Growing, birthing and caring for a new baby is one of the most joyful times in our adult lives, and also one of the most demanding. During the postpartum period, so many peripheral tasks may be vying for our attention (and, for many of us, all we really care to do is stare at our beautiful new baby…and sleep whenever possible.)
Making time to write your birth story may seem like one extra thing on the to-do list, but there are many reasons to make this task a priority.
Writing your birth story is a transformative, cathartic experience, with the power to help you process, make meaning from, heal from, preserve, celebrate and honor your unique experience of birth.
The following are eight great reasons to write your birth story.
1: To remember
Writing your birth story preserves your memory of this important event for a lifetime (or longer!) In the early days, you may run through your birth story again and again in your mind, remembering all the little details of this amazing experience. But as time goes on, these details inevitably fade.
While it is ideal to begin writing in the early postpartum, it’s never too late. If it has been months or longer since the birth of your baby, it is still very much worth your time to write your birth story (you surely remember more of it now than you will ten years from now!).
Memory-joggers, such as labor playlists and pictures, can help you recall fading details. Talking to your partner or others present at your birth can also help to fill in the details of your birth, so you can write and preserve these memories.
TIP: If you can’t sit down to write out the narrative of your story, at least jot down some notes in those early hours and days after your baby’s arrival. In the last weeks of pregnancy, consider getting a small bedside journal or type notes into a phone app or email to yourself. (This can be helpful not only for jotting down birth story details but also for remembering the questions you want to ask your care providers—midwives, doulas, pediatrician, etc).
2: To process and reflect
The experience of giving birth is one of the most profound, transformational, and emotionally rich experiences we will have in our lives. In fact, how we gave birth can have a profound effect on how we see ourselves, how we feel about ourselves, and how we interact with others—including our baby. For many women, it is imperative to their well being to talk about and process their birth stories.
Given the intensity of the birth experience, our memories can be jumbled or even chaotic-seeming until we have a chance to process them and assemble them in narrative form. Writing can stabilize our experiences.
Writing your birth story enables a unique mode of processing that can’t necessarily be achieved through talking alone. Writing accesses different parts of our brain—it is a reflective and reflexive practice that can help you process your story on a deeper level, helping you to explore and understand your experience in a particular way. People often discover how they feel about something or find feelings transmuted as they begin to explore them through writing. New perspective can be reached as you process and reflect on your birth experience by writing it down.
3: To Heal
Along those same lines, writing your birth experience can be a healing experience. One woman, reflecting on writing her birth story, commented: “At first I felt disappointed and angry that I didn’t not get to have the natural birth that I wanted. But as I wrote about our transfer, how I ultimately delivered my baby, and how I felt when I held her, the anger changed and I felt like I was speaking not just for myself but for other women that don’t get to have their ‘perfect birth.’ I also realized that though the birth didn’t go as planned, I was surrounded by support of my husband and midwife. I ultimately felt strong and like I did my best in a situation I couldn’t entirely control.”
Both writing and storytelling are time-honored methods of healing from challenging life experiences. While writing can’t always take away the trauma of difficult childbirth (or any experience), it can help us to express how we are truly feeling—it can give voice to the grief, disappointment, shock, and sorrow—and may help us come to terms with what happened and begin to make peace with it.
When we share our story on paper or maybe with others, we can find support, feel less alone, and become more empowered. Saying: “this happened to me and this is how I am feeling about it” is a powerful exercise on the healing path. Remember, while you can’t always change the past, you always have the power to change your connection to the past in this moment.
If you are struggling with aspects of your birth experience, you deserve to have the support you need to continue processing and healing. In addition to writing, speaking with a counselor, having body/energy work, making birth art, healing through movement, and other measures can go along way to helping you find peace after difficult childbirth.
4: To share
When we write about our birth experiences, we can share them with others—which has a number of potential benefits. Sharing our story can help us bond with other people and find support.
When we share with our partners and other support people, it helps them gain insight into our perception of the birth, which can increase empathy and understanding and invite conversations about aspects of the shared experience. When we share with other women, especially other mothers, we can find support, understanding, and camaraderie.
Sharing can have an unknown or unanticipated ripple effect. You never know how your story will help someone else. But it probably will.
5: For your child
And let’s not forget our little ones (as if we could). Writing down your birth story will enable you to share this story with your child and family for decades to come.
Consider for a moment what you know about how you were born. Do you know the details? Did your mother document your birth in some way? Do you wish you knew more?
People whose mothers have a written their birth story often report gratitude for having such a treasured account of how they came into the world. It can make your child feel special and important to know that you took the time to document their birth. Whether or not it was an ideal situation, this birth was how they came into the world and it will always be special for them to know about it. The experiences you had and the lessons they teach can have a profound impact on your child, both when they are young and when they grow up (and perhaps have children of their own).
“I printed out our birth story and placed it in my daughter’s baby book so she can look back and read about the day she was born. I can only hope that it will inspire her to have a birth without fear when she is ready to birth to her own baby someday,” reported one mama.
6: To preserve the beauty and spirit of the birth process
Many women (and men!) are profoundly affected by the stories of birth. Birth is a sacred and primal process that connects us to our roots and to something greater than ourselves. Author and healer Tami Lynn Kent calls birth the process of coming to the spirit door.
Like the beautiful children we birth, each birth story is completely unique and all have elements of the extraordinary in them.
Some women are driven to write their birth stories in an attempt to capture that beauty and power in words. It can take some courage to do this. While it may be “safer” to stick to the medical facts, writing about one’s full experience of birth—the physical, emotional, and spiritual—can be a powerful act. Being honest about the deeper layers of your birth experience can be a true gift to yourself, your family, and anyone fortunate enough to hear your story.
7: To help and inspire others
For most of human history, storytelling was the most potent way to transmit knowledge among kin. In the past, we had a much greater connection to the world of birth and babies than we do today. By the time we reached adulthood, we would have likely heard many birth stories, if not witnessed many births ourselves.
One woman writes: “It’s sad that we don’t live in a culture where women gather post birth, removed from responsibility and routine, to sit around the fire under the stars with our female clan (including the elders and the young) and share our birth stories. Too many of our stories get lost in our hearts.”
While we are less connected to birth and birth wisdom today, telling our stories can be a way to reconnect to ourselves, each other and the wisdom of birth.
Telling your birth story can help other women in your life. We can learn so much from each other and our mothers; and our children can learn from us when we take time to talk about our birth experiences.
When things don’t go as planned and we are brave enough to share our story, we can help other women who have or will experience similar situations. Likewise, when we have a positive experience of birth, sharing our story can be a way of showing other women what it looks like to birth naturally, or without fear. Hearing positive birth experiences is a powerful antidote to the mainstream perceptions of birth as a risk-laden, painful medical event. In this way, the personal can become political, as we spread the truth that birth can be a positive, fearless, beautiful experience.
8: To change our collective perceptions of birth
It was not so long ago that women were put under anesthesia (“twilight sleep”) during labor, completely disconnected from the experience of their births. It is not uncommon in many parts of the world for women to have few options or control over their birthing experiences. Even those with more choice may feel like it’s not acceptable or desirable to speak about their birth experiences. It can almost feel taboo to speak candidly about birth, much less celebrate and honor this experience.
Writing and sharing your birth story can be a political act. It can be a way of saying “Birth is important. The WOMEN who birth are important. MY birth is important. “ Regardless of how you feel about your birth, putting words to your experience is a powerful way to show that your experience matters. Because it does.
Some women may feel reluctant to write their stories. Maybe they don’t know where to start, are afraid they aren’t going to tell it right (impossible!), or get stuck in the practical limitations of sitting down to write with a little baby to care for. But nothing worth doing is ever easy (cases in point: pregnancy and childbirth). While not easy, these labors of love are worth it.
If you’ve written your birth story and want to share it with others, please consider submitting your birth story to be posted on our blog (with pictures too if you wish!)
If you need a little help carving out time, want to receive some guidance and feedback, or just want to write and share your story among other mamas, please consider joining us for our upcoming Write Your Birth Story Workshop in September 2013.
For information about either birth story submission or the upcoming workshop, contact Jaime@health-foundations.com.