In these last days of my wife’s pregnancy, I’ve become a kind of monk of maternity. My wife and I are preparing for a home birth, and as much as that carries its own unique set of worries and fears, I’ve come to embrace the idea that a pregnancy—whether it involves a casual cruise to the hospital for a planned C-section or the semantics of squatting, moaning, and pushing—always ends with a baby dripping wet with mucus, covered with blood, and having more wrinkles than a walnut. As a man, my job will be to help coax this squirming little life from its mother’s gooey insides; hold the bloody, quivering nugget in my hands; and transport it into my wife’s arms without turning white, barfing, and dropping the child to the floor like a hot potato.
For the early part of our pregnancy, I wondered how the hell a guy is supposed to keep it together when he witnesses things like “discharge” for the first time. Then it came to me: by desensitizing himself, because it’s better to privately wilt to the gore and build a tolerance to it, then blurt out with shock and fright “What is that thing?!”
Back in the day, being within a mile of the delivery room would have concluded the male involvement in this process. But times have changed and so has the guy’s obligation to get informed and participate. The more typical story now passed from male to male is part cautionary tale, part schoolyard gross-out. New experiences are being traded on the playground, but the goal remains the same—to make someone hurl. In the end, it’s the ones who’ve done the most and felt the least who get to wear the coveted Badge of Badass.
It became frighteningly clear what was in store for me when my wife and I recently ventured out with the “supply list” for our home birth. This consisted of an inordinate amount of absorbent items to do all manner of sopping up of the various liquids we expect to come out of my wife’s vagina.
The first real step I took in getting my birthing legs was in learning not if, but when and where things will start gushing. If I could avoid being surprised by a sudden burst of fluid or avoid the shock of seeing the mucous plug smeared into my wife’s giant granny panties, then I’d be doing everyone a great service. I read as many stories and watched as many births as I could—in books, on DVD, and on the Web in an effort to round out my overall knowledge of the process and get used to seeing just how far and fast things come out.
From urine and poop to blood and discharge, to a pulsing, throbbing, veiny placenta, which is birthed after the baby and placed into a bag for disposal, or for planting in the yard! I now feel prepared to see it all and in copious amounts. I’ve burned those ghastly images into my eyes so thoroughly that, in those first precious moments of staring into my baby’s swollen little eye slits smeared with slime, I will smile and love that gross-looking infant.
After all, nobody wants to be the dad on the floor soaked in a cold sweat, being revived by nurses and becoming a burden during birth. But for many, it is not the sight of blood and gore that makes us wobbly at the knees, but the swelling of adrenaline and emotion and seeing a loved one in such agonizing discomfort. But fellas, if you do hit the deck, get up, shrug it off, and deal with it after the business is done, just like coach taught you. The new “real man,” remember, is supposed to embrace the blood and guts and afterbirth, hold that hand, and make sure she is never thirsty.
By the time you read this, I will have put these theories to the test. I’m fairly confident my desensitization will make me a more sensitive partner. I have inoculated myself so thoroughly with information and imagery, I’m damn sure that when the bloody show does show up, I’ll greet it with my game face on.
— Ryan Marshall is a husband, step-dad, and a proud papa (the baby arrived successfully). You can read more about the building of his family at pacingthepanicroom.com.