Should Men Experience “Labor”?

For a week or so now, there’s been a video floating around the interwebs put out by a Dutch television program where two men “experience labor” (Warning: some strong language).

Maybe I’ve been avoiding this video because as I watched them writhe in pain, I had the distinct recollection of exactly what labor is like. It ain’t pretty. A few nerves were cued as it hit me that the ol’ labor is certainly on my to-do list sometime in the next two weeks. As excited as I am to meet our daughter, their squirms, screams, and swears brought me to the reality of what I have to do to meet her.

Curiosity got the best of me though and I wondered how, just how will they simulate labor and how will these men folk react?

To simulate labor, they hooked the men up to an electro stimulation device that caused their muscles to contract while putting pressure on their stomachs and creating “immense pain” for two hours.

A midwife was in attendance to help them try different pain management techniques just like she would with laboring women.

As the physiotherapist ended her explanation of how they’ll recreate labor, one of the men stated, “briefly said, you’re electrocuting us for two hours.” My first thought was, “I don’t think anyone would describe labor that way.” My second, “I would never agree to that.”

As I watched them laugh and joke and clench their buttocks through the discomfort, it actually felt very similar to my initial moments spent in labor. When uncomfortable, I am the type to word vomit, make inappropriate jokes, or just laugh awkwardly. Oh, and clench my buttocks.

They called the contractions “annoying, like a barbed wire being pushed into your stomach in 36 places.”  These were only the initial contractions. “Three percent,” the physiotherapist declares, “of the pain you’d actually feel in labor.” This is greenhorn status my young grasshoppers.

Next, the midwife and physiotherapist decided that if they are laughing, they were not in enough pain. Oh shoot. It just got real. (For it to get really real, there would have to be a way for men to experience the six week postpartum blood bath, granny panties, thunder pads, and swollen lady parts too.)

The midwife told the men to accept the pain to make it easier. Acceptance is a big part of labor. It seems far fetched however, for the men who are voluntarily being shocked. There is no great end goal they are reaching. They do not have the reward that each contraction brings them closer to unbelievable love.

This is the major problem with the experience. These men are shown a minutiae of the actual pregnancy and birthing experience. To isolate only the pain of labor cheapens the experience of pregnancy. It is a small part of the package deal. To focus on the pain alone is problematic because along with the fear, there is an excitement and joy that cannot be recreated.

A little over an hour into the two hours, one of the men declares he can’t do it anymore, and the electrodes are removed.

While the video may have captured some of the emotions of labor, the fear, the nerves, and even some of the dread, the fact that he can quit makes the experience unrealistic.

I think there is a very real moment in labor when many women wonder if they can do it. Or they don’t want to do it anymore. But unlike this man, women do not get to quit. He cannot accept the pain because he never really has to. Women endure so much during labor because they know it is not in vain.

As the last man standing completed “labor” and they handed him a fake baby, I felt sorry for him. He underwent massive amounts of pain for really, nothing. That is not labor. That is not pregnancy.

He did not understand the feeling of enduring a grueling experience to welcome the indescribable love of the baby he carried and labored.  That is the purpose of labor. That is the purpose of the pain.

It is unfair to men and the pregnancy experience to equate two hours of electrocution to labor. The only way to be fair is to give men the sweet experience of carrying life. They need the previous nine months, with the phenomenon of movement, to be ready to do whatever is asked to meet the baby that made them laugh and cry when bony knees and tiny bottoms pressed against their tummy.

That can never be simulated and it feels cruel, worthy of a witchy cackle to simply say, “here, endure incredible pain for no reason.”

The man who did not endure the entire two hours reflects at the end that he doesn’t know now if he can put his wife through this pain.

I think his comment shows how isolating the pain of labor misses the whole purpose. He doesn’t understand that the pain means something.

While it seems tempting to ask men to see if they can “hack it” when it comes to labor, it will never be an equivalent comparison. You can bet your bottom dollar I wouldn’t do it for any other reason than to meet a fresh baby from heaven. Without that incentive, it loses authenticity. It’s just an endurance test then. Almost game show/reality show-esque. Fear Factor enthusiasts apply now. Or masochists.

All is not fair in love and labor and we should stop expecting it to be.

Unfortunately, men will never know what it is like to carry life. That is truly unfair because while difficult at times, it is ridiculously wonderful.

If pain is the only way to depict and capture pregnancy, men should not “experience labor.”

Instead, I’m happy to experience all aspects of pregnancy. I’ll do the laboring and push it real good if you keep the jokes and ice chips coming, boo.

Image: Woman giving birth via Monkey Business Images/

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  1. by Heidi

    On January 30, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    I have not seen the video nor would I like to. I think that Bekka is right, the pain of labor alone is not a real simulation of pregnancy and birth. Also, labor pain is actually NOT the “worst pain ever” as some people believe. I speak from experience having given birth unmedicated and suffering worse pain from gall stones. Last year my dear husband was hospitalized for pancreatitis and was in excruciating pain for weeks even with pain meds. I would bet that he was in more pain than I had been in labor. It was a chance for me to be on the other side of the experience; trying to comfort him and feeling entirely helpless to do so. I realize now that a loving husband’s role in labor is not easy.