Updated: Sep 18, 2021
“Back then” I was ignorant, but I was the best kind of ignorant.
Though I had already read a great deal of the Theology of the Body, gone through the mandatory Diocesan marriage prep, and received much unsolicited advice, I was still quite ignorant.
Like most people, I entered into marriage oblivious to the realities of day-to-day life.
And mere months after entering into this covenantal bond (that I was very much still getting accustomed to), a tiny plastic stick told me that I was now forever a father.
From that moment on I have faced a deluge of information that has continued to reshape how I view pregnancy and birth. Regardless of your state in life, or the number of children you have or may have one day, we can all learn from each other’s experiences.
I’ve often been told that I have an unusual take on common parts of life. And I’d like to share a few of them with you.
I don’t know the average body temperature of a pregnant woman, but my wife once touched my arm while she was pregnant and I actually reacted by ripping my arm away and saying, “Ow! You burned me.” I wasn’t joking.
My entire life I was told that pregnancy lasts nine months. Around the time of that first visit to the OB/GYN I learned that pregnancy actually lasts 40 weeks. Math has never been my strong suit but even I could deduce that with four weeks each month that added up to more than 9 months. So pregnancy is in fact 10 months long. Oh, and the 40 weeks doesn’t begin with the date of conception, it begins on the first day of the last menstrual period. So pregnancy is more like 9 1/2 months long. But wait, most women don’t have the standard 28 day cycle where they ovulate on day fourteen, so a woman could conceive anywhere between the first day of her cycle and several weeks later. And most months have slightly more than four weeks meaning that … oh never mind, you get the picture. Let’s just say that pregnancy lasts for nine months.
Then there’s morning sickness. I’d seen enough movies and TV to be vaguely familiar with morning sickness. But what no one bothered to tell me was that it doesn’t just happen in the morning. It can happen in the morning, afternoon, evening, at night, or any combination of those. I can only conclude that I’ve been misspelling the word my entire life and that it’s actually spelled “mourning sickness.”
And speaking of morning sickness, while it’s not exclusive to the first trimester, that is the timeframe when morning sickness is the most common. This just happens to coincide with the time when most pregnancies are kept secret. So during this window of time it’s the husband's duty to shoulder the vast majority of the burden for any work usually performed by his wife. And he must do so without revealing why he’s so busy or asking for too much help, lest he accidentally reveal the secret.
And the challenges don’t end with the first trimester. Women have more blood in their body when they are pregnant. So to accommodate this increased capacity, blood vessels have to dilate bringing them closer to the surface and making the woman feel warmer. I don’t know the average body temperature of a pregnant woman, but my wife once touched my arm while she was pregnant and I actually reacted by ripping my arm away and saying, “Ow! You burned me.” I wasn’t joking.
After those “nine months,” when it’s finally time for that baby to be born, the woman “goes into labor.” And labor is a very accurate term. Labor is an intense, laborious process that can last for days. And women are often asked to get up and walk around to help facilitate the process. When I had a kidney stone I was literally laying on the dirty floor of a hospital waiting room. If anyone had asked me to walk around I probably would’ve dropped dead.
As the woman is preparing to expel the child from the contracting womb, her husband has a very important job: to stay out of the way. In this situation a man’s best friend is a chair. At the birth of my first, the nurse told me to sit because she already had two patients (mom and baby) and she’d step right over my unconscious body to care for them if she had to. I loved that attitude! The nursing staff was one hundred percent focused on my bride and child. And chairs aren’t just for first timers. Recently, while my wife was teaching OB clinicals to nursing students, all available personnel were paged to a room where an overconfident dad of three had declined the chair only to land flat on the floor. Lesson learned, I’ll always sit.
And regarding the actual birth, there exists a cultural attitude that women who have a C-section have it easy because they don’t have to push the baby out. It should be standard marriage prep to teach every husband-to-be that if his wife ever requires a C-section it will be an incredibly challenging recovery. Even though a vaginal birth is still incredibly difficult, the vagina was designed by God to birth a child. But the body of a woman was not designed to be sliced in half like that of the assistant in a magic act.
Then the baby is out. After the birth of our first, when the paediatrician came to check on our daughter, she told us that newborn babies are scared to poop. But who can blame those babies? They lived their whole life without pooping. If you lived your entire life up to this moment without having a bowel movement, imagine how freaked out you’d be if all of a sudden that started coming out!! You’d probably rush to the nearest emergency room.
In the last five years I’ve learned a great deal about fatherhood, parenting, and what God calls me to in my vocation. At the same time, I’m certain that I have a lot more to learn in the years to come. Because the day you take that baby home, it isn’t “happily ever after.”
That’s the day that a new lifelong adventure begins.