About a month ago, I wrote a post about a topic near and dear to me: birth stories and the women who write them. I shared the words of BWF mamas who had written to me about some of the benefits of and their motivations for writing their stories. All so beautiful and insightful. These were women who had reached deep inside themselves to put into words one of the most intense and personal of human experiences. Many had already submitted their stories to Birth Without Fear. I couldn’t really share my own wisdom on this topic because, you see, I had nothing to share. Apparently, I’m the kind of person who would rather write about women writing their birth stories than actually, um, write my birth story.
Young writers are forever being told to ‘write what they know’ so here I am, doing just that. From the emails and Facebook comments of BWF mamas, from my own experience, and the words of Shani Raviv, writing coach (full disclosure: I just finished Shani’s awesome birth story writing workshop and am now convinced that I should spend the rest of my life in a Berkeley yurt), here are some of the reasons women don’t write their birth stories. And, at the end, a few tips and tricks for making the process just a little bit easier.
When it comes to writing birth stories, what holds us back is…
1. Time – or a lack thereof.
“…[N]ew mothers get sucked up by the busy-ness of mamahood, of pacifiers and poop, sleep deprivation and breastfeeding, time management and care-taking and we all too easily dismiss or forget the life-changing, life-giving experience of birth … In my first few weeks postpartum I felt bruised and battered like my belly was disconnected from the rest of my body, like I had been hacked in half and there was a space where my belly used to be and I was wrapped in a halo, an aura of peace, of love, of endorphins, of fight or flight, of protecting my new cub while needing to be mothered myself by my doting husband. It was so full-on that I had to set an intention to create time to sit down and write my birth story.” - Shani Raviv
“Ohhh I should write mine…if I ever get time.” – Laura P.
The post partum period. That time of new babies and new bodies (including your own), of steep learning curves and getting to know this little one you brought into the world. If you’ve been following my writing on Birth Without Fear, you’ll know that the post partum period is particularly hot topic for me (see Mothering the Mother: 40 Days of Rest) and I think women should get all the support they need throughout it. And, in fact, up through raising their children. It’s hard to find a moment to yourself when you’ve had a baby in the last ten years, and I think this was the biggest factor in my own avoidance. It seemed like a big task; I wanted to do it ‘right'; I wanted more than five minutes here or there to really sort through my feelings about the birth.
“I don’t even remember writing mine. I was so deep in PPD. It sounds like a happy mommy sharing her birth story but at the time I wanted nothing more than to hide from motherhood.” – Brit M.
If you’re suffering from Post Partum Depression, it’s difficult to think about, express and relate any experience at all – never mind one that is so deeply connected to your depression. Sometimes women need time to recover from a stressful birth, or find that their memories have been intruded upon by other factors, such as medical interventions or pre-existing illness.
“I didn’t write my first birth story because it was a negative uneducated experience. I forgot many details of it because of not writing it and being on pain medications.” – Melanie W.
“I wrote my daughter’s but still can’t bring myself to talk much or write about my son’s.” – Nichole F.
“I still haven’t been able to. I break down every time and I’m a sobbing mess… Still just too much. One day soon I hope!!” – Jennifer K.P.
In ‘Why Should I Write My Birth Story?‘ I wrote about the value of narrating a traumatic experience. Doing so helps us to gain control of the events in our minds, to order them and to see them as they were. But it’s not easy. Remembering the details of a traumatic birth and re-experiencing it can be terrifying and sometimes even damaging. For many women, the very thing that helps is also the last thing they want to do; if this is your situation, please know that it’s OK. You don’t have to write your birth story right now. Wait until you feel safe. Wait until you have found someone you trust to talk to while the memories resurface. Be as gentle with yourself as you are with your little one.
“It took me over five years to be able to write my first birth story without bursting into tears. My midwife for my second pregnancy helped me move past it, I knew I’d never birth the way I wanted to with my second if I didn’t.” – Jennifer B.
“Writing mine was kind of disappointing, and reminded me of what I would like to be different next time around (which is pretty much everything).” – Mellysa N.
On a similar note, the act of writing down one’s experience is tantamount to admitting that the experience happened. Even if the birth was not traumatic, writing it out can be discouraging if a mother hasn’t been honest with herself, or had expectations that were not met. For me this has most definitely been the case. Before giving birth to my son, I would get a little mad at people who talked about birth as a sacred experience. I thought things like, it’s just a thing you do, and women have been doing it forever, and stop making it something it’s not. While I was in labour, I worried about staining the sheets of the Birth Centre bed; in between pushes, I made jokes with my mom. It wasn’t until after the birth that I started to see how deeply I had been affected by it. I now believe that birth is a spiritual, sacred event. I’m all about it and – wowza! – I’m pregnant again. This time, I’m having a Mother’s Blessing, I do birth meditations, I have a birth altar, and all that jazz. Looking back at my first, almost mundane birth experience and putting it into words has been difficult. It’s like I’m writing the experience of another person. Because, in that time, I was.
5. Feeling the story is not important or valuable.
“I had an epidural, so it was nothing spectacular.” – Britany S.
“My son’s was a great experience… but there’s a lot I wish I’d have done differently, and more people are interested in a natural birth anyway.” – Briana G.
There is a persistent misconception about birth communities. This is that women interested in natural birth are only interested in natural birth. That they look down upon women who choose or accept medical interventions for themselves and their babies. I am sure that those jerks do exist. But I (practically an expert on jerks) am happy to say that although I am immersed in natural birth communities, I have never met one. Instead, I have met women with a range of experiences, all with these three things in common: they love babies, they love women, and they love birth.
Many women feel that because their birth was not what they expected, or not natural, or not vaginal, that it is not worth narrating or sharing. Nothing could be further from the truth. At Birth Without Fear, we believe that every woman’s birth story is valuable. Yes, you, the one reading this who thinks that her birth was kind of ‘meh’ and what would people say if they knew I wrote it all out, your birth experience is important! You can write it down! We want to read it!
6. Fear of others’ criticism:
“I was nervous how some would react to me posting my story for everyone to see, especially family. Birth is not something we talk about freely enough…Surprisingly, I’ve received nothing but positive feedback for posting my story. Friends (and strangers) have emailed me and told me what a blessing my story was to them. What an encourragement it was to them to know that you can have peace with a labor gone awry.” – Kim G. (read more here)
“I worry that people will judge me for using natural induction methods at only 38 weeks, even though I had my reasons and in the end my water broke before labor started anyways. In my actual birth story, I forgot to include how far along I was, but since I’m worried what people will think of me I’m glad I left it out.” – Breanna
Birth is a deeply personal, emotionally intense experience. It remains a taboo topic for discussion in our society. And the internet is full of haters. So it is no wonder that women shy from writing and sharing their stories, anticipating the negative response that, unfortunately, some do receive. If this is a fear that’s stopping you, know that you do have some control of the path your story takes out into the world. In fact, you don’t have to share your story with anyone. Perhaps you’re writing it for your child – in that case, he/she is the only person who really needs to read it (and you can bet they’re not going to be too critical).
But if you want to share it online, consider what forum would feel the best for you. Anonymously, on your own blog? Privately, with only a few Facebook friends given permissions to read it? Or on a large-scale, by submitting it to a birth blog? Consider the atmosphere in which you are releasing your story. Some blogs and FB pages allow all comments to be posted, even those which are cruel and abusive. Others take a more moderate approach; Birth Without Fear lies on the other end of the spectrum. We only allow supportive comments and this, to me, is a kick-ass use of the delete button.
7. Fear that sharing one’s own story will shame or intimidate other women.
“The really crazy thing is I am beyond proud of my birth. I am extremely happy with it…and I think that is the big problem. For you see, I am not afraid of scaring other women with a horror story of a birth, but instead somehow shaming them or worse, giving them false hope with a story of what was in my mind a perfect birth. I know, I know it’s ridiculous.” – Patrice N.B. (read more here)
Some women feel that if they delve into the depths of their story and acknowledge how powerful or transformative it was, they might offend or inhibit other women from sharing their own. In the insecure and judgmental world that American motherhood has become (are you mom enough? or are you just, like, a regular mom?) this fear is understandable. But the truth is, there is room for all of us. And all of our stories.
Of the 352, 500 babies are born around the world each day (that’s one every eight seconds!), only a small fraction of births will be recorded and shared. By sharing your own you are not taking up space from someone else to share theirs. And as Ina May Gaskin has reportedly said, birth horror stories spread like wildfire; we should not be afraid to allow positive birth stories to spread like wildfire, too (from a comment on Patrice N.B.’s blog).
As I read over this blog post, I realize that I have become ever more preachy while writing it. If that bothers you, stop reading because this next section is all advice. But, to be fair, some of it comes from you.
Here are some tips on how to write a birth story you love.
1. Don’t worry about getting it technically accurate. Write what matters to you.
“The details that women often don’t mention are those personal, colorful, emotional descriptions that make their birth story unique, personal and non-generic. It’s the same details that you would utilize for any creative writing: the five senses, metaphors, rhythm, color, description, detail, pace, show don’t tell etc. It’s these techniques that make writing come alive. And because one’s birth story really is such a deeply personal narrative it needs to be written in the teller’s authentic voice, to convey the emotions of the experience––the joy, pain, fear, elation––and be honest, vulnerable and real.” - Shani Raviv
Birth has been removed from its sacred, personal context and placed into the realm of science. As some believe, “Birth is a medical event”. Even if your birth experience was framed in this way, the way you write about it doesn’t have to be. Include your feelings. How you really felt. Birth is an intense experience whether it’s full of excitement and magic or pain and distress; don’t focus too much on the technical jargon or numbers, unless they are what is personally most meaningful to you. As Shani says, “Most people don’t even know what a contraction or dilation is. I had no clue what it was before I birthed or before my midwife educated me about my own body.” And I can tell you from my experience, a birth story that relates your own unique experience will definitely be more fun to write.
2. Don’t feel you need to tell everything in order.
“Everything was so intense and magnified in my mind, it was hard to put down!” – Martha F.
While a linear progression through time is the most obvious way to relate your birth story, it’s likely that you don’t remember it in that way at all. Time changes for women in birth as we go deep inside ourselves, the divine, or simply la-la-labourland. Your writing can reflect that.
3. Feel free to write about events other than the birth.
“Writing my birth story was a life-changing event, but it all started even before by birth.” – Anna Sawon (Editor of this Polish birth blog)
You can include things that happened outside of the birth in your birth story. If you start thinking about some other important event (say, how you met the baby’s father, or the things your mother said about her birth), consider including them. If they’re important to you, they will probably be interesting and valuable to the people who read your story. This is especially true for mothers whose babies had to spend time in the hospital, and who often feel that the birth story is incomplete without a recollection of those events as well. Birth does not take place in a vacuum.
4. Know that you have time.
“I was in such a rush to get it in writing afterwards, I’m now kind of embarrassed when I read it because it just doesn’t flow well. I’m usually a really good writer (IMHO) and my birth story just seems rushed and jumpy to me.” – Breanna.
You don’t have to write your whole birth story the day after it happens. After all, you probably have other things to worry about. Write down the small details you want to remember about the birth as soon as you can. Don’t worry so much about the biggest events because those you are more likely to remember. The little moments – the way your partner rubbed your back, the strange thought you had as they wheeled you off to the operating room – may disappear with time.
“It took me almost a year to write it!” – Amanda S. (read her story here)
5. Know that it doesn’t have to be perfect, in its first draft or ever.
“I actually wrote it 3 different times because I’d forget the little things that seemed so important that day and I just had to add them when I would remember.” – Jennifer C.
Don’t be afraid to write a little, leave it, and come back. This is how most writers work. And it’s also pretty much a necessity if you’re the primary caretaker of your little one.
“It took me about 2 months to write my birth story. I exclusively breastfed my daughter, so feeding her was a very demanding part of my life. Not to mention sleeping, diapers, showering, etc. I took every chance I could to type, doing most of it one-handed!” – Debbie W.
6. Consider who you are writing the story for.
Is it for your child? Your partner? Other women? Or for yourself? This is an easy way to narrow down the focus of this unwieldy task, as it guides the language you use and the details you include.
7. Aak others what they remember.
“…[W]hat I love most is hearing of my births from someone else’s POV… it’s so strange to hear things you don’t remember, but awesome, too.” – Rachel H.
“…[A]s a birth doula I often write up a story for the couples I work with. I note times and major events in the birth, to give the mom a framework to insert her own memories and experiences… I also write down funny moments, jokes, or things that make their birth unique. And I describe from my perspective [the] moments of beauty or tenderness that stick out to me.” – Michelle H.L.
It can be interesting and valuable to hear what other people experienced while you were giving birth. You may want to ask your midwife, OB, or doula. Your partner themselves may want to write or contribute to the story of their child’s birth.
8. Let it go.
“I even printed it out and placed it in my daughter’s baby book so she can look back and read about the day she was born.” – Jennifer C. (read her birth story here)
When you have finished writing and editing your story, consider doing something to bring conclusion to the process. If your birth was traumatic, the concluding element is an important one. Burning, burying, and casting out into the sea are all ways to allow the story to leave your body. On a less cathartic note, some mothers find resolution through publishing their stories online; for others, printing and having it bound is a way to finish the task and preserve the story for future generations.
So, in the end, did I write my son’s birth story? Yes. Is it finished, perfected, in more than a piece-meal draft phase? No. But when it is, I’ll let you know.