Henry McKean, Ireland, has just returned from Amsterdam, the Netherlands, where last week he ‘gave birth’ to Baby David after a labour that lasted over two hours.
The Geboortehuis Private Maternity Clinic offers men the opportunity to go through labour, or at least simulated labour, with the help of a machine that induces pain through electrodes attached to various parts of the patient’s body. It is, according to McKean, the closest thing men get to experiencing labour.
He says the machine was invented by the Russians, possibly so they could “basically electrocute their weightlifters to help them feel and withstand pain”. “Then the Americans took it over and used it in physio to help athletes recover from injury,” says McKean.
McKean, who works for Newstalk as Sean Moncrieff’s roaming reporter, says the road to Amsterdam was a long one. Having come across a clip of “the Dutch equivalent of Ant and Dec” giving birth last year, McKean’s producer suggested he might make a perfect candidate. Reluctantly, he accepted.
Bookmakers Ladbrokes agreed to take on his cause and sponsor the birth of his child. After a three-week ‘pregnancy’, McKean flew to Amsterdam with his ‘birth partner’, Hayley O’Connor from Ladbrokes. O’Connor went there to lend McKean support, but was also keeping an eye on her bet. Ladbrokes had McKean at even money to last less than half an hour, and he was four to five on to cry.
“We went there on Wednesday, we met up at three o’clock and I was attached to six electrodes,” says Henry lifting up his colourful T-shirt. “They put them there, just on my torso under my wrap of fat, and they put some higher up here and maybe more here. I was in a daze at that stage. So I can’t remember.”
“No, I didn’t have an epidural but I was a bit freaked out by it all and I was wary that it was being filmed and recorded and iPhoned and there were three phones in the room and they were all ringing,” he says. “There was a midwife and a physiotherapist called Kim, who actually works with the Dutch women’s football team. She was very attractive and quite flirty. I think we kind of hit it off because she basically helped me give birth.”
McKean describes the pain as being like a hundred electric toothbrushes going off in your belly, while lots of little Lego men with sharp feet are whacking you.
“At first it was irritating,” he recalls. “It was like somebody making a phone call on loudspeaker which I find really irritating. Then it was like being on an aeroplane and really needing to go to the toilet but you couldn’t. Just like real birth, the contractions would come and go. You didn’t know when they were going to strike. So there were massive surges of pain, then nothing, then another less painful surge but towards the end they got really, really bad. And it even stretched down further into, not so much my balls, but into my willy. I’m still feeling the pain now.”
At about 5.20 p.m. Baby David was born. He was named after Henry’s friend who lives in Amsterdam and with whom McKean stayed in the final days of his pregnancy. David Sr was too emotional to comment.
“Hayley was my birth partner and she held my hand,” recalls McKean. “I think I told her to fuck off a few times and now I understand why women tell their husbands to fuck off while they’re having children.”
Reaction to the piece has been huge. Radio stations in San Francisco and New Zealand have picked up the story while it was featured in last Friday’s Huffington Post. Undoubtedly, McKean’s amusing style has helped and the video of his labour is tear-inducing. However, as always with McKean’s work, although he would probably never admit it, there is a more serious underlying message.
“A lot of people have something to say about it, especially women,” says McKean. “Ninety-nine per cent of the reaction has been positive but a lot of women feel I’m making a mockery of childbirth.
“I’m not. I’m just pointing out that men should experience it. I wanted to find out could a man deal with the pain; men have less of a pain threshold. So hopefully the video of it will just snowball and men all over the world will understand women better.
“We need to respect women, give them the chance to have their babies, and above all respect their pain.”