This story ran in the paper and Giants Journal last week, but I thought I’d put it here because I find it fascinating that an NFL quarterback is a heroic figure for many in the New York natural birthing community.
So I called Eli Manning to find out if he knew what he was getting into.
Mary Esther Malloy-Hopwood, a doula from Hastings, was at another woman’s side helping her through a three-day labor. The mother was having a difficult time, until she focused on something that seemed just as impossible as having her baby.
Eli Manning’s pass to David Tyree when the Giants won the Super Bowl.
So when Hopwood heard that the Giants quarterback and his wife Abby were spearheading the effort to fund a new $10 million birthing center at St. Vincent’s Hospital, it just seemed to fit.
“It’s been a subtext to my year, Eli Manning and birth,” Hopwood said with a laugh.
To many others however, quarterbacks and natural birth might seem like a strange combination. Even Manning understands it might seem unusual for a football player to take up such a core women’s issue.
“It’s probably a little different,” Manning said.
His involvement increased with St. Vincent’s very gradually. Manning made the traditional visits to the hospital as part of the Giants community outreach. The NFL often works with community hospitals and, like other players, Manning was affected by the people he met.
The more time he spent in the pediatric rooms, the more he was moved by the plight of young cancer patients and their parents. He asked how he could get more involved in helping St. Vincent’s and learned about the plans for the birthing center. He and his wife discussed it and signed on.
“My attachment to the new hospital, the plans, (is so) they have everything they need to make a woman feel like they’re doing it at their home,” Manning said.
A birthing center is very different from a hospital’s traditional labor and delivery area. Many women who decide to come to a birthing center opt for a midwife or doula rather than a physician, and the philosophy is very different.
“The assumption is that birth works and that women can do it,” Hopwood said. “Procedures are reserved for women who need them.”
Those procedures include fetal heart monitors, epidurals and IV fluids. Instead, women at a birth center might lean on hot tubs, relaxation techniques and visualization to make it through their labor — things Manning is finding out more about.
“The more we get involved the more we’ll learn,” said Manning, who was married after his Super Bowl victory and doesn’t yet have children.
Was he worried that he might get some ribbing from his fellow GIants?
“I think that players will see that I’m helping out with the hospital,” Manning said. “I don’t think I’ll get much heat for it.”
In 2003, Manhattan lost the Elizabeth Seton Childbearing Center, the only free-standing birth center in the city. Some natural birth advocates feared that women would be forced to choose between a hospital and a homebirth.
But Hopwood said interest in natural birth increased and there are several options for women in the five boroughs. She also thinks athletes and women in labor might have more in common than they think, in pushing themselves to accomplish a physically difficult task.
Hopwood will be hosting a discussion at St. Vincent’s later this summer on ment and natural childbirth, and she is sure that Manning will be a topic that comes up.
“It’s interesting having an icon in the masculine world of sports emblazoned across a birthing center,” Hopwood said, “but there are almost as many men walking through those doors.”
Manning may be an unlikely hero for the natural birth movement, and the quarterback has gotten letters through the hospital from people excited about his sponsorship. But Manning said he isn’t even sure that it’s what he and his wife will want when they decide to have children.
Then he paused.
“I’ll let my wife make that decision,” he said