Birth Story #10 Philipp Langenheim
From and living in Berlin
When did you become a father?
I first became a father in summer 2015 when I was 26 years old.
Was it a premeditated decision?
A few months after Corina and I finished our studies in Photography, we felt like it was the right time. Although back then we only had a few jobs and no stable income at all, it felt like we would still be able to manage financially and emotionally. Shortly after we found out that Corina was pregnant, we decided to work together as HEJM. Month by month more and more jobs came in. We grew together as a team, not only on a working level but also on a relationship level.
Were your family or friends surprised that you had your first kid during your middle 20s?
Oh yes, definitely. My parents were quite surprised and none of my friends were expecting this. By far I was the youngest father of all of them and until today there are only a few friends of mine who have one child at all. I am still the youngest father in our kinder garden, while our oldest daughter is starting school this year. It was always a dream of mine to have children at a young age and I would recommend everyone to do so.
Could you tell us about the birth experiences your partner and you had? What was in your mind while she was giving birth?
Fortunately all the birth experiences we had were good ones. With our first child we were a bit nervous and very excited, probably like everyone. It’s an experience you’ve never had before. We went to a prenatal class, because we felt like we would learn something, but in fact it just calmed us down a bit more. A lot of people told us that we should go to a super nice anthroposophical hospital, which would have been 45 minutes away from our apartment back then. In the end, we decided to go with the closest clinic after getting more infos about it. It was the right decision. They had all kinds of alternative pain treatments. They convinced Corina, as she wanted the birth to be as natural as possible. Although we liked the idea, we were a bit too nervous for a birth at home with the first child.
The day before Corina was giving birth was really strange. We just got rejected a new apartment. We were both sad, we were sure that we would have got it. Besides that, Corina was in a really strange and grumpy mood on a level that I had not experienced before. We argued about something stupid and I decided to sleep on the couch for the very first time in our relationship. I felt like she was someone else on that day. In the middle of the night Corina woke me up and told me that she felt the baby would come. Her waters broke, that sounds like a waterfall, but it was really just dripping slightly. She took a shower and I prepared a bag for the clinic. We hadn’t thought about packing it earlier, since she was still 2 weeks before her due date. I don’t remember exactly how we got to the hospital. When we arrived, they confirmed that her waters had broken and she got a room. It was early morning and she went into the first labour. During that time, I already felt I could really help her just by being with her, breathing with her and talking to her. In the afternoon we went down to the labour room. Corina was in big pain, but still refused to take any painkillers. Instead she went into a bathtub, tried some laughing gas and changed from sitting on a ball to lying in bed. During that whole time we were basically alone. It didn’t scare us, it really just calmed us down and it felt like we were a team. From time to time a midwife would come in to check if things were alright and how far the mouth of the uterus was open. The last hours felt like ages. Just shortly after Corina was about the give up, the bearing-down-pains started. A midwife was back with us. A few minutes later Maia was born. It took about 17 hours or so. Ten minutes after giving birth, Corina was still on her natural hormone high, she told me that she wanted to experience this again. I felt so proud of her and couldn’t believe that she managed everything so well. We were really lucky as the clinic had a free family room on that night. Otherwise I would have had to go home alone. The next morning we went home, Corina didn’t want to stay any longer. She was sure that her healing process would be way nicer and faster there. Our midwife totally agreed on that and supported us with our decision.
The birth of Juna was different. The day she was born I already felt like she was about to arrive. I came home from work earlier, around noon. Once again I felt like Corina was not herself, but unlike the first time things were really harmonic. In the afternoon I picked up Maia from kinder-garden and when we arrived at the apartment Corina stood up to hug Maia and her waters broke, this time waterfall style. She went in labour quite quickly, took a shower and we went to the hospital, where things were a quite a lot faster than last time. The second birth took just around 3 hours and everything felt way calmer then the first time. I guess we already knew what would expect us. Unlike the first time, we didn’t get a family room in hospital, so I had to go home for the night. Yet it didn’t feel like I would abandon Corina, because I felt she was quite confident and experienced. The next morning she went home again just like the last time.
The third birth experience felt like a mix of the first and the second. The day before Rio was born we went to a family gathering and had lunch. My sister in law asked me when would the baby be born. Without any doubt I told her that he would come the day afterwards. I had the same feeling, just like with the second birth, and was really sure that he would come any time soon. We had expected it to be as quick and easy as the second one. However it took longer. Cori felt that exhausted from us moving into a new apartment a few weeks before the birth and the general exhaustion from a daily life with two children. Still, it was a smooth birth, but for Corina it was the most exhausting one. I didn’t feel that way, but I also didn’t give birth. We went home on the same day and were really happy to be there. We had been looking for a proper apartment for months and were really exhausted of the whole process. When we finally found one, I had to build the kitchen and the apartment felt like a construction site for two weeks. Shortly after finishing, Rio was born and it felt like he was the last missing piece of the puzzle that we had built in the months before the birth. It finally felt like we arrived at home.
Do you remember what you felt when you held your children for the first time?
The first time I held Maia in my arms was weird. I wasn’t crazy happy, full of tears or something similar like you see in movies. I was really just tired and overwhelmed. The strange thing though is that this joyful, proud, happy feeling kicked in within the first 1-2 hours during the holy bonding time, where no midwife, nurse, doctor or whoever comes in, when you as couple are just alone with your child. It’s really sad to see that this is not taken seriously in lots of countries worldwide and babies are taken away from their mothers right after birth, put into perfumed soap water to clean away the “dirt” of the birth and the mothers are sometimes left alone without their children for hours.
What do you recall the most about the postpartums you've been through?
With the first child the postpartum went incredibly fast. Our midwife suggested that we could leave the apartment whenever Corina felt ready. It happened just a few days after her giving birth. I remember that I cooked a lot and that I enjoyed being with my new family. I also remember feeling disturbed by family members coming over every day during the first days. We didn’t find our own time as a family in the first days. With the second and third child, it was not as bad as with Maia. We had way more time alone, but I also got used to being surrounded by lots of family members over time.
What is your opinion about the role of a father in today's society?
As luckily more and more people are also having children in non heteronormative relationships, I’d like to answer this question in a broader way. The role of parents of any gender comes with responsibilities. There is still severe inequality between the rights and privileges of white males and others sexes and ethnicities in our society. This needs to be addressed by parents, especially male parents, even in the early stages of childhood, as these years are the ones shaping characters of children the most.
In your opinion, what could be done?
I think children should grow up in an environment that sees them as individuals without pushing them into categories like sexes, ethnicities, etc. As white cis males are the most privileged people in our societies, they should be the ones to develop a self-awareness of their privileges most of all and question them, so that one day we don’t have to discuss things like equal pay or sexual misconduct, as these issues will hopefully be solved.
In my opinion the origin of these inequalities comes down to toxic masculine behavior that especially male parents are transferring to their own children: “Be strong, don’t be weak”, “Don’t cry”, “Get over it”, “Don’t be a sissy”, “You have to bee good in what you’re doing”, “Don’t do this, you are not a girl”, “Don’t do that, you are not a boy”, etc… What I think should be told / taught to children instead is: “It’s okay to be sad, it’s okay to cry”. “It’s okay to be weak”, “Talk about your feelings and fears”, “Recognize inequalities and sympathize with the ones suffering from them”, “Be soft”, “Protect each other”, “Respect each other”.
They say that intuition of a mother grows already during pregnancy and later after birth. Does that happen to men too? Did this happen to you?
Yes, definitely. You grow into this role not by reading books, just by following your intuition. This intuition and experience also grows with each child. A big part of this intuition grows in you already as a child when you’re experiencing your own parents, which can be good or bad depending on how nice your childhood was.
Speaking of books, did you read any or hear any podcasts that you would recommend?
I read a few pages of one book in total about children and parenthood. It’s called “The Wonder Weeks” by the dutch physical anthropologist Hetty van de Rijt and the ethologist and development psychologist Frans Plooij. Basically it’s a book about the first year of development that a child goes through and it helped me a few times to understand and accept the struggles that babies are going through while growing up. I mainly used it with our first child, with the other two I barely looked at it, as Corina and I already knew what would happen next, but we also understood and learned that things just come the way they do.
As a couple, how did you manage to take care of yourself?
As Corina and I are not only in a love relationship but also a working relationship, we are lucky to be able to spend a big amount of time together. There are rituals in our relationship that are helping us to still be able to find time alone. We have quite clear rules regarding the bed time of our children, so that we still have a few hours every day that we can spend with each other just as a couple. But there's definitely a vacation with just the two of us on our bucket list. As soon as Rio is old enough, we will make a small trip somewhere, although I’m quite sure that we will miss our children a lot.
Where would you like to go?
I would love to go anywhere with Corina alone on a sailing boat. I think there are not many places where you are that close to each other, and that close and respectful to nature at the same time, while still being able to change locations on a hourly basis.
Which are the most significant changes you have experienced in your life since you became a father?
Having less time, but being more productive with the time that I have is a big change that I have experienced. I also started to see the world with kids eyes again, which helped me to prioritize things easier. And this might sound pathetic, but for me this is in the essence of parenthood: once you have a child, you start living for someone else as well. You will do things that you never thought you were capable of.
Could you tell us an example of something you did you had thought you would not be capable of?
For me, as a person who is physically not that strong, it can be such a basic thing as carrying two sleeping children for several blocks without having the feeling that I want to take a break. If I held that same amount in groceries, I would take a break in between. On a mental level I am impressed how we can manage to get along with the needs and wishes of three children. It’s like having three projects running at the same time, 24 hours a day. The only reason why this is all working is because having children can be incredibly rewarding when you enjoy their happiness through them.
Did your relationship towards your mother and your father change after you became a father?
I would not say that the relationship changed. I definitely started to understand what they had been through with me and my sister and why they did or did not do certain things. I began to see things that I really liked and that I disliked about them as parents.
Would you like to have more kids?
I feel like we are quite happy at the moment with three. Corina was joking a few times about wanting to have more, but she was also quite exhausted after the last pregnancy. I already had an appointment for a vasectomy, but Corona (not Corina) and some jobs crashed that plan. I will do it in the next months, at some point, when things are a little more back to normal.
— Photos: Philipp Langenheim and Corina Schadendorf