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From ancient fables to modern TED Talks, humans have always loved a good story. Long before the written word, telling stories aloud ensured our ancestors’ tales and wisdom were passed down from one generation to the next. Without these aural traditions, information, ideas, and lessons wouldn’t have had the means to survive. One type of story that leaves a particularly lasting impact is birth stories.
Every single person who has ever lived is the product of a birth story. For the person giving birth, their story is a moment of transformation. For many, it is both a beginning and an end as their role and identity shift. The ultimate origin stories, these tales hold the details of someone’s earliest moments.
Birth stories are deeply personal and packed with intimate details. After giving birth, you step into a valuable position of knowing. Sharing our birth stories not only creates an opportunity for reflection but for learning as well. It’s not uncommon for people to ask new parents, “can I hear your birth story?” Throughout history, the tradition of sharing birth stories served as an informal but critical form of childbirth education.
For some listeners, there is great value in learning from the experiences of those who have given birth before them. For others, it can be healing and validating to hear birth stories that are similar to their own. When we remove any components of “competition” or fearmongering and focus on building a community for shared wisdom and support, there can be a mutual benefit from this exchange of stories.
“William Doll (1993) explains that, without dialogue, there is no metamorphosis, no interpretation. Narratives stimulate the learner to explore with the storyteller the potentialities created from the exchange. Dialogue combines history, language, and place, relating the experience beyond the immediate context—all of which are viable acts of teaching and learning.”
Jane Staton Savage, RN, MS, LCCEBirth Stories: A Way of Knowing in Childbirth Education
Birth stories have been around for a very long time. Interestingly, historical examples that survived don’t feature the first-person perspective of the individual who gave birth. For example, let’s look at perhaps the most famous ancient birth story: the Biblical telling of Mary giving birth to Jesus. This famed story centers on the baby Jesus rather than the mother. Can you imagine if the narrative was about how Mary experienced the birth, if she was the one telling the story?! What a different tale that might have been!
After giving birth, you get to choose what aspects of your story you’ll share, to whom, and how. Telling your perspective of how things went and what you felt in the moment can be incredibly empowering. You get to choose which elements are highlighted and which fall away as unimportant details.
If you’re not sure where to start, consider why you want to share your birth story. In the early days and weeks after giving birth, sharing can provide a way to process the significant life experience that is childbirth. Telling our stories can also help us step into our strength, bravery, and toughness as a birthing person. After a traumatic birth experience, sharing your story with compassionate listeners or trained professionals can help with healing. You may find that you want to share it again and again with anyone who will listen, or once may be enough.
Down the road, you may find that your intention in sharing evolves. You move from processing into teaching and transferring the wisdom gained from your lived experience.
For some people, a very useful tool in preparing to give birth is listening to others’ birth stories. Many blogs, podcasts, and video channels exist for the sole purpose of connecting their readers/listeners/viewers with real birth stories. Sometimes these collections of stories have a common theme (birthers from a particular geographic location, certain types of births, etc.). Other times they’re simply a collection of all types of stories featuring the perspective of the birthing person.
Hollywood has done us no favors with the myriad of terribly unrealistic ways birth is depicted. Birth is often the climactic event of the movie. It often starts with a gush of water and a rush to the hospital. There’s usually a wrinkle in the plan upon arrival. Later, a comedic presence might pop in at an unexpected time, and there’s almost always some kind of drama. These elements indulge our desire for an engaging story.
As a cinematic vehicle for drama and suspense, it’s understandable that birth continues to be used in this way. As a perinatal professional, however, it’s frustrating to see so many movies and TV shows with exaggerated and dramatized birth scenes. Regularly depicting birth in this way doesn’t do much to build our knowledge of what labor and birth more typically look like. However, it does add to an underlying cultural view of birth as a strictly medical experience, something to be dramatized and maybe even feared. Sharing real birth stories–our lived experiences–can help counteract this “Hollywood effect.”
Listening to birth stories during pregnancy can help first-time parents better contextualize and prepare for the realities of childbirth. Usually, when someone is sharing their birth story in earnest, they haven’t refined it to a tight series of plot points. They don’t follow a perfect storytelling arc or fit within a strict time frame. Instead, they focus on the details most important to them or most vivid in their memory. Their retelling reflects the real impact of the experience rather than how interesting their story is.
Another reason to prepare for birth with stories is to learn from labor experiences that mirror their own preferences. For example, a second-time mom preparing for a VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean), might choose to listen to successful VBAC birth stories. Hearing these can reinforce her belief in the outcome she is striving for. She also may learn tips from others that could help her achieve that outcome.
Similarly, someone considering giving birth at home might seek out home birth stories while someone else considering a hospital birth might prefer those stories. Birth stories that align with certain preferences serve as an opportunity to “try on” an experience. The listener can visualize how birth may unfold in reality vs. learning in a more theoretical way. This can help them better understand the realities, challenges, and potential joys of their choice. Sometimes the best way to prepare for the unexpected is through others’ stories.
When we share, we create opportunities for connection. Maybe you’ve experienced this before. You open up about a hard moment thinking no one else will relate. However, much to your surprise, you unexpectedly discover someone you know went through something similar. The (sometimes shocking) realization that you share a certain experience, that you’re truly not alone, can be incredibly comforting.
While no two birth stories are exactly the same, there are certain themes and commonalities that show up. After all, the UN estimates that roughly 385,000 babies are born each day around the world. Sharing our stories allows us to say with our narrative, “I am not alone. My experience is my own, but this journey is a shared one.” To hear that someone else had the same fears or moments of relief, surprises, or heartbreaks can be deeply validating and normalizing.
The more we share, the more we open ourselves up to those moments of connection. Sometimes, the opportunity arises to share your story in a group setting. That group might include people who gave birth around the same time or under similar circumstances. Sharing openly can build trust and create the scaffolding for a supportive community where you feel seen and cared for.
“Birth is a rite of passage of women. Their journey should be honored, their rights should be fiercely protected, and their stories should be shared.”
Marcie MacariCelebrating 30 Years of ICAN: 30 Quotes
In today’s world, we’ve never had more options for how to share stories. There is a massive range of widely-accessible media formats: podcasts, books, photographs, blogs, tweets, TikToks, and more. Choosing how you share your story is completely up to you and will likely depend on what you feel most comfortable with.
The tradition of oral storytelling is perhaps the most popular when it comes to sharing your story. Retelling the way your little one came into the world with friends or family. Processing with your medical team at a postpartum follow-up appointment. Or, maybe you have the opportunity to share your story with a therapist.
If you’re not ready to share in that way (or even if you are), another option is to write it down in a personal way. You might choose to journal about your experience or write a letter to yourself or your baby. Writing it down doesn’t mean anyone else needs to see it, but it still gives you a way to process your experience. After all, childbirth is a major life event!
Another option is to share your story in a more public way. You might choose to post your story online. That might look like a private social media post, a group text to your friend group, or a public blog post. If you’re looking for an online platform to share your story, do a google search to find the best fit for you. Mama Natural, Brilliant Births, and The Birth Hour Podcast are a few options. If you experienced a traumatic birth, check out PATTCh. They have a platform for sharing as well as a ton of great resources.
If writing isn’t your thing, you could get creative and share your story in a different way. You could record a voice memo, personal video, or YouTube vlog of yourself telling the story. Or, maybe you have your very own artistic way of capturing your experience, such as a painting, poem, or song. There’s no wrong way for you to share your birth story. Do what feels right for you!
As you prepare to share your birth story, it’s also important to think about who you might want to share it with. If you decide to share your story in a context where others will listen or read it, consider who might weigh in and how they might respond.
Whether you had a positive and uncomplicated birth experience or a traumatic one, be sure you feel good about the people you are inviting in to listen. If you have some reservations about who might comment on the details of your birth, a public post on social media is probably not the best way to share your story. Select an audience you trust to be respectful of the intimate nature of what you’re sharing.
If you’re planning to share your story with those in your life who are expecting, you might consider what messages are most helpful for them. Sometimes, birth stories are told (with all the best intentions) as cautionary tales. Occasionally, this can (unintentionally) trigger fears or sow doubt in the listener. So, before you share your story, pause and ask yourself why you are telling it.
If you are wanting to warn or caution an expecting parent, consider asking them first if they’d like to hear your story. Some expecting parents prefer to hear “positive” birth stories only as they prepare for birth. It’s their right to choose whether or not they want to hear your story as much as it is your right to share it.
Once you know with whom you want to share your story, give them some directions. Help them be a good audience by giving context for why you want to share or why you are choosing to share specifically with them. Are you telling them this story in confidence? Do you want them to simply listen? Would you like them to be a sounding board as you work through a particularly challenging part of the story? Are you proud of your story and want someone to share those feelings?
As Brene Brown says, “clear is kind.” Set both of you up for success by sharing your expectations or needs about how you want them to show up for you. Then, share it! Having people bear witness to your story can be powerful.
It’s worth repeating: humans love a good story. Nowadays we see so much content that has been distilled and tightly edited to deliver a huge punch in a short sound bite. But don’t let the appetite for a “good” story get in the way of your sharing in a way that feels authentic to you!
Your birth story does not need to have the intense twists and turns of a Hollywood drama to be a “good” story. Your story is complete in its own right. It is valid and worthwhile exactly as it played out. You don’t owe anyone a dramatized or exaggerated telling…or a watered-down version. Your story is compelling, thrilling, and worth sharing, no matter what.
Are you looking for a community to connect with and share your birth stories? We’re preparing to launch a small group coaching experience for growing families. We will be talking more about birth stories, inviting members to share their stories, and coaching new parents through the first twelve weeks of parenthood (and beyond). Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more!
Emily is a birth and postpartum doula and perinatal educator in Bloomington, Indiana. In 2019, she started The Matrescence Project, a cohort-based new parent group, grounded in adult learning theory. Outside of birth work and coaching, Emily works within corporate Human Resources and Leadership Development. She is a dynamic presenter, an engaging educator/trainer, and a collaborative strategist with over 10 years of experience in the field. As a lifelong perfectionist with a deeply Virgo commitment to order and control, becoming a mother cracked Emily’s world wide open, in the best and hardest ways. Things that have helped Emily through her own parenting journey include: prioritizing time with friends (especially without children present), journaling, choosing silliness, and setting the bar low for joy. Outside work, she enjoys swimming, gardening, and is an active member of her local Unitarian Universalist church.
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