The importance of telling our birth stories

“There is a lot I still don’t know. About life, about what the future might bring. But I see the value of my story. Even if it´s not pretty or perfect. Even if it´s more real than you want it to be. Your story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own.” ~Michelle Obama in her book Becoming.

One of the most important moments of a postpartum session, is when a woman gets to talk about her birth story. What she felt and how things were perceived at her end. And the possible complementing of that story by her partner, and her the doula. It might seem irrelevant, redundant, to talk about something that just happened, but it´s really not. Even when things seemed to go “exactly as planned” (if ever this can be said about birth….or life, for that matter).

“Why did that happen?”

“When the nurse came in at that time why was she is such a hurry?”

“You made a face when the monitor beeped…were we ever in danger and you did not want to scare us?”

“Remember when he came out all slippery and the midwife did not even have time to put her gloves on?”

“I knew I was ready to push, but I needed more time. I felt an immense pressure but needed to have her inside me for a bit longer.”

“I wonder if the caesarean was really needed.”

(All actual words women have said to be in these debrief sessions, among many other things.)

This debriefing helps a woman put into perspective how she felt about the events and circumstances that unfolded. And find out more information, if that is her wish.

Also, as the doula and the dad tag-team, we remember different parts of the story. What happened when dad went to take a nap? What happened before the doula arrived? So we piece together all the little bits and stich this tapestry of her tale. What each person felt and thought. It must however, never be forgotten that this is her story. She is the protagonist. She did it. She did it kneeling on the floor and catching her own baby. She did it after the epidural let her rest and sleep for a few hours and then pushed that baby out with all her might. She did it on the operating table like a warrior goddess. In the telling of this story there is no room for saviours, and heroes, or people who might steal her thunder. Even though most women are so very thankful to health professionals, carers, doulas that crossed their path and made it easier, more beautiful, more colourful. It´s all about her. She did all the hard work. We acknowledge and thank all the wonderful people in her path, but this is her show. That is and should always be, the key message.

Telling the story is important. From beginning to end. When we say the words out loud, they become real. They materialize. It really happened.

And many women want to. They need it. They will do it most of the times without invitation. Even during the birth, women will talk about previous experiences. How it was in her last birth(s). They compare it. The good, the bad. Some fears might creep up to be addressed.

“With my first my water had broken by this point. Why hasn´t my water broken yet?”

“Is something wrong? My second birth was way faster.”

“These sensations feel so much like when I lost that baby. Early on. It feels the same.”

“This room smells the same as when I had an abortion. I have never spoken of this. I was very young.”

It is a privilege to be the recipient of such sensitive, special insights into her life. It´s important to listen without judgement, as expectations are managed, and sometimes very painful stories emerge. Stories of loss, violence, abuse. Or joy. Of trying to emulate what happened at a previous birth when everything was “perfect”. The measure of a woman´s shame, fear or pain about birth and what happened to her, is deeply connected to the way she feels about herself, her body´s abilities and her scars. She may need to let it out.  Often, suddenly, birth will resume if it was stalled. Or that bag of waters will open. Or she feels ready to push. Or she goes into labour the next day. She surrenders.

Have you ever told your birth story? To someone who will listen without judgement, without fear of the scary parts? Someone who will not try to silence you, or sugar-coat it? Or cringe at the bloody bits? Or interrupt to say how it happened with them? Someone who will laugh with you and be your witness on how it felt. On how it went. Even if they were not there. Someone who will allow you to hear, possibly for the first time, that what they did to you was not ok. And that yes, you rocked this birth, and healed other parts of your story. And how you are whole and beautiful and amazing, no matter what happened. And how it´s ok not to be ok. Not right away. Things take time to heal, and no, all is not well. But you can own your story proudly. It is part of who you are. What you lived through. What you knew then. What you know now and how you might want to do things differently next time.

It is never too late to tell your birth story. Even if your babies now have babies of their own. Never too late to say what you have to say. To say it, to write it to sing it, to dance it, to heal. And sometimes we really need that time to better understand what happened.

There are many birth stories out there and when a woman steps into the birth room, weather she knows it or not, wants to or not, she carries these stories with her. Like layers in an onion, part of the work of a doula before the big day(s), is to witness a woman peel away these fears, doubts, traumas, expectations, idealizations and baggage. Our mothers‘ and grandmothers´ births. The births we are fed by the media. Our friends´ births. How we were told we were born. What we see on social media. Even those “ideal” youtube videos. How can we discern in the midst of all of these stories around us, what is ours, and what we truly believe in? How can we claim our story in its own right with our truth? Our own perception. The power of stories that break with old patters. It takes courage to be a pattern breaker.

Now come, let me sit beside you. Tell me about your birth.

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