I am totally supportive of women writing, talking about, and sharing their birth stories; in fact I encourage it. Telling stories helps us discover the meaning in our experiences and offers possible explanations for what we struggle to understand. Our hope, when we tell our stories is that we will feel less alone, more understood.
The telling of the story is as vital as the story itself but birth stories have a way of being as harmful as they could be healing when told to the wrong person.
Be mindful if the listener is still pregnant and desperately seeking validation for her fear of the unknown, her anxiety about giving birth, and her need for reassurance. Not too long ago, the teller was the listener and this knowledge should deepen her understanding to the absolute vulnerability that the listener feels. But the teller now has personal experience of all the things she feared deeply. Her questions about birth have been answered and she has joined the world of women who have a birth story to tell.
She openly shares her most intimate moments and thoughts. She resists holding anything back, and unapologetically shares details of her birth with no thought to sugar coating the things she most deeply worried about during pregnancy.
The listener sits wide eyed and wondrous. She takes everything she hears and adds it to her own personal fears and anxieties about her pending birth. Perhaps the teller experienced the exact thing that she most fears. This validates her fear. The details, the explanation, the reasons are irrelevant. All she is thinking is, “It happened to her – it could happen to me.” The damage is done.
Storytelling creates a bridge between teller and listener across which authentic communication can take place. It is within this intimacy that the 'healing' or 'therapeutic' aspects of the story lies. However, it is only healing if she is telling it to someone who can be truly empathic to her story.
All birth stories hold elements of emotions and reactions intimately and intricately linked with the tellers own perception of how she wanted her birth to be and how it actually was. The birth story is the weaving together of the dream and the reality. And the further the reality was from the dream, the more questions there are. The story becomes the vehicle for healing, validation, and empathic response.
It is vital that the listener is able to bear witness to your vulnerability. It is vital that the listener is able to help you make sense of what happened versus what you wanted to happen. Even if everything went exactly as you wished, there is a need to talk about it, to share the joy, the happiness, and the wonder of that moment. We don’t like the idea of being the only one who ever felt this way, so sharing our stories comes from a place of wanting to find “our people.” They are the ones who “get it” because they have been there.
Every time you tell your story and someone does not just listen but hears and truly cares about what you are saying, where it comes from, how it has affected you, changed you, altered you, made you question or helped you understand, you turn off the body’s stress response and turn on your body’s innate self-repair mechanisms.
So find someone to tell your story to. Someone you feel comfortable enough with to strip off your masks and be unapologetically you. Someone who will sit quietly and listen as you relive every moment of your birth and in doing so help you to process the hugeness of it.
As author and storyteller Diane Rooks explains in her article Healing Stories : “Healing stories can change the way we see our lives and the world. Using metaphor and imagery, stories offer healing and growth to everyone--those who tell them and those who listen. They connect us to each other and help us find meaning as we imagine new possibilities and find hope.”
So if you are the teller and your listener is still pregnant, take a moment to consider if your story will be healing or harmful. Take a moment to consider how you would have felt if you heard your story while you were still pregnant.
Since time immemorial, stories invite our imaginations and hearts to stretch over the void to reach out to one another and to realize what it is to be human. Make sure that your story does that.