Tuesday after a hectic half term and I'm lucky enough to be gentle easing my poor addled brain back into gear listening to Let It Be (for the first time in too, too long) and pondering. This is highly indulgent, as I spent a lovely couple of hours this morning chatting to a colleague of my Mums. It's the first time we've seen each other since her funeral in 2005, so we had lots to catch up on, and it as interesting to see how many aspects of my work and his (in social care, with women & children) overlap.
There's almost nothing more inspiring than talking to people, this mornings chat came hot on the heels of a weekend away with a VERY old mate of mine, who is a consultant obstetric anaesthetist. (I know, I know, I move in lofty circles!). One of the big things I took from these conversation is how important birth stories are. Not just any old birth story - you know, the glib ones that people like to tell to scare the living shit out of pregnant women, but really honest, considered, birth stories. And not just positive ones, but ALL honest birth stories. From women who had good experiences, from traumatised women, from women who planned caesarean births, from birth partners, from doula's, from midwives, from anaesthetists, from obstetricians.
Birth stories matter because the current narrative diverts us from the real issues at play. Whether it's Jeremy Vine's focus on induction of labour yesterday with it's questionable content (and you can read Dr. Sara Wickhams response here), meaningless binary battles (Harry Kane) or judgmental gossip (the Duchess of Sussex), it all prevents women from adequately preparing themselves, because their focus is drawn away from the things that really affect the experience of birth.
Birth stories matter because while we collude in caricaturing labouring women, in undermining their right to make active choices, in diminishing their experiences, we are keeping women quiet. While we present suffering & indignity as ‘normal’, woman are limited from speaking out about what Good means, about the injustices of maternity services, about their personal traumas and triumphs (just as before #metoo). It means women continue to accept poor quality care, because they believe it’s the best they can hope to expect.
Birth stories matter because when people take the time and care required to really talk to women about their birth experiences, they'll hear that pain, induction, epidural....these are simply red herrings. The real issues are institutions, the structural devaluing of women & childhood, under-investment and over-work in the NHS, shared decision making, vulnerability, race (and this is the elephant in the room that we should ALL be aware of)
Birth stories matter because women matter. Motherhood is transformational, and it has the potential to unleash untold power in women. Yet still an estimated 30,000 women a year experience birth trauma (with many more going unreported).
We can’t effect personal, political or institutional change if we’re asking the wrong questions. We can’t help women to insulate themselves from harm if they don’t know what they’re insulating against. And we can’t extend the opportunity to experience birth positively if it’s not presented as an option.
This is why birth stories matter.
Birth stories matter because, for all the ghettoization & fetishization of birth, it’s actually quite commonplace – to the tune of 1,860 per day. 87% of women become mothers by the time they are 45, and 100% of us were born! Pregnancy, birth, motherhood, these are not niche issues, and they deserve to be told, with ownership & pride.
Charlotte Edun is a doula, hypnobirthing practitioner and Positive Birth Movement facilitator, running classes, courses & workshops in Sevenoaks, Kent. For details of coming events, click here