Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Why I Love Birth Stories

There are many issues that divide mothers – breastfeeding vs. formula, stay-at-home vs. working, cry-it-out vs. attachment parenting – but there is one divisive issue that has been strangely overlooked by a warmongering media: birth stories. There are those who believe that birth stories are little more than a form of psychological abuse, where gleeful moms terrorize pregnant women in a particularly nasty display of schadenfreude. Now I will admit that I fail to understand why people feel compelled to relay third-hand tales of stillbirth to pregnant women (or, for that matter, why people invariably respond to my admission of severe bee-phobia with their best "remember the time when five bees flew into my pop-can and stung the roof of my mouth" stories). But birth stories are a different matter. I want all the details.

When it comes to birth stories, I’m not really a moderate: I am to birth stories what the extended breastfeeding, homeschooling, babywearing mom is to the attachment parenting debate. I once heard of a seminar where ten or twelve women could sign up for the sole purpose of relaying their birth stories to one another over coffee and scones. This sounds like a fun idea! When friends become pregnant, I am, of course, overjoyed on their behalf about the delightful addition to their family and the fulfillment of their dreams, but what I’m really excited about is the prospect of a new birth story, just a few months away.

The scheduled C-section has to be the poor cousin of birth stories. Not a lot of drama there – no hours spent pounding the pavement in steaming hot July weather in hopes of advancing labour, no race to the hospital with the baby crowning. Emergency C-sections, on the other hand, make for great stories – doctors rushing into the room, husbands fainting at the sight of blood … good times. I have nothing against pain-relief, however – a good birth story has plenty of room for the comparative merits of epidurals and laughing gas, for the epidural that takes on only one side and produces a splitting headache, or for the appalling news that it’s too late for an epidural, that the baby will be arriving before the anaesthesiologist.

The timeline is a key element of any birth story. How many hours of labour? How many centimetres dilation? When I was in labour with the Bub, Hubby had brought one of his law textbooks to the hospital, so he pencilled in my stats in the inside cover. Come to my house and open up Property in Things in the Common Law System and you’ll find the following terse, yet gripping, narrative: "6:00 am: water breaks; 4:50 pm: oxytocin goes in; 6:35 pm: contractions begin (3 mins. apart); 9:30 pm: audible groaning; 10:30 pm: epidural; 10:50 pm: 6-7 cm!!!; 11:45 pm: 9.5 cm; 3:15 am: start pushing; 5:30 am: forceps; 6:01 am: the Bub!!! 8lbs, 14 oz." Of course that framework leaves so many things out: the impossibility of listening to anything but U2 in the early hours of labour, the slowly decaying optimism in the six hours between "9.5 cm" and "forceps," the terrifying transfer from the cozy birthing suite into the high-risk delivery room. Nevertheless, numbers are clearly the linchpin of any good birth story: pounds, ounces, centimetres, stitches. I have a friend who gave birth to a 10 lb, 12 oz. baby boy (first baby, vacuum extraction). Those kind of numbers deserve to remembered, passed on. They deserve recognition.

(Yes, that's a 9 in the pounds column)

But at the end of the day, bragging rights, as important as they are, may not really be the point of telling birth stories. Yes, these are our war stories, the only medal we are likely to get for the hours we spend in the trenches, doing our bit for the continuation of the human race. But after the post-traumatic amnesia has set in and I can no longer remember what the contractions actually felt like (aside from a vague and wildly inaccurate recollection that the whole thing rather resembled a hard workout), what remains is a sense of the drama of the whole experience. There is the rising action: the breaking water, the early contractions, the phone calls and car rides and hot showers. And then there is the climax: transition, pushing, forceps, vacuum, C-section – or better yet, no forceps, vacuum, or C-section. And then the denouement: peering through a haze of drugs and adrenaline into those strange, blinky, beautiful new eyes and saying hello to the person you’re going to love for the rest of your life.


Marla said...

Thanks so much for stopping by Hello Josephine. I've just had a nice cup of tea while reading your posts, and had to pick one to chime in on. I'll choose this one, because it resonates. All are wonderful, and you have a nice "voice" - and you obviously love your family.

Birth stories are like telling about a journey. But only with another mother who has been through something similar can you finish the story by saying..."and then the Public Health Nurse said that the only thing that separated my episiotomy from my anus was a hemorrhoid!". Nobody else can hear that without running from the room screaming.

bubandpie said...

Hubby was just reading over my shoulder - and ran from the room screaming.

Marla said...

Well, if he were to have a beer with my husband, he'd probably hear a version of what Steve told me: "It looked like someone set off a grenade in your pants."

IzzyMom said...

I adore birth stories. Hearing them makes mine seem less like distant memories.

And I noticed in the photo that your baby weighed almost the same as mine. He was 9 lbs 6.8 oz.

And I will NEVER be the

Friend of B&P said...

I think a great thing about birth stories is that it's almost as fun to tell other people's stories as it is your own! Each story provides a unique perspective on an event that is so often described, and yet can never be fully conveyed until experienced.
And as great as a good birth story is, I'm still waiting for the amnesia to really kick in :)