Many people ask me how a hardened construction foreman, used to barking out orders to the team over the squeal of sheet metal being cut or the pile-driving of skyscraper support columns, could end up in a very different setting, helping women deliver babies. My 25 year old self definitely would not have believed it. Compassion and empathy are not generally a job requirement for a project manager either, another role I have carried out over the years.The turning point in my life came on an auspicious day in August 2006, in an inflatable pool, in my kitchen, with my wife. As she let out an primal roar, our first son was born. While my wife was taking her post birth shower, after eating what she calls “the best pancakes I ever made”, I held our son and he just stared up into my eyes, like he was connecting with my soul. I had an epiphany. Suddenly, the world was filled with, not adults, but babies who grew up to be adults. People I saw on the street were still kids at heart really; I could see it in their eyes now. More than that, I was overwhelmed by the urgent feeling of responsibility mixed with purpose. I had helped create a human being, that I could get my head around, but now I needed to protect, nurture and provide for him. Nothing could have prepared me for the powerful emotion of love that consumed me. I saw my wife differently as well. I realised then that she had super powers, she could create and deliver new life into the world. She could nourish that new life with her milk. She became my hero and still is to this day.
Scientists have said men experience a immense burst of hormones when witnessing the birth of their children and it lasts for years. I have no doubt that this is true. I know now, from my training, that it was a burst of oxytocin, the love hormone. At the time, all I knew was I had a mission in life now, to provide for my wife and son. To provide love, safety, nourishment, attention and stability.
Then, the whole world experienced shock waves with the collapse of the finance sector in Wall Street. The Irish property bubble burst and the Celtic Tiger went back to its cave, whelping and wounded. I was let go, about the same time I found out my wife was pregnant for the second time. This happened just after we put out a bid on our dream house. It was like our little family had been struck by lightning. Personally, I was glad I could stop being a project manager. I had changed. My whole personality was different. I told myself that now I could get on with the job I was meant for, to help people, to care about them. I wanted to go back to school: my wife suggested midwifery because I had been so affected by our son’s birth. I applied, got in and never looked back.
Our second son’s birth, in the same kitchen, with the same excellent midwife, was a completely different experience. It was like the stars had suddenly aligned and he knew he wanted out into the world. I couldn’t get the birth pool filled in time. The midwife barely made it. When he was born he just looked up at us all, with a knowing expression. The mood was relaxed after, as my wife luxuriated in the now filled birth pool and I rubbed her shoulders as her mother rubbed her feet.
I was a third year student midwife when our third son arrived. I was deep in the middle of my complexities of pregnancy module at school, so I was on tender-hooks about the birth. Every dangerous scenario flashed through my head during every waking moment. I had trouble concentrating at school when my wife reached term; fully expecting a call that some horrible obstetric accident had befallen my precious wife and our new baby. I needn’t have worried. My wife went into labour slowly, with a long latent stage – a mild contraction every ten minutes. The birth pool was ready, the midwife was there but the contractions seemed to ease off as my wife read her book and had a snooze. The midwife announced she was going to book into a hotel room and she would be back soon. Before she left, my wife got into the birth pool. Our second-born had woken up and got into the pool with her. She had been examined (first time in three pregnancies) and was closed and uneffaced. The effect of the pool was electric. My wife let out the tell-tale guttural yell of a woman in second stage. The midwife said, “well maybe I will stay after all”. Sixteen minutes later, our third son was born underwater with no complications at all.
I have helped hundreds of women through pregnancy, labour and birth. I love being ‘with woman’ (the meaning of midwife) and helping families through that awe inspiring time. Some of those births have even come close to being as beautiful as the three births of my sons, but none could replace the strangely magical qualities of seeing my own family born one by one, before my very eyes.
Founder and Director Neighbourhood Midwives