This is how the story of my birth always starts. A clear, cold February night. My mother’s water breaking at 2am. Her excitement. A long coat with a fur collar. An orange Honda that might as well have been a coach with four white horses on its way to the hospital because my mother felt like a queen.
I’ve heard this story many times. Usually on my birthday, but not always. I heard it today, for example, while reporting on the latest news of my 6-months pregnant belly. This story used to make me roll my eyes. I’d listen, squirming until it was finished. Always relieved when it was over. I’m not exactly sure why this was. I guess there was an intimacy in it and a reminder of helplessness and dependency that made me cringe. But today it was different. Today, for the first time, I heard the story of a woman having a baby. Just like I will in a few months. For the first time, I started to see it through my mother’s eyes instead of mine. I realized that she doesn’t tell me this story for my benefit, not really. She tells this story because she loves telling it and I remind her of it.
This got me thinking about birth stories. They say a woman will never forget the day she gives birth to each of her children. There is something so powerful about these stories. A book I read spent the first half just telling birth stories and that was my favourite part. I’ve found that women are eager to share them, when they think they have a safe audience and a captive ear. There is always something epic, larger-than-life about them. Joyful stories can become fantastical, painful stories hover near tragedy. They seem to be made up of moments, snapshots strung together. The smell of chocolate cake, the pain of the “ring of fire”, a slippery baby on a belly.
I read another book that said some women who watch their birth video too soon after giving birth can be traumatized by it. Their memory of the actual experience is fuzzy, the way nature intended it to be. So when they watch the video, the reality of the birth can be too much to take. The book talks about one woman who saw pictures of herself giving birth and had to lock them up for years. The book advises not to look at pictures or videos for a few weeks at least. This gives a woman time to make her own memory.
So we make these memories. We lovingly shape them, keeping bits we like, cutting out parts we don’t. And then we pass them on, sometimes quietly, sometimes loudly, any chance we get. They contain some of our biggest struggles and our biggest joys. Sometimes fraught with danger, sometimes gleaming with ecstasy. Because these are days that change our lives forever.
I look forward to finding out what my birth story will be. I wonder if I’ll tell it to my child every year on his birthday and make him squirm, or if I’ll write it down quietly in a letter for my baby to read when she is older. But I can imagine that I’ll probably craft it just as carefully and treasure it just as much as my mother does hers.
Do you have a birth story? If so, do you share it? What is it?