Dear Mums. No-one Wants To Read Your Birth Story.
Don’t Tell Your Birth Story, Because Birth Stories Are Boring.
Telling A Birth Story Makes You A Smug Mummy.
These are all titles of articles I’ve seen promoted or posted on popular parenting websites. Until I had the idea for this blog post, I had no idea there was so much opposition to women sharing their birth stories. I also had no idea why it’s so important that we do listen to birth stories.
I confess; when I was pregnant, I didn’t want to read birth horror stories. I didn’t want to be regaled with tales of women screaming for epidurals and tearing from end to end. I didn’t want to be shown articles about “When birth goes wrong” or “Woman still has PTSD fifteen years after giving birth”. It terrified me. I was pregnant for the first time and scared enough about birth itself, without wanting to think about it all going wrong. I also didn’t want to hear success stories, in case it got my hopes up.
I didn’t manage to block myself off from them completely. The stories about the horror of induced birth came back to haunt me when I was induced at thirty-seven weeks. I remembered articles telling me to “demand an epidural before the drip goes in”, and stories of long, drawn-out births with every intervention going, still resulting in a cesarean. I was terrified.
Then I gave birth, and I had an overwhelmingly positive induction experience. I didn’t need an epidural; I didn’t need forceps or ventouse. SB was born in three pushes, and I was overcome with joy and love. When people on parenting forums asked for positive induction experiences, I shared mine with pleasure. What’s wrong with asking for positive experiences only? People just don’t want to be scared.
Then I thought about the bigger picture. What about the mum who reads all of these positive experiences, and then feels cheated when she asks for an epidural or needs a forceps delivery? Or the mum who feels totally unprepared, because she didn’t realise induction was more painful?
Then there’s the woman who recently had a traumatic birth, who logs onto a parenting forum and sees the thread title. “POSITIVE Induction Stories Only”. Doesn’t that tell her that she has to keep those feelings bottled up? Doesn’t it give the message that her birth story is substandard; her experiences don’t matter, because she can’t talk about it in a positive light?
We need to have open, honest discourse on our experiences of labour, birth and maternity care as a whole. When things go right, we don’t hesitate to shout it from the rooftops and praise the people involved. When things go wrong, we force ourselves to repress it and hide away, for fear of being called ungrateful. “It’s a free health service”, we’re told. “Don’t be ungrateful”. Just because the NHS is free at the point of use, does not make it immune to criticism. You can be the most vocal, ardent supporter of the NHS and realise that, due to underfunding and understaffing, it isn’t always perfect.
Birth can be the most incredible time of a woman’s life, or it can be the most traumatic. Every mother has a different story to tell of how she came to be one, and not all of them involve her giving birth. No-one’s story is any more valid or any more deserving of being heard than anyone else’s. It’s time we stopped the selective deafness around people’s accounts of traumatic birth, and start listening, understanding and supporting.
Some people don’t want to talk about their birth experience, and we need to respect their choices. Some women do want to talk about it, and they’re being ignored.
Please, never feel that your birth experience cannot be spoken about because it wasn’t what you hoped for, or it doesn’t fit the “idyllic birth” mould. If you want to tell your birth story – euphoric, traumatic, medicalised, natural, calm, terrifying or anywhere in between – I want to listen.
For more on maternity experiences and why every woman’s maternity experience matters, the following Twitter accounts & hashtags are great places to start – Maternity Matters, #MatExp, Birth Trauma Association & #BirthTraumaChat.