The day I became a mother, my life changed forever.
Now, that is the most ridiculous sentence to start with. But it is also most profound. Because, if we are lucky, the births of our babies can give us great gifts, as we learn truths about ourselves.
I started teaching Lamaze classes in 1986. I had what I felt was a simple goal for my classes. Instead of telling horror stories about birth, women who took my classes would tell stories of triumph. They would be the heroines of their own birthing stories.
Well, here it is 20 years later. And guess what – word on the street is that birth is – well – let me tell you about MY birth…!
Let me tell you about birth.
Today, I still think we are heroines of our own birth stories. We’re not used to sharing the emotions around an experience as momentous – and as non-verbal – as birth. I think of the moment when I realized I was deeply in love with David. If you ask me, “What is it like, falling in love?” I’m not likely to give you a good answer. A very old part of my brain is engaged, what is sometimes called the old brain, very deep inside. I remember what David smelled like, what his touch was like, the whiteness of the flowers in the apple orchard and the warmth of the sun as we smooched. One day I saw a guy walking down the street and thought, “Wowie zowie” – and then realized it was David walking down the street.
When qualitative studies are done about birth, these are the same sorts of memories that moms talk about. In fact, if I walk into your room just after you have a baby, you may tell me some of these incredible memories. I can’t sleep, I just hear that monitor beeping….The picture said Monet, I don’t know what it was a picture of…The instruments were so cold and it was cold in the room…The doctor and the nurse, I can see them whispering in the corner.
To bring our memories up from the old brain – literally, to get them into our gray matter in the cerebral cortex! – we need to begin to make our memories into a story. We need to have a beginning, a middle and an end. We need to figure out how we triumphed.
Giving voice to our birth experiences
I know these things on a very personal level. I pushed for over four hours with my first baby. I remember the whispering and the coldness. I also remember giving my husband’s friend a blow-by-blow description – at the library! – when he asked, “So how was the birth?” And I remember thinking, this is not appropriate.
Most women come to that point pretty quickly after their births. For many of us, it means we are able to make a narrative, to make sense of our births. But a good number of us work longer and harder. Some of us actually have a touch – or a lot – of post-traumatic stress symptoms after our births. That may include feeling detached from our babies and our lives; intrusive thoughts (“I keep hearing that monitor with the heartrate going down”); feelings of panic, including a racing pulse or shortness of breath; re-running the tape of things that we saw or smelled or felt. And needing to tell our stories over and over again, trying to make sense of what happened.
Have you felt this way? Begin some healing by reading this article Making Peace.
Who speaks for birthing women?
My masters project looked at the experiences of six birthing women, whose “babies” ranged from six weeks to 25 years of age. I would say that these women got skilled, compassionate care. Yet they were still suffering from varying amounts of PTSD symptoms.
We are blessed in our area, that we are likely to find that good care. But there are women around the world who are not treated well during their births, who are just one more body on the birth assembly line, whose needs and cares and fears are discounted or even laughed over. Who will tell their stories?