June 5, 2017

When a Positive Birth Story is a Problem.


A positive birth story is a blessing. 

Perhaps we were whisked in and out of the birth suite in what felt like minutes. Maybe angels sang as our baby crowned. Perhaps it turned out exactly as we envisioned it.

Positive birth stories can be incredibly inspiring, and sharing them is harmless…right?

The truth is, not always.

In the same way that difficult birth stories are often shared from feelings of shame, blame, or guilt, positive stories can sometimes arise from a prideful, ego-centred place. Smug declarations of “do as I did, if you want a winning birth experience,” can be problematic for others who encounter this idea.

But what’s the harm?

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. The dominant logic is that if you want a positive birth experience, you should listen primarily to positive stories—and share the more “positive” aspects of your own story.

And it makes sense to try and balance the kind of stories women are exposed to.

But is it really that simple?

While the choices we make can influence the outcome of our births, as with anything else in life there are no guarantees. We can do all the “right” things, and still not have the outcome we’d hoped for, whether that is a certain kind of birth, to stay calm, in control, or to feel positive and empowered whatever happens. This is not always possible, or something we can choose to make happen, regardless of what birth class we take, where we birth, how much we inform ourselves, or how well prepared we feel.

Having a baby: Not quite as simple as baking a cake.

When a woman, proud of her birth outcome, presents a “recipe” for how to get the same outcome, we need to be mindful that nothing is as simple as following a recipe when it comes to birth (or life for that matter).

Women usually share their positive experience with the best of intentions—so happy and elated with their own birth, these lucky women want every other expecting mother to experience the same.

It’s important to understand that when a woman fully appreciates that her experience was the result of a number of factors, some beyond her control, and even with a measure of good luck, her story can hold great wisdom for others.

But when her experience is presented as a recipe (and taken as such), it can be every bit as problematic as someone sharing their negative or traumatic story.

For the listener who faithfully follows the recipe, yet has a different outcome, harsh feelings of disappointment and betrayal often follow as they turn a critical eye on themselves, wondering what they did wrong. The trauma of their expectation not coming to fruition adds to the stress of the experience.

Sharing our stories and scaring others, or even smugly recounting how blissful our birth was, is often, at least in part, an attempt to process what was an incredibly intense experience. It helps us to process the magnitude of the experience.

We do need to process our birth stories, good or bad—but in a healthy way.

Healthy for us, and healthy for the people we share them with.

Positive birth stories are a blessing for the nervous first-time mother, avidly seeking information to reassure herself ahead of the big moment. After all, women don’t hear many positive accounts of birth. As humans, we unintentionally focus on negative experiences—an evolutionary trait that encouraged us to warn our loved ones of dangers for the survival of the clan.

However, when some positive stories can arise from that aforementioned, prideful place, the woman believes that her choices, beliefs, trust in herself, and trust in the process were the main factors for her ideal birth outcome—her experience was almost entirely her own doing.

When we share positive stories in this way, generally it indicates that the feelings, and the birth story itself, remain unprocessed. As a birth story healer, I encourage honesty if this applies to you. I commend you for your honesty—it’s not always easy to acknowledge that we are sitting in this prideful place.

Processing, owning, and understanding our birth story is an important step vital for our mental well-being. I, too, had to face this realisation as a childbirth educator, and change paths for my clients well-being.

So, should we not share our positive birth stories?

Sharing our birth story is important—to us, as a mother with her own, it is a special lived experience, and to our birth culture as a whole.

But it’s also important to be certain that even a positive story is coming from a processed place, so we can celebrate the beauty and share the wisdom to support others in their own journey—while not presenting a recipe for a good or ideal birth outcome, just because we happened to achieve that.

Taking the time to explore the feelings around our birth story, and consider if we could perhaps benefit from exploring our story from a neutral perspective with a trusted friend, or a professional birth story healer (yes, we exist!).

If we are seeking out birth stories to prepare for our own experience, it may help to listen with a compassionate, yet aware ear. Are we being given a script? Or are we receiving useful guidance? Are we paying attention because they are saying what we want to hear?

No mother intentionally shares bad advice or prescriptive stories. Everyone is simply working through their own story, in their own way.

When we are able to move out of a more ego-centered place to a more kind, compassionate, and honest place, we are able to see the many complex factors that all came into play to result in our unique birth experience. We can see the more authentic and balanced version of our experience.

In this processed place, our story can be valuable to share, and can be a source of wisdom for ourselves, others, and our birth culture.



Author: Nicole Tricarico 
Image: Jenko Ferlic/Unsplash
Editor: Taia Butler

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