*why-to: a short and helpful guide to motivate one’s pursuit of activities
a.) previously not pursued
b.) pursued so regularly that no one knows or remembers why they’re doing them in the first place.
Why-to revisit a previously written why-to:
When I wrote a why-to for having a child before he was born, it was really an exercise in gaining a better understanding of what motivates any human to make another human. However, since creating that initial why-to, I have actually had the child—actually, my wife was the one who gave birth to him, though I did try to help from a morale perspective.
Regardless of who had the child, I now have a bit more perspective on the situation and could probably provide a better set of reasons for pursuing such an activity. The situation is still developing, of course, but the delivery is now over, making it the perfect time to reflect on why-to actually have (as in give birth to) a child.
Why-to create a why-to as a series of events along a timeline:
In the case of childbirth, timing matters. Laboring moms, and/or any companions they may have with them during the birthing process, are meant to time contractions to better understand how the event is progressing. Additionally, the duration of the event can feel quite cumbersome, particularly for the mother. For this reason, it may be important to approach the event of childbirth from a temporal perspective.
Why to actually have (as in give birth to) a child, from a partner’s perspective:
October 3, 2017
9:10 pm: Danielle feels some contractions but they’re neither close enough together nor intense enough to keep her up, mercifully allowing her to sink into a light sleep that lasts until about midnight.
October 4, 2017
12:31 am: Husband (me) dozing, Danielle is awakened by somewhat more powerful contractions. Waves of pain are gently breaking along the shores of Danielle’s consciousness at about ten minutes apart.
From the unrequested male perspective, it doesn’t look so bad. Not fun, but not the horror stories that you hear about associated with going into labor. Fingers crossed that this is as bad as it gets!
2:45 am: The waves of contractions aren’t quite at high tide, but you wouldn’t advise any surfers to take a chance in the ocean of childbirth. They are coming in at about five minutes apart and lasting a minute each. We decide to call the midwife to ask what to do next.
“When Danielle starts feeling like she can’t labor at home anymore and she really needs some medical assistance, I’d recommend coming in to the birth center,” says Loretta, the midwife on call. I repeat the words back to her, both for clarification and as a means of really coming to grips with the situation: a baby is coming.
Loretta elaborates, “Danielle should trust her instincts. When it’s time to come in, she’ll know.”
3:45 am: We pass the time laying in bed, I, timing contractions and warning her of the next wave to come, and she, listening to interviews with Marina Abramovic. The strong Slavic woman is meant to comfort my Croatian-American wife with footage of self-mutilating acts of performance art.
“See, honey, if she can cut a pentagram into her stomach, you can handle these contractions. Okay, another one is coming in just a few seconds,” I say, checking the birthing app on my phone.
6:00 am: If labor really were an ocean, a ship’s captain might warn the crew, eyes cast at the menacing clouds overhead, “A storm’s a brewin’.” Danielle is miserable and can no longer even listen to Abramovic, as the artist discusses her recent, well-known meditation on meditating in front of MoMa patrons, “The Artist Is Present.” This seems to all of us—Danielle, me, the baby, and the ship’s captain, wherever she is—to be the time.
We gather courage. Danielle gathers strength. We start making our way out of the house and to the hospital.
Danielle tries to time her movements from the bed upstairs to the couch downstairs to the car and to the birthing center at the hospital in four minute intervals so that she can bear down in the nearest seat for the duration of a one-minute contraction. Along the way, she exerts two contraction-induced diarrheas, commonly experienced by laboring women, one in the upstairs and one in the downstairs bathroom.
6:30 am: By the time we pull up to the birthing center, something has changed. The clouds have receded, the waters calmed, and the contractions spaced out to almost six minutes apart. Danielle says her pain has subsided a bit, too.
This is a typical reaction. When the body feels unsafe, unsituated and uncomfortable, it retreats from labor until it can find a protected environment in which to give birth.
We walk into the birthing center and Danielle has regained her ability to carry on a conversation. Kem, a nurse in the unit, maybe about 50 years old with long grey hair and a friendly, knowing demeanor, greets us and immediately offers up a quick labor position tutorial.
“Put your hands on his shoulders. I’m sorry, what’s your name again? Danielle. Danielle, face him and put your hands on his shoulders. Now I want you both to sway back and forth. This helps open up the hips and allows gravity to guide the baby down the birth canal.”
We stand in the hall swaying for a minute. “Good. Good,” Kem says. “Now let me show you to your room.”
8:45 am: Loretta arrives. She determines Danielle’s dilation to be only 3 centimeters, a far cry from the 10 necessary to shove a baby’s head out into the consensus reality. As Loretta explains the situation, it begins to dawn on us that she’s sending us home.
“Because Danielle has only gotten a couple of hours of sleep, I’m going to recommend that you pick up some Unisom from Bi-Mart. This is a pregnancy-safe drug that should allow you to sleep for a bit. The only problem is that it may make you drowsy, which could make laboring later on pretty difficult.”
“Later on?” we’re thinking. “But isn’t labor happening right now?”
9:45 am: With the hospital’s bureaucratic discharge processes complete, we stand up and head for the door, at which point the sea takes on a tumultuous tone once again and contractions come crashing against the shores of Danielle’s pain receptors. Frequency is increasing. Intensity is back. We ask a nursing assistant, coincidentally named Marina, “They’re coming back. Should we really go home?”
“I think that’s what Loretta has ordered. But feel free to call us or come back in if you think things are progressing.”
Loretta, Marina and the world around us clearly isn’t taking this seriously enough. Danielle groans through grit teeth, “If this isn’t active labor, then I don’t think I can do active labor. I can’t believe they’re sending us away.”
11:31 am: At home, Marina is useless. I play Danielle’s pre-made “Labor Soothing” playlist, which includes an eerily beautiful and arhythmic piano song, “Be Kind to One Another”, by Terry Riley. It repeats an endless cascade of notes that would be well timed with pedestrians crossing streets in the rain. I try to force spoonfuls of vanilla greek yogurt alternately between Danielle’s mouth and mine knowing that, as our Bradley Method classes instructed, “labor is a marathon, so be sure to be well-rested and well-fed when it happens.”
Why-to see women as laboring cows, rather than laboring dogs:
As a boy, Bobby sees all manner of cloven hoofed beasts spawn offspring under the shade of bright red barns and the like and
By the time he becomes an obstetrician, he realizes that women labor not like panting dogs that lack the sweat glands of human females, as French obstetrician Fernand Lamaze hypothesized, but like mammals that do sweat, such as cows. This means that women in labor shouldn’t pant like non-perspiring canines; they should perform long drawn-out breaths like sweaty barn animals.
Inspired by the sights he’d witnessed as a child on the golden pastures of his family farm, Dr. Robert Bradley, a practicing obstetrician, conceives of his laboring method.
The biggest component of Bradley’s method isn’t an emphasis on women behaving like bovines, but that the husband or, in less patriarchal and heteronormative language, partner should be present throughout the birthing process in order to provide the person in labor with physical, mental and emotional support.
Why-to also see women as laboring dogs, though:
This support is important and transcends the animal metaphors, whether women behave more like cows or dogs. Take this passage from his 1965 guide Husband-Coached Childbirth, for instance:
We have already gained a point in the necessity for training fathers as labor attendants. They must not do anything that will distract or disturb their wives during labor, or they may be verbally snapped at. This does not mean the laboring mother (be it dog or human) has lost her love for the master or father. Rather it points out the fundamental commandment of nature: laboring mothers should not be disturbed or distracted; they have a great need for deep concentration. If this concentration is disturbed, pain and prolongation of labor can result.
Though Dr. Bradley sounds sexist and misogynistic in his guide, the idea that loved ones can coach someone through labor is one that almost anyone should be able to understand.
12:00 pm: Danielle maintains the refrain that she can’t handle active labor if this labor wasn’t active enough for the medical professionals. Another refrain is that she can’t handle being turned away from the hospital again. Despite the fact that we’d trained for a non-medicated childbirth through our 12-week Bradley Method course, she also insists that she will likely need an epidural.
12:31 pm: Danielle’s contractions are getting to be 3 minutes apart and the pain she is experiencing is so unbearable that we decide it must be categorically defined as “active.”
1:00 pm: We return to the birthing center. This time, the contractions don’t slow down and the pain doesn’t stop, but Loretta tells us that dilation has only progressed to 3.5 centimeters. “I really don’t want to send you home again,” she says. She then suggests that Danielle labor a bit longer here in the hospital, with the implication that she might have to go home again.
1:31 pm: Danielle is breathing very deeply and very quickly, as I warn her, “The next one is coming, okay? Ok, now the contraction is here. You can do this. You’re doing an amazing job, sweetheart. Now it’s about halfway over and it’s going to start feeling better again now, okay? You’re doing such a great job.”
1:45 pm: As she lies in the hospital bed, a hallucinatory lack of sleep permeates the room. Danielle has always said that, from her profile, she looks like David Bowie on the cover of Hunky Dory. Looking at her, hair slicked back behind her head, I can see it vividly. I look down at my hand, light and feminine, on her head there and it no longer looks like mine.
July 3, 1945
Dimensions 2X, 356A, 10^64 Delta: Several alternate timelines lay atop one another. Our genders are swapped and I am the devoted wife to her, my loving Ziggy Stardust of a husband who has possibly come home injured from war.
Nurse Kem brings in a pot of freshly made coffee. “He’s going to be okay?” I ask. “Isn’t he?”
“From a spiritual perspective, most definitely. But he’ll have to make it through this physical plane, first,” she says, offering me a cigarette.
How many times have a couple of kooks like us been through this before? And in how many ways?
As I take a long drag from the long forgotten Lucky Strike, it becomes a flexible plastic straw. The smoke thickens into a viscous sludge as I inhale a cold strawberry smoothie delivered from a 2017 hospital employee deeply into my gut, lungs inflating with air.
Why-to have an epidural:
2 pm/?: Lost in a daylight savings time that coasts on forever, Danielle’s mental state has transcended all temporal layers. Somewhere in spacetime, a voice is saying something to her about swaying back and forth. Pinned by pain to a bed at another point in spacetime, she can’t muster the ability to stand, place her arms around my neck and sway. So she just shakes her head back and forth deliriously.
The dimension that Danielle Proper has fled to is where consciousness goes during psychotic breaks, DMT trips and fever dreams, leaving only the pure soul to return to the consensus reality—how you were when you were a kid, before socialization manipulated and conditioned you into surviving adulthood.
In the movies, the caricature is the laboring woman twisting her husband’s pinky finger while belittling him in so many ways. However, with the layers stripped away, Danielle reveals herself to be extremely polite and apologetic. She thanks every staff member gratuitously while simultaneously apologizing for inconveniencing them, as they check her stats on the monitor or bring her ice water. If the women in the movies are scared and angry at their core, Danielle feels as though she is the most troublesome spec in the grand scheme of things, grateful for every fortune and sorry for any burden.
2:30 pm/?: Loretta checks Danielle’s cervix to see that it’s only progressed to 4 cm.
“Is this active labor?” I ask. “I mean, she’s in a lot of pain.”
“It’s really not as active as we’d like. I really don’t want to send you home. Have you tried laboring in positions other than lying in the hospital bed? What about using the shower?”
Danielle swings her head back into our reality, “Yeah. Let’s try that. I really like water.” It’s not the birthing tub we’d initially planned on using, but it’s water.
February 15, 1986:
Danielle was born a water baby. Not in that she was born with a congenital abnormality at birth, but in that, being from the working class coastal town of San Pedro, California, she feels most at home in water. According to her mother, she would spend hours taking baths as a kid. In adulthood, she continues to, as Wendy Williams refers to it, “luxuriate” in the tub. She thought that laboring in the spa-like tubs of the birthing center would help detract from the pain of pushing a watermelon-sized mammal out of the narrow passage of her vagina.
The private shower has the aesthetic of a high school locker room and stands about 10-cubic-feet. Loretta and I, along with a doula we somehow picked up along the way, stand packed together fully clothed while we take turns spraying Danielle’s naked body down with warm water as she sways back and forth.
I convince the others that I’m capable of doing the job alone and they leave. We perform the shower dance for an hour, with Danielle taking a seat on a small wooden stool as each contraction approaches.
“I don’t feel good, Mikey,” she’s repeating, face pale and peaked, eyes looking into no dimension in particular, water cascading down her body and into a central drain. I run down the hall while we wait for the next contraction and ask Kem for the epidural. Kem relays the information to Loretta before walking us back to the room.
3:00 pm/?: She’s left us entirely again. Her body lays in a state that cannot quite be described as sleep with each contraction coursing through her at regular intervals. What would otherwise be snoring takes the form of wincing and moaning, but it’s been decided that, epidural or not, her body needs this rest to go on.
4:00 pm/?: Loretta comes in again and checks her cervix. Only five centimeters now. “I really don’t want to send you home again,” she said. “I think we should give you some Pitocin, to help push things along and we’ll get the epi-“
4:00 pm and 30 seconds/?: Danielle hears a pop. “I think my water just broke,” she winces. Loretta confirms Danielle’s diagnosis and even goes so far as to show us the mucous plug, a large wad of slime covered in blood.
“Ok, that should really help speed things along,” Loretta says. “We’re going to get the epidural started, but I’m warning you, Danielle, that the pain is going to get a lot worse even before the anesthesia team gets here.”
3:20 pm/?: Returning to the ocean metaphor, from all outward appearances, this is for Danielle an ocean of lava.
This is the period of labor known as “transition”, as the body moves from first to second stage labor. Her pain goes from an 8 or 9 to the color white. I try to reassure her by saying, “They’re getting the epidural honey and it’s all going to feel better okay?”
“No they’re not!” She growls. This is the closest thing Danielle has done to snap at me and it still doesn’t feel directed at me, but at the pain.
One of the defining characteristics of transition, as outlined by the Bradley Method, is the mother specifically expressing the phrase “I can’t do this.” As the pain increases, contractions tightening and twisting into knots of blinding light, the sliver of Danielle that clings to this earthly world whimpers, “Mikey, I really don’t think I can do this.”
Before I can finish saying, “Honey, I feel like you might be in transition,” Danielle interjects, “I feel like I’m going to puke.” At the height of the experience, Danielle hurls the alimentary contents of the day from her mouth into the blue bag supplied by the hospital. “I’m so sorry,” she says.
4:00 pm/?: Loretta returns with the anesthesiologist, a fast talking Southern gentleman who gains Danielle’s consent and injects the anesthetic in a series of quick, rehearsed motions.
4:15 pm/?: Just as the epidural is placed, Loretta checks Danielle’s cervix. “Wow. You went from 5 to 9 centimeters in less than an hour.”
7:51 pm: After that, things are easier for her. The anesthetic has blocked out the pain from below the waist as she works to push Niko down through the birth canal. The only real problem during this time is the uncanny effect the epidural has on her perception of her legs. Grabbing onto her inner thighs to push with each contraction is like hanging onto two dead logs. The lack of sensation gets to be so disorienting that Danielle’s oxygen starts to drop.
Why-to name your son Niko:
As I meet Nick for the first time, I’m terrified. He is a towering 6 feet and 7000 inches tall with a permanent five o’clock shadow and a voice full of the deepest gravel from a lifelong smoking habit. His head is permanently cocked to the side for some unknown neurological reason. He seems to have no interest in me, as the relationship between me and his daughter is still TBD. Of course, he isn’t gruff like that with Danielle, who he lovingly refers to as “dear”.
This has been the hottest summer in LA I’ve ever experienced and our 500-square-foot apartment traps the heat in like an oven. I’ve been living with his daughter for about six months, but I’m still terrified. He hasn’t crushed me yet, but that doesn’t mean he won’t. Nick lets us borrow his window AC for as long as we want. Soon after, my TV breaks and Nick just hands us the one from the bedroom in his small, smoky apartment.
“Are you sure?” we ask.
“Yeah, the sound on it wasn’t that good. I was going to get a new one anyway,” he says.
“Thanks so much, Dad.”
“Thanks so much, Nick.”
“If you say ‘thank you’ one more time, I’ll kill you,” the threat obviously isn’t sincere, but there’s no irony in his voice.
Nick comes over to help me hang a mirror. With the eye of a natural craftsman, Nick more or less eyeballs where we need to drill holes in the mirror and the wall and how to hang it, though he does use measurement tools occasionally.
“Naw, lift it up, Mike,” he barks. Not like someone who will crush me, but more like how he coaches his son, Dane, from the sidelines of a soccer game.
Every week, I go over to his house in the morning to use his washer and dryer while I do work on my laptop. We don’t talk much, but, if he’s watching something good on TV, like Democracy Now!, he’ll talk to me about it. “Have you heard this Noam Chomsky guy? I really like this guy. He really knows his stuff.”
Now that Danielle and I are married, I am now officially a part of the family, which makes me feel more comfortable singing along with them on Christmas Eve. Ahead of the big party, we practice learning to sing and play songs on the guitar, mostly David Bowie.
Danielle and he take this opportunity to bond over music. Nick also plays us the tunes he’s written most recently. Then, he talks to us about Alan Watts or Ram Dass and his daily meditation routine. It’s clear from the conversations the two of them have that Nick never judges her, but accepts her entirely.
We decide to move to a small town in Southern Oregon, recommended to us by Nick. He knows a realtor there— “the best real estate agent in all of Southern Oregon,” he says—and he pays for our deposit and first month’s rent, which he won’t let us pay him back.
“Thanks so much, Dad.”
“Thanks so much, Nick.”
“If you say ‘thank you’ one more time, I’ll kill you.”
The company I work for is going under. They haven’t paid us in three months and our birthdays are right around the corner, so Nick sends us a check for a $1,000 and asks us to go out to dinner using his credit card.
With a financial foundation established by my parents and grandparents, Danielle and I are able to put a down payment on a house that is way out of our league. Nick sends us a check for $5,000. The amounts on the checks seem to be steadily increasing.
With the money, we’re able to remodel a little bit, a process that Nick insists on watching over FaceTime, yelling at the contractors that they’re not doing anything right.
Danielle is pregnant! Nick sends a check for the baby’s college fund.
We hold a gender reveal get-together at Danielle’s aunt and uncle’s house, where they, along with Danielle’s mom, Cherie, and her dad meet to watch us slice open a cake and, thus, reveal whether our baby will be born as blue frosting or pink frosting.
“Can we cut the cake already?” Nick asks.
The baby will be blue frosting. Out of all the names we’ve picked out, Nick says, “Niko sounds like a good name.”
Though he’s paid for the whole thing, Nick is unable to make it to the baby shower, held at one of his favorite restaurants, Rafaello’s.
September 23, 2017:
I text Nick to ask if he can record a video message for Niko. He says he can, but I never receive it.
October 2, 2017:
Two days before Niko is born, we visit the midwives at their clinic. In the hopes of having the baby soon enough that we can fly to LA, one of the midwives, Patricia, performs a membrane sweep, in which the tissue that connects the uterus to the wall of the abdomen is lightly wiped with a few fingers to potentially stir labor. We go home that day and not much happens on the baby front.
October 3, 2017
9:00 am: The day before Niko is born, his grandfather and namesake, Danielle’s dad, Nick passes away. It is a hard day for both of us-of course it’s much worse for Danielle, particularly given how far away she is from him when it happens. Nick was in San Pedro, California and Danielle, 39 weeks pregnant, is stuck in Oregon.
I’m not exactly a spiritual person, but more of a mystical one. I’ve never before felt that someone who dies gets transformed into a ghost or anything like that. In this one case, though, I really do feel like he is somewhere between this plane and the next and that he will keep some piece of himself with us long into the future.
That night, Danielle uses a breast pump to try to induce labor in the hope that she can generate some meaning out of his loss.
7:55 pm: The staff gives her an oxygen mask, just to ensure that her O2 remains at normal levels.
9:00 pm: The pushes come in sets of three or four, with Loretta asking Danielle to flex her uterus with each contraction, Danielle thrusts our soon-to-be-born son down the birth canal one contraction at a time.
9:10 pm: We see a tuft of hair. Black? Neither of us have black hair.
9:33 pm: The top of his head begins to crown and Loretta hands Danielle a hand mirror to look at him. She can’t really get a good look but I’m amazed.
“Is this supposed to take this long?” Danielle asks. “I feel like this is taking too long.”
9:50 pm: “I want you to give one last push with this contraction, Danielle. He’s coming out this time.”
9:50 and 15 seconds: Push, grunt.
9:50 and 30 seconds: Push, grunt.
9:50 and 45 seconds: Push, grunt.
9:50 and 55 seconds: Danielle projectile pukes into a blue hospital bag.
9:51 pm: A face, smooshed by his right arm sticking above his head, vomits into the world. His eyes open and crossed, I wonder, “Is there something wrong with him? Like in his brain?”
Niko slides completely out, screaming as the staff scoops up his larval body and thrusts him into Danielle’s arms. As in all of the birth videos we’d watched up to this day, Danielle reflexively cries, “My baby!”
October 5, 2:30 am: A nurse wheels in a second hospital bed and arranges the two next to each other, creating a full size bed that occupies nearly the entire room. This way, Danielle and I, with Niko in a bassinet alongside his mom, can all sleep together as a family.
Why-to not circumcise your son’s penis:
Until Niko was born, there wasn’t ever really a question as to whether or not he’d be circumcised. I’m Jewish, so it runs in my family. In researching the topic to make an informed decision, it became clear that, though there are medical arguments in favor of he practice, the statistics are so minor that even the CDC can’t actually recommend that parents circumcise their sons. In the end, it’s a cosmetic suggestion.
When I change Niko’s first diaper, it is impossible for me to have an opinion other than that he is already perfect. Danielle has the same thought completely independently from me.
October 5, 9:00 am: I drive home to feed the cats and the only music that seems to be able to match the levels of oxytocin pumping through my body is that arhythmic Terry Riley song, “Be Kind to One Another”.
*Part of the Why-to Project on Patreon.
Michael is the founder of The Reality™ Institute, a service institute dedicated to determining what's real and what's not so that you don't have to. He is a graduate of the MFA Critical Studies and Writing Program at CalArts, and a firm advocate of world peace. He currently resides in Oregon with his magical wife, Danielle.