standing in the gaping places
Watching a man turn into a father right before your very eyes is nothing short of divine.
To be honest, I can’t quite remember what it was like to witness my husband become a father. In the photo above, he is weeping with joy after the water birth of our daughter, whereas I am clearly in another realm! I had just given birth to a 9.3 ( those little ounces count) pound baby a few seconds earlier. I was stunned, drunk with love and fatigue, and yes, kind of aching. Of course, when I look at this photo now, my knees get wobbly with love for him, but in the moment, I missed it. I, too, was morphing into someone new.
Last year I had the opportunity to be a doula for my dear friends. As a doula, I get to see glory emerge in all sorts of birthing positions and situations, even the unexpected ones.
Some people say it doesn’t matter how a mother gives birth because the baby is the ultimate gift. But it does matter. Whether it’s a C-section, a peaceful or traumatic birth, a birth that takes place in the red dirt, or in an alleyway, it all matters.
I used to spend time doulaing with teen mothers who paid me with bowls of Kraft dinner and bone crushing hand squeezes when they bore down to release life. The fathers rarely showed up at these births, even when the labouring mothers frantically texted them and longed for their haphazard support. In the end, the disappointment these mamas swallowed was bitter and often overwhelming.
In the birthing room, it matters if women are alone, supported, empowered or threatened.
I haven’t had much time to tend to births since my daughter was born; it was all thrown on the back burner after her diagnosis. But last November, being present at a birth with my friends was such a gift.
I went, and I wept and even though the story unfolded differently than we expected, I saw all things new again.
* * *
There was an electric energy in the room, as you donned a stretchy wintergreen cap. Excitement and nervousness chiseled away at who you were before your wife went into labor. It was happening. You were transforming.
The two of you left the room in a matter of minutes after the obstetrician read the fetal monitor. No time to waste. She was wheeled out on the bed, you trailed close behind. I cleaned up the leftover sandwiches, gathered cell phones and overnight bags and made my way to the waiting room. I trembled a little as I digested the news, although I trust the process of birth, even when scalpels are involved.
You met me in the waiting room a few minutes later, sat down hard in a chair and crossed your legs so you wouldn’t fidget. I could tell you were mulling over this turn of events, feeling the letdown, coupled with the weight of extravagant expectation.
Your wife was in a room with blaring lights and all sorts of equipment you hope to never see on the day your baby is born.
She waited there. You waited here.
I was initially there for your wife, to give her water and squat at her feet, my hands on her knees, fingers trailing up and down her tight calves.
She was so brave and beautiful; I was cotton mouthed the whole time. She made me proud, wildly happy and on fire with anticipation. I can only imagine how hard that new love for your wife hit you.
I was also there to whisper in her ear as she pushed her baby boy into the world. To witness that moment. Oh, that moment when Heaven singes the realm of our tattered world, and our earthly cisterns break to pour it all out.
Holy, holy, holy.
But, the path forked. So, instead of being with her in those moments before the birth of your child, I was with you.
Eventually the midwife poked her head out a door and waved at you to come. You leapt out of your chair, abandoned the sweaty cup of ice water in my hands.
In a matter of minutes, you would see the scrunched up face of your boy from behind the sheet, gasping as the air touched his little body and bright lights woke him from his womb slumber.
Holy, holy, holy.
Thirty minutes later, the midwife came back unexpectedly and grabbed me. She ushered me into the post-op hallway, to a room I wasn’t supposed to be in.
“Just duck down in the corner if someone comes in!”
She winked and shrugged her shoulders. I love midwives.
There you sat in silence, holding a bundle of warm skin and tender bones bound together by a miracle. You cradled your son. I could barely stand to break the peaceful moment of bonding, but I whispered something anyway. You looked up and your face broke with tears, your shoulders shook. Surprise, shock, joy, and everything holy was etched across your face.
Salty, precious tears from a man morphing into a father. Here they were again, but this time I saw them fall. As we waited for her to emerge from the operating room, we laughed and cried together, taking in the sweet smell of amniotic fluid and pasty vernix on his skin. You pulled back the blanket and showed me his face, looked up at me with expectation. Isn’t he beautiful? He is mine. He is hers. Isn’t this magnificent?
Oh friend, more magnificent than words.
I felt as though I was trespassing into a sacred space that evening. Later you told me that my appearance in that curtained room made everything real: the flesh of your son nestled into your sinewy crook, your wife delicately being sewn back together. It was then that the weighty mantle of fatherhood settled into the room.
* * *
Fatherhood changes a man. Even the teenage dads that don’t make it to the birth, with their t-shirts reeking like tobacco and their baggy pants pooled around their hips. I have seen how it ebbs away at their tough exterior, how their sharp edges soften when they stroke the downy hair of their newborn child.
It changes a man when he catches his baby or watches as his child is pulled from a gaping belly.
Or when he becomes a father overseas in an orphanage, or in a stuffy courthouse.
Or when he decides to be a father figure to a multitude of untouchable children.
It changes a man when he holds his infant child born too soon or too still.
Or when he is told his child won’t live long, won’t walk, won’t ever be able to call him papa.
A good father receives it, all of it, with arms wide open and aching because his heart beats ferociously with love.
And it marks our world. It makes a difference, this anointed love.
True fatherhood is a choice. Not every man is willing to assume the mantle of fatherhood.
But when a loving father receives his inheritance, honours his family, and learns to be led by love, no matter what the circumstances may be, it covers injustice.
It covers the daddy-less daughters, the forgotten sons. It throws a banner of love over the abandoned ones. For it hints at something far bigger and holier: God who inhabits sacred space, is a father to the fatherless…(Psalm 68:5).
To the fathers that don surgical caps and fill birth pools, we honour you.
To the fathers that rub tired feet, bathe the babies after work, make supper, work overtime to pay the bills, take time off work for doctors appointments, we honour you.
To the fathers that are willing and ready to carry love through life and death, special needs and illnesses, abundance and lack, we honour you.
Originally published at She Loves Magazine.