Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Thoughts on childbirth from someone who has never had to do it

I know several women who either recently have or very soon will be giving birth. This is extremely impressive to me. As I've mentioned before, I've had a front-row seat to this event five times, and the whole thing is mind-boggling.

I often say that the sheer physics of the process alone is puzzling. You can talk all you want about how a woman's hips widen and her body adapts in order to accommodate the exiting child, but it still doesn't change the basic fact of large-baby-passing-through-small-opening.

I don't get it. I really don't. I've seen it happen, but it seems like an elaborate magic trick or something. Like after the child emerges, David Copperfield should walk into the delivery room and explain how the whole thing was just an illusion and the baby was actually grown in a laboratory somewhere. That would be far more plausible than what really occurs in childbirth.

My wife had four conventional deliveries (as if there's anything "conventional" about it) and one Cesarean section. The C-section was with baby #5, and Terry still says she wished it would have come the normal way.

(NOTE: In that one paragraph alone, I referred to the commonly accepted method of delivery as "conventional" and "normal." I did this because I can't bring myself to type the V-initialed medical term for these sorts of births. I know it's no big deal and all, and we're (mostly) adults here, but my fingers just won't do it. I'm eating lunch as I write this, and typing that word would very likely ruin the experience for me. Just so you know.)

Anyway, the C-section was a real trip. We had planned to have Jack the, uh, regular way, but at some point during labor he decided to flip upside down, and the doctor pretty much said it was either a C-section or else the baby was going to stay in there forever. Terry opted for the C-section.

Once that decision was made, they whisked her away to do whatever it is they do to women who are about to undergo this procedure. A nurse came in and gave me a set of scrubs to change into, so I did that and then waited around for someone to come and get me so I could be there when my son came out.

This took a long time. Or at least it seemed like a long time. I waited and paced for something like 45 minutes, when I guess someone in the O.R. with Terry looked around and said, "Wait, is the dad here? Someone needs to go and get the dad." So someone came and retrieved the dad and I walked into the delivery room, where my wife was laid out helplessly on a table with a surgical curtain draped across her chest.

The curtain was there so that she didn't have to view all the messiness associated with an operation in which they cut you open and lift a child from your womb. I, on the other hand, had been in operating rooms several times during my years at the Cleveland Clinic, and I tend not to mind blood and gore. As they were working on her, Terry asked me to peek over the curtain and let her know what I saw. So I did.

"Organs and goo," is what I reported back. Because that's really all I saw. They had taken various bodily organs out of her abdominal cavity, as far as I could tell, and laid them off to the side like jigsaw puzzle pieces. I made a mental note to ask later if they remembered exactly how everything fit back in there, because I'm terrible at puzzles and would be of no help.

Anyway, after a few minutes they hoisted Jack out of his mother's belly and held him up to allow me to announce his gender to the room. We never found out the sex of any of our babies ahead of time, instead preferring the very cool surprise you get when you discover the answer at the moment of birth. But they held him up at a strange angle, and it took me several seconds to get a clear view of the goods. It was pretty clear he was a boy at that point, and as if to confirm the verdict, Jack peed all over his mother right then and there. I was so proud.

It may have been messy and required several stitches afterward, but the C-section was a far more enjoyable experience for me -- not that I obviously counted for much, but still -- than the four clearly-physically-impossible births had been. Watching my first four kids being born was a lot like being in a car accident: I was dazed and confused afterward, I wasn't quite sure what I had seen, and there was a heck of a mess that I was willing to pay someone else to clean up.

Because honestly, there's a lot going on when a child is born. They show you the video in biology class or Lamaze, but nothing at all can prepare you for the reality of it. Things came out of my wife that I didn't even know existed. Medical personnel whom I hadn't seen all day suddenly came out of nowhere to fulfill whatever small role they were assigned in the birth of my child. People started speaking in urgent tones, telling my wife to PUSH PUSH PUSH, though I'm quite sure she didn't need any prodding from them.

And I wasn't even the one giving birth! I was just a clueless bystander. My wife, the star of this whole show until the moment the baby came out, displayed a quiet confidence and ability I had no idea she possessed until she gave birth the first time. I may have been freaking out, but she was pretty clearly in control. There was always this look on her face that said, "Seriously, don't worry, I've got this." And she did, too.

A lot of women like to say that men could never have babies. And I don't know that I fully agree. I mean, I could do it. If you put a growing baby inside of me, I would eventually find a way to pass the thing. But there's no way I would ever do it as well as Terry did. God just didn't give me the same capacity for this that He gave her, and as far as I'm concerned, that's a good thing.

It's not so much the actual birth that would throw me off. It's the nine months or so leading up to it. In addition to your body getting larger, there are all sorts of physical discomforts associated with pregnancy that would seriously wear me out. Especially in the summer. Two of our kids were born in August and September, which means Terry spent the last trimester of two pregnancies during the warm, humid summer months. Not good.

But she bore up well under the burden of it. I, on the other hand, would have whined about it 24 hours a day. Seriously, I would have complained constantly. One baby would have been enough for me. But she somehow made it through five. God bless her.


  1. Yeah, our wives are awesome!

  2. Agreed, Josh. You'll get no argument from me!