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A messy birth and a vulnerable baby

  • 18 December 2014

Before I became a Jesuit, I was a diocesan seminarian, and during the Christmas holidays, I worked in the pastoral care department of a big Catholic public hospital. At a Christmas party, I met the charge nurse of the maternity ward. Pleading that because I was a celibate I would never be at a birth, I enquired if I might be allowed to come and see'. 

The charge nurse thought that would be fine. Six weeks later I got the call. Apparently a student priest watching a person have a baby is not an easy sell! But Mary was sixteen, had been dumped by her nineteen year old boyfriend and shunned by her family. A kindly seminarian was better than no one at all.

On arrival at the maternity ward, I did ante-natal class 101 in ten minutes. All sorts of commands were barked at me:

- hold Mary’s hand;- when the midwife tells Mary to push and keep it coming, keep it coming, keep it coming' - you say it too;- don’t get in the road;- and don’t faint!

Mary and I met six hours into her labor, which was an unusual circumstance within which to meet your birthing partner.' She had very little small talk, maybe because she had no breath at all. From my vast experience of child birth, I thought everything was going along swimmingly until the doctor arrived to perform an episiotomy. If you don’t know what that is, you don’t want to, and I wish I never did. I swear before God that analgesia would have been invented centuries earlier if men had to go through all of this. We would go on epidurals in the sixth month.

The baby arrived minutes later. Mary wept. She had very good cause to weep. I wept for no good reason, and the charge nurse wept because I was weeping. There is something so primal and human about the moment of birth that it bonds us to each other. Friendship born in the trenches took on a new meaning for me.

After the tears came the laughter and joy. The reality of Mary’s tough situation was happily postponed.

On discharge, Mary asked me to baptise the baby. I couldn’t. I was a long way from being ordained a deacon. I arranged for a priest friend to do it and became Benjamin Michael’s godfather. I have stayed in touch with them for the last 30