‘All I know is what I saw’

Joe Banks recalls witnessing the ‘horrific, stupendous’ births of his daughters, and marvels at being privy to the greatest show on earth

dad-looks-back-w2014I know what you’re thinking: he’s a man. And what can he possibly tell us labour-worn women about what it’s like to give birth to a human being, an act with all of the dignity of a Rob Ford driveway press conference?

So let me qualify: I know there is no comparison between giving birth, and witnessing it, having done the latter when both our daughters decided to make themselves known to the world.

And that’s my point. All I know is what I saw. And anyone who has watched as a coach or bystander should be able to relate to this question.

How can someone who witnessed such an event ever talk about it with anything approaching the passion of the mother? For if they try to do so in mixed company, they risk being labelled a callow bystander, like the soldier who spent the war behind a desk or the groom kept out of the wedding planning, bereft of tales of glory and woe.

So smart men don’t bring it up, at least not in the way moms do. If ever, the brotherhood whispers about “it” in hushed tones, glancing about to ensure no women are within earshot. Even then, it’s described in the cold numbers of hours in labour, lost sleep and bad meals.

Personally, gazing slack-jawed at the birth of both our daughters nearly three decades ago, while watching my wife transform into a hybrid between a weary woman and a tortured mutant from an Alien movie, made a mush of my senses.

What I saw was slithery, mystical magic that so defied description, my first attempts to describe it ended in underwhelming gibberish. It truly was, is and forever shall be the greatest show on earth, at once horrific and stupendous – not unlike a David Cronenberg movie.

It’s complicated further when the births differ in time and surroundings. In our case, one showed up at 7 a.m. following a labour through the wee hours of the morning, with a doctor, a nurse and us there to experience it.

Daughter 2 arrived the day before Halloween at 4:20 p.m., in a noisy door-open delivery room with mom-in-law on hand, while an old-school European doctor shouted orders to an overworked nurse. Wisely, I ran this topic by my wife before going to press. She was thoroughly unimpressed.

“I think men want to get a pat on the back, to be told good for you. I don’t think they should get a gold star for being there. It should be a given.”


And so we the male of the species remain silent with our birthing stories. What guy in their right mind whoever wants to exercise their masculinity again would argue? Even then, our better halves theorize about even that, unwilling to let us suffer in silence.

“The reason I believe men don’t talk about this with their guy friends is they’re afraid to show emotions in front of the guys,” she says. “God forbid you should shed a tear in front of them.” Ouch. And yet, in my father’s day, men were acknowledged for their stoic distance; they were not allowed in the delivery room. They got to pace the hallways and hand out cigars. Women swooned as Clark Gable fretted while Scarlet fiddly-deed her way through labour without a petticoat wrinkled.

I’d like to think we’re way past the idea that we should somehow be commended for watching our mates give birth. We are True Men after all, able to withstand whatever fates lob our way, And heck, what woman wouldn’t respect the declaration of my wife as she was wheeled into the delivery room: “I know I can do this as long as you’re here with me.”

No pressure there.


Photo: depositphotos.com © Juan Carlos Herrera Arango