During the birth of his first child, Brian Gawlak had to face down unanswered questions, his own worries and fears, and a hissing hemorrhoid. This is his story…
My wife and I had an intense discussion when we were in the tenth month of pregnancy with our first child, where we shared how we were feeling about becoming parents and what our fears were. I looked at her in a moment of sheer terror on both our parts, dead serious, and asked, “Does birth smell?” She looked at me with a cracked grin and asked what I meant. I said, “There’s going to be a whole lot, I imagine, that is smelly.” She just shook her head, but I went on to point out that, although we did Lamaze on DVD, we only watched the breathing part. There was a lot we did not know (it was so bad that my sister-in-law and I were still timing contractions and chanting, minutes before delivery in the hospital, after over a day of labor and our “coaching”).
“What the what?” my wife asked. She then giggled, clearly not understanding that I was being totally serious. I feared a lot of things, and heard horror stories, and stories on the “beauty” of the birthing process… but no one talks about how it smells! I brought it up a few times as our due date approached and passed. I think it may have become completely unfunny when she was three days past our due date.
The car ride to the hospital was borderline comedic, and I own that. I was a stereotypical first-time father, shaking a mile a minute, forgetting bags, going over every bump possible in the road. “IS IT GOING TO BE SMELLY?” I screamed, in response to her nagging about how I was driving. My racing mind could not grasp anything else. I caught my wife’s glaring eyes, illuminated by the headlights of oncoming traffic, and reflected from the mirror by the car riding the bumper of my 20 mph moving car on the fast-paced NY freeway (I begged my wife to ride in the backseat with her sister because I thought it was safer). I realized that I was still not going to get an answer, but that I had it together enough to refocus on the road. I chuckled to myself over asking the very question, and it got us to our destination safely.
I experienced a great haze as my wife had a blood pressure drop and an incredibly difficult spinal. I have images that come to mind in those six hours after arrival, but most of the experience I recall through the zany pictures we took. My next moment of real lucidity was my wife being told to push. She pushed. She kept pushing. My wife pushed an Olympic level session of pushes for what seemed like forever! I held her hand, wiped her brow, cheered her on.
And then… it happened. Mind you, my first rookie mistake was jumping between my role as cheerleader/partner and as cinematographer, where I snapped pictures, took short video blips, etc. I will never forget the moment I saw it—I came face to face with the blasted hemorrhoid that had plagued my wife for three months, and became a pain in my own ass in my own right. It hissed at me! It was so horrifying an image I swear I could HEAR it, even when I recollect!
I stared this anal beast down, equally fascinated, horrified, mortified…. PLOP. My wife’s poo made the first of several clanks I would hear on the stainless steel she laid so helplessly and uncomfortably upon (I think there was some type of mattress on top of it). I tried not to take the moment in… How am I going to not laugh? How am I ever going to get over this? How am I ever going to look at her the same again???
Return to haze… the bitch obstetrician returned and began SCREAMING at my wife to push (she was not a bitch, per se, but to me she was the enemy that night). “PUSH PUSH!!” Couldn’t she see how hard my wife was pushing? She was pushing so hard that aliens, that will forever change our connection, are coming out of my wife’s ass! I knew I could do nothing to stop the doctor’s demands, and I began crying. How could that doctor be so hard on her? I didn’t know what else to do, so I began pushing on my wife’s stomach, sure I could save the day. “We’ve got this baby, I’ll help you!” I declared.
Thank God the nurse saw what I was doing and screamed “NOT YOU, HER!!!” I threw my hands up as though a SWAT team had caught me robbing a convenience store and then panicked. Did I hurt the baby? Did I hurt my wife?
I didn’t know what else to do, so I returned to my photography duties and saw the next image—this hairy bloody skin-like mass bursting its way out of my wife… first a little, then a lot, then a little more, then retracting, then more, then retracting… POP! A bloody, hairy, gory, mucous-covered head sticking out of my wife’s vagina. I cried, mostly in horror, at what I was witnessing. WTF is that??? It was so Ridley Scott, so inorganic and horrific and seemingly unnatural. I looked immediately at my wife, who was in pure agony and returned to her side. I kissed her forehead and could hear “Push, push”… but it became more and more clear she was being told “DO NOT push!”
The chord had been wrapped around our daughter’s neck and they were moving at what seemed like slow motion, but was apparently lightning speed, trying to fix it. True panic set in at the thought of something happening to our baby. I feared and experienced the absolute worst case scenarios… brain damage, disfigurement, death. My knees buckled. Everything became completely surreal as I squeezed my wife’s hand and my heart pounded furiously out of my chest.
I then heard clearly, “OK, ONE MORE PUSH,” and my wife grasped my hand like she was owning General Zod. All of a sudden—this human being emerged. This hairy, bloody, mucous-covered HUMAN BEING had emerged. It felt like a nano-second and an eternity. The space time continuum stopped there and all was still. I was not able to stand, never mind think, act or do—and I can’t believe that I did any of those things. A human being that I co-created just ripped out of my wife’s vagina.
I don’t think there was any real comprehension in the following seconds or minutes. I kept telling myself to breathe and to keep standing up. I did not want to be “that dad,” though I understood why dads go down after birth. I was handed scissors seemingly out of nowhere and was told “Cut here!” I felt like a right-handed kindergartner given left-handed scissors and being told to cut through a tire. I cut, and nothing seemed to happen except a bloody mess. “Cut more, it is extremely thick!” I heard. I thought about how this was my wife’s and my daughter’s actual living connection and proceeded, terrified I would do it wrong and hurt my wife and/or my baby.
“CUT, CUT!!” the doctor shouted. Bitch.
It took four cuts to sever the chord (though I swear it was 400), and blood splattered about the room like a death scene from any classic horror movie. They rushed this “hairy bloody goop” away and all I could think about was my wife, that my trembling hands held scissors that just cut human flesh, and that I was actually still standing. I gathered enough wits about me to go to my wife’s side. I didn’t know I was crying again until the tears splattered on her face. I was the perfect trifecta of exhausted, exhilarated, and ecstatic.
“ARE YOU OK?” I screamed, probably louder than I should have, through my baffled bewilderment. I don’t remember what she said, but remember seeing her face and knowing she was OK, so I turned to face the “hairy, bloody goop.” I looked over at the nurses who scurried about and remember being mad that I could not run to see and confirm what I thought I had witnessed. The banging on the door (of my over enthusiastic mother-in-law ready to meet her first grandchild) was muffled when I heard “THUMP.” I wish there were more words, because “Thump,” nor any other word can adequately define that “sound.” The afterbirth hit the table, and I truly thought I was going to fall over. I tried to make sense of things, but I next saw the obstetrician using a NEEDLE AND THREAD ON MY WIFE’S VAGINA! I saw people continue to scurry about the “hairy, bloody goop.” My heart was racing, my breathing was thin, my thoughts were thoughtless. I remember thinking, “Wait, I am not OK!”
I somehow gathered enough stability to run over to where the nurses were gathered. One of the nurses moved away from her position, and there she was, “Push, Push” (as I still call her). PERFECT in every way… I looked her up and down, covered with Mecuricome, still gory and a little bloody… and then she opened her eyes and our eyes met, only inches apart. Every breath in my body, every idea my mind ever thought, every sound my ears ever heard, every sight I had ever seen, every moment in any time I had ever known was sucked into an abyss—NONE of that mattered anymore. All that existed, ever existed, or will ever exist was her… MY BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTER!
The nurses moved me to the gore-ified chair, blood strewn from one end to the other… and they placed my daughter in my arms for the first time. Since I have no words for THAT moment, I include this picture.
After an instant and an eternity, I looked over at my wife, the warrior, having a slight sense of what she had just done and I began sobbing. “THANK YOU! I LOVE YOU!! HOW??? HOW DID YOU DO THAT? DO YOU SEE HER? ARE YOU OK?” I don’t remember what she said, or if she even heard me.
The nurse then took our daughter and placed her on my wife’s chest and the three of us embraced. PEACE and LOVE and LIGHT like I had NEVER experienced before, or even had the sense to conceptualize, aim for, or want. I had no sense of THIS before I received it. THIS is the most definitive component of my self, my life, my soul, and always will be. I had NO idea THIS is what I wanted, needed, sought after.
It would be a couple of very sleepless and hazy nights before we would discuss that night in any way we could really comprehend or give meaning to the experience. My wife and I were laying in bed as she breastfed our daughter. It was a breezy June night, and a warm wind blew through our bedroom. I remember how our daughter smelled of “baby” and lavender. We burned a sandalwood candle downstairs, and the scent lightly wafted into the room. The slight glow of the street lights, and the whooshing sound of passing cars filled the air through our open windows. It was one of those PERFECT moments.
I looked at my wife, her eyes clearly visible from the street lights—so beautiful and so young, and I smiled. She gazed into my eyes, and then at our almost sleeping daughter. She smiled back at me and displayed the most content, amazing smile I had ever seen in my life. She reached around my head and grabbed me by the hair behind my ear and pulled me close, wiped my sweaty brow, and pulled me in for a kiss. We touched forehead and nose, and we both sighed. “So,” she asked in a very serious tone, “was it smelly?”
This was our only natural birth. Our twins were born via c-section four years and six days later. C-sections are a whole different beast. I still can’t answer that question. I honestly don’t know if it did smell. I simply don’t remember. I have an image of the poo, and an image of that hissing hemorrhoid. Those things are so completely trumped and muted by my wife’s amazing strength and my daughter’s amazing self. I guess it is like asking a woman if birth hurts. I think it is obvious what the answer is… but those details become so muted and unimportant. My resounding memories from that night were that my wife was a warrior and there was nothing gross or off-putting about it.
Originally appeared on The Cook at Home Dad; Images courtesy of the author