Once you are pregnant the chances that you will hear someone’s birth story jumps significantly. If you are not already working in the birth services industry where you hear all sorts of stories regularly, you have now entered the world of unsolicited advice and oversharing details.
And that’s not always a bad thing, we can learn from other people’s experience and sometimes there are little nuggets of information that can work for us. But mostly what many pregnant women hear is all the horror stories.
And I’m not talking about things like the blood, the discomfort, or even that you will likely poop during delivery (trust me you won’t notice when it happens). I’m talking the delivery stories that have caused other women trauma, and large amounts of pain.
It’s one of the things that pissed me off in both pregnancies.
Usually, it would go something like
Random Person: “Oh, you’re pregnant! Congratulations”
Random Person: “You know when I delivered our son/daughter….” que trauma, mayhem, and hours of excruciating pain.
Not once have I had another person approach me with a peaceful, relaxed, calm birth story.
And even after I had my First and Painless Birth Story to counter with, often times I was either denied the option to share or looked at like I was crazy.
But why is that?
Why do we feel the need to share the horror, while our “good” birth stories stay hidden?
Our Culture’s Expectations around Birthing Stories
It’s not just the media that focus on the pain of birth but how about we start there. When we are watching movies or TV shows that have the element of birth in them usually the birth scene starts with the woman out having a romantic dinner and quickly progresses to her water breaking and screaming in pain.
Or there is the water breaking and making a mess that the woman is embarrassed over, or… you get the picture.
The only time I can think of off the top of my head when a woman went into labour and didn’t start screaming in pain is in the TV Series Friends when Phoebe goes into labor and her water breaks and it’s this really cool “inside joke” that everyone on screen is happy about.
And even then after some time in the hospital, Phoebe is screaming in pain…
Pair this with the decline to almost non-existent sharing of “women’s wisdom” around most topics including birth from our historical traditions and you get new Mom’s who expect the worst possible experience.
Why? Because the drama of nothing to screaming in pain makes for a more “entertaining” event.
To add to that the fact that many medical professionals are trained to see pregnancy and birth in the same way as a disease and our “normal” and “natural” understanding of what happens in birth has become a very fear and pain based.
Now I want to be clear, pain is a common occurrence in birth. It happens, I not only recognize that but want you to know that if you had a painful birth you have every right to own that story and share it!
What I’m addressing here is why the heck we seem to tell Mom’s who have a painless or even pleasurable birth to shut up or flat out call them liers for sharing their story (yes that has happened to me).
The After Care… Postpartum Processing
After the delivery of our First Born, I wanted to shout from the rooftops about how great and wonderful birth was and I can remember my Midwife advising me that I should be careful who I talk to because it could hurt someone.
I just did this awesome and amazing thing, literally brought new life into the world and it was empowering and … (you get the picture). And you want me to put a muzzle on it? WHY?
I get it, if you have just heard someone tell you a long and dramatic story about the pain and trauma they experienced in birth my turning around and countering with a “I loved giving birth, it was so empowering, uplifting and just plain amazing.” feels like we are invalidating their experience.
And I understand that, after the birth of our second son which has many of the same elements as our first son but felt way more traumatic I can completely empathize with why sharing a positive story feels invalidating to those who have had a very different experience. I couldn’t even handle reading our first son’s story for months after our second was born.
It can even feel embarrassing to have a “good” story when someone else has been talking about their challenges.
As someone with a story, I consider good when I’ve spoken up and shared my story I’ve been accused of things like bragging or showing off, and even of making it up. Usually by someone who’s experience has been very different from mine.
There is also something interesting to note that many (though certainly not all) birth stories that we would consider to be good happen outside of a hospital. And with many of us focused on a hospital delivery being our only option for a variety of reasons, they frequently get discounted due to “safety” reasons.
I can recall sharing the story of our oldest and having people respond with comments like “Oh, I couldn’t risk my baby like that”, or “with all that blood I wouldn’t want to deal with the mess” because I birthed at the birth center with a Midwife.
A perfectly safe environment for an uncomplicated pregnancy and birth, but because the person I shared it with had the idea that only doctors could “fix” whatever was wrong with the labor my choice to birth away from a doctor was counted as rare or a fluke.
The Good Birth Stories Perspective
While we are talking about “good” and “traumatic” birth experiences lets also make sure to mention that the definition of a “good” or “traumatic” story is going to be based on the perspective of the person who lived it.
Again let me say this, designating a birth story “good” or “traumatic” is something ONLY THE WOMAN WHO LIVED IT CAN DO!
I’ve heard many birth stories that I would consider good, or even amazing. Yet the woman telling it to me thought it traumatic, which means it was traumatic.
I’m not sure I’m being clear here so lets take a look at my birth stories in a short summary.
Birth 1, Baby Boy was 9lbs 1oz, 21.5inches and a 36cm head. Water birth at the local Birth Centre with a Midwife in attendance, along with a doula, and my husband. Labor started around 2:30 am, we went in at 4:00 pm, baby was born at 7:00 pm, home by 11:00 pm.
Birth 2, Baby Boy was 9lbs 2.5oz, 21.75 inches and a 37 cm head. Water birth at the same Birth Centre, with the same Midwife, my doula (same one in early labor different one for the end), and my husband. Labor started around 2:30 pm, went in at 11:00 pm, had baby around 7:00 pm, home by 11:00 pm.
Looking at the information above you could understandably jump to the conclusion that both of these births were amazing, outstanding or whatever definition you want to give them.
And likely you are looking at them thinking the only real difference is the amount of time in labor.
Birth 1 I think was the most amazing experience I’ve ever had!
Birth 2 has left lasting mental marks, and while I thank God for the opportunity to know my own strength I wish I had done things differently so I wouldn’t still be paying for it now. And yes I consider this one as having been traumatic. Beautiful, life-affirming, and I will never regret a moment of it, yet still traumatic.
The big difference between the two deliveries (besides the length of the actual labor) is my perspective on what happened. After having the first amazing birth, which left me feeling high on life I expected the same thing with birth #2. I was actually looking forward to it.
Then things went in a direction I did not want, and I fought against because it was not what we did the first time… and now looking back I wonder if doing things differently would have changed how I feel about it.
Fixing the Broken
Many of us women (myself included) see the postpartum period as a time to “get back our bodies” as well as a time to figure out this new little person we now need to take care of.
There is a focus on finding the things that are “broken” by our medical support teams.
And while that is needed to ensure those fighting Postpartum Depression or Anxiety or any other concerns get the help they need. What it entirely misses is the fact that pregnancy and birth ARE NOT A DISEASE!
Yes, pregnancy and birth change our bodies. If our bodies didn’t change how could we nurture a new life? We couldn’t, every little change from weight gain to hormone fluctuations is meant to help us support and nurture the new little life we brought into this world.
Yet the world seems hell bent on telling us to hide that we did this awesome thing! We focus on things like reducing our stretchmarks, slimming down, and getting back into the workforce alongside a host of other things that are meant to cover up the changes to our body and our lives in order to have that baby.
And heaven forbid you find something you like about stretch marks or wider hips.
As someone who is rehabilitating a Diastasis Recti Muscle Separation, I’ve had people tell me I have to have the surgery and get a tummy tuck at the same time…
uuuuuu NO! Why would I want my badges of honor, that beautiful road map of stretch marks removed? Not to mention that I still want more kids yet?
Why we should share Good Stories MORE
The fact of the matter is that many women go into birth expecting horrible things to happen to them. It creates fear and tension and a whole host of problems for them and their care providers.
By sharing our good stories, the ones that not only end with a healthy baby and mamma. But don’t have a tone of drama or trauma involved in the process, we are showing others that birth doesn’t have to be traumatic.
We can share stories that are empowering and uplifting, and encourage women around us to believe that this is possible for any of us. And that doesn’t mean traumatic stories shouldn’t be shared either, it just means that the good stories are just as valid.
So I challenge you, Share your Brith story (or share all your birth stories)