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Dads at Delivery: To see or not to see, that is the question

In my first pregnancy, I knew I was not alone in my fear of pooping in the delivery room. I had the Internet and a bunch of women in my childbirth preparedness classes to echo my concern. In fact, in a poll I found online, 70 percent of women admitted to this same worry.

In one class I asked the teacher about it. Her answer was the same as any I’d read online: “You’ll poop, but you won’t care.”

When she saw I wasn’t comforted by her answer, she added, “Besides, the nurses and doctors have seen it all. Everyone does it.”

My concern was not for the doctors and nurses; it was for my husband. I don’t burp in front of him, and I don’t pass gas either. I spent the first six months of our relationship “taking a walk” and finding a public restroom when necessary. Now, married for four years, though I no longer take the walks, I still close the door to pee, and I never let him watch me wax my mustache or tweeze my eyebrows. (In fact, if you see him, please don’t let him know I do either of those things:)

As my first pregnancy progressed, I became more anxious that whatever went down in that delivery room would burn an image on my husband’s retina that would make it impossible for him to ever see me as a sexual being again.

But would he? I had to ask some men.

I started with Mickey, a TV writer. His response was comforting: “Honestly, I think it is one of the most awesome things I’ve ever seen.”

I moved on to James. He works for one of those humor websites, the content of which consists of men getting kicked in the testicles a lot. There’s no way he wasn’t grossed out by the birth of his son, I was sure. And he even confessed that his wife “was really worried, so she requested that I stay up near her face when she gave birth and not look down south” and that he’s “pretty squeamish” and “didn’t object.” But, as she was delivering, the doctor grabbed him and pulled him down there, saying, “Here he comes! You gotta see this!” James’ response? “I watched the whole thing in full 3-D glory. I was so emotional that the thought of being grossed out didn’t even cross my mind. I was just crying and shaking and so happy.”

But how about later? When it was time to resume the amorous life, did the memories come back? “I didn’t really associate the vagina giving birth with the vagina I have sex with,” he mused. “It was almost a different entity.”

In fact, not one of the 12 men I spoke with mentioned being grossed out; not one of them mentioned being at all turned off later when it was time to have sex. And not one of them mentioned poop.

The closest I came to the answer I had anticipated was from Robert, a magazine editor, who described labor and delivery in these terms: “It goes from being a Ron Howard movie to a David Cronenberg movie.”

So it was gross, right? “Nah,” he says. “It was pretty amazing.”

Were all these guys lying to me, or were my teacher, my friends, and the Internet correct? How could it be that you could poop in front of your husband and both recover from it?

Dr. Louann Brizendine is a neurobiologist, M.D, and the author of The Male Brain, the sequel to her bestselling first book, The Female Brain. She says that men don’t think of birth as gross because they don’t process it as gross. “The level of emotional intensity and being on the line of life and death – because it is a life and death moment and everyone in that delivery suite knows that – gets recalled through that lens. The guys wrap all those memories into having watched the woman go through the absolute torture you have to go through delivery. His level of admiration and respect for her physical courage and ability to get through that kind of physical feat that he will never have to do overpowers all the other stuff. He’s in awe.”

Then, when the couple gets back to the master bed (if they can ever get any privacy), “Sex takes over his mind, and little details like the vision of mucous, blood, poop and babies are rapidly forgotten under the sway of his libido.”

Of course I was happy to hear that, but as it turned out, I didn’t end up pooping. Thirty hours into it, I was wishing I’d had the opportunity to as I was wheeled into an operating room. The curtain hid the view from myself, but it didn’t hide the smells, the sounds. My husband sat next to me. When we heard the baby cry, I urged him to leave my side and go tend to the baby, to see how he was doing. As he walked past my body, disconnected in so many ways from the rest of me, he saw me wide open on the operating table, my organs out for evaluation.

Now he has seen my insides turned out; he cannot un-see them. And though he has never used a word like “gross,” the experience left him jarred, seeing his whole wife in parts. When we returned home from the hospital, his hands tiptoed around me, almost as though he might be afraid I had been made of paper this whole time – a kiss on the forehead, a hug around the shoulders. Now it’s almost three years later, and though I know that, to him, I am still more delicate, more human than before, he still swings me around the living room to a favorite song and hugs me very, very tight. What he saw that day was put in a file marked “Harder Times” in his head, and it hasn’t affected our lives or our intimacy. Time went on, and now when he looks at me or when we look at our son, we do not see the trauma of his birth or the fracturing his mother endured to get him here. We see only our boy.

To me, that is the most amazing part of this process. Whatever we go through in birth, we somehow stand up, brush ourselves off and continue our lives. Our children never represent what we went through on that day. And somehow, our husbands and partners don’t seem to let anything that happened then matter either. Whether it was what we said, how we cried or what they saw, our bodies were the giver of this gift. Eventually, they forget what it came wrapped in.

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