As the mother of four, I have told birth stories many times. It was when my oldest child referred to her birth as “the worst” that I realized I needed to take a good look at how I was telling my stories.
The stories we tell not only affect us, but our children and anyone else involved. When a story is fresh, involves heightened emotion or trauma, or we can’t seem to find a positive bent – it is worth while to explore the possibility of rewriting. The process allows you to see your experience and story for what it is, consider and choose new perspectives, and honor the meaning it has in your Life.
If you find that when you tell your birth story (in your own head or to other people) you are overwhelmed with guilt, anger, sadness, frustration, other low feeling emotions, or even a sense that things just went wrong or not as expected – I encourage you to consider the following steps to rewrite birth.
Tell your birth story as is. This isn’t the time for the empowered version. Tell it like you feel it, with both yucky and beautiful parts. You can do this in several ways.
One way is to sit in front of a mirror and tell your story to yourself, noticing how you feel as you tell it. This allows you to hear yourself tell the story without the attachment to what another may think about it. Do it a second time with a piece of paper and briefly note what parts hold the strongest emotion – such as “When I talk about getting the epidural I feel sad” or “When I talk about the c-section I feel angry” or “When I talk about the moment I realized my baby was dead I feel like I am going to die.” Get as detailed as you want without writing the full story. There will be more opportunities to go into detail later.
Another is to enlist the help of a friend or someone who was not at the birth. If you are really close with your partner or a family member who was at the birth and can simply listen, feel free to choose that person. Ask the person to simply listen as you tell the story, without giving any feedback. If this person doesn’t have experience doing this you may consider choosing another person who can just listen, or consider it a mutually beneficial experience. You get to tell your story as this person gets to practice listening. This allows you to feel heard, notice when you might be telling the story to get validation or confirm that you are a victim, and hear yourself tell the story. Tell it a second time and ask the person listening to make brief notes when it seems like you feel especially emotional, angry, sad, or otherwise upset. When you’re done, ask the person to share the notes without judgment. What you need to hear is what they heard, not what they think about it. Or you can just ask to see the notes.
Simply observe your experience. There’s no right or wrong and you’re not really looking for anything here; just telling and listening.
Record your birth story as is. Now that you’ve voiced your story, write or record it in some way. You can create an audio, video, or type it out. Again, this isn’t the empowered version. You may wonder, why so many times? So you can get it out of your head, feel your emotions around it, and really see what’s there. Recording the birth story will also help you see a progression as you rewrite it if you choose to look back.
Record or tell your birth story without judgment, just facts. This is not a detached version, just a very factual version. You can do this in first person as though it’s still your story, or you can change it up and tell it as if it is someone else you are talking about. Notice what parts are more difficult to tell without judgment, and what parts you feel grateful for.
Now sit with these versions of the story for a few hours, days, weeks, or months (please, not years) while you review the parts that still hold low feeling emotions. When I say “sit with that version” I mean, accept it for what it is. That is the story that comes out of you at present. And you are working to rewrite an empowered version, not a fantasy-alternate reality version, a version that speaks to all aspects of your experience as you grow into motherhood. A version that allows you to reap benefit from struggle and suffering.
You can review the parts that have low feeling emotion in several ways. You can draw a line down one piece of paper and on the left write down the hard parts of the birth that still bother you. On the opposite side of the paper you can write down what you learned and how that situation could possibly be of benefit. Maybe you felt forced to stay in bed, which helped you learn that you really like freedom of movement and you now advocate for that with moms, recommend a doula or support partner, chose to talk with your OB, nurse, or hospital about it, or in some other way you have or can see turning the situation into more of a positive in the present.
Another way to review the rough parts and make peace with them is self-forgiveness. We can think we need to be perfect and do everything as we think we should. There is value in stretching ourselves to meet goals, and at the same time looking back while beating ourselves up is the same energy that will bring us to repeat a choice that doesn’t serve our well being. So, simply open to forgiveness around those parts. Be willing to have a new experience with those feelings. That is often the start. If you are spiritual, take the hurt you feel to the loving Creator and ask for help. Trust in the ability of the unseen to assist with relief in these areas of your life.
Consider meditation as a way to go directly into the story and meet the emotions with awareness. Sometimes we need to sit in the moment with uncomfortable feelings, just breathe, surrender, and allow a release.
When you are ready, rewrite your birth story. Do this in a way that affirms for you and your child that it was worth every second, the initial negative perceptions do not determine your relationship or your child’s mark in life, and was more beneficial than traumatic. This may or may not be easy.
Start by writing down the most difficult parts of your birth on one side of a sheet of paper. Directly across from each point, write down what you have learned and what you know now in present tense terms. For example, if one one side you list “I was cut open when all I wanted to do was push my baby into my arms” on the other side you may list “I was raw, open, wondering,waiting, feeling, numb, sad, and excited at the same time. I learned that even though I did not have the birth experience I expected that I am strong, and my love for you is stronger than the experience of disappointment in the circumstances. I learned that I can face anything and move through it, even when it is excruciatingly difficult, and that I can grow even when I feel challenged.” Use your own words and allow a gradual progression from what you felt at the time to what you are feeling now, and even to what you would like to feel about the experience. Imagine how it would feel to be at peace with the experience. What thoughts would be present?
What would you believe about yourself, your body, and the process of life? You can also retell your story in the mirror, to a trusted friend, or other person who can listen non-judgmentally. Notice how it feels as you focus on what you have learned does and does not work for you, what you deem very important in birth, the parent-child relationship, and relationships with those who are around you during important and sensitive times such as birth – and what you appreciate about the experience.
Allow this process to unfold with a focus on acceptance, healing, and appreciation. Acceptance happens in various ways. Someone can accept what is on the surface – only to be annoyed, frustrated, or disappointed on the inside. Inner acceptance often comes about through the choice to consider a change in perspective, a strong desire to heal, and the willingness to embrace appreciation of some sort even when we feel defeated.
Sometimes healing looks like examining our thoughts that tell us our experiences should not have happened, should have been different, or that if we just would have done XYZ all would be perfect. Examination of the relationship between the thoughts we think, how we feel, and how that affects our lives can be a challenge. As parents, I feel we are up for the challenge.
This isn’t about self-judgment, it is about choosing differently one moment at a time. The basis for this is in recognizing what is ultimately true about us inside of the stories we tell, which can be discovered through meditation.
I invite you to consider the way you tell the story of your child’s birth and if you choose – rewrite the empowered version for you, your child, and the generations that follow.
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I feel like there is way too much emphasis on the "Birth Story". Women get themselves all wrapped up in making this amazing birth plan, then it fails (sometimes) and they end up feeling guilty, sad, etc. Life is what it is. And in the end, you still have an adorable baby!
Healthy mama and healthy baby are definitely the end goal – no matter how the actual story comes in to play. For me, processing my story … what I had hoped for, how it turned out, and everything in between was a really helpful journey in preparing for my second pregnancy/birth.
Caitlin E. says
The power of words is amazing. My mother-in-law consistently refers to my husband's birth as the "longest day of her life" (he was born on the summer solstice) and stresses the pain and suffering associated with her emergency c-section. Because of this, he's always had a negative association with "birth stories." When the birth of our first daughter didn't go quite as planned (she ended up in the NICU for a couple days), we immediately switched the narrative from how horrible and scary that time was to focusing on how beautiful and strong our daughter was. I figure if that's how we always talk about it, then she'll never feel like her birth was a burden or a trial.I talk about it a little bit in this post, if you're interested:http://talesoftheelders.com/2012/06/13/2-years-ago-mos-story-and-prayers-please/ Excellent guest post!
So glad to hear how you took a positive spin on a scary situation! I never really thought much about it being OUR story (mama and baby) in the past, but have since changed my perspective. It has been really healing for me and I know it will benefit Jemma in the future. Hopping over to read your post now :)
This is a wonderful post! It took me 5 years to be able to tell a coherent narrative of my daughter’s birth for her. While I had the birth I wanted–an unmedicated homebirth–I still felt bewildered and unable to form a(n empowering) story that I could tell my daughter. What changed it for me was taking the Birthing from Within training to become a childbirth educator/mentor where we talked about archetypes. I came home from that training and told her her birth story and she was so delighted; my feelings and understanding of her birth have also shifted. BFW also offers a Birth Story workshop that allows mothers (and fathers) the space to process any traumas and heal. I myself do not offer this service but one can look for a BFW mentor in one’s area at http://www.birthingfromwithin.com.