Welcome to the second half of Steve’s Story. When Steve was through watching the film he describes here, he sat up straight in his seat and said through the lump in his throat and with tear-shined eyes, “What are the chances I’ll be able to attend a birth with you sometime?”
I smiled as I pictured how I’d be received if I appeared at my next client’s labor with my super-charged, craggy-faced, Army Officer husband in tow…
And, as the Amish are wont to say, “I pitied him” as I explained one of the many, many reasons people chose to birth at home is the ability to control exactly who attends them.
I believe that first film was one from Facebook. Through the weeks that followed, we watched all my favorite videos together. Birth Day, Birth into Being, Orgasmic Birth, The Business of Being Born, and Birth Story. Since then he’s eagerly watched all the sweet films and slideshows that cross my path on social media, and most recently we enjoyed a viewing of Why Not Home? —a wonderful production highlighting the experiences of health professionals who’ve elected homebirth for themselves.
And his response to every one has been the same and has thoroughly warmed my heart…
I remember the first birth video I watched with Kim. She wanted me to catch a glimpse of her world and I wanted to better understand what she was doing while gone from our bed through the wee hours of the night. It was definitely not a “guy movie” like Rambo or Blackhawk Down. There were no explosions, no fight scenes, not even Darth Vader hissing, “Luke, join the Dark Side!” I certainly didn’t say to my soldiers that day, “Men, tonight I’m gonna watch the birth of a baby!” I wasn’t exactly thrilled at the prospect of watching a homebirth. I mean, c’mon, there’s blood and screaming, right? Yes, I know that’s exactly what’s in most guy movies, but ignore that for the moment, will you?
In other words, I didn’t know what to expect, but I certainly didn’t anticipate how I reacted.
I was engrossed.
My family teases me when I watch movies I’m really into—I’ll lean forward with my knees on the floor and kinda sprawl on the coffee table in an unconscious effort to get closer to the TV. During this birth video, I might as well have drenched myself in superglue and flung myself at the screen like people who bounce off trampolines into fabric walls while wearing Velcro suits.
What struck me most was the intimacy of it all. There was a couple bringing forth their son in the very bed in he was conceived in. Their bedroom was a sacred space, lit with the soft glow of candles and soothing music. There were no beeping monitors or other harsh sounds—all voices were hushed as if they were in the sanctuary of a church. Their bedroom was that sanctuary, a place of holiness, spirituality, and peace. There was the supportive hand and voice of the father, gently rubbing his wife’s back and speaking words of encouragement and support. There was a cat purring on the end of the bed, contributing her own measure of softness to the moment. Perhaps most moving of all was the presence of the unborn child’s siblings, there to be part of the miracle of their little brother’s entrance into the world.
As the head of the baby crowned I pointed and exclaimed, “Oh my gosh! That’s the baby’s HEAD! Kim! Kim! Look LOOK! Can you believe that? That’s a HUMAN BEING coming out of that woman’s body! Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! OH MY GOSH!”
And as the baby slid into his father’s hands, I burst into tears.
Even now as I write this, recalling that moment, my eyes are wet.
A friend from church I greatly respect and admire is Jeff, the father of one of the babies Kim’s helped usher into the world a couple years ago. Jeff and his wife, Amye, told their story on film a few months after their son was born, and it sounded just like the video Kim showed me. Jeff and Amye painted such a vivid picture of Jeff catching their son at sunrise and bursting into tears as a robin burst into song!
Fathers catching babies has long been one of Kim’s favorite parts of homebirth, and now I understood why. The father crying tears of joy, perhaps catching glimpses of the priceless father-son moments that lie ahead… The upwelling of pride in his wife as he witnesses her strength… Cradling his wife and baby while exclaiming, “You did it, Hon, you did it! I’m so PROUD of you!” Watching his other children ooh and aahh over their new brother… The knowledge that his family has just experienced an unspeakably important moment together…
When the movie was over, I was completely drained. “Whew!” I said to Kim. “I feel like I just gave birth myself!” I sat quietly for a few minutes, utterly dumbfounded and awestruck at the realization my wife, Kim, has experienced this more than 500 times.
Turning to her I said, “Kim, I’ve never been more proud of you than I am right now.”
Sobered in the knowledge people trust Kim with the lives of their unborn children. How sacred her duty is, how incredibly significant her responsibility. Kim rises to fulfill her duties and responsibilities and, in doing so, becomes part of the families she serves. She’s told me about oxytocin, the “fall in love hormone” that both women and men’s bodies produce during birth. She tells me the hormone is why clients often “fall in love” with their midwives besides falling more deeply in love with one another and their babies, but I know that’s not the only reason Kim’s clients fall in love with her. I believe it goes beyond placing the welfare of their child into her hands—they’re also inviting her into a place where they’re most vulnerable. They have to trust her immensely to do that, and not just trust her with the health of the family, but they have to trust her to honor the sacredness of their birth as well. Kim honors and respects the mother. Kim honors and respects the baby. And Kim honors and respects, recognizes and reinforces the father’s vital role within the family, too, rather than reduce him to that of mere spectator. Kim empowers the mother, but she also empowers the father. As Kim says, “The father ought to catch the baby—after all, he’s the one who put it in there!”
Back to the movie. I turned to Kim and said, “I can’t believe you DO this. I thought I respected and admired you before but this, THIS—pointing toward the television screen—this is perhaps the most amazing, beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”
My deep hope is that one day I’ll be able to attend a birth with Kim. To have the privilege to sit in a corner and watch, not to be part of the moment, for the intimacy belongs to the family alone, but just to be there.
I would love to experience firsthand what I’ve seen in the homebirth videos. The quiet. The holiness. To watch the tears roll down the father’s cheeks as his son or daughter slides into his strong hands.
And I would love to watch Kim being a midwife. Just like she would love to see me at the controls of an Apache, I yearn to see her “doin’ her thing.” The videos are almost always about the mom, the dad, the baby—as they should be. Very little attention is focused on the midwife, because Kim and most nearly every midwife know their place is “in the background.” But I would watch her. I’ve seen Kim through different lenses—in different roles. I know her as a capable outdoorswoman, as a skilled author, as the most intelligent person I’ve ever met. I’ve seen her as a selfless servant of her family and her church and her community. I know her as the most supportive, loving, and devoted mate a man could possibly have.
Now I want to watch my midwife wife in action.
I want to listen in on the conversations she has with the families. Kim does appointments in our home on occasion, and my job is to stay “out of the way”—meaning I’m banished to the garage or upstairs. During those visits I hear lots of laughter, and after the families leave our living room floor is littered with puzzles and books and other evidence of the fun that occurred through the visits. I want to see her use the mountainous bags of gear that fill our closet and truck. I want to see her in her medical role, listening to heartbeats with her fetalscope and recording numbers in the charts. I want to watch her use her incredible “mom skills”—rubbing backs, speaking words of encouragement, soothing, tidying up. I’d like to witness the rare times she needs to take charge—to see how she remains calm during a scary shoulder dystocia or breech. I’m fine with an emergency in the cockpit or screaming along the treetops at 200 mph—but to have the life of a stuck baby in my hands? That would scare the heck out of me.
Most of all though? I want to watch her gently take a father’s hands in hers and place them so he can catch his infant child. I want to see the man’s face awash with tears. I want to experience the intimacy of that moment.
I want to watch my wife, Kim, as “Born For This,” she ushers life into the world.