Miracle in the birthing room


She ventured slowly down that shadowed lane

Now bright with wonder and now dark with pain.

The trembling thread of life stretched taut and thin,

But softly then, new radiance filtered in.

% -- Lydia Atkinson

SHORTLY before 12:45 p.m. on a Thursday, my son Reeexecuted a rather nifty right-angle turn at the pelvis and successfully completed his 10-hour trip down the birth canal.

My wife did all the work. I received half of the credit. When the boy pushed himself into the light, we both watched as our love miraculously multiplied, a strange and holy alchemy and geometry.

When the boy made his appearance, he increased by 100 percent the male population of the birthing room. Before his arrival, the room was filled with women: my wife, her doctor, two female nurses.

The obstetrician had been by her side for six hours. In their voices one could tell there was no place more important than my wife's bedside.

For hours they talked: about children, about the demands of career and family, about men. And I got to listen.

After a few hours, one of the nurses looked at me and said, "So what do you have to say for yourself?" I began to stutter out a reply when my wife interrupted me:

"Oh, don't worry about my husband; we've made him an honorary woman."

In a curious way, I was privy to what it must have been like before birth became a business and thus turned over to men. In those days, women from the neighborhood gathered to help with the birth -- and to tell their stories.

In that birthing room filled with sophisticated fetal monitors and the other accouterments of modern medicine, my wife was helped as much by the stories offered by her obstetrician about her own children as she was by the doctor's considerable expertise.

When the time came for pushing, encouragement came from a nurse who an hour before had told the tender tale of her son trying to run away from home when her second child was born. The obstetrician told a story on herself about the difference between a doctor delivering a baby and a doctor having a baby.

The stories were funny and profound. They were told by women engaged in what is perhaps the oldest of initiation rites.

I know there are many male obstetricians. I know that the extraordinary skill and compassion the profession demands are not easily acquired by members of either gender. But I cannot help thinking that more than anything, it was the stories of these women, so freely given, that brought forth the perseverance and courage so much needed and so readily displayed by my wife that day.

The boy has come into a world that does not always so easily understand the importance of these women's stories. It is a world where we still ask different questions of women in a confirmation hearing than we do of their male counterparts. It is a world in which personal stories told by a female physician to allay the fears of a patient may be seen as unprofessional.

When the boy is old enough, I will tell him the story of how these women pitched in to give him birth. I will tell him how proud I was of his mother, how she displayed a kind of deference and attentiveness in the midst of pain to women who had done this many times before.

I will try to give him a sense of how important these women made his mother feel -- how they understood who were the two most important people in the room.

Mostly I will tell the boy how the room into which he entered this life was full of love at the moment of his birth, and that some of that love, much of that love, was provided by women his mother hardly knew.

In each of our lives there are moments of light so clearly sacred that the illumination extends far beyond the small place where the light falls. These are, quite simply, moments of grace. The moment my son was born, he came forth from the womb to a sacred place. He came forth squinting at a great light.

Stephen Vicchio teaches philosophy at the College of Notre Dame. His most recent collection of essays, "Ordinary Mysteries," was published by Wakefield Editions.

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