In an excellent article by Rachel Reed in the Autumn 2011 issue of Midwifery Today, Sharing Stories, Reclaiming Birth Knowledge, she makes this important point: “Women not only learn practical information about pregnancy, birth, and motherhood through exchanging stories, but also gain emotional and social support…Through sharing stories, women created a sense of connection to other mothers and to the ‘universal nature of birthing’ …”
Despite the everyday miracle of birth and potent role in women’s lives and self-identity, “women’s birth stories are largely ignored in mainstream childbirth education programs. Instead, the approach consists of an ‘expert’ transmitting standardized information sanctioned by the maternity system. This approach does not adequately meet the needs of mothers, nor reinforce mothers’ expertise and knowledge. Building childbirth education around mother-to-mother story sharing would reinforce mothers as the experts in birth.”
What do you know about birth that other people don’t know?
As I read this article, I thought of several experiences in my own childbearing experiences that varied from “standardized information sanctioned by the maternity system” and that includes the alternative care system of which I was a part. Things that, for me, were not available from those systems around me—books, professionals, or media, but that nevertheless came through and are part of my own stories:
- Being able to feel my babies practice breathing in the last 8-10 weeks of my pregnancies.
- “Skipping” transition–no “freaking out” required to have a baby after all.
- Tearing “up” into the labia/clitoral area instead of the more common or expected perineal tearing
- Experiencing a spontaneous birth reflex
- No bloody show/mucus/fluid until shortly before pushing
- Long “strings” of post-birth mucus. So tough and sinuous that they are almost like membrane.
- Experiencing a second trimester miscarriage clearly and potently as a birth event.
I’m curious to know what other women have experienced like this. What happened to you that you had never heard about before? What is a part of your story that isn’t a part of birth books? What do you know about birth that other people don’t know? How does your story enhance the collective culture of women?
The role of story in midwifery education
Reed goes on to explore the role of story in midwifery care and the education of midwives, explaining, “It is time for midwives, informed by being ‘with woman’ and experiencing birth in all its complexities, to reclaim their own unique birth knowledge. Sharing birth stories represents a rich source of knowledge and develops the ‘collective culture of women.’ Mothers are already doing this well, and childbirth education should reinforce this mother-to-mother expertise. Midwifery education also needs to embrace the power of storytelling as a means of developing woman-centered knowledge and practice.”
One of the most valuable elements of La Leche League for breastfeeding mothers is the mother-to-mother support and information sharing. This is irreplaceable. We need a means of providing this type of mother-to-mother support for birth as well. Not in swapping horror stories or “enlightening” others, but in authentic connection based on our own unique birth wisdom.
In another article in the same issue of Midwifery Today KaRa Ananda shares the following gem in her article about Birthtellers: “…the stories women tell to each other privately–shape cultures, beliefs, choices and lives. Women used to learn about birth and motherhood through the stories of their mothers, sisters, grandmothers, midwives and friends. Today, that knowledge is transmitted primary through television, movies, peers and the internet. Now is the time for the Birthtellers to arise and once again share our inspirational birth stories–both within our communities and globally through new media technology.”
One of the midwife-authors that makes my heart sing with her lyrical, magical writing, is Sister MorningStar (author of Power of Women). She shared her daughter’s birth story in the autumn 2011 edition of Midwifery Today and it is just beautiful.
My own article on the value of sharing story also appeared in the same issue of Midwifery Today.