Giving birth to my youngest child was an empowering, life-changing experience. Not just for me, either. When my husband watched our baby crown our relationship changed, and in ways I couldn't have possibly imagined. What is often touted as a "gross" moment in childbirth that male partners should avoid witnessing altogether was actually a catalyst for growth. And, when all was said and done, my husband and I left the hospital feeling closer than ever before.
I can still remember, so clearly, the day my son entered the world. I had endured a particularly rough pregnancy and suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum for the duration of those long, 40 weeks (more or less). Because I was throwing up several times a day I was struggling with prenatal depression; every day feeling like a stranger in a broken, sick, huge pregnant body that I didn't know, like, or recognize. I worried that my pregnancy had changed the way my husband felt about me, too. After all, I was no longer the badass marathon runner and yoga teacher he married. Instead, I was the incredibly sick pregnant woman who could barely get out of bed.
The days leading up to childbirth were just as difficult, if not more so. An injury landed me in the hospital, unable to walk and hooked up to tubes and wires, just waiting for labor to begin. My husband stayed by my hospital bed, sleeping on a hard pull-out bed and trying to help me remain as comfortable as possible. When I found out I had to be induced early I was frustrated and scared, and while he tried to keep it together for my sake I knew he was, too.
His eyes lit up as he excitedly told me he could see our son's head full of fuzzy, wet hair.
But the day of my induction was surprisingly awesome, and the time my husband and I were able to spend together was surreal. Because I had an epidural before my induction began, I was finally able to experience zero pain for the first time in months. As a result my husband and I were able to talk, and even laugh, together. In the middle of labor my worries about our relationship faded away, and I felt like our decision to have a child together was validated. If he could see me at my worst, and help me cope with stress, pain, and a medical crisis, I knew we'd make an badass co-parenting team.
Then, when it was time for me to push, I watched my husband see me — like, really see me, as if it was the first time. He kept telling me "you can do this" and "you've got this" and "just one more push," but the look on his face — a expression of pure love, adoration, and pride — said everything I really needed to hear. If every day he looked at me the way he looked at me when our baby crowned... well, I would feel unstoppable.
The moment our son was born was an intimate one, and the bright lights, doctors, and nurses faded away. I stayed fixated on my husband, who, after the doctor signaled for him to come around the front of the bed, watched in awe as his son entered the world. His eyes lit up as he excitedly told me he could see our son's head full of fuzzy, wet hair. And then there he was — a nine pound, chubby guy — who quickly became the center of our universe and attention.
Later, when I asked my husband what he was thinking when he saw our baby crown, he surprised me. Instead of talking about how "gross" or "intense" it was, he told me that it was "profoundly beautiful" and, in that moment, he appreciated who I was, the sacrifices I had made to have our baby, and the way I was both strong and vulnerable during childbirth.
Real love, it turns out, is being able to withstand the sight of your partner's swollen labia or unshaven bikini line.
Which is why I almost feel foolish for worrying about how he would feel during childbirth. I hadn't shaved my legs, and was self-conscious about the state of my poor mangled vagina, so I thought he would essentially be grossed out by the messiness of birth and, by proxy, me. But he wasn't. Instead, he was in awe.
Afterwards, as we snuggled our baby, I marveled at what a mess I still was — my legs and chest streaked with blood, sweat, and vomit. But my husband didn't seem to notice or mind. He spent the next few days at my beck and call, making sure my needs were met but always stepping aside and letting me advocate for myself and our son when it was clear that I wanted to.
Now, almost two years later, I get emotional when I think about how that moment brought us closer together. Our relationship isn't perfect, and we've definitely been through our share of ups and downs, disagreements, and outright fights. But I honestly feel like my husband better understands the toll that pregnancy, childbearing, and motherhood takes on those of us who bear that load, and has a greater appreciation for what I can do. Almost two years later and he still sees me.
I'm grateful that I had my husband there, watching every moment and, most importantly, reminding me that I can rely on him.
Of courser, my love for him grew, too. It's easier for me to look past his flaws and mistakes because, deep down and always, I know he'll be there for me to hold my hand when times are tough... including those difficult moments when I'm covered in bodily fluids. Real love, it turns out, is being able to withstand the sight of your partner's swollen labia or unshaven bikini line.
While I know I could've made it through childbirth alone, I'm glad I didn't have to. I'm grateful that I had my husband there, watching every moment and, most importantly, reminding me that I can rely on him. In that crowning moment he showed me real empathy, to a degree that I had never really experienced with any other partner. In that moment of shared vulnerability that was just as gross, messy, difficult, and unnerving as it was inspiring and romantic, we learned to love each other a little bit more. We knew we could make it through whatever gross, messy, and difficult thing parenthood threw our way.