The Erotic and the Clinical:

Meghan O'Rourke has a fascinating and thoughtful Slate item on some men's reactions to the prospect of watching their wives give birth. I don't share the reactions that she describes in her piece, but I thought her discussion of why they may occur was very insightful.

The placenta was what boggled my mind.

It's so alien. Yeah, you know it's about the same weight as the baby, but until you see it, the realization doesn't sink in. Every childbirth video stops once the child is out. Doesn't matter if the video was in health class in grade school or in one of the childbith prep classes, it always stopped right there. It goes from the agony of labor to the kid popping out to happy parents. It doesn't prepare you for the otherwordly color and size of the placenta.
8.30.2005 1:47pm
If I had a child with my wife, I sure wouldn't be venturing down from the head of the bed. If I could get away with it, I wouldn't even be in the delivery room. Men don't "share in childbirth" simply by being there. It's a wholly female experience.
8.30.2005 2:32pm
Bob Flynn (mail):
Look, childbirth is a beautiful thing, but it falls under the same category as "sausage" or "law". We love sausage, but hate watching it made. We love law, and hate the backroom deals, bribes and horsetrading that underpins it.

Same thing with birth. I'm relieved with joy when the baby comes out safe -- I'm relieved with joy when my wife is declared safe and sound, but it's an unnerving process for most sentient males. It's like staring into the sun -- it's a bit too powerful.
8.30.2005 2:36pm
David Cohen (mail):
I can see (And I was) being in the birthing room (in our case an Operating theatre as is was for twins), but to actually stand facing the vagina as the baby emerges is where I drew the line. I was there to comfort my wife and be there to make decisions in case an emergency arose (which did and thankfully did not turn out to be much in the end.) But there are certain things that I DO NOT want to know about my wife and watching childbirth in one of them. My wife has, unfortunately many digestion/intensitnal issues and has had to have for clinical reasons many enemas. SHould I witness them too in all their bodily messiness.

Couldn't I be just as easily be labelled a pervert for wanting to watch childbirth?

Perhaps that is (and I truely believe it is) the desire of certain feminists - to saddle men with innumerable hobson choices to better damn us all.
8.30.2005 3:11pm
Lou Wainwright (mail):
I'm apparently an odd duck, because I was excited about being able to watch the baby come out. My wife didn't want me looking 'down there' during the birth, but I (correctly) wasn't worried about any libido-depressing side effects, and I wanted to see 'the miracle of birth', so I looked...after all, its not like she could stop me. :)

Let me tell you, I'm glad I did. It was incredibly impressive from a biological standpoint, I have very fond memories of my children coming into the world, and it is a constant reminder to me to be nice to my wife -- cause DAMN that must hurt.
8.30.2005 3:35pm
LK (mail):
Weird. A couple of years ago two of my friends and I (we're all single women) discussed this, and none of us would want the guy "down there". One even mentioned the fact that some guys see their wives differently, but she didn't see that as a "those men are evil" issue.

Maybe they should be at the head of the bed because they sure should suffer too, but I'm not going to be thrilled with a doctor and nurse looking so I don't need anyone else there either.
8.30.2005 4:02pm
Why this vilification for visceral reactions? Can I help it that I don't like pudding? Actually, on a related note, I've had family members berate me for that, too. "What, you don't like pudding? How can you not like pudding? What, are you some kind of freak?" This is similar, just in a more emotionally charged area.
8.30.2005 4:30pm
I've been told that sexuality is individual, and one's sexual preferences are ingrained and not chosen. Why should these men be excoriated for expressing their aversion to excessive immersion in the biological details of their partners' sexual organs? This is not precisely parallel, but as a woman, it kind of takes away something to see my boyfriend pee. Don't need to see it and prefer not to. It always reminds me of the punchline to an old joke: Who else but an architect would have run a toxic waste line through a recreation area?
8.30.2005 4:58pm
Houston Lawyer:
Before the birth of my first child, I was warned by an older male friend not to look. He apparently had looked and regrets it to this day.

I took his advice and have been glad for it. If you are going to be a birth coach for your wife, you belong at the head of the bed where you can talk to her face-to-face.

The article comments on feminists berating men for some innocuous behaviour. Right, like that ever happens.
8.30.2005 5:11pm
JGUNS (mail):
I was worried about this before my wife had our son a year ago. I talked to some friends and they assured me that it was a worthwhile experience and that I would get over it.

Well, I helped with my son's birth and I found that my friends were correct. If you are a man, believe me, you will get over it! I am not trying to say that you aren't a man if you get squeamish over the idea, that is normal, but I think you will be better for the experience. I find myself proudly relaying the role that I had in my son's birth to others and I am glad that I did.

I don't think that too many men will find themselves in the bedroom unable to perform. Time will easily change your mind.
8.30.2005 6:21pm
Taalinukko (mail):
Wow, I guess we must do things different here in sticks (it was Colorado). Both times I was holding one of my wife's legs doing the whole Bill Cosby "Push him out! Shove him out! Waaaay Out!" thing. In between contractions we both took a moment to touch my the top of my daughter's head while it was in the squished raisin stage. There was no hovering at the head of the bed, as a husband really the only thing you can do is keep her sane and give color commentary. It never even entered into my mind that such a thing should be "icky" or leave "emotional scars"...

Then again, I always just assumed that after the first couple of weeks every parent was prepared to catch poo in their bare hands to protect the furniture ;-)
8.30.2005 6:47pm
I watched my sister be born and the only thing I remember is the amazing sight of her face during her very first seconds in the world. Everything else I've conveniently forgotten. It's one of the coolest things I've ever witnessed, and my life (and relationship with my sister) would be much poorer without it.

Any man who is permanently scarred by watching his wife give birth is surely suffering from more serious problems. I wouldn't "berate" him for not wanting to do it, but I would wonder.
8.31.2005 2:00am
Phil (mail):
I think being there for the birth has made me closer to my daughter. The funny thing is that I only remember her emerging; I really do not recall seeing my wife at that instant. My libido continued enough to produce my son, though I missed his birth because he arrived too early. This may be a topic that couples should discuss at the marriage preparation class. Even if a decision is not reached, they will understand each other better.
8.31.2005 4:08am
Elinor (mail) (www):
I've had five Caesarians, and my husband was present at all of them except the first, which was an emergency. He was always at the head of the gurney, since he was there to talk to me and not to look at what was going on the other side of the drape. It was always very nice to have him there, and it doesn't bother me that he's one of the millions of men who would be upset at seeing somebody cut a large gash in his wife's body and start pulling things out. If I'd ever been able to have a natural delivery I don't think he'd have minded seeing the baby emerge, for the inverse of the reason Miss O'Rourke suggests: that, for couples who don't contracept, sexual relations and procreation are not disjointed at all. Married people who practice Natural Family Planning are aware of the inseparable connection, and not upset by it. I would think a man who can't be attracted to his wife because she's given him a child is pretty immature, since their physical relations seem to depend on her being essentially a doll and not a fully alive, functioning woman.
8.31.2005 11:29am
Lynn Gazis-Sax (mail) (www):
The "vilification for visceral reactions" was in reaction to some part of the original NY Times article (disclaimer: I didn't read the original NY Times article, and am just reporting how I saw it described by several feminist bloggers) suggesting that women needed to think about the effect watching the birth might have on their husbands. Women don't take kindly to the idea that they need to worry about their husbands' feelings and libido while they're preparing to give birth. Staying near the head and not looking at any of the gory part sounds fine to me.
8.31.2005 12:01pm