In 2010, Pam England wrote a series of pieces about ways in which we can change birth in our culture. The Birthing From Within leadership and blog team has chosen 12 of these pieces and updated them to reflect current understandings within the birth world as well as our current approaches and offerings as an organization. We will be sharing one piece for each month of 2018, both on the blog and in our monthly newsletters. We hope you enjoy this wonderful material, both as archival treasure and as new, innovative insights!
There is a million-year-old person within each of us, waiting to hear a story… Tapping into and practicing the art of storytelling is central to the Birthing From Within approach. We begin with one of the first stories ever written – the story of Inanna, goddess of heaven and earth. We explore our own first birth stories, and we observe how the telling of birth stories can change over time.
In the Birthing From Within professional training programs, we teach birth professionals about the power of stories. We reveal the nine gates that birth stories pass through as they are remembered and told over time. We train birth professionals to listen to birth stories fully so that they can help new parents process their experiences. Finally, we dive into the idea of storytelling itself with our online course Myths, Mandalas, and Storytelling, where we learn to use stories as medicine.
Stories are powerful, and we all love to hear and share them. They often influence our thinking far more than we realize. With this in mind, we might consider exploring a new way to tell a birth story, one that is less factual and more intuitive; one that is magical.
Pam England shares that her mother told several versions of her birth stories. “I relished the ‘magical’ stories about the day we were born. For my younger sister, Laura, my mother would say, ‘You brought the first snow… You were born in the night and when the sun came up, there was a white blanket of snow on the earth.’ I still think of that story and imagine every year on the first snow, ‘My sister brought the first snow.’”
When a child hears a story that conveys that the day they were born was the worst, most most painful day of their mother’s life, that their birth hurt their mother or “almost killed her,” or the details of unwished-for interventions that she had to suffer, what do you think the child feels?
Young children are in a place of “magical” thinking, which means they think that they are the prime movers in everything that happens, that they cause their parents to fight, cry, get divorced, or suffer in labor. They carry this guilt and grief, and from their innocent, misguided beliefs, they create a constellation of stories about their world, their relationships, who they are, and…birth.
Sometimes parents who experienced a traumatic birth carry the weight of their own feelings of guilt and grief. The idea of presenting their birth experience in a magical or positive light could feel dishonest or invalidating for them. In these scenarios it may be helpful for parents to seek out a Birthing From Within Birth Story Listener to help them process the story within themselves before attempting to share the story with their child.
Birth Story Listeners are trained to listen to birth stories deeply, with their whole bodies and minds, so as to build a medicine bridge that will take the storyteller toward a future where self-acceptance, forgiveness, and personal freedom are possible.
Imagine telling a child a sweet, Magical Story of the day they were born. A Magical Story is meant for the child. It is not a medical, factual story; it’s not fantasy; it’s not a “lie.” It is a unique version of the story that focuses on something special about that child’s birthday: it is a story a small child can hear, and wants to hear. As the child grows up and becomes an adult, there will be plenty of time for adult stories about birth, for they will have enough life experience to understand a more complex story.
No matter what happened in labor, a child wants to know about “their” birth and that their arrival was special. Find something that was special about the day your child was born, something you thought about, something funny that happened, or something the child did that was endearing, funny, or cute. Some parents tell the Magical Birth Story on the child’s birthday, a kind of birthday celebration ritual. Each year, it may be told a little differently. Each year, the child hears it differently. Maybe as they grow up, a few more details will be added.
“My 19-year-old son smiled when he heard his birth story again, and that time he heard something he’d never heard before,” Pam shares. “It is still, and will continue to be, his Magical Birth Story.”
Stories have carried, driven, and shaped humankind for centuries.
Understanding how stories work and harnessing that potency can enhance your ability to tell them with intention, to use them to help yourself and others, and to make them a cornerstone of your individual practice and/or the way you guide your children as a parent. Telling a Magical Story of your child’s birth is a great place to start your journey as storyteller and to work toward changing the way we perceive birth in today’s culture.
How do you see storytelling changing birth? How has storytelling impacted your life thus far? If you’re interested in diving even deeper into this topic, perhaps you might begin with the story of Inanna and the concept of the hero’s journey, and then dive into the first birth story that you can remember ever hearing. Notice the connections between these stories and your own life and values. Can you sense their power? Can you feel their medicine? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
This is part of a 12-part series about Changing Birth in Our Culture.