Birth is a big deal
Childbirth is at once a common event, and also a pivotal moment of unparalleled intensity. Transformative, heartbreaking, trying, exquisite. Torturous, euphoric, primal, enlightening. These are all words often used to describe something that happens globally four times per second.
I hear about this normal, yet absolutely amazing moment quite a lot, as I sit on the arm of a favorite easy chair or at the end of an unmade bed. As a postpartum doula, I come into a family’s home just as the adrenaline of birth gives
way to deep exhaustion; just as the milk comes in and the hormones crash.
When I arrive for my first shift with a new family, I always start by asking about the birth. A woman might have told the story of her baby’s arrival a few times before meeting me; however, I bring a certain type of audience that makes
the recollection somewhat different. I am unbiased and undistracted. I ask questions and encourage emotion; I aid in conclusion and closure. I know when to dig deeper and when to back off.
My former client Amy, for example, had a difficult time coming to terms with her two Cesarean births. In her mind, the operations were a sign of weakness. She also wondered if the procedures were completely medically necessary and
was consequently plagued with “what ifs.” Her overwhelming guilt and doubt threatened to eclipse her bond with her two sons, making it imperative for her to find a way to sort through her mixed emotions. Together, we discovered that
several short but pointed conversations interspersed with lighter moments of laughter were the best way for Amy to slowly chip away at the troubling feelings she had swallowed following the birth of her first son.
In Amy’s own words/ I needed someone to allow me to voice the knot of disappointment and gratitude that filled my heart and head at the time. I needed someone to allow me to say that I was conflicted about both of my births, which
have given me beautiful and amazing children. The listening ear of a doula allowed me to begin to sort through some of those difficult—and even embarrassing—emotions.
Processing the story
In the mom and baby business, we often refer to this practice as “processing the birth story.” Such a funny, seemingly clinical term—process is exactly the word to describe the rehashing, reorganizing, making-sense-of things that needs
to take place after childbirth. Synonyms of the verb include/ layout, treasure, boast, experience, possess, retain, use, ramble, and repair.
Although conversation is what worked for Amy, processing need not come from a chat with your doula, doctor, midwife, mother, or counselor. In fact, talking it out is not the best fit for everyone. Conversation is effective, but it can be a
bullet train to thoughts and images that are better digested slowly. Especially when coping with unexpected intervention, loss of control, and birth trauma, revisiting a somewhat murky memory of joy stained with strife might be better
approached with caution. Long walks near water come to mind for exploring a sense of sadness; perhaps quiet meditation. Kickboxing, hiking, or singing along to loud music could be effective in releasing anger.
Even when a woman is blessed with a just-as-planned, peaceful birth, she may be surprised to find herself fumbling with the art of processing. Feelings of wonder and elation can be just as overwhelming as those of despair. Whether
idyllic or chaotic, birth is a big deal, and it’s important to carve time out to deal with the effects.
Some parents make a mix CD, filled with songs that bring them back to “labor day.” Some stay up at night, after the baby falls asleep, working on a scrapbook. Such physical monuments are wonderful to tuck away, as birth memories
often demand to be revisited year after year.
Pull out a pen
Another effective and increasingly popular way of sorting through the experience is to write. Many women write their birth story, for a variety of reasons. The written account becomes a reminder, a keepsake, a gift to the child in
question, and also perhaps an educational and inspirational essay for other pregnant women.
Twin Cities birth doula and hypnotic birth instructor Anne Ferguson explains that, “In [the workshop] Hypnobabies, we encourage mothers to only read positive birth stories. What the mind focuses on becomes what the mind creates, and
that becomes reality.” Makes sense that reading a few uplifting, empowering tales of real women could be life-altering. Choosing to process your labor by using the story to help others can be extremely gratifying.
At Blooma Yoga in Edina, Alisa Blackwood takes on all birth stories, whether initially viewed as perfect or traumatic. Her workshop, Writing Your Baby’s Birth Story, starts with some gentle yoga, continues with a few writing exercises to
jog the memory, and finishes with free journaling.
Says Blackwood, “There’s a transformation, a softening, a letting go, that takes place when you write down your thoughts and memories…sometimes it takes tremendous bravery to say hello to these parts of yourself, especially if you’re
uncomfortable with writing. But you don’t have to be a writer to write your story. You also don’t have to share your story if you don’t want to.”
To share or not, to write or not—the exact vehicle is not important. You just need to get there.
There is very little of what we experience in the modern world to remind us that we are animals. Rarely do we push our physical limits, rub our emotions raw, or surrender to the involuntary. What birth brings up is precious, alarming, and
rare. The experience matters a great deal. As we crazy little animals do with so many things that matter, we often bypass what’s important when it comes to birth—what deserves reflection, what needs to be dealt with and accepted,
what we need to let go of, and what we will joyfully present as a recurring punch line for years to come.
What I’ve found to be universally true of both the mothers I work with and those I know personally, is that a birth story pushed away—for whatever reason—will eventually resurface. It will be there in the relationship with the child,
throughout subsequent pregnancies, and in the ebb and flow of marriage intimacy.
Of all human experiences, only two are entirely universal/ birth and death. Of these bookends, birth is the one that we carry with us and it’s the one that we stand half a chance at wrapping our heads around.
Whether via walking, talking, singing, writing, belly dancing, star gazing, or berry picking; every new parent needs to celebrate, accept, embody, and process the single moment that turned the old life into something completely new. •
Jen Wittes is a freelance writer, as well as a doula for Welcome BabyCare in Edina.