Giving birth is the natural complement and continuation of the marital act. Cultural practices informed by human selfishness have deeply marred the sexual act, often stripping it of its natural meaning, intimacy, and efficacy. Cultural practices can have a parallel effect in the practice of birthing.

We might not think about the deep connection between these two kinds of intimacy between man and woman. But it is worth doing so.

In the instance of a one-night stand, we rightly ponder—or even pose the question to a man: where will you be one day when this woman, as a direct result of tonight, enters her confinement? You ‘loved’ her tonight; where will your love be then? Will you hold her and look into her eyes then, and say “I love you?”

Is not her isolation and loneliness on that day a stark archetype of the larger infidelity and abandonment she suffers? And the child suffers.

But it can also go very differently.

Unsurprisingly, here we have a special vantage into the moral character and demands of human sexuality. One of the most striking features of human life is how the love and intimacy of man and woman is procreative. Their loving relationship is profoundly intertwined with all aspects of the ‘making’ of a new human person, from conception through adulthood.

It is natural and fitting that a child be conceived in the love of two persons. It is also fitting—albeit with a fittingness not so absolute as the prior one—that a child be birthed by two parents. My point here is not to condemn or to imply irreversible damage in those instances when for various reasons the father cannot be present at birth. Rather, I seek to highlight a perhaps unrecognized yet great gift implied in the spousal love of man and woman.

This gift can become apparent in experience. Now births take place in different ways; and various conditions in mother, baby, or external circumstances can put special demands and restrictions on the details of childbirth. Yet birth is a natural process, and in many instances it can be a relatively straightforward process. One way or the other, it is usually arduous. Sometimes quite arduous.

In childbirth the astounding reality of motherhood can come into clearer focus. Here a woman gives of herself in love in a uniquely profound way. She gives birth (what a giving, what a gift!) to her child; and in doing so, she gives herself, her whole body, again to her husband.

If at all possible, may he be present to see, and to receive this incomparable gift. And lo, he might well end up receiving the further gift of giving back something precious.

I know that I am not alone in having heard the words, at a particularly trying and important point in childbirth, “I don’t think I can do this.”

What a moment. Is there anything more primordial between a husband and a wife? Here, uniquely, a man can find himself in the face of things he might otherwise never face. Indeed, can she do this? Perhaps only we can do this. Oh Lord, what do we do now?

“Dear, no matter what, I am with you. We are doing this together.”

Someone might accuse me of suggesting something dangerous to the life of mother and child. “You might push your wife and child into an unnecessary danger zone!” I will say this: ultimately the parents, together, in view of medical realities, must discern the appropriate course of action. Yet I add this: there seems a deep wisdom, and indeed something divine, in the travails of childbirth. These travails can be fruitful, very fruitful. In multiple ways.

In the end I am especially suggesting to men: if at all possible, be close, very close, when your wife gives birth to your child. It is an intimate act of love on her part, in which you can be with her as nowhere else. Therein she can show you uniquely who she is, who she has become. With and for you.

And you can be for her, uniquely, what she and your child so call for you to be. Present, loving, strong. There might not be anything else for you to do. But is that not already very much?

This much I know: after being with my wife in childbirth, I can never look at her again in the same way. ‘Wife’ and ‘mother’ have become an even richer reality.


Image: a precious grandchild, just born.


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