Many people think telling a birth story begins with the onset of contractions, or the details of an induction, or maybe the pregnancy test and ends with the child’s birth. What happened on the day you give birth is only part of your birth story. Begin to think of your birth story as the continuation of a story with a very long tail, a tale that began forming much earlier in your life. In so doing, you will discover the roots that give your story deeper meaning and vivacity.
It may help to envision the story you will bring to birth as an image or metaphor. Imagine this story ripples in four or more concentric circles; feel into which direction your story’s ripples move: One current is the timeless Creation Story, another the ongoing story of birth in our culture; the family legends of birth; your personal story—the one you live, that morphs, that you carry into your future and becomes a little wave: the story you tell your child and that carries all these stories into the next generation.
Every piddling or grand story you live is forming a story web of your life. In this way, all of the stories you have ever lived are inseparable from the stories of your childbearing year(s).
Somehow, we’ve followed the medical model’s cue to separate our birth experience and stories from our lives’ continuity and spirituality. A couple is separated from the family and village when given childbirth education, so now the couple knows something the village does not; this separation between those who know something new and those who do not create misunderstanding and isolation. Pregnancy is separated into trimesters even though a woman experiences its continuity. In the same way, your birth story is inseparable from the continuous long, coiled Skein of your life story.
“Strikingly, the growing cop of thread wrapped around the middle of a spindle swells like a pregnant belly.”—Katie2
The spinning wheel is a symbol of Creation. People have been spinning fleece and stories for ten thousand years; feel into this living metaphor:
All of your life and birth stories began in childhood when wisps and tufts of Story Fleece got caught on the Spindle. None of what falls on the Story Spindle is chosen. The Yarn is spun from the filaments and fibers of anecdotes, gossip and judgments, conversations, and values of adults, the customs of birth in our culture, perhaps a silk thread from a divine birth, and always a wild hair from a story that left an indelible impression. Onto the Spindle go multi-colored assumptions, a shaming, a picture in a book, an emotionally-charged recounting: each a short strand of story-fiber is unwittingly spun and twisted by imagination and emotion into the lengthening yarn, the stories, of “who I am,” “who I should be,” “how to be a good human,” “what to do to belong,” and “the meaning of life.” Like fleece, the story of you, the world, and birth in our culture is spun into a long wooly tale.
Contemplating my initiatory experiences and observing patterns in storytellers has shown me that the story we bring to birth is not fixed, not at all. Follow the spinning yarn metaphor: The faster the spindle whorls, the more twist the yarn has; the twist is the glue that holds the fibers together. Perhaps the emotional tension felt when an experience, story, image, or belief comes into us determines how tightly wound it is, or how yoked we are to those beliefs and assumptions. When yarn is too tightly twisted, it feels unyielding, wiry, and unbalanced; like raw, unprocessed experiences feel in our nervous system. The twist in yarn and unprocessed stories are not permanent states; both can change, relax, and balance by letting them rest and be re-set.
One of your prenatal Tasks of Preparation is to notice places within you that you feel are too tightly twisted, e.g., an idea, intention, or aversion that could be more balanced before you give birth so that the story you bring from your birth will be woven in a more balanced state of mind, and heart.
“Everything is story,” Lewis Mehl Madrona teaches us. Therefore, it is inevitable that you, and everyone, brings—to birth—a story about birth, e.g., the birthplace and birth customs. But, the most important story you bring to your birth—is the one you are already telling yourself about yourself should your birth turn out this way or that; about who or how you should be in labor, and what your experience will mean about you.
It is not possible to not have a story, or to have the “right” story with the perfect twist. Even if you throw a thousand evidence-based threads onto the Spindle, you cannot suddenly spin an entirely new skein of birth story yarn; you will just add length behind the yarn already there. The Yarn of who you are and the life you are living is continuous. Consider the mystery and necessity of every story you’ve heard and lived went into the spinning of the one-off yarn that is You, the whole of you, that created your unique aesthetic: the way you see, sense, feel, believe. You and your story yarn are inseparable; it follows then that you must bring it to every life situation including childbirth.
“Spinning by hand is a metaphor for life. Every spun thread begins with an umbilicus …[the thread] that attaches …to the spindle; then you feed it, and it grows. In the end, when it runs out of fresh fiber, it simply peters out and stops.”
—Katie, Fiber Feast Blog3
Find the “Umbilicus Thread” of Your Stories
Modern childbirth preparation often begins haphazardly in the middle of the well-trodden (but forgotten) pathway-to-preparation for a rite of passage; this happens when teachers begin by asking the initiate to “choose where” they are going or to learn what the teacher knows! There is a difference between feeling well-informed from acquired (others’) knowing and feeling grounded in knowing from where you come, by unearthing some of the Seeds of your inklings, intuitions, birth imagery, your first birth plan, what motivates you to trust or fear, to want or want to avoid.
You are not coming to pregnancy or birth preparation with an empty kopf or cup that others must fill. Look in your cup and find at least a puddle of knowing; I imagine a few drops of Ambrosia, too.
Enjoy the process of dropping in, or going back, back, back and finding an “umbilicus thread” of your birth story, when you were younger, a child. Why is it helpful to know from where you come? To know your Self, your heart and mind. To find your voice. And, because there is a knowing more resounding within you already informing you, and your task is to go within, (I’m changing metaphors on you!) excavate beneath the surface to discover buried treasure (and some junk, too; stuff to discard that no longer feels true or isn’t yours).
Don’t be satisfied with something familiar, about which you already talk or journal. Find someplace new to dig. Have a curiosity about what got buried and is waiting to be found and helpful to you. Begin this gentle excavation in a new spot. Begin not knowing what you will find, but trust you will recognize its value when discovering it. A few hints: The first birth stories you heard, the felt-images they left in your heart; the first birth plans you made; rules and agreements that are coming into play to limit you from asking for what you want or asking about what you fear, that inhibit you from just exploring (not necessarily choosing) the gamut of possibilities.
“There’s the scarlet thread of murder running through the colorless skein of life, and our duty is to unravel it, and isolate it, and expose every inch of it,” said the character Sherlock Holmes4
Give Yourself the Gift of Being Mentored: Enjoy a Prenatal Birth Story Medicine Session
If the story you are bringing to birth feels like a skein of yarn in a tangled, knotted mess, make an appointment with a Birth Story Medicine listener or mentor. Together, over a cup of tea, spend an hour untying the knots, finding your way through the labyrinthine tangles, and seeing patterns and new meaning. There’s no need to wind the birth story yarn into a tight little ball, it can remain loosely wound and a little tangled, like life.
I will continue spinning and twisting this part of the Birth Story Medicine Yarn for you in upcoming blogs.
Citations. 1, 2., 3 Katie. “Spinning as metaphor” in Fiber Feast Blog. https://fiberfeast.wordpress.com/2013/07/09/spinning-as-metaphor/ 4 vocabulary.com Retrieved from: https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/skein