Tuesday, September 7, 2010

My First Birth Story

Dear Birth Peeps,
Today Virginia read me a lovely story from a woman who recalled her own birth story through her father's eyes. It was deeply touching. I thought perhaps you would like to know my First Birth Story.

One afternoon, when I was seven or eight years old, I was watching a western on a black and white television. A pregnant woman was walking slowly around the camp at night, holding her back and looking uncomfortable. She climbed into a covered wagon. It shook a little from side to side; I could hear sounds of breathing, moaning, and suddenly the cry of a newly born baby!

My eyes opened wide as I realized this pioneer woman just had a baby by herself in a covered wagon in the middle of the desert! My hero!  This woman was so brave! A feeling of awe and respect for strong women stirred within me. As I instantly embodied this brief scene in a western, I imagined myself giving birth alone and being strong.

Within minutes, my mind began to turn a new question, “How did the pioneer woman give birth without a doctor?” It seemed impossible, brave, even dangerous all of a sudden. I ran to another room where my mother was ironing to ask her how it was possible for a woman to have a baby without a doctor.

My mother, in a matter-of-fact, almost impatient manner, said, “Women have been having babies for a lot longer than doctors have been around. We’ve had babies without doctors for thousands of years. Birth is just something your body knows how to do!”

Wow! My faith was restored. My body knows how to have a baby!  I am awestruck with this news. I tell myself, "One day I will be powerful and invincible like the pioneer mother."

Within minutes my mind began to turn this piece over and a few minutes later I went back to ask my mother another question; she was ironing sheets.  “Mom, did you give birth without a doctor?” I knew she had given birth in a hospital, but did she have a doctor? Suddenly there was a gap in logic or truth between her first answer and how she may have given birth—and like children do, I found the gap and latched on to it.

My mother answered, flatly, while folding the sheet, “No. I gave birth in the hospital. A doctor delivered all of you. But I was born at home, my mother had me in an apartment. And her mother [my grandmother] had seven babies in a small upstairs apartment in Chicago.”

In an unforgettable moment, I felt oddly betrayed by my mother. In contrast to the pioneer woman and my grandmothers who were (according to my innocent child understanding) self-determined and brave, I suddenly saw my own mother as “weak.” At seven years old, where did that perception come from? I remember walking out of the room, going back to the western on television, a bit crestfallen and confused.

On that day I think two things happened:  (1) The seed for being a birth activist was planted, and (2) I made my First Birth Plan: to be "strong and brave" like the pioneer woman when I grew up and gave birth. As children do, I quickly forgot about this little initiation. Yet, it seems this moment in time must have played a part in my decision to become a midwife so I could assist women in home birth, and my decisions to have a home birth (even after a cesarean birth). 

It’s a matter of timing and luck to be exposed to a certain message at a certain time. If my First Birth Story had been a traumatic birth story instead of the pioneer mother in the western—my first, core agreement about birth would have been very different. There is no telling how my experiences as a mother or my life-work in birth would have unfolded. 

Looking forward to hearing your First Birth Stories, and the agreements and promises you made to yourself.

In-Love and On the Birth Wagon!



  1. What a great story, Pam. Thank you.

    My first birth story is the story of my own birth. I can't unravel the threads of my mother's telling and that of my father. In my mother's telling - that is, as she told me the story when I was still a child - she was in labour for many, many long hours, striving to give birth but not able to push me out. After many hours of being stuck like this, the doctor realised that I was transverse (lying sideways, not just occiput transverse). She had an epidural by this point, but I recall her telling me that when the doctor tried to move me into position to allow me to come out, it was still very painful.

    I remember feeling that my mother was strong but pitiable, and that birth was long, tortuous, confusing and frightening and doctors and nurses were unsympathetic, unsupportive and incompetent.

    My father's story relates to his feeling of awe and joy: awe that my mother was so strong and joy at the moment of my birth. He commemorated the moment every year on my birthday by buying me pink roses as he did on that day so he could be the first man in my life to bring me flowers; each year when he gave them to me he retold that moment to me (my “magical birth story”). There were not a lot of words; it was a short story, but it was packed with feeling. I recall being enthralled by the idea of that moment of the creation of a new family, new fatherhood and new motherhood.

    I love the question you asked, Pam, because this is something that I've found has blossomed for me over the years. People often ask me what drew me to the work that I do, and for many years I had a genesis story that occurred in my late teens when a friend told me her birth story. It has only been in this year that I've looked past that story to the ones that laid the groundwork.

    What came from these stories? Like you, I think my early experience here was the first seed of my questioning of the status quo and of my birth activism. I remember, after years of being a birth activist, and in the early days of being a doula, being at a party and talking angrily about the fact that my poor mother had laboured so long before the "incompetent" physician figured out that I was transverse. A woman next to me, quietly nibbling on cheese and crackers gave me a scornful look and said, "it's not always so easy to tell, actually". I was startled! This had never occurred to me. It turned out this woman was a doctor herself. I began to question my early agreement and to open my mind to the possibility that doctors and nurses maybe did know a thing or two!

    I also developed a belief that the father or partner must be present at a birth; that everyone is diminished when they are not there. The first time that I was pregnant, the father of the baby expressed some reservation about being present for the labour and birth. I was immediately outraged! In my mind this was nothing but betrayal and abandonment; there was no room for hearing his side of the story and he was easily silenced by my self-righteousness. Since then I've had the opportunity to work with several couples where the father was not sure whether or not he would be able to participate. In each case the mother had to come to terms with her own feelings about it as well as communicate her own needs; I learned a lot about tolerance, empathy and being responsible for one's self.

    Finally, I have found that in my practice I have promised myself that I will strive to honour and protect the birth of the family and the flowering of each of the new relationships that are created. This is my story so far.

  2. @likelyto: That's some powerful storytelling and transformation! So interesting how the mother's story and father's story and medical story have interwoven to create a new Birth Story in your mind. Thank you for sharing.

  3. My birth story goes something like this (from my mom): "I went to sleep pregnant and woke up with a baby that I couldn't hold for about 3 days (I presume because of the drugs). The Dr. went out to tell you dad you were a girl. He had a funny look on his face. The Dr. said 'is that okay?' and your dad said 'it'll damn well have to be'."

    My dad and I have a very close relationship but I realize now at 43, I struggled my whole life to be "more", to surpass expectation, probably because of this story. I guess, all in all, it's been a blessing. When I want something, I usually attain it.

    It's probably one of the reasons I have felt so strongly about birth work for all these 15 years since my own 1st wonderful story. I do tell all 4 of my boys their birth stories on their birthday. But their stories are full of wonder and magic and power!

    Love you, Pam!

  4. Dear Likelyto,
    Your posting was rich with insight. I have often found widely diverse discrepancy between the mother's story and the father's story, as you described. As witness, the father's story tends to be Magical (not always). That he still celebrates you with pink roses is a lovely custom.

    Because mothers live the birth in their bodies, they often need more support to integrate their stories in the first year so they are able tell variations of the story that reflect different aspects of their experience. A birth story is not static, it evolves. But when a story becomes stuck before it is completely processed, then the mother needs a story-listener to guide her to the next step of story evolution. I may be talking more about this on this blog in the future. It is one of the things I talk about in Birth as Story or Healing Birth Story workshops.

    Your story about the cheese and cracker snackin' doctor was great! We find our teachers in the oddest places and in unexpected moments. Bravo!

    With respect for your work,

  5. Growing up Catholic, every Sunday in church, family connection time.
    The first birth story I remember hearing is the birth of Christ.
    I always felt amazed that Mary and Joseph found a little manger and did it themselves.
    This was always the vision of birth I had in my being.
    I remember listening to the drama of the cesarean birth of my cousins, from my aunts, but then, seeing the scar on my aunties belly visible from the bikini she still wore in summer, even tho this was when incisions were vertical. The birth story of the VBAC my other aunt had with her 3rd baby. All to me, feel positive and empowering images/feelings.
    Fast forward to my Doula training about 10 years later....
    My mentors first assigment was to ask our parents about our own birth. For some reason it surprised me that I didn't already know. Like, I never thought to ask?
    Bits and pieces came flooding back to me from years and stories past.
    I knew that I came early, and my mom joked that I chose my birthday to be born on Friday the 13th. My parents were only 17 and 18 when they got pregnant, the kids of 2 catholic families, conceiving on prom night, the wild energy of my grandpa's '65 black ford mustang was eluded to (I remember at age about 2, seeing the tears in my dads eyes as "the guys who are taking our car" bought and made it theirs)....
    I called my parents to talk to them about it. My dad answered first. He claimed that I must get my Doula genes from him because he could always tell when my mom was going to have a contraction before even she did, because her big toe would start twitching, and then he would go into his Lamaze breathing pattern with her. My mom doesn't remember much about the birth itself, snippets of it being a really bad blizzard outside mid January, North Dakota. Having to stay at home longer than she would have liked, waiting for the next day to come so that their insurance would pay for it. She also remembers my grampa, coming to the hospital only to see me, not even stopping in to say hi to her, she found him a couple times just looking at me for awhile through the nursery window.

    Just writing this, has spurred something deep in me, to go deeper again and retell/relearn this story again.

    Thanks Pam.... And all.


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