“Every woman who heals herself helps heal all the women who came before her and all those who will come after.” ~ Dr. Christiane Northrup
At one time or another, we have all heard a woman tell us her dramatic birth story.
It usually is something to the effect of she just wanted to die when giving birth, or that she’s never doing it again, because it was that bad.
Perhaps another might convey how shocked and unprepared she felt about her “otherwise textbook” birth saying, “Just wait until it happens to you,” as though she’s hoping you will suffer too.
Stories like this are common, reflecting the dominant idea in our culture that birth can be a negative experience that women simply have to suffer through.
Why would other women want to scare us with their stories, especially when they know childbirth might be in our imminent future?
Humans are natural storytellers. We think in stories and tell stories about everything, including our experiences of childbirth. We are motivated to share our birth stories from a need to bond, compare, process, inspire, and perhaps even compete.
Sharing our birth stories is such an important part of the process for us, and for the next generation of mothers. But we need to be aware of the effect that sharing a birth story can have on future mothers as well as our birth culture.
Why we share our stories.
Sharing our stories and scaring others, or recounting how blissful our birth was, is often, at least in part, an attempt to process what was an incredibly intense experience. Most of us do need to talk about our experience as part of working through it, but sharing our story randomly, or even publicly, may not always be the best approach, for us or others.
Mindfully choosing a listener.
Before sharing our deeply personal experience of birth, we could take a moment to consider who in our life would be a good non-judgmental listener. Who can hold the space for us as we process the complex, and often contradictory, feelings of a multi-layered birth experience?
Many who share their difficult birth experience will find they don’t feel validated or understood. As a society, we are not well-equipped to know what to say when confronted with a difficult birth story, or for responding to other’s discomfort in general.
Commonly, we say unhelpful things like, “It only matters that the baby is healthy.”
Unintentionally causing hurt with our unprocessed stories.
We have all been touched by the birth process. No matter how we entered the world, we have some kind of story about it. Once we give or witness birth, we have an even more personal story.
From our earliest years, we absorb all sorts of ideas about birth unknowingly. We hear people talking about it, see dramatised or real (albeit edited) births on television, and can read birth stories in books, on websites, and in magazines. Every depiction of birth we encounter can influence what we believe to be true about it.
By the time most of us are preparing to give birth ourselves, we have taken on countless ideas and beliefs about birth without any conscious awareness of how it might affect our understanding, choices, or approach to it.
Our culture consists of millions of unprocessed birth stories. An unprocessed story is one that arises from feelings of shame, blame, guilt, and sometimes pride. Sometimes the entire experience might feel tainted. We may logically understand what’s causing the anguish, yet we aren’t emotionally equipped to let go of it. When we are at these particular places in our stories, there is limited value in sharing widely with others.
More recently, there has been a big movement in parts of our birth culture to counter the abundance of negative birth stories that women are exposed to. A core theme in this movement is the belief that if we want a positive birth experience, we should listen primarily to positive stories and share more positive birth stories.
It makes sense on the surface to try and balance the kind of stories women are exposed to, but is the solution really that simple?
Sharing your legacy from a processed and loving place.
As mothers, we all have our own birth stories, our own experiences, and our own truth. This is why it’s so important for us to process our stories so that we aren’t sharing from a painful, unresolved place.
Sharing our story helps us to process the magnitude of the experience. This is an important step—but it’s important that we do it in a healthy way—healthy for us, and healthy for the people we share it with.
Processing our own birth story: A step toward clarity and peace.
When we feel pain, distress, or guilt around our story, it can be helpful to work on processing those feelings, and our experience, before sharing it with the world.
Resolving the more difficult parts of our story with an empathetic person, a trained birth story healer, counsellor or psychologist who works with birth stories, or a trusted friend with the expertise to help us process, can help us to feel heard and validated.
We may feel apprehensive about revisiting a painful aspect of our story, but this can be an important first step in healing and untangling confusing feelings.
When we are stuck in a certain moment of our story, it can cloud our perception of the entire event. Imagine that we were left with deep feelings of disappointment. Our whole story can be tarnished with this brush of disappointment, so that we can’t clearly see the other moments we had—the ones of strength, connection, action, and even growth.
Getting a bird’s-eye view of our experience, as well as being able to see what happened through a more compassionate lens, can help change our perception of our story forever.
This is not about simply putting a positive spin on our story for the sake of others. First and foremost, processing our stories is for us—to help resolve the difficult moments, and awaken the part of us that knows that our worth is not based on our experience, or what kind of birth we had.
Taking the time, with appropriate support, allows us to truly appreciate the complexity of birth. It helps us appreciate the multitude of influences, including unknown factors, that result in what has become our birth story, and what we tell ourselves that this means about us.
It’s an opportunity to soften rigid beliefs and judgements and move towards acceptance and compassion for ourselves and others who walked the journey beside us.
When we can come to this place in our story, it is not only a gift for ourselves and others, but for birth culture as a whole.
Author: Nicole Tricarico
Image: Aaron H/Flickr
Editor: Lieselle Davidson