When did having a baby become a competition? How did lengthy labor and horror stories become the go-to birth story structure? Why do we villanize women who had “easy” labor or delivery?
Your birth story is your own. It starts with pregnancy, labor, delivery. It can end in many ways. Although there are many varying birth stories, ranging from magical to traumatic, telling your birth story can be a valuable and uplifting experience for many women. It can be healing if you found childbirth traumatic or difficult. It can be solidifying if you found childbirth powerful and challenging. It can reinforce your strength or clarify your understanding of just what exactly happened?!
If you lost a baby during childbirth, your story is different and it may be difficult to apply much of what I will talk about in this post. If you lost a baby during childbirth, your story is not just traumatic, it is likely devastating. I hope you are getting professional and peer support. I am sorry for your loss.
Some women, a smaller portion of the population, will report an “easy” pregnancy, labor and/or delivery. They will report having a glow, a short labor, a painless delivery and instantly falling in love with their baby. This is wonderful and I encourage women to support one another regardless of their birth experience. Ask questions of these women rather than shut down their joy with a dismissive comment that implies their experience is less valid because it was not horrible.
Usually, women report a combination…either a difficult pregnancy but the delivery went well in the end or an easy pregnancy and then their entire birth plan fell apart during labor and delivery. Often new mothers will dismiss their traumatic experience as a result of their inexperience. By the time many women have their own birth experience, they have heard so many horror stories, they simply accept their traumatic experience as more of the same. As typical or expected. It should not be.
Almost half of women will report experiencing childbirth as traumatic. Telling their birth story can be scary and many of them avoid discussing it at all costs. To them, I say, be patient with yourself. Be gentle and find the right outlet. Some women choose to write their story, for themselves or for their child. Others choose to speak about it with a therapist, in a group (support or therapeutic) or with a friend/family member. Some hope to never speak of it again. If you have had a particularly traumatic labor, delivery or postpartum experience, I strongly encourage you to tell your story with the support of a therapist either individually or in a group.
The benefits of telling your birth story (in the right environment and at the right time)…
- Take back the control the trauma has over you. You tell your story to hear it said outloud. To accept it’s truth and reality…it’s place in your history and life. And then to let it be part of your history. It does not define you as a mother or your relationship with your child. Acknowledging the pain, hurt, trauma can be the beginning of healing from it.
- Decide what your birth story is. What will you tell your little one when they ask one day about they day they were born? Will you tell the anecdotal “I was in labor for 18 hours…it was horrible.” Or, will YOUR story, tell them more? YOUR story does not have to include every difficult detail. YOUR story can tell the general idea that you were in labor a long time and they were born at the hospital or home or where-ever and then focus on the nicer moments…maybe there was a laugh at some point, maybe the experience strengthened your relationship with their other parent or another part of your support team. Maybe you remember holding them for the first time or watching them sleep all wrapped up in a swaddle. YOU get to decide what to include.
- Process the experience with your partner or family who were there. Share what you remember and hear what they experienced. You will learn details you had not noticed and be able to come together through a shared experience. Decide that the good memories, no matter how small, are the important ones.
- Let go of self-blame. Childbirth is uncharted territory for first time moms and even second or third time mothers can run into the unexpected. Women come out thinking they could have had more control, or handled things differently or really had that ideal, dream birth they had written out in their birth plan. The sooner you talk about your birth experience and hear from others who were there, the sooner you can let go of that self-blame. You can understand how many people and factors were in play and you can appreciate that in reality, you were mostly along for the ride. It takes a great deal of advanced planning to actually have control over your birth experience. It usually means having your baby at home, or outside a hospital environment. If you are at a hospital, having a birth doula or other outspoken and experienced individual at your side and having all the stars align in terms of timing, low risk to you and baby and a good hospital staff all help. In the end, there are many factors out of your control, particularly if you are new to this (talking to you first time moms!).
- Learn for next time. Often women experiencing Perinatal Mood or Anxiety Disorders (PMADs) or those who found childbirth to be traumatic, can not wrap their minds around the idea of “going through this again.” And to that, I say, “and maybe you won’t. Maybe you will never choose to have children again. Maybe you will have one beautiful baby. Maybe you will adopt. But…maybe you will change your mind.” Time has a way of changing our minds. Talking can do that too. Telling your birth story can be a wonderful way to learn (for next time). Learn what you liked and didn’t like. Learn what you really have control over and what you don’t. Learn how systems work. Learn what you would do differently the next time and learn what you would keep exactly the same. Each birth experience being different does not mean one will be better or worse. It just means they will be different. And, if you do not feel good about the last experience, different can be an appealing idea.
There is no blue ribbon for having the worst birth story. Sometimes the purpose of telling a harrowing tale is the attempt to alleviate a self-judging voice that wants desperately a way to explain and justify why things did not go just so…why she was not completely in control…why it seemed so terrible. Women who have good experiences want to share how wonderful it was and want to talk about how other women can have good birth experiences too. It is important to recognize that regardless of if you have a vaginal birth or C-Section, regardless if your labor was short or long, regardless if your delivery was painful or pain free, childbirth is not easy. A woman’s body goes through quite a lot during childbirth, physically, mentally, emotionally. As soon as we start realizing that carrying and birthing a human (no matter how it is done) is momentous in and of itself, the sooner we can focus on a mother’s strength. We can process the negatives and raise up the positives of the experience. I hope telling your birth story will be powerful for you if/when and however you choose to tell it.