Birth stories serve many important purposes in our lives, families, and communities. (1) Writing down your birth story allows you to remember a visceral experience with your child that will, over time, become very hazy. (2) You can share your written story with your child, even many years later if they’re having children of their own. (3) Published birth stories are super helpful for nervous expecting mamas endlessly searching for labor stories.
Although I didn’t call it a birth story, I tell my labor story with Jack in “Induced Labor: How I Avoided a Long First Labor.”
Undefining Motherhood is beginning a series of birth stories. As such, this post will be constantly updated with links to new birth stories. Just as we’ve become a helpful source for so many of you to find pregnancy loss (See “Coping with Miscarriage”), we want to be a resource for labor stories when you need them.
If you’re interested in submitting your birth story for us to consider for publication, fill out our submission form.
What Is A Birth Story?
A birth story is exactly what it sounds like–the story of labor and birth. Preferably, this story is written down within a few months of birth, although you can write it at anytime.
What I most like to emphasize about a birth story is that it is, in fact, a story.
It’s your memories, your perspective, your story about your labor experience. Your partner’s perspective will be different (see below). If you have a doula, or family or friends in the room, their perspectives will be different.
Labor Stories Are Powerful for Moms
I love the power of a birth story. Labor is not an experience over which we have a lot of control. We can control aspects of our labors, but on the whole, much of what makes giving birth scary is the number of major variables.
You may have a birth plan, but you may not get to live that birth plan. (Or you may. Hooray for you!)
But your labor story is all yours. You create it, you own it, and no one can change it. They can offer a different perspective, but your perspective remains your own.
Why Should You Write Your Birth Story?
There are 3 major reasons I strongly recommend writing your birth story.
- It gives you ownership over your memories of your labor experience.
- The story allows you to remember an (often long and difficult) experience that your mind will blur over time.
- Having a written story allows the opportunity for sharing with other moms who need to hear it.
Memories Fade Over Time
Because we forget so many of the details over time, our minds gloss over tough experiences like childbirth and postpartum.
This is why so many people from my parents’ generation told me that birth was “a piece of cake.” That I shouldn’t be nervous. Because they can’t remember it. (Or maybe they were high on laughing gas and, hey, good for them.)
Writing down your birth story helps you remember and allows you to share. Both with friends who are desperate to hear labor stories before they give birth and, down the road, with your own children.
Imagine Reading Your Own Birth Story
My mom always tells me how easy her labor with me was. According to legend, she went to her OB for a checkup, was dilated 5 cm, and hadn’t felt a single contraction.
I’m told the doctor said she needed to hurry to the hospital so I wouldn’t “fall out on the sidewalk.”
I’ve always loved this story, and I do believe that her labor with me was easy.
But how different would that story look if I were reading the journal she wrote about it a month later?
How much more might I have been prepared for possible small twists and turns if I had the details, not the legend?
Oh what I wouldn’t give to have this story in writing.
How Do You Write a Birth Story?
When I teach writing (which I did at the collegiate level for nearly a decade), I tell learners not to start at the beginning. “How can you introduce a story,” I ask, “if you don’t yet know its purpose?”
The first question to ask yourself when writing your birth story then is this: “What is my purpose for writing this story?”
If it’s to remember, personally, then you might go chronologically and focus on the details.
Perhaps your goal is to highlight the unexpected moments. In that case, you might draft an overview, then go back and add details about the moments that didn’t go how you planned.
Maybe you want to pass the story down to your children. If so, you might choose to focus on the emotional aspects more heavily than you would if you were trying to help yourself remember the physical experience.
Keep Your Reason for Writing Central
Keeping your purpose in mind will allow you to structure your story more easily. It will also help you choose which details to include and which to leave out.
Write your purpose at the top of the page.
Then, do what I normally say not to do, and start from the beginning. The way labor progresses, chronological order does tend to make the most sense.
Also, be open to the beginning revising. When I first wrote Jack’s birth story, I began with the moment I checked in to the hospital.
Ultimately, though, I decided his story should start much earlier. Because Jack was induced 3 weeks early due to preeclampsia, the story of my labor really began when I got the diagnosis that led to having an early, induced labor.
It wasn’t until the story was “complete” that I realized the beginning of his labor story wasn’t actually labor–it was the first moment I found out preeclampsia might be a possibility.
As we build Undefining Motherhood’s series on birth stories, we’ll update this section with new stories for you to browse.
First Baby Birth Stories
(1) My induced labor story talks about a pre-eclampsia diagnosis, early induced labor (at 37 weeks), and controlling what you can in an uncontrollable time.
(2) Taylor’s First Baby Labor Story talks about preparing for your first baby and going past your due date.
Also, check out these stories for different experiences with labor.
- Danielle’s 3-part doozie of a first labor story (Mamademics):
- Amber’s story of a second labor that was slower than the first (Mommy Gone Healthy)
- Danielle’s story of a rapid second labor that sent her body into shock (Mamademics)
Birth Stories and Patient Empowerment
Many birth stories show the need for a lot of patient empowerment, and provide tips for how to be an empowered patient.
(1) Aisha’s labor story with Chase, her third child, shows the benefits of patient empowerment for all women, but especially African American mothers. She also provides useful tips for advocating for yourself during pregnancy.
(2) Jade’s birth story show some of the disadvantages of natural birth. She had a natural birth with her first son after being guilted into remaining unmedicated. Here, she tells how the pressure to birth naturally ruined her childbirth experience, and highlights the importance of choice and self-advocacy in childbirth.
(3) Melanie’s story about her decade-long struggle with painful sex after episiotomy–an episiotomy she neither approved, nor knew was happening when she felt it. This is a traumatic birth story, and everything she wants you to know so this doesn’t happen to you!
The Partner’s Perspective on Labor Stories
When I was in labor with Jack, I was completely absorbed in myself. (I was pushing a watermelon out of a grape-sized hole, so I’m pretty convinced I deserved to think mostly about me.)
It wasn’t until much later that I began to wonder about Husband’s experience. And dear God, was his story different from mine!
When I was contracting and walking around the room with my IV drip, I remember Husband solely as a background character who lovingly did my bidding–pushing the button for the nurse, rubbing my back with the plastic massager, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD STOP RUBBING MY BACK!
My needs changed rapidly and with no warning, and I recall Husband as this calm presence who stayed back but did whatever I needed.
Husband’s Story Is Different
What he remembers is different.
In the hours I contracted, he remembers being in awe of how strong I was, amazed by what my body was doing. He doesn’t remember me biting his head off, but I swear I did. Didn’t I?
I don’t know. Remember, these are stories, and our stories are always skewed.
When it came time to push, and our memories flip. I thought he’d been a background presence during contractions, but an active participant during labor. He saw himself more as the opposite.
When I began pushing, I saw Husband as my cheerleader, my warrior, fighting for me, beaming in awe of what my body was doing. I imagined that he felt like he was watching a football game, constantly amazed by the series of good plays.
His memory of my pushing? It’s something more along the lines of thinking, “Keep a strong face and don’t show how gross this is. Dear God, I’m glad my body doesn’t have to do this. How is her body doing this? Nope. Don’t want to think about it.”
Ask Your Partner to Write a Birth Story
If you have a partner present for labor, I highly recommend talking to them to get their version of the labor story. Some partners are even awesome enough to write them out.
My friend Danielle’s husband rocked the birth story thing over at Mamademics. Check out Mr. S’s story of both of his son’s births:
Did you write a birth story? Tell us about it in the comments!
Katy Huie Harrison, PhD, is an author, toddler mom, and owner of Undefining Motherhood. She lives in Atlanta with her husband (affectionately known on the internet as “Husband,”) son (Jack), and dog (Charlotte). She believes our society has historically placed too many expectations on women, defining womanhood and motherhood in a way that is restrictive. Her goal is to shift the paradigm about what it means to be a woman and mother, giving all women a greater sense of agency over their own lives. You can find Katy and her work featured in places like CNN’s Headline News, Scary Mommy, Motherhood and Social Exclusion, and various other podcasts and websites.