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Birth

by Barry L. Levy

I’m not a conspiracy theorist. It’s not that I think people are inherently good. Let’s be clear: I don’t and they’re not. Rather, I’m a cynic by nature, and I simply don’t believe that human beings are capable of covering their tracks successfully nor collectively guarding their tongues.

Sooner or later the truth always comes out.

More often than not, what we believe to be conspiracies are, in fact, nothing more than grand human miscommunications, often perpetrated, escalated and generally involving men, because let’s face it, we can never admit when we’re wrong . . . and so, well, why not just make things worse.

Yet it would seem that throughout the course of time the world’s largest conspiracy may involve keeping all men in the dark about what really goes on during the birth process.

Well, now I’ve gone from denouncing conspiracy theories to being about the craziest one of all, but bear with me. The proof goes something like this:

During our first pregnancy, my wife signed us up for numerous classes. And by us, I do mean, both of us. In theory, it made sense. We were having twins, we would both need to know how to do diapers, baths, feedings, etc.

This said, I still question the value of my being in the breast feeding class. I’m fairly certain my wife was the only one present who was not at least slightly uncomfortable.

Amid our full course load, was the class we took about the actual birthing process. This class consisted of blah-blah-blah-blah-and-a-video about the actual event. As you can tell, I’m not sure I was a model student. But in this video: we got to see a woman screaming bloody murder. We saw her pushing. Cursing at her husband (in retrospect that just may have been my wife). And then whoosh . . . there was the baby, coming out lathered in cottage cheese.

Frankly, it looked gross. And then the teacher explained how a woman may lose control of her bowels amid birth . . . memorable, sure. Terrifying, hell yes!

I was fairly certain I was going to throw up in the delivery room. Or pass out. Or both.

For those of you who know my wife, neither was an acceptable option. I was expected to be present, not because she actually wanted me there. No, what she really wanted, nay, demanded was that I would man the cameras. In the plural.

I was expected to film the entire affair while simultaneously photographing everything. Thankfully, a surgical tech volunteered his services. What a guy. Voluntarily climbing up over my wife’s head and angled the video camera down at her hoo-hah.

Now, why was I allowing this? Perhaps it may have been the uniquely male conspiracy: in this case, the one that clouds our judgment in and around childbirth.

Because the one thing that no one can really communicate to you until it’s your turn is that it’s beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. Folks can (and do) say as much, but I’m convinced that it is impossible to actually process this information. Instead, all we hear is blah-blah-blah-blah-beautiful-baby.

I’m sure I heard more than just that. But there’s no way to fully grasp the totality of it all. It’s just not possible. Until you’re there. And in that moment, in a classically male way . . . all of it hits you at once.

I will never be ashamed to admit that I cried. I didn’t blubber, didn’t melt down. But I saw my girls crowning (well sort of, they came out so small that crowning was optional) and it just took over.

And maybe it’s not a conspiracy. Maybe no one is actually keeping this from guys. But it’s just part of our DNA after centuries of having to focus on hunting and foraging for food to ignore these things. Even in modern times, society suggests that a man’s job is to go out into the world and provide. And in these difficult times we live in, trying to provide consumes the lion’s share of our bandwidth. Because let’s face it, we are the lesser of the sexes when it comes to multitasking.

Realistically, I find conspiracies hard to believe when they involve a small cadre of people. But all mankind, really? So, in the pantheon of really stupid arguments, my whole conspiracy theory likely goes out the window.

However, and you kind of knew there was a however coming, didn’t you? Amid all this, there is a fundamental truth that is worth considering.

When it comes to birth, men are ill-prepared. And it clearly isn’t for lack of classes.

And it isn’t simply because on some level it’s beautiful. Sometimes it really isn’t. I stood by my wife two and half years later when our son was born . . . this time comfortably manning both cameras (much to the surgical tech’s dismay). And as a full term baby, I got to see what crowning actually looks like. And, dear God! It sort of looked like the doctor was kneading his head like pizza dough.

Worse still, when his head finally made it out, the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. As a man, standing by, helpless, there truly are no words. You do not want to alarm your wife as she has to continue to push but you can’t help but experience the visceral nature of the experience that no one can fully tell you about.

Fear is inevitable. And it’s overwhelming. Consuming, even. That may be because this is how all rites of passage are. And let’s face it, we may live with our wives during their pregnancy. And we may experience a bit of their hormonal struggle. But until that very moment, we are not dads. We’re just men. And like it or not, all rites of passage are that powerful.

So here’s my theory: we live in an era of artificial, commercialized rites of passage, from sweet sixteens to faux mitzvahs, divorce parties and the like, that we forget how emotionally raw these moments can and should truly be.

Think about: there’s nothing graceful about death. Anymore than there is about natural childbirth. They’re moments of sheer and utter enormity that make any thought of cocktail hours or party favors seem absurd. But in between those two big milestones, we are at risk of missing out on the true nature of life’s other big ones.

I’ve been to weddings where there isn’t a dry eye in the place. Nothing is more wonderful. But then we’ve all seen the alternative . . . the gaudy, the manipulated, the absurdity.

The Maasai tribe in Kenya more or less have their own form of communion or bar mitzvah. Instead of rainbow parties (thank God), they challenge their young men to become warriors, by giving them nothing more than a spear with which to kill a lion and prove their prowess. Oh, yeah and they typically circumcise the adolescent around the same time.

Ouch.

As brutal as this ritual may seem, there is something uniquely brilliant: the Maasai have no adults who coast through their bar mitzvah preparation. No adults who punted on their wedding planning, or who escaped out into the hallway amid childbirth. In that world, you either man up (or nut up as the case may be), or it’s over.

Believe me, I’m not advocating it. I’m just saying, or rather blaming our society for me being a moron about childbirth up until the very moment of. I mean, maybe, Mom & Dad, if I’d been sent out and forced to kill a lion and had my junk cut as a teenager, well maybe I might have better appreciated childbirth.

Then again, as I think about it . . . I can do without. I’m fine.

Barry L. Levy

About Barry L. Levy

Barry Levy is a husband. A father. A writer. His "credits" include Noa, Jordan, Ben. His writing credits include Vantage Point & Paranoia. Follow him on Twitter @barryllevy

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