Women's Fascination With Birth Stories
"What is labor and delivery really like?" That question echoes in the minds of millions of women each year. Every mother-to-be has questions, some of which are of such a broad nature they are singularly indefinable. An expectant mother who asks her doctor what birth is like will most likely be told to read a book or to take childbirth preparation classes. Seldom do doctors or midwives have time to recount a complete tale of birth -- and even if they did, that tale would account for only one facet of a complex gem.
Most expectant parents can only read as much as possible about birth and ask other mothers they know about their labors. But birth story collections (such as those here at SheKnows) unite these two concepts to provide a broad and original perspective, told by the people who know: the parents who have been there. Sharing stories of a life passage is nothing new -- in fact, such storytelling is a time-honored tradition that dates back to the birth of our civilization.
"The closer I came to my due date the more interesting I found them -- towards the end I couldn't get enough!" remembers Laura, a mom in North Carolina. Indeed, birth stories serve as a timely, entertaining, enlightening and positive resource to parents-to-be and others participating in the birth process. Stories you may find include narratives of vaginal deliveries and cesarean sections, breech babies and other complicated deliveries, homebirths and unmedicated deliveries, as well as a look at how midwives, doctors, nurses, coaches, doulas and co-parents fit into the mixture. Many of the stories deal with one or more variations from the "typical" birth experience many women have come to expect, because in birth, a variation of the norm is far more common than a delivery free of any complications! As very clearly demonstrated by the narratives, no two births are exactly alike.
Why people are reading
There is a need to know -- a need that benefits the emotional and physical health of mother and baby. Knowledge conquers fear. Fear, left unchecked, may lead to increased stress of mother and baby, potentially causing a delay in seeking advice or treatment, and, in some instances, an over-use of medical intervention. Says Wyoming mom Kristi, "I have read them as a way to prepare myself for the possibilities." When April in Illinois was 30 weeks along, she noted, "It is helpful to know what some women go through. I guess it helps you know more of what to expect -- not that any two births are alike, but it does help." Could the knowledge they impart really help you? In a word, yes. By way of example, approximately twenty percent of mothers in the United States will deliver via cesarean section. The majority of the c-section deliveries are surprise, unplanned surgical births. Still, women are undergoing this treatment with a minimum of information -- they perhaps know the mechanics of the surgery but don't know what more to expect. Why might this happen? What happens immediately before delivery? How long does it take? What does it feel like when the baby is born? By browsing through cesarean section birth stories, women can equip themselves by learning what the experience has been like for other moms.
"I love to read birth stories because they're informative. I learn how other women deal with the pain of labor and it gives me ideas for my own birth plan," says Paula in Utah. "Second, birth stories are interesting because each one is different. And last, they're all joyful. Although some end with grief and sorrow, a child is always born, and every child is a miracle!"
Joy in the telling
Birth is an unforgettable and rare life event. Whether you feel that your experience was good or bad, joyous or a little sad, the day (or days, as the case may be) leaves an indelible mark on your soul.
"To me, giving birth is akin to surviving a plane crash," says Sharon in Washington DC. "It's such a big event and you are so amazed you made it through successfully, you want to share your experience with others." Jen, a mother of two in North Carolina, agrees. "I think it is a good way to learn about all the variations of childbirth as well as a very life-affirming way to communicate about a huge life-changing experience."
There is also a strong social element behind sharing your story, as so many women have given birth, you have something in common. Childbirth and babies are excellent icebreaker topics, especially for new parents. Jen compared birth to an "initiation rite," after which she joined a sort of "sorority." Lisa, a California mom, adds, "Telling your story to other women... can be a way of bonding with them and feeling a sense of sisterhood with other mothers."
Women who spent time reading birth stories often look forward to recounting their own tale. "When I was pregnant, I read a lot of birth stories on the Internet to help 'prepare' myself for the unexpected," says Carrie, the California mom of two. "Posting [my story] on the Internet was a way to 'return the favor' and possibly help someone else get a different view on labor."
Sharing your story can also be healing. "Giving birth is such a momentous occasion... I find that most people want to share some of the wonder that they've felt," says Michelle in Pennsylvania, a mom who had her tubes tied after two complicated births. "A receptive audience -- of which I am gladly a part -- helps the new mom and dad share all of that, and get support if things didn't go so well." She speaks from experience: Since she says she "won't ever be able to feel this emotion again, I live vicariously through others' stories."
Whether you read stories for fun or to learn about what might be, birth stories offer more than an entertaining educational experience. These true tales support the notion that every woman is unique, and each deserves the opportunity to experience childbirth in an individual, enlightened way.
After you deliver your own child into this world, consider taking the time to share your story. By doing so, you can positively impact other women's births -- and, in turn, relive the best parts of your own experience.