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Mothers' Birth Stories

"Tell me about the day I was born."

· pregnancy,birth story,herstories
motherslove birth story my mum mother

How we hear about birth from our own mothers can shape our ideas and experience from an early age. What were you told about your own birth? How do/will you tell your children about theirs?

I asked my mum to write my birth story up. She’s told me it many times; the stories of my sister’s and my birth were some of my favourites when I was a child. She always focused on the positive bits – getting to meet us, the elephant shaped meringues my dad brought to my sister’s birth, my zero birthday party with cake and everything.

As I got older my mum told me more about her experience with our births; my sister’s birth was induced and she was left alone for a long time. She wasn’t allowed to have even water to drink and my father was left alone not knowing what was happening, even though he wanted to be present at the birth (not so common in 1969).

A chemist and a microbiologist, they decided to birth me themselves in 1978 at home in Sunderland and prepared a sterilised kit for delivering me. I don’t think they were hugely prepared beyond that kit, but they both had a real believe in women’s ability to birth. I hadn’t realised until I was pregnant in 2006 and read Janet Balaskas’ ‘Active Birth’ quite how radical their approach was. Here’s our birth story in my mum's words:

After we passed your due date I spent 3 lovely weeks soaking up sunshine.It was a warm summer so I didn't feel like doing anything at all, and that's more or less what I did.

Finally, on the Friday the contractions started and , foolishly, we assumed that as Lise's had been a quick delivery you would be even quicker. Just shows how wrong you can be! The next day you seemed to be no closer to coming and we began to get cold feet. Even though we had everything prepared for delivering you ourselves we did not expect to be such a loong time.
Your big sister was staying with our friend Joy and her kids. She had a friend who was a midwife and we finally decided to ask Joy to contact her. The lady in question had been promoted to a senior administrative job so she summoned thee 'flying squad'. By now it was Saturday and the world cup football final was that afternoon.
Two midwives duly arrived. They were very disapproving of our plan to deliver you ourselves and they immediately sent dad out of the room to do various things for them. Each time he left I lost control of things and as I was very tired by then things were deteriorating a bit. I said I wanted to get up and walk about but they didn't think that was a good idea (because I really was tired). I made an excuse to get up to go to the toilet and when I came back they realised that I really needed dad to be with me.

Soon things were under control again. We now knew that the reason for the slowness was that you were a 'stargazer baby! Sounds lovely even if it is a slight problem. They offered me gas and air to which I said no thanks at first but eventually we decided that it would be OK. When the tanks were brought in it turned out that they were empty! Nevermind we didn't really need it anyway.

Finally you arrived! The pressure on your head had given it a very strange pointed shape but you were fine. (You probably had a headache for a while.The midwives used our pre-sterilised string and scissors to tie off the cord. I had torn so we had to go to the hospital to get stitched up but with the help of the ambulance crew, with their sound and flashing lights on to make everyone got back in time for the second half!.

You had stayed at home with the midwives, Joy and of course your sister.

Your sister and I had baked a birthday cake and she just piped your name on the cake. soon we and the midwives had champagne and cake.
That night dad brought in a mattress and we all slept in the back bedroom, taking it in turns to cuddle you. Lovely!"

Daughters who had heard the stories of their births more times wrote more descriptive and positive accounts and showed higher self- esteem and stronger attachment to their mothers than daughters who had heard the stories less often.


The Transmission of Birth Stories from Mother to Daughter: Self-Esteem and Mother–Daughter Attachment

Julia M. Hayden & Jefferson A. Singer & Joan C. Chrisler

As well as the bonds formed between mother and daughter through the pregnancy, birth and postnatal experience. The way we hear our mum's experience of birth can shape our perception and experience of our own birth experience; even down to the way we use words to tell our birth stories. I treasure the telling of this story. The use of words like 'stargazer' and the matter-of-fact telling it's always had. I wonder if it was a help to mum to approach it in this way too, retelling the story in her way.

What's your experience with hearing and telling birth stories?