Somehow, April has shot by like a rocket, and suddenly it’s 24th and Acorns to Oaks on 6th seems an actual age ago. Since then, though, I've been ruminating on ‘Why Birth Stories Matter’ even more than in the lead up to my talk, and I keep seeing the answers to that question reflected back at me.
The Guardian – leftie paper of choice for the youthful me – has published 3 pieces since then that demonstrate exactly how powerful birth stories are, and how the bias against birth is entrenched (links at the bottom).
Stories are integral to our human experience. From early childhood we are instinctive story makers and story takers, sharing tales of our own experience and forming strong relationships as we listen to the stories of others. Stories form the basis for our interpretation of the world. As highly social animals we’re highly attuned to character & storyline – in fact, we’re hard wired to respond, producing dopamine in response to highly charged narrative, which helps us remember, physically mirroring the storyteller and audience, and ‘neural coupling’ or adopting the heard story as our own.
SO yes, birth stories matter! And they matter for two reasons.
Firstly, they matter to you! Birth marks us indelibly. It’s one of the three distinct moments of womanhood – menarche, maternity, menopause – and you will remember the birth of your children for the rest of your life. Sophie Walker, founder of the Women’s Equality Party, said at Pregnant Then Screwed in January this year that ‘Motherhood Radicalises Women’, and this is true. It happens in big, public, campaigning ways, and it also happens quietly, personally and internally. Birth can be the first time women come face to face with their fears and triumph. There’s so much going on in birth, how can this not be true? Think about it; pain; fear; sweat; blood; poo; tears; relationships; fear; ambition; control; love; trust; faith; body image; nuance; power; vulnerability…. It’s all there in spades.
And birth stories matter because they form other women’s expectations of what birth could and should be like. It’s easy to be drawn into the charged emotion of OBEM and Emma Willis Delivering Babies, because it flicks all of our instinctual story responses. Often the stories we hear focus on the ordeal – and that’s because traumatised women need a space to process their experiences in. And those stories DO need to be told, because they are the truth of how birth is now. We deserve more than that, though, otherwise teller & audience are locked into a cycle of repetition without resolution. The trope of birth=suffering influences and influences again, until it’s the norm, and women submit to an expectation of the worst.
And so we’re left in a space where birth is to be dreaded and feared. Yet also where women who are traumatised are abandoned to repeat their experience over and over without resolution. And yet also where women who had a good experience are ghettoised, patronised and dismissed.
I’m tired of hearing that birth is inherently awful, because its not. Poor birth experiences can be stopped with compassion, choice & continuity of care (and drugs! They’re a valid choice too).
So yes, birth stories matter. They matter to the individual mother, and to us all. Being honest about birth will benefit us all, and I urge you to #payitforward! Speak your truth!
Barbara Ellen, Meghan Markle's home birth should not blind us to the risk for most women, 13th April 2019
Anonymous, Letters to a new Mother, from a Health Visitor, 20th April 2019
Donna Ferguson, National Childbirth Trust President quits in breastfeeding row, 20th April 2019