Given the themes during Holy Week of death, suffering violence and, ultimately, resurrection, I thought I’d share an excerpt from my memoir, PregMANcy: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date. It’s about witnessing the birth of my son, Mattias, which didn’t exactly go as we had hoped it would.
Just goes to show that creation is a messy, sometimes ugly, process.
Mattias: “I made a wish.”
Christian: “For what?”
Mattias: “For chicks.”
-Mattias, 3 years, 6 months
We debated about when to share the news of the new arrival with Mattias, partly because he has absolutely no filter for discretion, but also because we weren’t really sure how he would take it. He’s made noise for some time about wanting a brother or sister, but he also talks about wanting a monkey, a violin and a pair of sneakers that make him float in the air. You could occupy an entire zip code just with Mattias’ wish list, so just because he says he’s into being a big bro doesn’t mean he really is ready.
We figured the best place to tell him was at his favorite restaurant: Souper Salad. How weird is that? How many four-year-olds do you know that get excited about eating a tray full of beets, cucumbers, peas and carrots? I told you he wasn’t normal. Anyway, we sat down to eat, and he was pretty wound up since we had told him earlier we had a surprise to share with him. He probably thought we got him a new Frisbee or something.
I leaned over and whispered to him that mommy had a baby in her tummy, and that he was going to be a big brother. He looked at me, eyes bulging, mouth hanging open as if I’d punched him in the gut, and I anxiously waited for his brain to catch up to the information.
“Woo hoo!” he yelled, scaring a few nearby customers as he pumped his fists in the air. “Woo hoo!”
Whew. That wasn’t so bad.
“I’m going to tell everyone that mommy has a baby in her tummy,” he said, bouncing up and down in the booth, knocking a few carrots onto the floor. That, in a nutshell, is pretty much why we didn’t tell him right away.
“You bet,” I said, “go for it.”
“Excuse me,” he said to the waitress walking by, “my mom has a baby in there,” pointing to her midsection, “and I’m going to be its brother.”
“Wow, really?” said the young woman. “Congratulations.”
“Yeah,” he beamed, “and it’s gonna come right out of her vagina.”
I thought she was going to faint and fall face-first into his tuna skroodle. I mean the kid was right; if we’re lucky, at least, the kid will be vagina-bound in about seven-plus months. I’m also proud of him for using proper terminology without shame, but remember the little thing I mentioned about no filter for discretion? That’s what I’m talking about.
The whole exchange reminded me of Adam Sandler talking about the arrival of his second kid. “Don’t worry,” he said to his first kid, “Mommy’s not really a bad kind of sick. She just has a creature growing inside of her that makes her throw up, then swell up really big. Then it’ll come shooting out of her vagina, and it’ll take half of your toys.”
Don’t get me wrong; I like me a vagina as much as the next guy, but right now, it’s a source of no small amount of distress for me. After all, I was present at the birth of my first son, which, although it was an amazing miracle, was also pretty gross. It’s not often that I see so much piss and blood at one time, and this was before the birth even took place. Watching things come out of the place that’s supposed to be the ultimate object of desire for you is enough to put a guy off vaginas for a while. This was fine with Amy, by the way, as she had no interest at that time in my level of attraction to her goodies. But beware, guys. If you do the right thing and stand by your wife’s side in the birthing room, you’ll never look at her stuff quite the same way again.
As if that wasn’t enough, the caesarian section showed me a whole other side of her that I’d never seen: the inside. It was surreal enough to see her liver, stomach and intestines, and to watch the doctors push them around as they dug for the baby, but it totally weirded me out to watch this over the screen while, on the other side of the screen, Amy was talking to me. That’s just not right.
The docs actually pulled her uterus out of her body and set it on her stomach in order to make a clean incision. Then, all of a sudden, there’s this other body in the room that wasn’t there, at least officially according to the census, a minute ago. Then, faster than I can put the first tiny little diaper on his butt, they’ve sewed her back up and put all the parts back in the right place. Now, I know they’ve had a lot more practice at surgery than I had at diaper changing at the time, but the competitive side kind of looks forward to a rematch if it comes down to a c-section again.
Believe me, though, that is not my first choice. Amy and I have both come to believe that, although the doctors convinced us that inducing on a certain date was in our best interests, I actually wonder if her birth wasn’t planned around the obstetrician’s trip to Bermuda. I have no hard evidence, of course, that shooting her full of pitocin and forcing her body into labor before it was naturally ready had anything to do with the complications she experienced, but we’ve heard from more than one professional since then that his upside-down position in the womb could have been rectified naturally, and that a vaginal birth would not have been out of the question if she had not been induced.
There’s something else. I remember the birth, along with everything before and after, in head-splitting detail. Amy doesn’t. She was so full of painkillers that she kind of just floated through the whole experience in a haze. Though she knows that delivering naturally if she’s able will be painful, she’s decided that being more present to this one-in-a-lifetime experience is worth the short-term pain.
Once your wife has given birth, guys had better watch out. There’s pretty much nothing left in your arsenal that will compare to make you look tough, intimidating or manly. I once passed a kidney stone and fell unconscious on the floor of my apartment. Granted, the thing was trying to come through my pee hole, but compared to a baby head, it was nothing. I was screaming like a schoolgirl every time that thing moved a little down the pipeline. I actually called my mom, who lived about an hour away at the time, and she drove all the way down to take me to the hospital.
Compare that to our friend, Marlene, from Colorado Springs, who came down to our house to deliver at the hospital across the street from our house. She and her friends took a walk around the park while she was in labor. Once the contractions got close enough together, she went back by the house, picked up her bag, walked over to the hospital and made a little baby deposit. Two days later, they came by our house, baby in hand, as if they had been on a little vacation for the weekend. Had that been me, I’d have been hooked up to ventilators, with a steady morphine drip going twenty-four hours a day for at least a week.
I’ll admit that, although I’m not really a fan of seeing all kinds of stuff come out of one of my favorite spots that I’d rather just stayed in there, I do realize this time around that I’m beginning to look at Amy differently, even before she’s starting to show outward signs of pregnancy much at all. In general, I look at her as my wife, friend and partner, but now I look at her as this sort of mysterious temple for new life, which is something I’ll never completely understand no matter how hard I try. The very fact that the human body can incubate another human being and then introduce it to the world to live on its own is as much evidence of the miraculous as I ever need.
It also reminds me that life is messy stuff. We are born in blood and piss, forced violently into a new reality that is shocking and infinite. We arrive amid screams of pain, cries of joy and whispers of wonder. We go in a single moment from being amphibious creatures, swimming in the protection of another body, to gasping for air, disoriented and flailing. We get squeezed, slapped, rubbed down, wrapped up and handed around, snipped, poked and measured until we’re declared as official members of the human family. It’s a violent ritual; one that speaks to the chaotic, unpredictable, wild nature of creation itself.
I wouldn’t miss it for the world, even if the whole damn experience makes me want to submerge myself in a big vat of sanitizer and sit the whole thing out.