Ever had a friend, family member or even complete stranger eagerly tell you the nitty-gritty details of her traumatizing birth story? The answer, for many moms, is a resounding yes. But the real question is: Have you ever had someone share a beautiful, encouraging, inspiring birth story? If so, you know the positive impact it can make as you await your own birth experience.
The art of sharing birth stories is an integral part of oral history. As long as there has been birth, the memories of these life-altering moments have been passed among us. Our stories are shared across dining room tables, in waiting rooms, and over tea and cake during baby showers. They’re whispered in the night as we put our children to bed. For better and for worse, they stay with us and are carried on after us.
Why to write your birth story
Recording the details of your little one’s debut does more than fill in Aunt Sally on how it all went down. In fact, the potential benefits of penning those memories are threefold.
1. Encouraging other moms-to-be
If a mother’s delivery is shared openly and with respect, it can create closeness and trust between women. When you’re weighing your birthing options, hearing other women share the details of what worked for them during labor personalizes the choices before you. It helps both the storyteller and you feel like you’re in this together.
Facing a planned C-section? Listening to a friend speak about her positive experience can give you confidence and reduce your fear. Considering using a doula during your birth? A friend sharing the pros and cons of having her doula there can reveal much more than reading a list online. Curious about how an epidural will really feel? Hearing a fellow mom recount the sensation can help you prepare and soothe your anxiety.
2. Finding your own healing
Our stories hold power—the power to connect, support and educate. But when left ignored and in the dark, our stories also have the potential to weaken us, to breed anxiety and even depression.
It’s possible that your childbirth experience will not live up to your expectations or follow your birth plan. Perhaps you were left discouraged following an emergency C-section. Maybe you felt that you weren’t well cared for or respected during your labor and delivery. Or maybe you’re weighing your desire for another baby against a prior frightening experience.
No matter the specifics of a birth trauma, keeping quiet can stunt the healing process. When we push aside our memories without working through them, they have the potential to control us. Writing (even for those who are quick to point out “but I’m not a writer”) and sharing—with discretion—is healing, especially in the emotional postpartum period.
As you write about your experience, suspend judgment and just let the words flow. Recounting your memories helps you sort through emotions and bring whatever you might be struggling with to light. This practice takes some of the power away from painful experiences and brings acceptance and peace closer.
3. Preserving memories for your children
Stories of family and history help root us. When life feels unsure or overwhelming, reflecting on times we have felt loved, secure and cared for brings comfort. Recording the memory of your child’s birth for them and their children is a precious gift.
Time and life experiences separate us from recalling the sights, sounds, smells, fear, joy and other aspects of important moments. We find ourselves lost in the ups and downs of labor and delivery, completely consumed by the waterfall of emotions and physical experiences. It is nearly impossible to take a deep breath and focus on committing the minutiae to memory. When you add in the chaos and sleep deprivation of those first weeks at home, it’s incredible that we remember anything at all.
Before we know it, our babies grow into curious children with countless questions. When they begin the process of grasping birth and new life, their inquisitions turn personal. Questions about their own beginnings, their own first breaths, help orient them as they work to understand who they are and where they came from.
Fast-forward to your daughter’s first pregnancy: What a beautiful opportunity to share the story of her birth! As she prepares for the arrival of her child, you can recount it with finer detail and new vulnerability. Adult parent-child relationships can be riddled with simultaneous joy and challenges, but stories have a way of bridging gaps and reminding us that we are all in this together. What binds our lives is often greater than anything that might divide them.
How to write your birth story
If you’re planning to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and recount the day your little one came into this world, these tips will help you tell your delivery tale, whether you’re preparing for the big day or writing from memory.
– Plan ahead
You plan your gift registry, your nursery, your newborn photos … Why not put a plan in place for your baby’s story? Start thinking ahead for ways to make capturing the story of your child’s birth easy and enjoyable.
Consider talking with your spouse, doula, mother or anyone who will be in the room with you at delivery. Ask in advance that they take a few minutes, whether during labor or immediately after, to jot down notes for you—small details that you might not have noticed or may quickly forget. Their perspectives are fun and special to hear after the big event.
– Take notes
In the day or two after your baby’s birth, record highlights, such as times and tidbits you don’t want to forget. The first few days will be a haze of little sleep, physical recovery, visitors and getting to know your new baby. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, but be intentional. Keep a notepad or laptop near the chair where you feed your baby. Write down thoughts as they come, and leave the editing for another time.
– Gather evidence
Parts of your labor or C-section might be hard to remember, so ask others questions about the birth, and collect photos and mementos. Empty out the contents of your folder filled with hospital paperwork, scroll through photos on your phone, and read through any texts you sent leading up to delivery.
Reading messages or emails your partner sent to family and friends can give you a glimpse into what he was feeling and thinking. Note the check-in time on your hospital bracelet and other clues to help you piece together your story.
– Make time
Caring for your newborn is essential and consuming, but capturing your story is important, too. The more time that elapses between the birth and when you sit down to write, the less you will recall. Set aside a few minutes of your day as best you can—you’ll be amazed how much spills out onto the paper (or screen) once you get started. Ask for help, and make it a priority.
– Just write
Prepare if you can, but in the end, just start writing. Your first step should be “stream of consciousness” writing. During this phase, you’ll write exactly what comes to mind. Do not concern yourself with editing, structure or cohesiveness. You can worry about that later.
– Dig deep
For each fact you write, ask the big questions. Push past the informative to the “good stuff”: What was your first thought when your water broke? What was the atmosphere like in the delivery room? What were your thoughts as you waited for your C-section to begin? What was your partner experiencing? What were you thinking while you waited to be induced? What were your emotions—fear, surprise, elation, deep joy? Engage all of your senses. Be specific, and be vulnerable.
Author Christy Lee Knutson is the founder of BirthMemoirs.com.