I recently had the opportunity to share the story of my son’s birth with a university class on Child Development during Infancy (conception-3 years). The students are in their early twenties and many had never seen a birth before nor had any prior exposure to the basics of childbirth.
As I wrote out my story, I became increasingly aware that I couldn’t just tell it the way I remembered it. I had to bear in mind that the students would be forming impressions about childbirth from my words. I had an opportunity to cut through the noise of birth as pain and talk about what else it can be, beyond just a physical experience. I realized that to be taken seriously I would need to acknowledge that birth IS painful but I also decided to focus on the experience itself: preparations, perceptions, emotions. I spoke about why I chose to have a homebirth in a rational way so that my words would not be brushed aside as those of someone “brave” or “radical.”
I had to make very calculated decisions about what to say and what not to say and I got to thinking about the stories our birth stories really tell. Is it a story of fear, pain, control, joy, courage, triumph, peace, dignity, sorrow? Do the details we give and the words we use convey what we intend? Are we aware of our audience when we casually explain about the day we gave birth? Do we pay attention to the fact that there might be a young pre-teen girl there who is soaking it up? What do we want listeners to take away from our tales?
In a culture where birth is a medical event, we owe it to future families to tell a positive empowering story if we can. Young women today are bombarded with stories on tv and in the media of childbirth as being so painful and dangerous that the only way they will get through it is by putting their trust in the authorities, giving up the power in their bodies and taking the multitude of drugs offered to manage their birth safely. We can help shape future mothers’ perceptions of birth by carefully choosing our words when we talk about ours. Regardless of the circumstances—whether it was a blissed out waterbirth or a cesarean for breech presentation—we are the ones who tell our stories. We can choose to be positive and inspiring or to instill fear and dread. It’s your story.