You are a new mama, and this new life is offering so much joy, love, and uncertainty. Amongst all the new things that this transition to motherhood has brought to you, it can be difficult to think about what your body just went through. If you clicked this link, that means that you want to learn more about the importance of reflecting on your birth story.
What does “birth story” even mean?
When you hear “birth story,” what do you think of? Chatting with friends about the things no one told you about birth? Filling out the lines in your baby’s memorabilia book? The “facts” of how your child came into the world from start to finish?
I’d like to offer that there is another layer.
Underneath the details of the time you went into the operating room, or the number of times you threw up on the way to the birthing centre, there is your experience. This includes your perceptions, your excitements, your fears, your thoughts, and more. We don’t always reflect on these types of details within our own minds after giving birth. Even more, we do not reflect these details out loud with friends, family, or maybe a therapist. Goodness, it might not even feel like there’s time to go into all that!
Why reflecting on your birth story matters
Regardless of whether or not you experienced trauma related to the birth of your child, there can be memories that need processing. You don’t need to have perceived some great danger or loss to benefit from birth story reflection. But if you did, it’s important to notice that too.
With any birth, there is a period of healing after that includes physical, emotional, and spiritual healing. When we go through something as huge as bringing a child into the world, and don’t consider how we experienced it, we are leaving part of our healing behind.
In the space of reflection, it’s possible that we find that all the details are fully processed and integrated into our sense of self. But, my guess is that most of us will surprise ourselves to some extent.
Even when I worked through the birth stories of my two children using Birth Story Brave, the guide I published for reflection on the childbirth experience, I had several unexpected findings myself. The way I thought about and integrated the experiences into my new identity absolutely shifted as a result of taking time to do that work.
Using your birth story to heal
What we tell ourselves about the birth of our child forms the story that we tell ourselves and others. Telling ourselves stories is something we do throughout our entire lives. We form stories about ourselves or a situation, or about why things are the way they are. The thing about stories is that stories tend to define our view of life. They can either serve us well, or become obsolete and hold us back. If a story is not serving us well, reflecting on it, reframing it, and “writing” a new story can be an integral part of our healing. The stories we tell ourselves are an important piece of understanding our mental health, and our perinatal mental health is no exception to this!
For example: Imagine that a woman is now home with her newborn baby. During the course of her labor, which ended in a vaginal birth, she felt supported by her partner and was grateful to have a healthy baby. However, she received an epidural, which has something she hadn’t planned on getting, and she didn’t feel that one of her nurses listened to her very closely. The woman pushes any uncomfortable thoughts about the birth away, repeating to herself that she should just be thankful to be healthy and to have a healthy baby.
We hear this message often in our culture – that we should just be thankful things turned out the way they did. This is usually spoken by well-meaning friends and family. However, the problem with this is that it doesn’t validate the feelings of the person who gave birth, nor does it note the importance of their experience. It doesn’t provide an opportunity to tell the current story, place it in the context of all the other details, and start to think about it differently.
How to reflect and heal
We must create space through birth story reflection to allow some of our victories, disappointments, fears, and celebrations to be visible. This gives us a chance to acknowledge them and move forward. If the woman I mentioned earlier allows herself to feel disappointment and frustration, for example, she gives herself permission to experience the entirety of her birth story and what it meant to her.
I invite you, now, to think about your own birth stories and to experience them in full. Sometimes, the things we experienced were so powerful that we need some support in doing this. There is no shame in getting support – Postpartum Support International is a great resource. May your discoveries lead to your postpartum healing and help to build your postpartum identity.
Emily Souder LCSW-C: Emily is a licensed clinical social worker in Maryland. Her work revolves around pregnant women, new mothers, and their families. She thinks of herself lovingly as an “emotional intelligence nerd” and is on her own healing path in life, knowing that the best way to serve others is to start with oneself. She has two littles, ages 1 and 3, and is married to her best friend. Find her on Facebook, Instagram, and her website! Emily is the author of Birth Story Brave, a guide for mamas, now available on Amazon.com