Before becoming a midwife, I was a labor and delivery nurse for almost nine years. As a nurse, I spent a great deal of time at the bedside, talking with my patients, and getting to know them and their families. So, believe me when I tell you that I have had some fantastic conversations with women and families in the labor room. I always encourage families to support the labor process by being present and talking through the scary, painful, crazy moments in the labor space.
But nothing makes me more upset than hearing the delivery tales of terror from friends and family that come to *support* a laboring woman. Let me explain.
If you’ve ever been pregnant, you’ve heard the horror stories of painful deliveries, epidural mishaps, and awful labor experiences. Some of these stories are solicited, but most of them are shared spontaneously and without provocation.
Don’t get me wrong. Sharing your bad experiences with your provider and birth center or hospital is essential and can improve future women’s outcomes. Birth trauma is very real, and I strongly encourage women to discuss their experiences with people to help them debrief and recuperate.
But the delivery room of your daughter, sister, friend, or cousin is most definitely NOT the place to recount your experiences.
I’ve heard birth stories of 4th-degree tears while pushing with a patient. I’ve heard about the agonizing back pain after receiving an epidural ten years ago while an anesthesia provider is preparing to insert an epidural catheter. I’ve listened to women drone on and on about being in labor for five days before finally ending up in an emergency c-section while I’m preparing a woman for induction of labor.
I’ll tell you what I’ve never heard. I’ve never, not even once, listened to a support person talk about a positive birth experience while their friend or family is laboring 10 feet away. It’s as if every birth story has to have some dreadful or terrifying aspect. And like any good fisherman, a woman’s birth story always seems to become more hair-rising and more heinous with every retelling.
What validation do women receive by talking about these experiences while in someone else’s labor space? Is it cleansing for women to discuss their induction, contractions, labor, delivery, and pain while the laboring woman is anxiously experiencing their own birth story? Not to mention the older women recounting how “back when I had my babies…” Believe me when I tell you that obstetrics is continuously evolving and practices that were standard even five years ago are now obsolete. So your birth story from 30 years ago will probably not be relevant or helpful.
If you have the privilege of being a support person for a laboring woman in the future, check your birth story at the door and ask yourself three simple questions:
Is my birth story helpful?
Will the retelling of your experiences enhance or inhibit the labor experience? If someone told you this story while you were in labor, would it have helped or hurt you? While your family member is barely breathing through contractions, will your birth story help her cope with the pain?
Is my birth story hurtful?
Again, if your birth story will in some way demean, demoralize, or hurt in any way, don’t share it in the labor room. Will your birth story cause unnecessary fear? Don’t assume your experience was superior, and don’t tell a woman that her labor or delivery is doomed because of your own personal hurts or trauma.
Is my birth story true?
Have you embellished certain aspects of your birth story to make it seem like you should be receiving some medal of honor for enduring the impossible? Would your partner tell the same birth story if you weren’t around? So many labor and delivery stories are mundane and uneventful, and maybe it is human nature to have some fantastical element included in the birth of your child. But mundane and uneventful deliveries are the very best kind, so please don’t feel the need to recount your “fisherman” birth story at another woman’s delivery.
Lastly, please know that I want to hear all about the funny, good, positive, and crazy experiences you may have had during your pregnancy. Humor truly is the best medicine.
And you should always confront the healthcare team about concerns or questionable practices. Just maybe leave the birth horror stories for the postpartum room 🙂
This article was contributed by MacArthur Medical Center’s Certified Nurse Midwife Jen Rockhold.