“I didn’t know birth story mentoring was a ‘thing.’ Then I heard about Birth Story Medicine and made an appointment. It was exactly what I was looking for.”
—Collette, a birth story-teller
First, there were midwives, then family physicians and obstetricians. In recent decades, many maternity-care specialists have cropped up: perinatologists, neonatologists, lactation counselors, and doulas. But, until now, although many have sought help with it, there was one area that went largely unnoticed: a birth story healing process and mentors trained to know what to listen for and how to guide storytellers through a process of self-discovery to resolve emotional shock, distress, confusion, and grief.
“Storytelling is less a work of reporting and more a process of discovery.”
—Anatole Broyard, The Intoxication of My Illness1
At the Frontier Nursing Service School of Midwifery in Hyden, Kentucky (1977-1978), I learned the science and skills of nurse-midwifery. And yet, through the entire comprehensive curriculum, not a word was spoken about how to listen to a birth story; nor was it suggested that holistic midwifery and postpartum care must include a restorative birth story process.
Questions asked during medical appointments are designed to elicit short answers, not personal stories. During a typical first prenatal appointment, the gathering of a “birth story” is limited to about seven questions needed to fill out the narrow lines in the “Obstetric History.” An obstetric history is not the mother’s birth story; it is a dry summary of the outcome; it says nothing of her inner experience or the p ersonal meaning she has come to give it.
F – M
The inspiration for a birth story process (now called Birth Story Medicine® ) began in 1982 with my search for meaning, not only for my birth experience but for the millions of women who were experiencing birth shock and trauma along with me. The cesarean support group shared birth stories that fostered commiseration, not healing. Most therapists were empathic but couldn’t appreciate the source of the emotional distress because my baby was healthy. If I could not find a trained birth story listener, neither could other women.
You are not alone.
Each year 140 million women give birth throughout the world.
Emotional shock and trauma during childbirth is a global public health problem.2
Why I wondered, are there no birth story specialists and rituals for millions of parents making their convoluted, solitary Return from one of the most important experiences of their lives?
In 2003, a study found one out of three mothers experienced childbirth as “very traumatic,” attributing trauma to instruments, technology, or near-death experience. Fathers, partners, and birth attendants also report witness trauma. In 2015, up to 45% of new mothers reported experiencing birth trauma.4
“Traumatic childbirth has ever-widening ripple effects for mothers.” Think of the few minutes or hours a woman perceives she [was] traumatized during birth as a pebble dropped into a pond resulting in ripples spreading out in the water.5 Some of these ripples impact mothers’ attachment and breastfeeding experiences, the anniversary of their traumatic births, and their subsequent births.6 Emotional birth trauma also ripples into the relationship, affecting communication, trust, sexual desire, and intimacy.
When you consider birth a heroic journey, you begin to view the Ordeal of labor and distress postpartum as calls to self-knowledge. So, while seeking your postpartum Allies and Water of Life, find a birth story mentor and process, create a sacred space for the ritual of birth story listening, and reclaim whatever was lost, which is often peace of mind and self-respect, and self-love.
P.S. As BIRTH STORY MEDICINE becomes a ‘thing,” we are warmly welcoming students from around the world: Canada, Mexico, Portugal, Netherlands, Croatia, South Africa, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Norway (to name a few); our newest students are from Mumbai, India, Japan, and the Philippines. If you are called to this work, please join us.
1 Anatole Broyard (1993). Intoxicated by My Illness. New York: Fawcett Columbine, quoted in Arthur Frank (1995). The Wounded Storyteller. Chicago: University of Chicago. (Preface,)
2. Julian Rodriguez-Almagro (2019, May). Women’s Perceptions of Living a Traumatic Childbirth Experience and Factors Related to a Birth Experience. International Journal Environ Res Public Health. 16(9): 1654. Retrieved”: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6539242/
3. Sarah Griffiths (April 24, 2019). The Affect of Childbirth No-one Talks About. The Health Gap. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20190424-the-hidden-trauma-of-childbirth
4. Cheryl Tatano Beck, Sue Watson, and Robert Gable (2018, June) . Traumatic Childbirth and. It’s Aftermath: Is there anything positive? Journal of Perinatal Education. 27(3): 175–184. DOI: 10.1891/1058-1243.27.3.175
5. Cheryl Tatano Beck (2015, March). Middle Range Theory of Traumatic Childbirth: Ever-widening ripple effect. Global Qual Nurse Research. doi: 10.1177/2333393615575313
6. Cheryl Tatano Beck, Sue Watson, and Robert Gable (2018, June)
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