When I talk to other moms about the moment their babies started crowning, the general consensus of the entire experience is "really intense and not super pleasant." But looking back, I realize that none of the women I had talked to discussed any of the visuals, which makes sense: most women birth in a position that doesn't really afford you a view. Then I realized, if I wanted to get insight as to what it looks like, I'd have to ask not the moms, but their partners. So I asked dads to describe watching their baby crown.
I reached out to my guy friends and some of my friends' partners to see what they thought. Initially a lot of them thought I was just discussing watching them give birth and they had a lot of poetic things to say. But when I clarified and explained, thoroughly, that, "No, I mean specifically what was it like to see your baby crowning," most of them got decidedly less poetic. Not less reverent (well, for the most part: one of the guys compared crowning to a hot dog eating contest... you'll see) but talking about crowning seemed to force them to consider birth from a physical standpoint as opposed to thinking of birth as a huge emotional event or important milestone.
In so many words, crowning was described as as a force of nature. Their responses were absolutely emotional (or could be... yes, even Paul, who, once again likened it to a hot dog eating contest) but rooted very much in birth as a physical event. As they say on Law and Order: these are their stories:
"It's a reminder that we're sort of just bags of meat. I think we forget that a lot: we've developed big brains that allow us to be really cerebral, but some of the most important stuff we do as humans is just as primitive and physical and raw as anything in the animal world. So, to answer your question, it's like watching a nature documentary."
"I made a deliberate decision not to look. I was like Indiana Jones looking away from the Ark of the Covenant. It was all too powerful for my mortal eyes. Not because of any stupid misogynist reasons, but because I am what you might call 'a p*ssy'. Anything bloody and I get faint. I wasn't going to do that to my poor wife. And, fortunately, she's a p*ssy, too. The doctor asked if she wanted a mirror and she growled, 'F*ck no!'"
"It's not romantic. It's not gross, but I don't want other dads out there to think it's going to be beautiful. It's not."
"There's no other way to say it except: 'It's a human head sticking out of a human vagina.' The simple absurdity of that statement covers it. It's weird enough when it's just part of the head, but it's like a scene out of Eraserhead when it's the whole head. It's amazing but also unbelievable, even as you're watching it happen."
"I was fascinated. In fact, I was so absorbed I kept letting go of [my partner's] leg and the nurse would yell at me to tell me to focus. But how do you focus when there's a baby coming out of your wife's vagina?!"
"I don't recommend looking. Definitely got some flashbacks the next time I was down there. It's fine: I'm still happily down there regularly, but... you know it's a place where sh*t went down."
"I watched my wife crown the way cavemen must have looked at fire: terrified, inspired, and suddenly aware that the world is full of possibilities you couldn't have imagined before that moment."
"I have never been more impressed by anyone in my entire life, and I include that guy who wins the Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Contest every Fourth of July. (But seriously: I was so proud of her and in complete awe of her and any other woman who has ever done the same.)"
"I really didn't want to look, but the doctor sort of pressured me into it, and I'm convinced it was because he saw I was uncomfortable and wanted to mess with me. I wasn't traumatized, but I was unsettled."
"Let's just say I was so struck by it that I've incorporated crowning in pretty much every piece of visual art I've made since [my baby's] birth. At first it was just the shapes — an abstraction of a head coming out of a vagina. When I noticed I was doing it, I thought 'OK, there's something I need to explore with this' and now it's intentional. The colors and shapes, not to mention all the emotions that go with that moment, are a great source of inspiration."
"This is going to sound like an insensitive guy thing to say but... I grew up on a farm, so it wasn't anything I wasn't used to. Obviously, though, it's a lot more exciting when it's your wife and baby and not a cow."
[Writer's note: Jamie later wrote back to me and said "Just to be clear, I wasn't comparing [partner's name] to a farm animal. But you know what I mean, right?" Yes, Jamie, yes I do.]
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