One of the questions I recently read on a birthplan outline was “Do you want to be offered a mirror to see the baby’s head coming out?” This got me wondering not just whether I want to see it but whether my partner does. He seems afraid to see me “that way.” The videos we saw in our birth class are not helping, either. What should we do?-The (In?)Visible Woman
There are plenty of people who share your worry, and wonder whether a glimpse of the miracle of birth is worth the sight of the formerly sex-specific vagina being repurposed as a baby-tunnel.
While you may have strong feelings or suspicions about this beforehand, it’s hard to know how your partner will feel about it all once the crowning moment has arrived. It’s one thing to watch a disconnected video in a birth class and another to be there, physically and emotionally, for the birth of your own baby. Sometimes partners and laboring women are surprised to find they want to participate in that moment, and participating often involves taking a look at what’s going on. There’s a compelling narrative element to birth; seeing the head coming out can feel like a much-needed resolution to the drama of previous acts. The desire to actually witness that pay-off can overwhelm any prior concerns. Possibly days and/or nights have been building to this moment; are you going to look away? Maybe. Maybe not. Doulas we’ve talked to report that many of the dads who anticipate staying up near the mother’s head, do end up taking a look when the time comes. And they seem quite thrilled when they do.
Laboring women can also be surprised by their interest in narrative ‘closure’ (groan). But more often it seems the woman’s interest in seeing the baby has to do with whether she thinks the vision of an emerging head will help inspire her or not. Seeing that head can offer a needed sense of progress. But for others that sight can be intimidating to the point of wanting to pull the baby back in! One option if you decide you don’t really want to look, is to reach down and feel the baby’s head. This way you get that encouraging “almost there” feeling minus any potentially intimidating imagery.
Though there is a lot of lip service (sorry) given to the negative sexual impact of birth visuals, negative reactions of any major impact are a tiny minority. Chances are if either of you are freaked out by it, you’ll get over it. Still, it’s not a bad idea to discuss it beforehand so you’re ready to discuss it afterwards if you have to. If you do suspect that the man in your life may not be able to handle seeing you both ways, as it were, you can always opt to keep him close to your head, away from the hardcore birthing action. (That way, he can squint at your contorted face and pretend you’re having an orgasm instead of a baby.) But do consider how this reflects on your partner’s ability to see you both ways conceptually as well. You might be able to protect him from the crotchy conflict, but you can’t protect him from the conflict at the heart of the matter: his lover has become the mother of his children.
The vagina is crazy – with a miraculous ability to open up and then close again to fulfill its various functions as a birth and sex organ. Seeing this can be amazing, thrilling, disturbing and/or alarming . . . not unlike watching a snake swallow a rabbit. But improbable as it seems, the snake shrinks down again when the job’s done. Maybe you should skip the birth videos, and start watching Animal Planet?
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