September 5, 2010

From Birth Peeps with Pam England

Hi Birth Peeps,

Over the years, you have probably heard a lot of birth stories. Perhaps you have heard so many, you almost take them for granted. When you listen to a story, you may even have the feeling you "know where this one is going" even before you hear the end of the story. This is especially true for birth peeps, birth junkies, and birth activists who read, think, and talk about birth in our culture--all the time.

In fact, birth story telling has become very casual and impersonal. Birth stories are told everywhere and anywhere. Someone even felt compelled to tell me their birth story during a workshop break when we occupied adjacent stalls in the bathroom! Birth stories are told around children, who we think are playing and are not listening or don't understand. Children love stories, especially juicy ones; they are always listening. And it is true, they won't fully understand the story and that is where the problem begins.

I am proposing that the first way to change birth in our culture is to change how we tell children their first story, or stories, about birth. Not only the stories we tell children directly, but also to become aware of the birth stories we are telling adults within earshot of young children.

When an adult hears a birth story, they make mental pictures of it, or make sense of it, based on complex layers of life experience and adult understanding. If a hundred randomly chosen adults were to hear the same birth story (at the same time) and they were polled, I expect we would find shared agreement about what was said. Even so, based on each listener's past experiences and beliefs, there would be differences among listeners about how they felt about the story, about the mental images the story evoked, and their conclusions.

What happens when a child hears a birth story? Try this:

1. Go back in time. Go back to a time, as a small child, when you were innocent, trusting, and had absolutely no idea or understanding about where babies came from, about doctors, hospitals, medical interventions or birth politics. Your little world was what was day-to-day; what was, was, always was, and always would be. Now picture yourself as a little girl or a little boy who knows nothing about where babies come from.

2. Think of the last birth story you heard or told, it could be "positive" or traumatic.

3. As you replay the story in your mind, try to imagine hearing this story as that small child with no template for birth stories. Try to feel the feelings your "Little Child" might have, or the mental pictures you might make, and the meaning you might give the story--as that small child with little understanding.

4. Contemplate what you saw, felt or believed from a place of innocence. What assumptions or promises might you have made as a child hearing that story?

Hi Pam.
I love this idea of changing the birth from the roots, from the next generation! My first experience with birth was not from a story but I remember my mom going into labour with my sister, I was 7 years old. She was on her bed in our house, and she seemed very uncomfortable, I remember bringing her pillows and water, and my step father rushing around, getting ready to go to the hospital. My grandparents came, picked me up, and took me to their house. I recall being quite concerned about my mom. Day after next I was taken to the hospital, in my best dress to meet my baby sister and see my mom. I don't remember any discussion about the process of her being born or how it had all come about (what a great opportunity that would have been to have made a positive impression on a young person, if it was even a positive experience, I still don't really know).
My next experience with impressionable birth stories comes when I was expecting my first, and in my early 20's. I was working in a children's retail store and a supplier came in, she had just had a baby and proceeded to tell my boss about how she had "32 hours of grueling labour the ended in a caesarean section." She broke down and cried right there in the store! Here was this woman, who had been committed to a natural birth, absolutely traumatized!
It was shortly after that I became a doula, and am now working on my childbirth educator certification. My older son was with us when I gave birth to my youngest in a cottage in the woods, with the loving guidance of a midwife. I hope I have used the opportunity wisely, and made a positive impression on him. I am a birth junkie, and a HUGE fan of yours.
I don't know if either of these stories is what you are looking for, but they are what I have to offer! Thank you, Pam for making a difference in the birthing community!
Much Love, Mel Cotterill.

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