Why birth stories matter



“Why are you crying, mum?” asked only son as we were stuck in traffic en route to a swimming party on Saturday. I’d put in the Mamma Mia 2 CD and it had reached the last few songs. I tried to explain about parents’ love for their children, but only son could not understand the whole “one and only” thing. Surely his parents had four children. How could they all be the “one and only”?

Only son is very logical. He explained to me that he had decided he wanted to be a bachelor. “I don’t think I will be able to handle children,” he said matter-of-factly. Particularly babies. Only son has always had a longstanding bias against babies who he regards as illogical balls of tears. “They cry ALL the time, mum, literally,” he said. Daughter one is also not keen on having children. I may have overdone the birth stories in the manner of Mumsnet. I always end with an upbeat “it was definitely worth it”, though and, in her case, I told her I more or less went to sleep and she was there when I woke up.

I think it’s vital to share birth stories – maybe not too graphically – but just to prepare women and because it is one of the biggest transitional experiences of your life and one which often has lasting physical and psychological effects.

When I had daughter one I had read the odd book on babies, mainly the funny ones, and half of a serious one. But I hadn’t quite made it to the ‘when things go wrong’ section. If I had I might have called an ambulance when I started suffering placental abruption instead of putting the water on for a bath. Had I got into that bath both daughter one and I would not be here because very soon after I could hardly move at all. Fortunately, I was able to crawl to the phone and ring my brother who drove me to the hospital singing Robbie Williams songs to calm me down as I writhed around in pain. To this day I associate Robbie Williams with extreme pain.

We arrived at the hospital and I collapsed and had to be wheeled in for an emergency caesarean. The doctor said if we had got there 10 minutes later daughter one would have been dead. Twenty minutes later and I would too.

So when I had my next baby I made a point of being as near the hospital as possible in the latter stages of pregnancy. One of the editors at my work who is a writer came up to me and said something along the lines of “it must be just like launching a new book”.  Yes, just like that, but with more gore and no sleep for months after. A bit more story-sharing might have alerted him to this slight difference. Birth stories are about life and death, about huge transitional moments. They are the very stuff of drama and what it is to be human. Surely they deserve to be heard.

*Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of Workingmums.co.uk.

Comments [2]

  • Marianne says:

    I agree. Trouble is that to hold an audience, birth stories have to be tales of the extreme.
    I was the opposite to you. When I had my first baby, it was so quick and easy, that the Chinese doctor actually gave my leg a friendly pat and told me to get back to the paddy fields. He told the trainee midwife that he wasn’t going to include my baby in the tally of births she was accumulating because someone like me could give birth alone by the side of the road!
    This was 30 years ago and I doubt he’d say such things now, but I still took it as a compliment!

    • Mandy Garner says:

      I can see the temptation to focus on the extreme, but sometimes the opposite can make a good story too. A friend of mine took just 20 minutes in the bath to have her first. I tell that one A LOT to the kids!

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