Last night, a friend and I were discussing the different factors that help shape one’s perception of birth. There are so many influences that come into play: depictions of labor and birth in movies and TV, friends reliving their birth stories and family members sharing their past. I think the last one mentioned – family birthing history- has the deepest, most ingrained impression of how a woman may foresee her birth or birth in general.
I feel fortunate I grew up with a very positive image of birth. My mother gladly shared with me (and anyone who would listen) how her births were so quick. I was constantly reminded that my birth was so speedy, I was almost born on Storrow Drive (the Boston equivalent to the NYC West Side Highway.) My dad parked the car and raced to get them in the door. The hospital staff didn’t even have time to “prep” my mom for delivery before I shot out. With this type of birth history, I felt excited to share in an exciting birth lineage.
Today in class, I shared a story from one of our past Teacher Training students who recounted to us the tale of her mother in labor. The scene that was burned in her memory was, witnessing her mom in tremendous pain and her mom moaning, “I think I am going to die.” This student had explained, while she was excited to someday have her own child, she believed birth was a horrible right of passage a woman went through to have a baby. Fortunately, through out the training as we encountered numerous positive and empowering birth stories, her view of birth started to reshape. This student went on to have a beautiful birth at a Birth Center.
I ask my students what they have grown up hearing. Did this influence their perception of what they believe their birth will be like? Several students opened up about this. One student said, she had heard her mother and several other family members all had cesarean births because their cervix never dilated. She had just assumed the women in her family did not dilate well and she will likely have this problem as well. Another student explained she had been hearing some pretty ugly details about birth which was getting her very scared and upset. She decided she needed to change her perception of birth and find some new, positive images to relate to. She found the book Mindful Birthing which has greatly shifted her images of birth. She expressed she is excited about her upcoming birth.
I am offering a “homework” assignment for our PYC community. Take some time to examine your perception of birth and look at your family’s birth stories. Have these stories helped or hindered your idea of birth? If they have created trepidation or fear, now is the time to see if you can unwind some of these interwoven images and replace them with more empowering, fearless stories. If you find you are at a loss for positive birth stories, check out the PYC Birth Story page or read Ina May Gaskin’s Spiritual Midwifery or Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth or Pamela England’s book, Birthing From Within.