Men have been diminished by Mother Nature.
Why won’t you give motherhood to men?
If an innocent child stirred below his heart,
Men would probably not be so cruel.
—“I Would Like” by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, a Russian poet
A few years ago, when my mother died in Chile, I was also there. I wanted to be there and was lucky to be close to her when she left us.
After her death, I stayed at least three more weeks in her house and, while rummaging through some of her large collection of photos and letters, I discovered a great treasure: a long love message, written to her by my father, when I was about to turn one.
It was a very moving letter, not only reflecting his love for his wife and his first child, but also reflecting the way in which men were expected to participate (or not participate) in the birth of their children. It was the mid 1940s.
My father wrote of sitting outside the delivery room and hearing my mother cry, curse and scream. He wrote of feeling, “inadequate, useless, frustrated, sad.”
After the final push, when he finally was allowed inside the birthing room, he cried … but he wrote to my mother: “My tears were not of sadness, but were tears of love, of the enormous pride I felt for your strength, your struggle, your bravery.” Of course, he might have also shed a couple of tears for the fact that he was not allowed inside the room.
Fortunately, times have changed for expecting fathers. Now, they are invited, indeed expected, to participate, to help, to share as much as
possible in the birth of their children.
That is a great thing, a thrill, an honor…although it will never compare with the awesome and grueling task of carrying a baby for nine months and then… pushing that little human out into the world in a mix of screams, sweat, blood, tears of joy, applauses, and relief—a beautiful, messy, real, act.
I helped in the birth of three of my four kids (the fourth birth was a Cesarean and it kept me out of the room). I was also invited to be “an observant” in at least three of my grandchildren births, where I had a totally secondary role in the actual processes. But I wanted to be there and the mothers-to-be wanted my presence there. That was enough for me.
Two of the births have taken place at a home, with midwives. They were two very female-centered events. Three midwives collaborated. The father dutifully worked, ready to help. In the process, he was becoming a better human.
Among the most profound experiences that I have had, is the moment when the new mother picks up her new born baby, a sweaty, humid, bloody little being and says: “Oh! I love you so much!”
For a man, that is something that we might find hard to understand. “How can she love that baby so much? That baby was just born!”
Poor men! Like the poet Yevtushenko says at the beginning of this column: “Men have been diminished by Mother Nature.” We observe pregnancy from the outside and we tend to dismiss, due to our ignorance of the actual experience of pregnancy, what has been going on inside the woman for all those months.
What words other than “I love you so much!” can a mother say when that baby—who has been growing inside her for nine months, occupying her entrails little by little, falling asleep inside her, awakening inside her, kicking her more and more as the birth nears—is finally resting on top of her chest?
The birth of a child is only the beginning (hopefully) of a long and winding road for that new little person.
The new baby, now outside the womb, where he/she lived for up to nine months, is totally dependent upon those beings who are holding him/her so lovingly. What kind of a mother or father will that newborn have? Will there be somebody, or many somebodies, who will step up and also be “like a mother and/or a father” to that child?
Here, I want to remember Yolanda Lizana, aka “Yolita.” She was a young orphan, in her early twenties when she came to my grandma’s house, where we first lived, to take care of my great grandmother. After moving into our own house, Yolita came along and became what I call our “second mother,” for me and my three sisters.
Yolita helped to give me birth into an infinity of ways: she taught me to read and write by age four, she rode us (two at a time) on her bicycle to school, she taught us to ride a horse… the list is infinite!
Yolita was thirty eight years old when she left with her brand new husband, to form her own home.
She is still very much alive today, at age 96, her spirit very much intact. She never left our hearts and we have stayed in hers.
It is to all mothers, those who birth us physically and those who help us to grow into the world, that I dedicate the above thoughts.
Story by: Carlos Barón