While on a break between my second and third years of medical school—when the student transitions from book training to clinical “real, live patient” training—I went home to visit Mum and Dad.
Recognising that the shift from studying books and facts to treating flesh-and-blood people was crucial to becoming a good doctor, my father, an obstetrician, asked me to accompany him on his next delivery.
This offer caught me off-guard. Just as children—in an act of denial—find it nearly impossible to imagine their own parents engaging in the act required for their own existence, I realised the disconnect in my own thinking between my image of this man who was “Dad” and “that man” who did “those things” for his chosen profession. In some poorly understood way, I sensed that if I observed my dad at work in this most private and intimate setting, I would be leaving behind forever my simple, childlike and neatly contained picture of who he was.
I went with him.
It was a Sunday afternoon, so the usual hectic busyness of everyday hospital life was more relaxed. On the way to the hospital, my dad shared with me some history of the situation.
The mother-to-be, a girl of just 16, had “gotten into trouble” with her boyfriend, who was only 17. In the harsh glare of parental condemnation, both were unsure how to cope with the guilt and shame. Initially, the young man had thought about just leaving—abandoning the whole predicament—while the young woman had considered adoption or abortion. Some in their families had advocated these solutions. But she decided to keep the baby and he decided to stay and be a meaningful part of the child’s life—to be a real dad. It seemed to them the right thing to do.
My dad had extended an invitation for the father to come into the delivery room, but he wasn’t sure the young man would show up.
At the hospital we changed into scrubs and headed to the delivery room. The labouring mother, who looked younger than I had imagined, was in great agony as she began to push. I remember being startled—and a little embarrassed—by the uninhibited, raw emotion of the screams and groans that rose and fell with each contraction. I felt like an intruder.
The father huddled against the wall. He was really just a boy. Dazed, fazed and amazed, he was clearly overwhelmed by the place, the event and the intensity. He might just disappear if he could, I thought. He looked so uncomfortably out of place.
Because he had not made it to any of the prenatal visits and had never met my dad, he seemed fearful that Dad might treat him with thinly veiled contempt, condescension, judgementalism—as many others probably had.
In a warm and inclusive gesture, my dad welcomed this frightened boy with a handshake. Then, getting to the task at hand, he instructed this father-to-be what to do: “Get right up close to her, help her focus on the alternating rhythms of pushing and resting, encourage her, comfort her, praise her efforts.” Deliberately, carefully, almost tenderly, my dad guided this young couple through the birth process.
Slowly, the young man forgot his self-doubt as he became engrossed in the drama. By the time the baby was born, the awed father was in tears; he knew that he belonged!
His work done, with the baby sleeping quietly on the mother’s chest, the young man, with glistening eyes, tried to hug both of them at once.
Dad did what he always did before leaving: he asked the couple whether he could pray with them. They said Yes. (Dad told me that only twice in his entire career had parents declined.) He thanked God for a healthy baby. He dedicated the parents to the task of raising this precious gift to the glory of God and asked that God bless them. That day, in that intimate setting, I watched my skilled, professional, doctor dad attend the birth of a baby. It was only years later, after I had children of my own, after I had discovered the God who motivated my dad, that I began to realise the depth of what he had really done.
More than the birth of a baby, my dad helped in the birth of a family. He gently restored a young man’s shattered dignity, affirmed the value of life and taught a quiet lesson in grace, forgiveness, restoration, redemption and new beginnings, just as does our Father in heaven.