who fulfills her needs and empowers her. And OH BOY, the emotions!
“Tell me if I am in the way?”
A couple and their midwife work hard through the pregnancy to strip away what a more technical and modern world has conveniently tried to ingrain. More times than not, I witness that erroneous whispering in a dad’s unconscious. It is an echo that plays out in a father’s actions. He is there at her side, pouring affirmations over her. I lean in to listen with a Doppler, and he shifts with sorrow and deject to make room for me. I pull him back into her. Or, after hours of placing cool towels on her chest and gently wiping her brow, their creation begins to emerge, and I see in his face that he feels like he is an intruder. He inquires, “Tell me if I am in the way?” I remind him gently that he is exactly where he should be. I encourage him to get in and continue to be an active participant. Birth is not a spectator sport. When their child is twenty-five years old and they look back to their birthing day, I don’t want her to remember me—I want her to remember him and the day their family was born.
I feel this post would not be complete without a dad’s birth story. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
A Dad’s Story
Tuesday, June 5th, 2007 was a day that forever changed my life. It was the culmination of nine months of a gamut of emotions ranging from excitement and anticipation to fear and doubt. If it was only the day my first daughter, Camden, was born at home with the help of a midwife, it would have been reason enough to celebrate. But it wasn’t. It was also the day that marked an enormous shift in my impression of childbirth and how wonderful it could be.
My first two children, Caleb and Case (both boys), were born in a hospital, the way most would picture a hospital birth. As soon as they were born, I was shown this miracle of GOD, full of wonder, love, and trust, and then the cord was cut, and that miracle of GOD was whisked away to be cleaned, poked, and prodded. At the time, I heard no alarms going off in my head, no voice shouting to me, “This isn’t right!” I was just so happy to see my baby that the flood of emotions clouded my thinking. Besides, I had seen enough films on childbirth, enough TV shows to think that this is the way it goes. Boy, was I wrong. Once I experienced our home birth, my whole perspective shifted, and the only negative that came from it was the amount of guilt I hold for not having the information I have now.
On June 5th, 2007, in the comfort of my own bedroom and, eventually, bathtub, I experienced labor and childbirth the way I think GOD intended. There were no beeps, no chords, no clamps, and no stirrups. There were just the sounds of encouragement from a loving family and words of strength and passage from a skilled, supportive midwife. I couldn’t help but remember those first two births and think to myself, “Now this is how it was supposed to be.” Once the rite of labor was over and the baby crowned, I reached down, felt her head in my hands, and welcomed her into the world as the first physical human contact she would experience. To this day, I can still feel her skin on mine, an unmistakable connection. Then, there was crying. That sound that every parent listens for, to know your baby is okay. But this was different. It wasn’t the loud, sharp scream that you hear in a hospital. It sounded a lot like the cries of the many people who were allowed to share this moment with me. It sounded happy.
Immediately, with chord still intact, she began to nurse. The connection was established, the bond forever secured. My family, who each had a role in this experience, waited their turns, and then introduced themselves. My midwife, as she had done the whole time, did her work but never interfered. It was as if she slipped into frame to do her thing and slipped out to let us do ours. She described it perfectly when she said that she didn’t feel like she delivered our baby. Instead, she was allowed to be a part of our birth, and I am forever grateful to her for that. Later, we planted the placenta beneath a Weeping Willow in our yard so that our daughter’s lifeline would bring new life to a daily reminder of GOD’s little miracles.
In the end, those emotions I first spoke of, excitement and fear and anticipation and doubt, all went away, and I was overcome by this feeling of joy I had never felt before. In the hospital, I always felt like a necessary evil, like I got in the way of this “procedure,” and thus was second fiddle to the miracle of science and technology. This time, I knew that this was my birth, my voyage, and I will never return to the way I thought birth was “supposed to be.”
I was told that my daughter was different from other babies. She was so happy and hardly ever cried, unless, of course, it was time to eat. To this day, she has this glow that is impossible to describe unless you see it in person. She has an effect on everyone who meets her. I can’t help but think that the way she was brought into this world has affected the way she views this world.
I, too, am different. I have never been happier, and I feel like a better person. I know I have this experience to thank for that. I now firmly believe that the miracle of birth is something that should be cherished, not scheduled and performed. It should be celebrated and respected for the miracle it is.
But what do I know? I’m just a DAD.
Chris Wyrick (Dad of six and Groom to a rockin’ and brilliantly hot midwife)