You’re pregnant! You’re so excited but also pretty nervous (terrified) because eventually that baby will need to come out of you. So what do you do? You Google “birth stories” and begin reading other women’s experiences in the hopes of finding comfort. Labor’s not really so bad, right? But what happens when you go looking for positive, uplifting birth stories on Google? You find horror stories, instead. You find all the one-in-a-thousand chance scenarios and are now convinced they will happen to you and/or your baby. But you know what? You’re smarter than this; you realize that Google isn’t a great source to solely use because anyone can say anything on the Internet. So you turn to friends and family to hear of their birth experiences. But 8 times out of 10, what do you still find? Horror stories.
Stop telling pregnant women your horror birth stories! Let them have their own experience, untainted by your fears and dire warnings. Let them do their own specific research and share your firsthand knowledge only if asked for it. Warn them that you had a negative experience before delving into specifics and then, if she’s interested to know more, she will ask you for the details.
There is a lot to learn from a mother’s labor and delivery experience, good and bad. But even as you issue your warnings of the possible epidural migraine (spinal headache) or a cord wrapped around the baby’s neck, try to remember that this new mother has nothing to compare your experience to yet. She won’t be able to latch on to the beautiful feelings you had once you held the baby in your arms (a feeling none of us can understand fully until we’ve experienced it ourselves). She will hear you describe your tears of joy but that won’t be what she latches on to in her uncertainty. Instead, in her inexperience and worry, she will remember most the description of your tears of pain. She will more likely latch on to the fear you felt, your description of tearing, and the image of a baby born without breathing. It’s the most terrifying parts that a new mother who fears birth will remember most.
Horror birth stories have their place. They have very real and needed warnings hidden within all the description. So I’m not saying to hide your bad experience of birth and pretend everything goes perfectly during labor. That wouldn’t be realistic and new mothers need to know what possibilities are out there. All I’m suggesting is that we take a different approach to how we describe our bad experiences with deliveries.
For example, here’s what NOT to say about your bad birth experience:
“My labor was terrible! 43 hours of painful contractions all in my back, with an epidural that only worked on one half of my body. And that epidural gave me the worst headache of my life afterwards so I couldn’t even sit up, let alone hold my own baby! I thought I was going to die! My doctor refused to listen to my desires and basically forced me into a C-section, but only after letting me rip from front to back from pushing for 2 hours straight.”
Notice all the emotionally charged words/phrases: “worst headache of my life,” “forced,” “refused to listen,” “going to die,” and “letting me rip.” This might be your perspective of the experience but as wronged as you felt you were, it doesn’t mean you need to spread the fear to other mothers who might have the total opposite experience.
Instead, share your story more like this:
“My labor was pretty tough because it lasted about 43 hours from start to finish. Did you know you can feel contractions in your back? I can describe what they feel like if you are interested. I decided to get an epidural and they work wonders for many women. Unfortunately, my experience was one of the less common ones, where it only worked on half of my body. I also ended up with some affects of it after the baby was born, called a spinal headache. It doesn’t happen to everyone who gets an epidural but it’s still a possibility, if you want to know more about it to prepare. Decisions were hard to make during that emotional time. I wanted to keep pushing but for reasons I discussed with my doctor, he felt it was best I have a C-section. I’m not happy that I had to go that route, and hope that next time, I’ll be able to use my experience to better stand up for what I want. But when I held my baby for the first time, it was all worth it because she was beyond description. The labor and delivery weren’t perfect, but she sure was!”
See how you are still able to convey the information about the negative parts of labor that you endured, gain sympathy for your struggle, but without using emotionally charged and sometimes exaggerated language that would terrify a new mother? She is still able to learn from your experience and now, she gets to choose what parts she wants to hear more about, instead of being scared into believing your experience will also be hers. She walks away understanding that labor can be very difficult but maybe now, she feels informed and determined, instead of scared and anxious. And ending your painful story with a positive part, like describing your love as you held your baby, will leave her feeling uplifted. Which is exactly what she wanted when she asked you about your birth story!
Of course you will want to share your experiences because, like most of us, you would want sympathy for the horror you faced during labor and delivery. And once we’ve had our own birthing experience and know better what to expect, go ahead and tell us the gory details so that we can be grateful we weren’t you. But turning the story into a horror plot? Not such a nice thing to do to the pregnant lady.
I’m not telling you to shut your face completely. I’m just encouraging you to think about how you’re telling the story to new mothers, since they have nothing to compare it to and would likely focus on the scariest parts. A woman’s body, the things that it’s capable of and what it instinctively knows to do, is really amazing. Let’s focus on that part!