The other night, a bottle of Barefoot wine in hand I made a passing jestful comment about childbirth. Several friends, young women, seized on the comment to the effect of, “How dare you talk about something you haven’t and cant experience?” The particular comment was, admittedly, in poor taste and I apologized profusely. Aside from embarrassment and deservedly busted chops, this interaction got me thinking: What can a man know about childbirth?
It’s true, I have not, nor will I ever, push new life out through my birth canal. I’ll never have that particular experience of childbirth and hold it separate and above any other. I have experienced childbirth though, in a few rather remarkable and life defining ways.
First, I was born once. I don’t remember it, but the particulars of that experience bonded me to the first and still most important woman in my life, my mother. Her pain and joy in that experience powerfully validate my existence.
Second, I have heard a story of my birth through my mothers eyes. That story deeply marks my narrative of self, particularly the part about how I came out hands first, “grasping, searching and eager,” in my mother’s words, “to create and explore.”
Third, as a four year old, I lay curled up beside my mother for hours as I waited for my baby sister to come. I dozed off and later woke up in a family friend’s arms to the sound of Safiyah’s first cries. Gray and pink and slimy, she was the strangest most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.
Fourth, as a six year old I watched alertly as my father, and the midwife, Sister Mudiwah, coached my mother through the final heaving push that brought my brother Qadir into the world. My father’s face was beaded with sweat, his hand tightly clinched in my mothers as he whispered loving words of encouragement. I came to understand then something powerful about what it means to be a man. He called me over, and with a nurses hand guiding mine I cut the umbilical cord.
These are just a few of the things that I’ve come to know about childbirth.
I know a little about the childbearing worries of the young pregnant Latina women in my mother’s perinatal classes, about waiting anxiously, about “going to get mommy more juice”, about a house full of helpful neighbors, and about eating fish finger sandwiches for two weeks because my father cant cook.
I know a little about the curiosity of a seven year old, flipping through instructional texts on birthing as if they were picture books and about burying a placenta in the back yard and planting a rose bush on top of it that would survive twenty winters and the destructive curiosity of kids with matches. That’s what I know about childbirth.
It is emphatically not the knowing of a woman, and doesn’t bear comparison to it. It isn’t nothing though.
The other day I was in Trader Joe’s and on the way to checkout saw some flowers that I really liked. I spent five minutes selecting the perfect bouquet and put it in my cart. At checkout began the expected conversation:
Cashier: [smiling] Ah, a special someone. What’s the occasion?
Me: [laughing] Well, I woke up young and handsome today…they’re for me.
Cashier: [chuckling, obviously thinks I’m kidding] Sure, why not.
Me: No, really, I feel like I should have flowers in my life today.
It is ok for a man to buy himself flowers. Try it sometime.