A Little Zen


Another post by the new father, Matt:

I have to hand it to all the mothers out there – I can’t believe what you have to go through to deliver a baby. The worst pain I’ve ever felt was after I had back surgery in 2004. For those who don’t know, I had a spinal fusion at the age of 20 due to a protruding disc. My mother and her mother had the same problem with the same disc, so because of my history and age we decided that going with a full fusion was actually less invasive than trying multiple, increasingly complex surgeries. The procedure went like this: they first went in through my abdomen with an incision at the waistline. The disc was removed, and then they flipped me over, installed a cadaver’s bone between the vertebrae, and then screwed the vertebrae together to fuse.

After the surgery my abs and my back had so little muscle to support me. Try rolling over in the bed without flexing your back or abs and you’ll see how impossible it is to avoid damaging my scars. As a compensatory mechanism, I found I could use my hip flexors to substitute for my abs when it came to moving around in bed and holding myself up. Unfortunately one time I sustained a hold too long and my flexors began cramping and experiencing spasms. I’m big on Zen concepts of “suffering existing only in our mind” and putting your mind beyond pain, but it was just impossible. I was screaming in pain for about an hour – the amount of time it took to contact my doctor to get a prescription for morphine, fill it, bring it to my room, and administer it. Instant relief! I was napping within 2 minutes.

So that was the worst pain of my life, and it lasted an hour. Kath’s active labor was about ten hours, maybe eight if you only count the more intense portions. With contractions coming about every two minutes and lasting one to two minutes, that’s an unbelievable amount of torture. And torture is exactly what it felt like. When we began some of the premature pushing at 12:30, I was pretty excited that were going to have a baby in maybe 45 minutes. Then at 3:00 I looked back at the past three hours in despair that Kierkegaard could only dream of!

I thought that I could empathize with the pain but it was beyond comprehension to me. Still, I supported Kath’s wish for a drug-free birth. Part of it went back to the Zen thing of embracing your pain and letting it become a part of you. Another part was celebrating the continuity of womankind’s shared, ancient experience. And finally there were the scientific reasons of attaining the full benefits of natural oxytocin. Kath had a strong conviction about all these things, so when she had moments of doubt during the birth it was easy for Jen and me to instead turn her focus on the moment and work through the immediate pain. Then we reassured her that she was doing well and every contraction brought her one step closer.

During the birth I felt it was really important to keep stressing that each contraction was one more down and she never has to experience that one again. I imagined that she might feel like she would be sitting there in pain for eternity and that there was no end in sight. We’re so trained to approach life with the idea that we pass from phase to phase – we move from infancy to school age, college to adulthood, marriage to parenthood. I touched on some of this in my first BERF post. I worried that labor might be like this too! Would she just suffer for a really long time, and then eventually a baby would come out? Well I guess that’s how it is, but it certainly wouldn’t be encouraging to tell her that. So I put on a strong face, mustered some encouraging words, and hoped that she could make it through quickly.

Congratulations to all mothers out there – you definitively win!

FYI, birth story writing in progress!! I want to include all the details and do it in one swoop, but I won’t keep you all in suspense much longer! – Kath

37 thoughts on “A Little Zen”

  1. Beautifully written Matt. I think Kath is so lucky to have had you there for her and your outlook on it (you won’t experience THAT pain again), is a great way to look at it. And in fact, it’s a great way to look at many aspects of life.

  2. Great post Matt. It is always good to hear the male prescpective with childbirth. Women are stronger than men in some situations – as as child birth. Before I had kids and even now, I heard/hear how if male had to give birth it wouldn’t happen. 🙂

  3. It sounds like you had a really tough labor, Matt! I’m glad that you pushed through it (literally) so that sweet Mazen could have the best experience :).

  4. Love hearing matt’s very interesting perspective on things. Do you think you would go natural again with a second baby? Or was it something you are just happy to have experienced once 🙂
    Looking forward to the whole birth story!

    1. I’m undecided! My goal was to experience it and experience I did. But the good thing is I don’t have to decide until I’m in the moment next time : )

  5. I think it’s very cool that you supported Kath’s decision for a drug-free birth – it must have been very difficult to see someone you love experience that kind of physical pain and not want to help somehow! I’ve never been through childbirth, but I’ve heard horror stories (mostly from my mother, who still blames me a LITTLE BIT for coming too fast and making a last-minute epidural impossible). Still, it’s great to know that at the end of the exhausting, painful birth process you get a little miracle. I like to hope that that makes all the struggles worthwhile.

  6. I’ve not had any children, but that’s an awesome way to look at natural childbirth! I’m enjoying the posts from your perspective 🙂

  7. Wow Matt, you’re a great writer! I love hearing your point of view during this… your tweets were cracking me up… Kath was lucky you were so supportive and encouraging 🙂

  8. I always love hearing an in depth description of how the father feels during the whole birthing process, so I really love Matt’s posts. Thank you to Kath and Matt, for sharing your experiences!

  9. You never told us your husband was a closet WRITER! He’s really taking it to the next level on BERF with these thoughtful, well-written posts about fatherhood.

  10. Kath, it sounds like you had a fantastic birth partner with Matt!
    His perspective reminded me of the fact that often we mamas aren’t alone (not ONLY during childbirth, but other situations in life as well) and that it is tremendous to have a supportive partner by our side! Reading this really reminded me to be grateful for my husband! Thank you for this wonderful post!

  11. Kath, I know you mentioned in one of your posts how helpful your doula was to you during your birth. How did Matt feel about having a doula there? I’m assuming that she was able to provide quite a bit of support and reassurance to him too. I ask because I’m due in 6 days and we have a doula who will be with us. We feel like it was the perfect decision for us, but I’m wondering from your perspective now 🙂

  12. Thanks for posting your birth story! I am 36 weeks pregnant and just found out I am group B strep positive. I initially felt really discouraged that this would interfere with my plans for a natural hospital birth. Reading your birth story helped me to see that it actually is not that big of an interference. Your story is encouraging and beautiful, thank you for being so open and sharing with the world 🙂

  13. Oh Kath. 🙂 I tried to post this on your birth story but there’s nowhere for comments. I started TTC around the same time you started your blog (and learned all about digital OPKs from you, ha ha) – amazing that I got my BFP last night and now I’m reading your birth story. Thank you for having the courage to post all of this in the face of criticism and everything else you open yourself up to. It has been wonderful following along and reading your birth story takes on a WHOLE new dimension now that I’m (hopefully!) headed there myself.

  14. I love this post. It reminds me of when my niece was born, a little over three years ago. We got to the hospital, long before intense labor had begun, and my brother-in-law was pacing outside my sister’s room. He was absolutely distraught about the pain she was about to be in. It’s stories like these that make me so excited for marriage- just the love so deep that you feel for your partner.

  15. I love that you said you were motivated by “celebrating the continuity of womankind’s shared, ancient experience.” You don’t have to be hippy-dippy or super feminist or anything like that to recognize the ridiculous amazingness that is pregnancy/childbirth.

  16. Childbirth is super intense for moms, certainly, but it’s a team effort and the dad’s physical and emotional support is so helpful. So good job to you too, Matt 🙂

  17. Congrats Matt!! I give it out to all the fathers too. Because it’ s amazing how you guys develop a bond with your babies without carrying them or delivering them! I mean it’s such a surreal experience for a mother who goes through all this first handed….I can only imagine how it would seem to you guys :-))
    You are doing a great job as a good supportive husband! Congrats again for that beautiful baby boy.

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