One of the biggest things we try to drive home in our classes is that birth satisfaction has a lot to do with your involvement in your birth. We talk about birth "wish lists", yes, but we also talk about what's important in the event that birth takes an unexpected turn. As teachers, we feel it is extremely pertinent to convey how important informed decision making is, and how empowering it is to be a participant in birth. We aim to provide as much information as we can, and be sure that parents have the tools they need to make an informed decision, whether that be consent or refusal. We are neither pro nor anti intervention, pro or anti pain medication, etc. What we are is pro using tools for their correct purpose at the optimal time. After all, we wouldn't try to put a screw in with a hammer, right?
I feel very fortunate to be able to hear a great deal of birth stories through this forum, and know that a lot of parents go into greater detail about their births with their peers who have just gone through a similar experience, and their educators who are genuinely interested. I often wish that I could record these stories because I know that once they leave the room they might not be told in the same way again. That's the thing about birth culture. If someone has a "good birth story", they don't often talk about it at length. If someone has suffered in their birth, or felt a loss of control, they often share.
So what is a "good birth story"? In my opinion, it is a very broad definition. It doesn't have to be a straight forward birth. It doesn't have to be an unmedicated birth. It doesn't have to be a vaginal birth. To me, a "good birth story" involves parents aware of their options, gathering the information they need to make informed decisions, and being active participants in their birth. Sometimes a "good birth story" takes place at home, sometimes it takes place in a hospital, sometimes it involves a vaginal delivery, sometimes it involves an assisted delivery, sometimes it involves a caesarean delivery, sometimes it involves a medication free labour, sometimes it involves multiple forms of narcotics or an epidural. What it never involves is a Mother feeling as if things were done to her without knowing why, a mother who has lingering questions about what happened, or a mother who suffered unnecessarily. I won't call those types of stories bad, but I will say that I wish they weren't the types of stories that were informing women, teenagers and children about what birth is like. Because let's be honest, majority of the time, especially living where we do, it's not.
Without naming names or giving particulars I will say that on Tuesday night I heard 6 excellent and very different birth stories. The parents excitedly telling their stories demonstrated that even if birth takes a turn away from what you expected, it can still be wonderful and empowering if you are aware of what is happening, what your options are and how you can make an informed choice in any scenario. Not one couple wondered why something happened in their care. Not one couple felt a loss of control. Not one couple wished that things had gone differently, regardless of how their birth story played out.
I was inspired by everyone in attendance, but there is one detail I feel compelled to share that made me over the moon excited. One of the births was attended not only by Dad, but by a seven year old sibling. This awesome sibling was in attendance at the reunion also, and we got to hear her experience of witnessing life come into the world. At seven years old this girl was not afraid of birth. She was not shocked by birth, or jaded by poor representations in media. When asked what her favourite part was we heard a resounding "seeing the actual birth"! It's experiences like hers that will change the culture surrounding birth. I can just imagine this young girl telling her friends about her experience. I can imagine friends of this lucky sibling witnessing what parenthood of a newborn is like. I can imagine nursing being normalized to young girls and boys. This makes me extremely excited!
So, do you have a good birth story? Do you tend to keep mum when asked about it? I challenge you to share a little more. Even if it means just telling someone that it was good, and why (did you listen to your body? did you feel confident in the decisions you made? did you feel well supported?). This challenge also applies to me. I am definitely guilty of scaling Jo's birth story back to a simple "it was great!". If you're interested, stay tuned to read Jo's birth story in the coming weeks, my goal is to make some sense out of the 20 page journal entry I wrote not long after she was born and post it.
Why am I challenging you, and myself, to share more? Because it is important! Something I often tell students is that for every birth "horror story" someone tells them on the street (or they unwittingly read online), they should read at least 3 positive birth stories. I feel like we, as parents, need to add to the canon of positive birth experience! You never know who your story might affect. The more "good birth stories" we share, the more we change birth culture, one reader or listener at a time. An empowered birth is not always a birth that went "to plan", and people need to know that!
As an endnote I will just mention that it is a goal of mine to collect as many birth stories as I can in hopes of one day putting together a compilation and making it readily available to readers. If you've got a story you'd like to share, please feel free to contact me!