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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Theory # 47 Dads and Childbirth

I'm not sure if I should keep calling these things "theories," since they're more just opinion-filled ramblings, but what the heck.

I've been cleaning out my inbox, and ran across an article on fathers and childbirth. It wasn't a very in-depth article, mostly just introducing the notion that men who avoid involvement in the birth of their children will be more confident fathers.

Once I calmed down enough to think about it, it occurred to me that men feeling marginalized and passive during childbirth is symptomatic of relationships between the sexes in general.

Carl was present for the births of all three of our children. No, "present" doesn't really describe it. He was involved. It was truly a joint effort, though I was obviously doing the hard part. He didn't stand passively or stare at the TV; I didn't shush him when he talked to me. He was my advocate with the medical staff; he paid attention to when I needed ice chips or those tennis balls on my back, and when it was early enough in labor that I could be distracted by chatting. A nurse told us she'd never seen a couple work together so well during labor and delivery.

Which seems very sad to me. Why was that not the norm? My theory (ah-ha! there it is!) is that despite all the poetry, love songs, and romances out there, far too many couples don't really "become one." There may be love and attraction, but there's a real fear of losing oneself in a relationship, that it means giving up something. It is risky, but so is everything worthwhile. And really--if you can't trust the person you're marrying, why are you marrying them in the first place?

Modern life encourages people to protect themselves first. Everyone knows someone--probably many someones--who's been in an abusive relationship or gone through an acrimonious divorce. And even if it miraculously hasn't touched you personally, it's all over the media. But protecting yourself also prevents you from being truly intimate with another person. The time for protecting yourself is when you're choosing that special someone. Once you've made a commitment, though, those walls need to come down.

If there's real intimacy, you don't lose anything by letting go of gender roles or accepting help from your partner. On the contrary, you gain. There seems to be a real tendency on the part of a lot of women to push men away and discourage them from helping, from the delivery room to changing diapers to vacuuming the rug. We may say we want help, but we complain that the towels are folded wrong, or the baby's clothes don't match. It's not that those things are that important--it's that we're protecting our territory. Many men, on the other hand, seem to view either asking for or giving help as dangerous dependence. Horrible generalizations, and both methods could be true of either gender, but the result is a lack of intimacy.

Yes, it's scary, and yes, it's risky. But the rewards are commensurate with the risks. If your relationship is loving and intimate, it's not a man hanging out in the delivery room while his wife gives birth because it's expected, or even because he wants to make her happy. It's a couple bringing their child into the world. If you can make that kind of connection, it spreads through the whole relationship. It's not so much compromise or give-and-take as it is having the same goals and priorities.

So how do you achieve that intimacy? One person can't do it alone. And you can't hold back or protect yourself, because it won't work. Putting each other first is key, as is honesty. And reminding yourselves over and over again why you're together and how important your relationship and family are to you. If you get the attitude down, the rest will follow.

Granted, all this sounds very idealistic, and I have to say that a lot of it is coming from 26+ years of marriage. We didn't always manage quite so well. For all I know, I'm just incredibly lucky, and this is just not possible for most couples. But I still think it's worth trying for.

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I'm glad that Carl was there for you through all births of your children :)
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