Abigail and I started our third week as parents several days ago, and Lizzy is still alive. I consider that successful parenting. Now that the blood and gore is in the review mirror, along with those slimy, green, poopy diapers, I’ve been trying to gather my thoughts about childbirth and the first several days that followed.
I did crack some jokes in the birthing process. No, I didn’t actually tell my wife, “Imagine you’re pushing a bowling ball out of your body. See, now a baby doesn’t sound so bad.” I made that comment the day before my wife went into labor. To Abigail’s credit, she only shushed me once during labor and never got violent.
Nothing highlights the differences between men and women quite like motherhood and childbirth. The next time I hear someone say that guys and girls are basically the same, I may burst into hysterical laughter because that claim can’t be anything other than comic.
I’m the kind of person who rather pretentiously believes that I can be good at anything I truly set my mind to, and the only reason I’m not better at more things is because I don’t care enough to try—yes, I realize I just described myself as both arrogant and lazy (we can’t all be perfect). For the record, my parents never told me that I could do anything I wanted and should be held free from blame. I’m pretty sure they were just glad I got through college.
But motherhood takes this mindset of mine, douses it in kerosene, and sets it on fire. There is nothing I will ever do that is as impressive as pregnancy and childbirth. I’m not an under accomplished person: I graduated college with a 3.91 GPA, once raised over $32,000 in under four months, published my first book at twenty-six, and run a business. Still, nothing I can ever do will compare.
Over the last nine and a half months, my wife’s body has taken two tiny parts of us and painstakingly grown another human being. She’s lived with all kinds of crazy symptoms that would alarm a doctor if she wasn’t pregnant. Abigail sacrificed her body, her diet, and the ability to see while she shaved her legs (admittedly not as a big a sacrifice for her as for me) as this somewhat parasitic child grew inside her. Then, in an almost precognitive manner, she waterproofed our bed days before her water broke while we slept.
We both wanted a natural childbirth, but when labor didn’t start, “natural” wasn’t in the equation. Yet despite hours on Pitocin, Abigail labored without painkiller and only mentioned the word epidural once. For hours, I watched and held her hand and tried to be encouraging—what else could I do? Finally Abigail was cleared to push, and I watch this small patch of dark baby hair grow from the size of a dime to a quarter to a dollar to bigger than my fist—wondering all the while just how big this head was going to get. Then Lizzy’s head was through, and the medical team sprang into action pulling her loose and cleaning her up. The miracle of motherhood doesn’t stop with childbirth though.
After creating this infant and pushing it from inside her, my wife is able to still sustain it with her body. Now I think if God was concerned with making men and women out to be equal, the man’s role would at least kick in after childbirth and his body would start producing all the nutrition an infant needs. Naturally though, it doesn’t work that way. After watching and trying to be supportive while my wife vacated her womb over the space of twelve hours, I now have to be supportive while our baby tortures one of the other more sensitive parts of her body.
If I felt useless during delivery, nursing really drove that sense home. There just wasn’t anything I could do. I don’t come equipped with a baby buffet. For all I knew before this, nipples were aesthetic or for cutting wind resistance in those dreams where I actually run. It turns out, that’s not true, and mine seem pretty useless now.
Maybe all first-time fathers feel this way, a spectator in a sport they will never be gifted enough to compete in—basically how I feel about all sports in general. Maybe we all feel a little useless and a touch guilty. More than anything though, I think we all come away with a profound sense of respect for our wives.
Tonight, though, I’m celebrating. For the first time, I’m feeding Lizzy myself because we’re starting her on a bottle. And yes, I’m ignoring the fact that my body did not produce her dinner.