In eastern China, a hospital has offered fathers-to-be the chance to understand just what their partners are going through when they give birth. After several new mothers complained that they got little sympathy from their partners, the hospital decided to offer dads a chance to feel the same level of pain that women experience in childbirth, with the intensity ranging from 1 to 10.
The free sessions are held twice a week at the Aima maternity hospital in Shandong, and surprisingly over 100 men have signed up! So why are these men so interested in experiencing this? Perhaps it’s because unlike in the West, Chinese men are often not in the room when their partners or wives give birth, so the idea of childbirth holds some mystery to them and they want to get closer to the experience.
To simulate birth for these dads, pads are attached to a device that is then placed on the man’s stomach and electric shocks are sent through to imitate contractions. A participant described the pain as feeling “like my heart and lungs were being ripped apart.” He only made it to level 7 on the pain threshold.
One woman believes that it serves a purpose, stating, “If men can experience this pain, then they’ll be more loving and caring to their wives.”
I’m sorry but even with all of this simulated pain, it still doesn’t come close to the actual experience of passing something the size of a watermelon out of your nether regions. It’s a good idea in theory, but it’s missing the anxiety leading up to the actual birth. It doesn’t capture the fear of the baby getting stuck in the birth canal or having to have an emergency C-section because the cervix isn’t dilating enough or any of the other things that can go wrong during childbirth.
It is here that I will confess my own birth phobia — one that began back in the ’80s when I was 13. At school in Northern Ireland, I was shown a video in biology class of a woman named Mary giving birth in EXTREME close up. I fainted and had to leave the classroom following an asthma attack. My fate was sealed; NEVER EVER could I go through the agony that Mary and her mangled vagina went through. I swore that day that I would never give birth, and I held onto it.
At 32, when I decided I wanted to get pregnant, I admitted this fear to my doctor. She reassured me that if I got pregnant, she would arrange for me to have hypnotherapy and cognitive therapy that would cure me of this phobia. Happy with that solution, I got pregnant. But when I went to make the appointment for the therapy, I was told the waiting list was longer than my gestation.
I wept. I knew then that the only way I could have my baby was through a planned C-section where I knew exactly what would happen. Anyone who doesn’t have a birth phobia might wonder why on earth I’d prefer serious surgery to a natural birth in a pool. All I can say is that I needed the incision to be in my stomach and not in other parts. It felt more normal, more organized. I could cope with that. Fortunately, after much back and forth with doctors and midwives, I was able to have C-sections with both of my children.
I’m not sure how I would have managed otherwise, which is why I believe every woman should be able to decide what type of birth is right for her. I admire and respect any woman who’s had a home birth or who’s evangelical about natural birth just as much as I admire any woman who demands a C-section. Just as every woman has a different opinion on politics, religion, and how to parent, we all have our own reasons and needs when it comes to childbirth, and we shouldn’t have to apologize for them.
I made no apologies for my phobia. Explaining it over and over to midwives, friends, my husband, and family only cemented it further in my mind. How does one explain why they fear flying or spiders or heights? It is just the same. But it did make my first pregnancy drought with fear and worry that the baby would come early and I would somehow have to contend with birth.
So while China may show men a teensy bit of pain to explain birth, they’ll never understand all the mental angst, endless worry, (irrational?) fear, phobias, and issues that we women go through before birth.More On