May 29, 2015 Seth Perkins

The (Unrealistic) Expectations of Childbirth

Our first was an accident. Her twin brothers were an unholy revelation.

I remember with absolute clarity the “Oh shit!” that cut through the groggy is-it-morning-yet darkness as my wife of four months emerged from the hallway into our bedroom and tossed  something a little bigger than a pen onto my side of the bed.   Our daughter was a surprise: a heart-stopping, nerve-wracking, I’m-too-young-to-die surprise.   My initial reaction could not be measured in seconds, minutes, hours, or days. It is a continuing process looking like the readout on a seismograph, things were placid, then there was an earthquake. The line flies high then dips low and back and forth with violence. I remember these moments of panic and fear interspersed with feelings of elation, like I had somehow risen above the world on a tangible cloud. Almost three years after her birth, the aftershocks keep coming, some more violent than others, but you learn to deal with them, to accept the unknown, and embrace your ignorance.

My wife is five foot five ( 165 cm to the civilized world).  Carrying our daughter was like Atlas carrying the globe. How the female physiology can do what it does baffles me. As men/partners, we are on the outskirts of this process, mere witnesses; which brings me to the first bit of advice for you, my expectant friends:

Pregnancy is not always a beautiful thing.

There are beautiful moments.  Cherish them, but do not set your expectations for 9 mos of bliss and wonder at the miracle of life.  Pregnancy is an arduous, life-altering trial of body, mind, and spirit of which you and I are little more than active observers.  Forums/Facebook, birthing classes, and most importantly advertising will try and glaze it over as some kind of euphoric experience in which you take part. You may even find your significant other quoting these tomes. Temper your expectations. Read the articles, take the classes, but keep in the front of your mind : your body is not gaining a few dozen pounds producing a watermelon which will eventually pass through your freshly shorn genitalia for public view. You will never have any idea what your significant other is going through. Don’t try and delude yourself to think otherwise.

If you can accept what you do not know, then you can approach the process from a much more pragmatic stance.

Plans are ideals and life seldom goes according to plan.

When you are in that “relaxation through breathing” class, “self-hypnosis”, “birthing naturally”, or even “breast is best”, remember, the plans you and your significant other create are little more than wishes for how things should ideally proceed. They are not contracts with doctors to make things happen a certain way and they absolutely ARE NOT agreements with your child’s mother to hold aloft in the delivery room and afterward into motherhood. Things change. You are not in control, and you must also accept : neither is she.

This is one of the most frustrating things I found in my daughter’s birth : the absolute helplessness I experienced when the plan went off course. Kathryn was induced; she was showing signs of what was likely evolving into pre-ecalmpsia (serious changes in blood pressure – – remember, relatively small bodies growing watermelons). Being induced : we handled fine. It was the labor that was horrible.

It went on for hours; it was unproductive. We breathed and held it, she pushed, but it wasn’t happening. The pain was shaking her body. He muscles were giving out. We had practiced and practiced (and I had been chanting the rhythm in my mind for months like a mantra). The breathing did nothing. Trying to keep her focused was like trying to fill a pool with a sieve. It was futile. Her will had been eclipsed by pain. I remember looking at the nurses in the room. I felt like they were judging me, like I had failed as Kathryn’s partner to keep things together. I had allowed things to deviate from the plan.

That feeling of failure took months to abate. It was completely and totally irrational. The nurses were not judging, they were sympathetic and understood a fact which I came to understand very well for the eventual birth of our twins : do not make your plans your expectation! This is one of those basic tenants we hear so often in life but chose to ignore in the face of our own supposed superiority and arrogance: that we can somehow overcome the reality that our bodies are those of animals bound to space, time, and physics, each with its variations not adhering to medical best practice and 2 hour classroom seminars.

Deal with it. Accept it. You may have a plan to go natural, but suddenly she is screaming for drugs. You planned to do it at home but now she needs the hospital. She was going to give birth vaginally, but her body and will are giving out. DO NOT question it. What matters is getting the job done; she is the person who needs to have the say and needs you to back her up, and for the love of whatever you hold “holy”, do not abuse yourself for being human.

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