Warding Off the Grue

My wife Kat isn't just my wife-- she's a midwife. I realize that for most of you, this conjures up a vision of a stocky woman in her sixties with a long rope of braided silvery hair, earth-toned clothes, beaded moccasins or Birkenstocks, and a kettle on the stove, but of course this is totally inaccurate. Kat is in her early thirties.

No, seriously, she's actually not much different than anyone else you might meet, except for her tendency to rant about the oppressive patriarchal medical system at any given moment. I had been completely unaware of just how much of a problem this was until I met Kat, but from what she's been saying, everyone must be in on it except me. Of course, I'm not a doctor, so I guess I don't qualify to learn the secret handshake or whatever it is they use to keep outsiders from learning their secrets. Besides Latin, I mean.

Just for fun, I sometimes pretend that there really is a vast conspiracy, perpetrated by not just by doctors but by all men, whose sole purpose is to make life as difficult as possible for all women everywhere. Having been single for many years, Kat isn't always sure that I'm kidding, but she usually plays along. By doing so, she can usually move close enough to whack me pretty good, which I take as my signal that the joke has run its course, and that this would be a good time to shut up. Sometimes, I even heed this signal.

Of course, this is not to say that Kat has no sense of humor. She does have one, and although it's at least as bizarre as my own, the sources of humor from which it draws are unlike any I've ever encountered. Here's a typical joke she enjoys sharing with me:

Q: How many widwives does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Six. One to change the bulb, and five to prevent the obstetrician from interfering.

This is the kind of humor which midwives find hilariously funny. The rest of us smile when we hear these jokes, going on the theory that if we smile, they (the midwives) are more likely to assume that we also found the joke funny, and we therefore aren't part of the Evil Male Conspiracy to keep women down at every possible opportunity.

Speaking of things Kat enjoys sharing with me, no midwife is complete without her collection of Really Gross Stories Involving Birth And Other Female Bodily Functions. They only have secondhand stories when they're starting out, which are bad enough, but they pretty quickly accumulate some amazing experiences of their own, and they love to share them. I know I promised to share my life with her, and she with me, but I'm seriously thinking about requesting federal arbitration on this point.

Out of respect for me-- a total featherweight who can't even watch "The Operation" on The Learning Channel without feeling nauseous-- Kat tries to keep these stories to herself. This of course is a huge mistake, because they only build up this tremendous pressure until they come bursting out at the most inconvenient moments, like large family gatherings or while standing in line for a movie.

Dinner, for example, is a major risk for a little medical storytime. We'll be sitting there, having a lovely dinner involving mashed potatoes and gravy (for example), when Kat will pause ominously in the conversation and then say something like, "You know, this reminds me of a patient I saw the other day who had the most amazing infection..." and already I've lost my appetite. And that's without hearing the actual gory details which will inevitably follow. About this time, I tend to decide that the dishes really need to be washed right away-- which, now that I think about it, might be the point of these stories.

Of course, it only gets worse if we have any of her friends over for dinner, because then there are two of them in the room. Not only does this double the chances that somebody will trot out another goo-laden story at the drop of a hat, but they quickly start to vie for the title of "Queen of the Gross Delivery Experience." Midwives love this game, and are completely oblivious to any spousal psychological damage which they might cause in the telling of these stories. Believe me, the most horrifying words a man can hear one midwife say to another are: "Heck, that's nothing. Wait until you hear what happened to ME this one time."

Once the competition has begun, they just can't leave well enough alone, and they never notice the facial color of anyone else in the room. God help you if you're trapped at a midwifery party when the games begin. They just keep topping each other with tales of pregnancies with more complications and bigger emergencies, as though it were the most natural thing in the world, until the stories involve more gore and slime than any three David Cronenberg movies put together, with a little bit of "Alien" thrown in for good measure. And then you get to the really icky stories.

It could be worse. Just imagine if she were a proctologist.