There is an urban myth about a man who finds an old-fashioned oil lamp on a California beach. He rubs the lamp and releases a genie. The genie gratefully promises to grant his benefactor one wish, however spectacular—no holds barred. The guy asks for a bridge to Hawaii. The genie balks at the magnitude of the task and requests that the man ask for something less challenging. After much thought the man asks for the ability to understand women. After an equal amount of thought the genie asks the man, “How many lanes on that bridge to Hawaii?”
Flash forward to modern day. My wife and I attended birth classes together. The idea had merit; a husband could learn how to provide support when his wife was giving birth, especially in our situation where we were both newbies. Sadly, when the crunch time came, I was an abject failure as a birthing coach. True, the classes gave me a growing awareness of what it must be like to carry a baby for nine months inside your body. However, I knew absolutely nothing about how it feels to push a ten-pound baby out of a piece of anatomy that I have never possessed. I was a panicky combination of Captain Obvious telling my wife to breathe and Captain Oblivious who really knew nothing about what the female of the species was experiencing. When complications arose, the doctor informed us only one person could accompany my wife into the delivery room and my wife’s doula, (birthing-companion), was the chosen one.
Over time I have learned that women, and especially new mothers, need support and understanding. However, that word “understanding” has to be understood correctly. We males may never understand women, but we can support them and “understand” them in the sense of forgiving and loving them. I confess that many of the offenses that I charged my wife with were simply those of not being a man, of daring not to think like me, of not seeing the world the way I did. Of having all these odd notions that were totally foreign to my worldview.
The doula was different. She visited frequently during my wife’s post partum, giving tips and concoctions to help with breast feeding, talking about her own children and motherhood experiences, and just being there to provide companionship. My wife’s birthing companion related how in her country the whole village rallied round to welcome a newborn and to support the parents. Chores and tasks were picked up by friends and neighbors, other mothers came round to help, talk and spread some love. Everyone supported in ways big and small, visible and hidden, loud and quiet. Our doula proudly related that in her home country, none of the mothers ever experienced post partum depression. Hilary Clinton said “It takes a village to raise a child.” I think it is more a case of it taking a village to welcome a newborn.
It is ironic that countries that know exactly how to welcome newborns and provide support and understanding to new mothers, to those countries we are exporting what we know best: abortion, contraception and an anti-natal mentality. In the west, we never have really forgiven the women of the world for their crime of not being men, and we ceaselessly provide them with methods to re-make themselves into a male image.
I am visualizing an educated westerner asking a woman from one of those child-friendly cultures, “What is your superpower?" The woman answers, “Oh, my superpower is that I can be a mother!” The educated sage responds, “No, seriously, what is your superpower?”