Most expectant parents, especially women, are drawn to read birth stories or watch birth videos online during pregnancy. Some of us feel compelled to watch as many videos and read as many stories as possible…I know I did!
Birth stories and videos can be really useful- they can help us understand the range of normal emotions and experiences in birth. They can help us see what is possible in birth, and encounter new perspectives. They can help inspire confidence and a feeling of connection with other parents. On the other hand, the way we go about reading or watching can leave us with unrealistic expectations, or reinforce internal rules (“I must do/be x in birth”) and formulas (“She did x and the result was y, therefore if I do x, the result will be y”). Sometimes, we can end up feeling more worried, isolated or overwhelmed than we did before.
Children are now being taught how to use critical thinking while watching TV and reading, to combat the effects of advertising and media bias. I’m not for a minute suggesting birth stories involve either, but all the information we take in has an effect on us, whether we like it or not—especially when we’re tired, emotionally vulnerable, or not paying much attention to our inner experience (say, when we’re heavily pregnant, staring at a computer screen at 1am…sound familiar?).
So here’s a primer that will help you get the most out of the birth stories you read and watch.
Before you begin, check in with your body and emotions. Are you tired, stressed, or hungry? Is watching another birth video, or reading another story what you most need at the moment?
Ask yourself what you are seeking by reading or watching. There are many reasons we are drawn to other people’s birth stories, for example seeking to reassure ourselves that we have made the right choices, that we will cope, or that our birth plans will work out, craving community to share in our excitement or wonder, wanting to learn birth inside out to increase our coping options or our sense of control over the process, trying to decode why a previous birth unfolded the way it did, needing to feel less alone in our experience or beliefs, looking for strategies to deal with a particular pregnancy or postpartum complication, or a thousand other reasons. All of these are very normal needs on a birth journey. Once you’re aware of what you’re looking for, you can brainstorm other ways to address your need.
(How about a women’s or men’s circle [start one if necessary!], prenatal classes, birth art, a walk in nature, one-on-one support from a doula, a novel featuring birth, an uninterrupted talk with a trusted friend or partner, meditation, a conversation with your unborn baby, a frank list of questions for your doctor or midwife, or a debriefing session with a professional…)
Notice what you pay attention to, and what you skim over or avoid. Which stories and videos do you choose, and which do you avoid? Which parts do you gloss over, or mentally disregard, and which do you grab onto and remember? We all naturally, and unconsciously, translate what we see and hear to match our expectations and beliefs. This can help us to zone in on what's relevant to us, but it can also direct us away from what's challenging or unpredictable. Ask yourself, with compassion, what your ‘selection criteria’ are; the answers will help you to better understand your fears, hopes, and unconscious beliefs.
Ask yourself if you feel the author (or video editor) censored their feelings or experience. What might their reasons have been? (Usually you won’t know the person, but your intuition can tell you a great deal.)
Remember that this story or video is simply a slice of one person's unique experience of birth. There are millions upon millions of birth stories in the world and none of them is yours. After you finish reading or watching, take a moment to reflect on what you have learned or gained from this particular birth story. Note down any useful information or insights.
And before you go on to the next one, stand up, stretch your body, and make yourself a cuppa!