By the time I’d gotten to SF I was wise to the significance of the male perspective. I counted on my old friend, P, for some insider trading. He’s a radio guy; talk is his business. After a quick hello to TC and kids, P and I disappeared into the fog. We’d been in touch forever, but it’d been twelve years since we’d last seen each other (in what was a momentous last hurrah before settling down with partners we’d eventually marry). My pregnancy thwarted the threat of any college monkey business. Still. He looked good, same bounding energy, same passion for music, same bright eyes. I tested the waters, “You’re turned-on by my hugeness – you want me bad, yes?” Without skipping a beat P answered, “Actually, no, not at all. Sorry, Babe, I’m just not into it. You look great, though! Look at you!” The light of his honesty felt like home to me. He told me not to fault TC if he wasn’t into it right now, that there was a lot going on down there (in my body), and it’s hard for some guys, including himself, to get comfortable with it. I huffed, “Well, why can’t you just turn off the light then?” He sighed, “Yeah, that’s what M said.” (M, his soon-to-be ex). He explained it wasn’t that simple… the changes were intense plus there was the burden of impending parenthood and the stress, fears, and doubt that goes with it. He’d wanted to buy me ice cream and had me hold his arm when we’d crossed the street. I begged him to put my round belly and gasping lungs out of his mind and remember me as I once was. We sat at an Irish bar, P with his beer and me sipping ginger ale. P had something important to say. He laid-out a blanket disclaimer that he knew full-well women are the superior sex, wiser, more pain tolerant, better multitaskers, all-around stronger than men. I concurred with this well-documented fact. “There’s a reason you’re the ones having the babies,” he said, “men could never do that.” He went on to confess something I’d never heard before, something that occurs when men see their wives give birth. “It traumatizes some men,” he said, “For real. I have more than one friend who’s been deeply scarred by it.” That’s why when P’s wife gave birth he dared not venture south of the equator, but anchored himself right by her side, eye to eye (“And believe me, that’s a lot!”). It was all to say that if TC chose to stay up yonder I should respect his decision and know that it doesn’t make him less of a father. (Boy, was TC glad to hear this, because if these words came from him I may not have readily accepted it.)
Some of you, living as we do at the epicenter of the U.S. home-birthing movement, patchouli capital of the world and mystical land of breastfeeding-until-five, might be offended by this revelation. But I urge you to see this for what it is: a male perspective previously unknown to me. I applaud P’s brave share.
Naturally, I was curious to hear his take on post-birth vagina. He said that generally his friends claimed there was no difference at all, but for him… and this was offered with great trepidation… he… noticed a change. Not a big change, but it definitely felt a little different. (I take into account that during this conversation he was at the beginnings of a painful separation). But it was not the physical change that was most significant, he and his friends agreed. What they couldn’t overcome were the images forever seared into their memories. Seeing a woman’s body all stretched, bloody and wet with a human head pushing out of it, the grunting, moaning, sweating and trembling. It’s just too much for some men. “It’s messy business,” he said, “I mean, stuff is coming out all over, you know that, right?” I knew only too well. “It’s coming out your ears, your nose, your eyeballs. If there’s an orifice, shit is coming out of it, no joke!” Being a member of the superior sex, I loved hearing this. His voice was passionate and imploring, “No man needs to see that.” I told him I knew a woman or two who shared the sentiment.
Over the ensueing days of retelling, it became clear that the one who benefited most from my conversations with P is TC. TC is always complaining that men just don’t talk like this. Whenever I come back from spending time with the ladies he’s all ears, wanting to know every detail, because the information we share is substantial not superficial. Years ago when I told my wise mentor (a male feminist playwright) that TC had a lot of womanly qualities, my mentor cautioned, “Be careful. Don’t assume these traits are female. What they are is human and men are quite capable of embodying them though sadly most have been programed shut to down.” True. Fortunately, there’s a small contingency of men I know who are excellent communicators, who are interested in expressing their hopes, fears, desires and sharing their experiences. Perhaps men would be more likely to lay their armor down if we made it safe for them to say that the thought of seeing their partners’ bodies turned inside out by childbirth is horrifying to them. And the others, the men who get right down there and apply hot compresses to their wives’ perineas, should speak out too and let their brothers know that as intense as it can be, they will survive. Shit storm and all.