As soon as you get pregnant, people start telling you their birth stories. Why aren’t any of these inspiring?
Throughout your youth and especially during your pregnancy, you do your best not to let the scary stories sink in, and you have your baby. Afterward, you tell your own story. What you say and how you say it matters more than you know.
I had a cesarean for a breech baby. It probably wasn’t necessary. But at the time, I felt it was my only option. I told myself that this special surgery was saving our lives. I had to. In order to arrive at the hospital and lay on the table for them, I had to tell myself that story.
I continued to tell myself that story for a few months. I’m glad I never told it to anyone else.
For each birth, the story I tell depends on who I’m talking to. It’s my story, and I can tell it however I want.
For a long time, I hid the unimaginably positive aspects.
When I’m wearing my birth educator hat, sitting with groups of new parents who are telling their stories, there’s a lot of talk therapy. The scary, difficult, painful, awful experiences get the most time. And that’s okay.
What’s most troubling is that those with good, empowering, spiritual, triumphant birth stories often feel hesitant or embarrassed to tell them.
Though sad, it makes sense. If someone just spent 20 minutes emotionally enumerating the difficultly, the fear, and the bad luck they experienced, it feels heartless to counter with, “I thought it was great! I feel so good about myself now and can’t wait to do the incredible work of birthing again someday.”
Maybe not that good. But I think a lot more of us have good birth stories than it seems. These are the stories we’re less likely to share.
For one thing, it feels like wrong time/wrong place. Why would I tell my most intimate, personal moments to someone who may be hurt by it or think I am showing off, got lucky, or judging them?
Lots of these amazing birth stories happen outside of the hospital. People don’t want to hear about that. If you didn’t die during a home birth, it’s because you were very lucky. Telling your story often gets you a response of thinly veiled contempt.
“Oh! I could never do that. You’re brave. After my first, I will never birth without a level III NICU on site.”
“You didn’t have anything? Wasn’t it bloody? I wouldn’t want to deal with all the mess. Where was she born? A friend of a friend accidentally had her baby in the toilet.”
“Wow. Is that legal? Did you, like, bite on a strap of leather?”
We’re talking about something that is deeply personal. When you have a good birth story, there will be very few intense, intimate, life-changing events that can compare to it. This is true even when it’s a difficult story, but in that case it’s often not as hard to share.
And that’s the problem. When we only tell the troubled stories, the social construct of birth gets more and more scary. If 80% of the stories we heard were positive, we would approach childbirth very differently than we do.
Tell good stories, but never be dismissive of any birth story. Everyone gets to share what they want because everyone’s voice is important.
Even when it sounds to me (a birth-knowledgeable but admittedly outside, non-medical, third party observer) like the problems in my friend’s birth story were almost certainly caused by the medical staff, I would never challenge their perception of the story.
Their story is sacred. It’s true for them and they have a right and a need to tell it. These stories are important. They tell us: All Is Not Well With Birth Here. I believe they have helped to fuel some of the recent changes in maternity care. But let’s not hide the other side.
My argument is that the good birth stories are even more important to tell. And here is why:
Unfortunate or negative birth stories are especially impactful when they include mortal peril (perceived, threatened, or real). Often these stories include how the medical establishment saved their life or that of their baby. Sometimes this happens, of course. And we’re grateful for it.
But the overwhelming majority of medical interventions, including — and maybe especially — ‘emergency’ cesareans, are not necessary and do not save lives.
More often, interventions make labor harder and less safe. Speaking about intervention regularly as if we were categorically incapable of birthing babies under our own power is dangerous.
We begin to collectively believe that without medical intervention, we aren’t capable and we aren’t safe.
The perception that you aren’t safe, that your body is flawed or broken, is medically and spiritually dangerous. The lack of confidence and trust it engenders can cause slowing, stalls, and increased pain in labor. Fear is anathema to oxytocin, the hormone that contracts your uterus.
It tragically becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You don’t believe you can, and then you can’t. Afterward, you go tell everyone how it is and the fear cycle continues. The negative, medically-augmented birth stories become more abundant.
So here is my call to action: Don’t be ashamed of your good birth story or hesitant to tell it. Can you be bold and say the good things, too?
Whatever you have to say about the power of your body, the miracle of birth, the people who made a bubble of safety around you, the strength that you found within yourself: say it.
If your labor or birth was at times fun, spiritual, empowering, beautiful, or a great growth opportunity, let’s hear about it. Tell us about how you did it on your own, about how you came to terms with a complication, about how you talked to your baby through the whole thing, about what angels came to your side.
If you have a story you can tell that way, tell it first and often. If you tell your story first, you don’t have to feel bad following a really troubled one.
Wait for the right time, but find all the right times and say it loud:
Birth can be amazing. It’s not ridiculous to expect it to be beautiful.