Posted by: emjb | October 16, 2006

Birth is not a shameful act

I’ve run across this from a few women around my age, otherwise fairly self-confident people who don’t take guff from others or kowtow to men. And yet, somehow, they can’t deal with the idea of their husbands being with them when/if they give birth.

And OK…I can’t speak for the men here. Maybe some of them have fragile illusions about their womenfolk’s bodies that will be shattered by seeing it perform a natural and yes, messy function. So their women apparently never have gas, use the bathroom where the guy can “hear” them, or scratch themselves in the man’s presence. Hell, Tammy Faye Bakker never took off her makeup when her husband could see her…she made up her hair and face to go to bed.

But I think that’s selling guys short. If you live with a person for any length of time, you know that they are not super-clean and fresh and pretty at all moments of the day. If you already hated them, then those moments of ugliness and smelliness would make things worse. But there is something about actually liking and loving the person you live with that allows that to be–not important. It is simply irrelevant, much the same as your own bodily processes don’t make you hate yourself. They are just facts of life, like the weather.

Before I got pregnant, Matt and I had both gone through some serious illnesses of the stomach flu and food poisoning kind. We had quite literally seen each other at our least appealing…and survived. We didn’t stop finding each other attractive. I mean, we still attempt to look nice for each other, and to not be horrible disgusting slobs, but not because there’s any real fear that there is some circumstance in which one of us would look so bad that the other one would never be able to find them desirable again.

And I would hazard that as messy and maybe icky as childbirth is in principle, it’s different when it’s your kid and your wife—just as seeing your spouse ill and vomiting is different than seeing some random person yarfing on the street. And I would go so far as to say that birth is mostly much more positive to witness than stomach flu–after all, you get a baby at the end.

I would say to women who have this fear that not only are you selling the men short, you’re depriving them of a singular experience, being present at the birth of their child. Ultimately, it is your choice and should be, but if your relationship is healthy, witnessing birth won’t damage it and will probably deepen it. If your relationship isn’t healthy, keeping him away from you while you birth isn’t going to save it.

And I have it on good authority that if he loves you, waiting in a room while you go through who-knows-what without him, feeling helpless and worried, is rough on him too. If it were reversed, if he were going to be in pain for 20 hours at a stretch, wouldn’t you want to be there, getting him ice water and wiping his face and holding his hand if it could help?

We still have this hangup about “mystery” in romantic relationships, and then wonder why so many men and women feel alienated from each other. If you are truly going to share the rest of your life with this person, why keep your real self hidden the whole time? How can you be a soulmate to someone with whom you are afraid to share one of the most important and difficult events in your life?

And you know, birth is an amazing event…I have heard many men speak in awe of their wives’ strength and endurance. They were not disgusted. They were amazed at seeing a deep, powerful part of the person they loved that they had never known existed.

It’s a gift, letting someone be near you at birth, not one to be taken lightly. A laboring mother needs to be surrounded by love and respect and honor–just the kind of thing a loving partner can provide. Of course my feelings are partly due to the fact that I think birth should not be an ordeal endured alone under bright lights and a stranger’s hands.

All our husbands can give us when we birth is their love and strength. It seems foolish to deprive ourselves of those things because of some weird misplaced shame about letting our husbands see us push out a baby. We are honoring them, not imposing on them, and the good ones know that. We should let ourselves believe it when they tell us so.



  1. I fully expected my husband to be useless while I was in labor and I made arrangements to have the strong women there with me. I expected him to be there only as a interested party – but not as a source of strength. I distrusted his ability to made medical decisions and I feared that he wouldn’t advocate for me.

    Yet it was him who got me to hold still for an epidural (of which I was horrified of) I couldn’t have done it without him. And when 20+ hours of labor went by and a C-section was determined, as I waited in surgery for set up, I kept asking for my husband. I grew increasingly anxious for him, I wanted him there, and I was so relieved when he came in to hold my hand. Within 45 minutes of surgery my husband was badgering nurses to let him wake me up and to bring our son so he could nurse.

    My husband surprised me and I love him even more for helping me birth our son. The entire birth was far from our ideal but in the end we gained a healthy baby and I, a renewed admiration for my husband.

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