Chances are if you have ever been pregnant and have had a conversation with anyone who has ever birthed a baby, you have heard a birth story. Most likely, there was an emotional response within you that was either positive and empowering, or anxiety provoking and terrifying. Hearing the birth stories of others gives words and truth to the hopes and fears lingering in one's own mind regarding their upcoming birth.
Why are Stories Important?
Ina May Gaskin (2012), in her book Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, explains that "Stories teach us in a way we can remember. They teach us that each woman responds to birth in her unique way and how very wide-ranging that way can be" (p. 4). The only way to combat the fear that comes from hearing another woman's "horror story" of birth, is to hear an empowering story that imparts wisdom, practical advice, and inspiration.
What Makes a Story Empowering?
It is important to note that empowering stories are not always those that went according to a mother's plan. While birth is a normal, healthy process that our bodies are capable of and designed to carry out without intervention, there are times the best laid plans take a detour for the health and safety of mom and baby. Some of the most inspirational, confidence building stories I have heard are those from women who maintained a sense of control in their decision-making, had advocates who rallied around them, who came to terms with the loss of the birth they were anticipating, and still went on to have a positive, meaningful, beautiful delivery in a way they had not anticipated.
Studies have shown that a mother's satisfaction with her birth experience has less to do with whether things went according to her birth plan and more with feeling safe and supported, trusting her care team and her partner, her perceived sense of control, and receiving individualized emotional support through the labor and birth process (Karlström, Nystedt, & Hildingsson, 2015; Nilsson, Thorsell, Wahn, & Ekström, 2013).
Where to Find Empowering Stories and Images
Not every expectant mother has other women in her life from whom to hear empowering stories of birth. If you do, seek them out. If not, an audible treasure trove of stories is available on the podcast The Birth Hour. It is an invaluable resource filled with stories of strength, emotion, beauty, and empowerment. Their Instagram feed is packed with some of the most beautiful images of birth, pregnancy, labor, and new families taken by various photographers.
Birth is not just a moment. Not just a day. It is a transformation.
"The moment a child is born, the mother is also born.
She never existed before.
The woman existed, but the mother, never.
A mother is something absolutely new."
The physical, spiritual, and emotional demands of bringing a child into the world are not only momentous for that birth experience, but they are formative for that woman's long journey of motherhood. The qualities needed as a mother to get through the challenges in the years ahead are many:
trust in our instincts
These can be introduced, supported and solidified in our new momma souls during birth (all types of birth). Or they can be undermined. The important thing to remember in listening to others' stories, is to remember you are also writing your own. Your story may affect another expectant mother someday in a way you cannot yet understand or predict.
That is beautiful. That is powerful.
image credit Born. Birth Photography
Gaskin, I. M. (2012). Ina May's guide to childbirth. New York: Bantam Books Trade Paperbacks.
Karlström, A., Nystedt, A., & Hildingsson, I. (2015). The meaning of a very positive birth experience: focus groups discussions with women. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth,15(251). doi:10.1186/s12884-015-0683-0
Nilsson, L., Thorsell, T., Wahn, E. H., & Ekström, A. (2013). Factors Influencing Positive Birth Experiences of First-Time Mothers. Nursing Research and Practice,2013, 1-6. doi:10.1155/2013/349124