How to Write Your Birth Story
As a professional birth photographer, I am a big believer in birth stories. I believe they are important, and a part of our culture that we really don't share enough. I remember desperately wanting to share my birth story, and not a single person asking to hear it. I was immensely proud of what I had accomplished, but I felt like I was supposed to just keep it to myself!
In the process of documenting births with my birth photography clients, I have learned the value of birth stories. They inspire. They educate. They empower. They warn. They encourage. They help shed light on this transformative, natural, emotional process and help take away the stigma around birth. They help people to share different ways of approaching birth, in ways that expecting families may not have thought of.
But most of all, they tell a love story. A beautiful, powerful dance between a family welcoming their baby into the world.
So...how do you go about writing your birth story? It might be a lot to write, and both time and mental energy are a precious commodity in those first weeks and months postpartum. Here are some helpful tips for getting that birth story out of your head and onto paper!
1. Prepare your mind to revisit your birth
Give yourself a quiet evening or morning to relax and reflect. If you can, send the kids to the park with your partner or draw yourself a hot bath after they go to bed. Light candles, play music...do whatever your best version of self-care looks like.
Treat yourself gently. Whether your birth was peaceful and smooth or completely off-course, re-visiting your birth will likely bring up some strong emotions. Let yourself feel tender, joyful, angry, nervous, relieved, teary, unsure, elated...allow those feelings to wash over you. But don't schedule anything pressing afterwards; you may need some space to come back to real life.
And most importantly...don't stress about this! Don't strive to make it perfect. Don't get flustered if you can't remember every detail. Our brains are biologically hardwired to forget our labors, in order to keep the species going! Write down what you can.
2. Use your senses to take you back
Vision, hearing, smelling, touch, and taste all likely played a role in your birth. Did you light candles, lower the lights, or watch a movie? Turn on your labor playlist if you had one. Did you use lotions or essential oils? Bring them out, breathe them in. (Scent has a powerful tie to memory, you may be surprised at how details start flooding back when you do this.) Smell your baby's head or one of their hats. Touch your belly, connect with your body. Sway your hips or sit on your birth ball if you still have it. Hop in the shower or the bath if you used hydrotherapy during your labor. Drink and eat things that you craved during your pregnancy. Using all of your senses will naturally bring back the details of that special day.
3. Once you start writing, don't edit yourself
Reign in any perfectionism. This isn't school. Let your story flow and don't worry about getting it "right." If hand writing feels therapeutic, grab a pen and a journal. Or pull out your laptop and type away. Or grab your cell phone and do a voice recording! You can always go back and edit your writing later if you want to, but to start, just let it flow. And don't censor yourself! Write down all of the "sensitive" or "embarrassing" details that you can remember. Those may be the very things that you want to remember down the road, whether or not you choose not to share those parts with the world.
4. Piece together your birth timeline
This can be tricky. Birth often comes with a sort of time distortion that makes a few minutes of pushing feel like hours, and an afternoon of contractions zip on by. Use whatever you can to piece together a timeline of everything that happened: text messages, phone call timestamps, your contraction timer app, medical records (you can request them from your OB or midwife at a postnatal appointment), and your support team. Every picture you take has the time and date embedded in it, so check your pictures, too! (And if you hired a birth photographer, you'll have dozens and dozens of pictures to help put the story together!)
5. Get your birth team involved
Who did you invite to be a part of your birth team? Your partner? Your sister, friend, or mother? Were your older children with you? Did you hire a doula? A midwife? A birth photographer? Processing your birth with the people who were there can be helpful, and a lot of fun! Listen to the details that stood out to them. I can guarantee that they saw or noticed things that you didn't, and they will tell you exactly how brave and strong and amazing you were. Having your partner write down their side of the birth story can be so special too, especially for your baby down the road.
6. Polish your story and decide who you want to read it
When you are done, you can do whatever you'd like with it! Leave it raw, edit it down, keep it to yourself, or share it with the world! Maybe you want to write it as a letter to your baby. Perhaps you just want to include the general highlights to share with your friends and family. Or maybe you want to include every tiny detail, to treasure privately forever. However you choose to write your birth story, make a copy for safekeeping! Put it on a flash drive in a safe, or print it and keep it with your important documents.
7. Still stuck? Use these guiding questions to help you write your birth story!
Sometimes guiding questions are a great way to start. Use any of the questions below that apply to you to get a framework together, and then flesh out the rest of your story:
- How did you know that labor was beginning? Where were you and what were you doing?
- What was early labor like? What did you do in between contractions?
- Who joined you and when? What did your partner/doula/family do to help you?
- When did you decide to transfer to the hospital or birth center, or call your midwife?
- If you drove somewhere, what was the car ride like?
- Did you listen to any music in labor? Watch any TV or movies? Post on social media?
- What was the room like that you gave birth in?
- What did your contractions feel like? How far apart were they?
- What was the hardest part about active labor?
- Did anything funny/unusual/weird happen during your labor?
- Did you eat or drink during your labor?
- Did you spend any time in the shower or tub during your labor or birth? What was it like?
- What positions did you labor in? Did you favor any particular positions?
- What did you use for pain relief? How well did it work?
- What medical professionals were there for your labor and birth? What did you think of any nurses, doctors, or midwives that you met?
- If you chose cervical checks, when and how dilated were you? Did you have any emotions about your progress? (Excitement, defeat, frustration, surprise, etc.)
- Did you have any physical side effects of labor? Back pain, throwing up, loose stools, hot flashes, shaking, fever, etc.
- Did you use any visualizations or mantras during your labor? What were they?
- What did your support persons say to you to that was helpful or encouraging?
- Did labor ever stall or stop? What did you do to help it pick back up?
- If you had a C-section, what was the point when that decision was made? How did you feel about that decision?
- When did you start pushing? Did you feel the urge to push or did your providers help tell you when to start?
- How long did you push? What were you thinking while you were pushing?
- If you had a C-section, what was it like getting prepped for surgery? What were you thinking?
- Did you or your baby need/have any medical interventions? Forceps/vacuum assistance/episiotomy?
- What was it like to meet your baby face-to-face? What did you hear? Feel? See?
- What was your partner's reaction to the baby being born?
- Did your baby look like you expected him/her to look? Did he/she have any vernix? (Cheesy white or orange covering to protect their skin in the womb.) Was his/her head shaped in any interesting way?
- Did your baby need any medical attention? Help with breathing, or taken to the NICU?
- What was it like to deliver the placenta? Did you do anything with it? (Look at it, lotus birth, encapsulate, consume, bury, etc.)
- Who cut the baby's cord?
- When did you name your baby? Why did you give your baby that name?
- How did you feel after baby was born? Did you have any tearing, stitching, or medical attention? (IV, pitocin, oxygen, etc.)
- Who was the first person to hold the baby?
- What was skin-to-skin like?
- Did you breastfeed baby? What was the first latch like? How long did baby breastfeed?
- If you bottle fed, who fed baby first? How did baby like it?
- Who was your first visitor? What were their reactions to the new baby?
- If you have other children, when did they come see the baby? What was their reaction?
These questions won't cover every birth situation. Use the ones that apply to you and pass over the rest. They are just a springboard for your memories!