"What did you do to prepare for your baby’s birth?"
This is, more or less, what I told her.
I barely finished the pre-natal classes at The Mater Mother’s Hospital. Lee and I finished the last session at 9pm, drove home excitedly chatting about the great unknown we were about to journey into together, and at 2am that night my waters broke.
I had read a lot of baby books during my pregnancy. I had a lot of information floating around my head, and as i lay down on the hospital bed and the midwife injected me with the drug that was to induce my breech baby I felt like it was more complex and more simple than anyone was letting on.
Before that moment though, back when I found out I was pregnant, I was so upset to be working at an all male place. I thought I needed female encouragement, after all, 'only a mother can know', right? I wouldn’t change a thing now.
Over the duration of my pregnancy I spoke to each of the men I work with hoping to get a hint, just a taste of some birth perspective (I worked with men and one childless woman at the time of my pregnancy). I was surprised at how, of all the preparations, their stories helped me the most.
Each man told me the story of their child’s birth, the oldest child having been born at a time where ‘Dad’ sat in the hall outside a general hospital ward in which his wife was labouring beside men and women recovering from various afflictions. He sat there, reading the newspaper, smoking a cigar, and was told a few hours later he had a boy and could go home. He went to the pub instead and was shouted beers all night. The newest baby was born to a man who nine months earlier had held his wives hand and had his heart shattered into frozen shards of helplessness as together they watched the midwives bring their first born back to life there on the blood soaked hospital bed.
One man spoke about coming to terms with having a child born with a disability, another spoke about his “bonny baby boy” with tears in his eyes- just months prior his 21 year old son had died after being hit by a drunk driver. These men’s stories helped me prepare too, because I could see that at the root, each of these men's life stories had been profoundly touched by the power of birth.
Seventeen dads in all, and all of them told me it was going to be fine. That birth was natural, beautiful, and to relax and go with it because no amount of preparation will really prepare you for the birth, you just get swept up in it. A lot of men laughed about it, like it was a cause for joviality (not crass laughing, the way some boys in high school had screamed insults at us girls that we were one baby off being 'ruined', haha). One dad told me “the honest truth is that one night you're sitting there wondering when baby will come; and the next time you sit in that same seat you have a baby”.
Each of them spoke with the look of a man recalling true awe. Amazed at the interminable strength of the human body. Still marvelling at the miracle of life even fifty years later. Surprised to have been part of something so grand- as though for one (or two, or three or more) sparkling moments the veil of everyday drudgery was torn back to reveal the true glittering nature of life on this majestic planet.
In sharing these tender parts of themselves, they gave me a gift worth more than any other - seeing it from the other side. Sex after birth, womens' bodies after babies, life after kids, the view of the burden and honour stress and delight from an 'outsiders' perspective. Dad’s often get a bad rap, especially if, like me, you grew up with one (or two, or three, or more) step dads, or a dad who loved you but wasn't very hip with the whole parenting thing.
They helped put some things in perspective for me, and this helped me get my head in a good place from which to undertake the task of birthing my first child. For example, I was afraid of all the hard work falling on me. Of being consumed with the burden of being a mum. I was afraid of all the failure falling to me too, of being "ruined, haha".These fears rolled into the fear of that bitter old chestnut, that the pain of birth is beyond anything else on the pain spectrum, that mothers get filled with a hormone to make them forget, that delivery will see me treated like a calving cow. These fears snowballed, and until I spoke to the blokes at work I hadn't realised that I was in fact terrified.
So terrified I was unable to hear the full depth of any story about what birth is really like, even though many females outside of work had told me of their triumph: the feeling of power, the feeling of being able to conquer all challenges, the feeling of dominating their physical self and letting their spirit fly unchained for perhaps the first time ever. Or that other bit, about how amazing it is to, for the first time, experience the sensation of your life no longer being solely about you anymore, and how strangely, this is a wonderful privilege and delight.
With their honest words my work mates took my fears and helped me realise I was just a simple conversation away from profoundly changing my world.
Their proud (and not proud, some dads were not there for their kids and their regret spoke powerfully to me too) words made me feel like I would never have to do anything alone if only I had the nerve to ask for help. So I did. I started MilkEyes, and MumClub. And I started conversations with my husband, my friends, my family and my neighbours about my needs and how they could help. I have never regretted these conversations.
If these men, these work hardened jackasses could inspire such confidence in me by their very own inspirational tales of fatherhood then any time I needed help, anyone I reached out to would be there for me. And in that frame of mind I delivered my ‘breech-not breech-ooops breech again-phew not breech now’ son vaginally, induced, with minimal pain management intervention.
It’s going to be fine,