When doulas start a blog, often they begin by sharing their clients' birth stories. It seems like a no brainer, really. Many doulas feel it's a great way to help spread the word about the types of birth experiences they support, and it's also a way to showcase their work with families.
Even though most (hopefully all!) of those doulas have gotten permission from the families whose stories they share to post publicly, we have a different perspective on this and don't plan to ever share a birth story here.
Here are five reasons why you'll never see a birth story post on our blog:
Most obvious: privacy.
Birth is an intimate experience. Most of the time, parents choosing to hire a doula are only inviting that person and possibly another loved one (or several) to share the experience with them. While there are often joyful and meaningful moments in birth, labor can also involve crying, feeling out of it, big decisions, sensitive moments, nausea... not to mention allll kinds of bodily fluids and varying degrees of nakedness. There's a reason why not many people are invited to share the birth experience - it's extremely personal.
Now, we have absolutely no problem with parents sharing their own birth stories if and when and in whatever manner and level of detail they choose! What we're talking about here is doulas and other birth professionals publicizing these stories in an un-anonymous way. And think about it: even if names are omitted or changed and hospitals and care providers' names are left out, there can still be identifying details that are unavoidable. For instance (and this is not real), say we told a story to someone about a birth we attended where our client was making balloon animals during labor. And say the person we were talking to knew put some pieces together and figured out exactly who we were talking about because they'd already heard a story involving that particularly memorable detail from someone else. That story isn't anonymous, even though we didn't give away any names, dates, places, etc.
Since we work in a specific geographical region, our clients sometimes know each other. We've even had clients who work for the same company. Thinking of the small world-ness that abounds these days with so many levels of connection, we are very careful not to share personal details about our clients, which basically means not sharing details at all - especially not in a public way via our blog. (This isn't Reddit, after all.)
Less obvious: "good stories" vs stories that are... not good?
Many times doulas, midwives, birth photographers, and other birth professionals who choose to share clients' birth stories on their websites and social media cherry-pick which stories to tell. If they select only "positive birth stories" to share (as many do), where does that leave their clients whose stories weren't shared? Does it mean their births "don't count" or "weren't good enough"?
The question of which stories to tell holds deep and important implications. We are not of the opinion that people should only read and talk about positive labor experiences while they're preparing for birth. Instead, our perspective is based in preparing realistically for the challenge and rite of passage that birth can be for parents crossing its threshold. We work with our clients to cultivate their inner resources and resilience, encouraging them to stack the deck in their favor. But when it comes down to it, birth is a mystery. None of us can predict how any birth will unfold (even planned cesarean births can hold surprises).
So we don't advocate for our clients to only read positive birth stories. But we also wouldn't feel it was responsible to share the nitty gritty details of some of the more challenging births we've attended, including births with poor health outcomes. We also don't believe in sharing "horror stories" with pregnant women. (We figure you get enough of that in the grocery store, #amirite?)
If we were to eliminate those less-than-ideal stories from the mix and only tell positive ones, we would be painting a dishonest picture of what our birth doula work actually looks like - not to mention sending a message to those clients whose stories we left out that their births aren't share-worthy as others are.
And that leads us to this question: who gets to decide what a birth was like?
We believe that the person who gave birth is the person who shapes the story of their own experience. In reality, every person in the labor has their own version of how the birth went, including the person in labor, their partner and/or loved ones, their doula(s), their care providers - maybe even their baby! We're all experiencing it through through the lens of our own perspective, our own lives, our own agreements about how the world works.
When doulas or other birth workers take over the narrative of the story, the person who gave birth no longer has a voice in that version of the story. The inner landscape of their experience is lost in someone else's telling of it. And knowing how often the external story can vary HUGELY from the internal story as experienced by the person giving birth, we are extremely conscious of that shift and choose not to tell others' stories.
We've had clients who had the exact birth experience they had wanted on paper who later described their birth as traumatic. And we've worked with others whose births took many twists and turns unexpected changes along the way that led to a very different experience than they had planned on. And sometimes, those parents feel their birth was a really positive experience despite the unforeseen challenges. From the outside, it's impossible to judge what the laboring person is experiencing - so we don't assume that we can know what birth was like.
- Your birth story is just that - YOUR story.
Some doulas write their clients' birth stories out for them as a gift, or even as a normal part of their doula support package. Some people might be totally fine receiving a written birth story from their doula. But for other parents, reading someone else's account of their labor and birth experience could be unsettling, upsetting, or downright triggering.
Perhaps something the parent experienced in a negative way is portrayed in the story with glow of positivity. Or maybe some of the really special, meaningful, or otherwise memorable moments were left out of the story, and the parent wonders if the doula just forgot, wasn't paying attention, or didn't care about them. There could be many reasons why reading an outside narrative of a life-changing event like birth could be less than wonderful.
In birth stories we've seen written by doulas, there tends to be a very positive spin on things (especially if there were challenges during labor) with a tendency toward "and they all lived happily ever after," wrapped up with a neat bow. If the doula's written perception of the person giving birth doesn't match up with the person's experience, that outside narrative might make the person feel that they weren't heard, that their voice and their perception of how things went didn't matter - even though THEY were the one giving birth! This can especially apply when an outside perspective is pretty positive but the person who gave birth has some mixed or negative feelings about the experience. In a story about their birth, they might read words like strong, empowered, hardworking, beautiful, or powerful. But in reality, they may have felt afraid, weak, lost, dependent, sad, or overwhelmed.
It's hard to be ok with experiences that are not all good or all bad. Learning to live in the grey area doesn't come easily to most of us, and this is especially true in birth. Partly for this reason (and partly in the interest of self-promotion?), birth stories written and published by birth workers can often skew more toward neat, black-and-white, Instagram-filtered versions of reality... rather than the complex, layered, messy, and deeply personal experience of birth so many parents have.
- From our perspective, one of the most important things about our work as doulas is the non-judgmental aspect of our support. And we don't want to do anything to jeopardize that.
When we move from that supporting role into writing a narrative description of how everything happened in someone else's birth, we're automatically bringing judgment into the picture based on the descriptive words used to tell the story. If you want a cut-and-dry picture of what happened in a labor, medical charts are your best option (and even then, there can be a LOT of grey area, as well as the possibility of errors or omissions, and yes - sometimes even judgment).
We support all kinds of birth. Births that go exactly as planned and births with twists and turns. Births with epidurals and births without. Births that are induced and births that surprise everyone by happening early. Births that leave parents feeling powerful and triumphant and births that leave disappointment or trauma behind. By distilling all of that variance down into a few handpicked birth stories, we would be doing a great disservice to the diverse birth experiences of our clients - and more importantly, to the ways each birth affected and transformed each parent.
If our clients want to share their birth stories with other parents who may want to use our services, we absolutely welcome them to do so on our Yelp page, Google listing, or by submitting a testimonial for our website! But we feel that the non-judgmental aspect of our support is so incredibly vital that we don't want to add our voice to our clients' birth stories by putting them into writing and publishing them.
Just one more thing:
We love this quote from Britta Bushnell, Ph.D., an award-winning childbirth educator, and feel that it sums up the reason a written birth story just can't do justice to the lived, transformative experience of birth: