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Take It From A Doula: The Importance Of The Birth Story by Jen Wittes Rognerud

Every family that I work with as a postpartum doula is different.  Every single day of work is different, even within a long stretch with a particular client.  That said, if I could pinpoint a common thread, it would be the woman’s need to be seen and heard.  In particular, she needs to tell the story of how she became a mother, or maybe how she went from one child to two; perhaps how she felt after her third and final birth.

Yes, every woman is different, but every single one of them wants to share their labor experience.

Years after a child is born, the shyest mother will, upon prompting, uncontrollably spill the story of an emergency C-section.

A great grandmother might not remember her husband’s name, but crystal clear in her mind—as if it happened yesterday—will be the image of that warm, slippery newborn, the sterile smell of alcohol, the exact texture of starched hospital sheets, the way the streetlights outside flickered on the nurse’s profile.

A woman may see a great many things in her life; she may beat impossible odds and accomplish more than she ever thought possible.  While this is true, you’d be hard pressed to find a mother who didn’t name childbirth as the most significant event of her lifetime.

In birth, we are animal.  We are vulnerable.  We are wise.  And on the other side, we are suddenly and profoundly transformed into mothers—worried and selfless, loving so much that we hurt, living—newly so—with our hearts outside of ourselves.

A woman not only regales in the telling of her birth story as a celebration of her courage, she hungers for the telling of the tale as a means of processing the experience.

Birth rarely goes exactly as planned, and it’s important to sort through possible feelings of disappointment, guilt, and eventual acceptance.

Sometimes, birth closely matches the plans and expectations, but the intense sensations leave a woman feeling keyed up and overwhelmed emotionally.

In every situation, no matter the details or the outcome, a woman just needs to say, “This was a really big deal.  And this is how it happened.”  She needs to put into words the excitement, the euphoria, the fear, the pain, the hormonal tidal wave of tears, the slightly manic eruption of laughter.

In recent years, it has become somewhat trendy to read and write birth stories and it’s a trend that is clearly becoming more than a passing phase.  Rightly so.  A birth story is an important document in the family history.  What child doesn’t, at some point, ask about the day they were born?

A shared birth story, furthermore, unites new mothers and also encourages mothers-to-be.  For example, after an ultra speedy but successful hospital birth, I decided to have my second child at home with under the care of midwives.  This is obviously not the norm, and you won’t hear me say that it should be.  In going against the grain and doing something that mainstream society called at once “bold” and also “insane,” I read countless homebirth, cozy birth center, and natural birth stories to bolster my confidence.  I also read stories about unexpected transfer and intervention.  And, I read stories about earthy moms faced to confront unplanned and perhaps unnecessary C-sections.

Every unique story on the vast birth experience spectrum helped me embrace the involuntary, believe in my body, and accept a little “come what may.”

A friend of mine participates in a monthly gathering of wine, women, and birth videos.  As I see it, this is spot on.

Apparently, health and healing and heralding is brought about not just by processing the birth once, but going over it again and again—month after month, year after year.

Women talk and share and in turn, learn from one another.  We tell our stories and feel our shoulders relax with a friend’s knowing nod.  We feel validated in the duality of the experience—there is a universal ride of motherhood, but every story is different.

How we process this “most important moment” greatly shapes who we are as mothers, who we will be, and how we handle stress.  Do we focus on the negative aspects of birth?  Do we wallow in anger and confusion and forever wonder if control was ripped from our hands?  Do we cry—as women do—appropriately?  Or do we sob every time we think of baby’s first days?  Do we laugh?  Do we cherish?  Are we burdened with guilt?  Do we remember?  Do we move on?  Do we realize—as we most certainly should—whether we had Pitocin, an epidural, an operation, forced separation, a water birth, or a crazy, naked hippy ceremony under the stars, that we were strong and brave and true?

Each and every mother is strong and brave and true—take my doula word on it.

Here’s another word or two:

Tell your birth story.  Tell your friends, tell your neighbors, tell your kids.  Tell men.  Tell your mother.  Ask your mother.

I always ask my clients.  You know, I love a good birth story.  Lucky for me, every woman—whether pissed off or puffed up with pride—wants to tell.

*Stay tuned as Doula Jen combines her work as a postpartum caregiver, her experience as a freelance writer, and her enthusiastic advocacy for the hardest job in the world into a big, new idea…Your Birth Story: A Writing and Sharing Workshop.  

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