If Your Child is Born but You aren’t the One Giving Birth, is it Still Your Birth Story?

PAIL’s Monthly Theme for October is about your birth story. Technically, we have one, but I wasn’t the one giving birth.  I wrote about our surrogacy birth experience a couple of years ago.

I am a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to birth stories because I can’t really participate. Get a group of women together who have children and you can be certain that at some point the topic will come up and the story swapping will begin. What can I offer? “Oh, my surrogate pushed for 5 minutes and almost didn’t have time to get an epidural!” Yeah, that’s a bit of a conversation stopper.

Women bond over their birth stories. It’s the female version of a war story. And I get why they are important. I do. Birth is an amazing, beautiful, terrifying experience and the end result is literally life changing. It’s just that after spending 4 years being mute during discussions of pregnancy symptoms, delicious babies and birth stories as well as dreading baby showers, I was looking forward to being in the club. And I am, sort of. I failed to realize there was another level of membership, of initiation, and I can’t join. I am silent again. You don’t realize how much the discussion of motherhood revolves around the physical aspects until you are unable to participate, to contribute.

Contribute. Maybe that’s what bothers me. I am unable to contribute to the larger narrative of pregnancy and birth that is unique to the female experience. Does that negate my experience? Make me less of a member? Perpetually a junior member of the club Mother?

But then again, 4 years out from my son’s birth, I am wiser. I’ve realized over the passage of time and (sometimes painful) experience that there are always clubs to which we cannot belong. There are new clubs I didn’t realize existed until recently and clubs to which I belong that others may envy.

So ladies, I do not begrudge you your birth stories. You earned them. My story may be a bit more unconventional with me hyperventilating in a chair and wishing for a Valium, but that’s OK. The end result was the same.

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19 comments

  1. Thanks for your comment on my post and for writing this one. You’re so right about there always being clubs to which we can’t belong. I’m so grateful that I belong to the ones I do — the mother club, the healthy child club, the I-could-afford-to-adopt club and many more. And yet the lump in my throat when birth stories come up remains…

  2. You are so brave, and you gave me strength to post this month as well. I relate to so much of what you write, even though our experiences are starkly different. I wish everyone would stop focusing on themselves during birth conversations and ask questions of those who may be sitting by silent, wondering how to jump into the conversation, but not knowing exactly how to chime in. Being dismissed for not pushing a baby out of your vagina is a bad feeling. It just is.

  3. I have always been baffled by this ‘sharing the birthing story’ trend. Why does it matter? Except for the moments when one holds a newborn, and the newness of things is so overwhelming, and you just have to share (regardless of who birthed the baby, anyone present at a birth is overwhelmed, I think), why would it matter to anyone else how a child came into the world? Or how milk got into his tummy? I realise that whatever I have to say about this is just a recycling of what I have said here: http://rainsthoughts.wordpress.com/2013/08/13/i-am-not-that-kind-of-mom-apparently/#comment-12640
    I live in a world without baby showers (I think this is a very English-speaking world habit) and I am ever so happy about it.
    I understand how you might feel alone and isolated when something awkward like this happens, but I would very much like to instead imagine you repeating to yourself that this is just a silly little thing, and your child’s future will not depend on how or who gave birth to him, but on what he learned from what you have taught him. Things like respect, tolerance, politeness, kindness, love for books or music, broadness of mind, etc. they do not come out of a vagina, but from heart and the power of example. So there. Don’t let silly things get you down. Save yourself for the big ones. 🙂

  4. Yeah, I feel the same way. I seriously can’t wait until my friend’s kids are a little older so we can get past all this birth-story/pregnancy symptom swapping nonsense. After all I’ve been through over the past years, this just sucks to have to witness when I can’t contribute at all.

  5. Hm…I think it’d be INCREDIBLY interesting to hear about children’s birth stories from the perspective of a mother who got to be on the other end of things, watching the child come out. I suppose I think of it in the same way that I love hearing about father’s experiences in the delivery room. 🙂 I just read your birth story on BlogHer – so intense and amazing and perfect!

  6. So I just went from Mrs T’s post to yours in my Reader — both reminding us that not all parents have traditional birth stories (eg. stillbirth, neonatal death, surrogacy, adoption, etc). I thanked her and I’ll thank you for writing this: I think it’s an important point for people to remember.

    I especially love this: “I’ve realized over the passage of time and (sometimes painful) experience that there are always clubs to which we cannot belong. There are new clubs I didn’t realize existed until recently and clubs to which I belong that others may envy.”

  7. Thanks for sharing your side of the story. I had two “typical” childbirths and could technically chime in with my birth story. Yet I HATE when groups of women start sharing their birth stories and refuse to participate out of principle. Because its basically a “mine was worst than yours” Olympics. And very thoughtful perspective about clubs. You are so right, as parents we are certainly in a club that others may envy, no matter how each of us got here.

    1. Funny, I hate it because I think mine is too unpleasant to share in general company, so I am reduced to telling the extremely small parts of it I can make funny or otherwise narratively satisfying. And then I feel sad and angry all over again, especially when (this happened recently) someone says, “tell your story; it’s SO FUNNY.” (Oh, and I simultaneously feel mine isn’t somehow “bad enough” to feel traumatized about. Good times!)

  8. I must just have weird IRL friends because I haven’t more than once (actually twice, once additionally to my doula pre-baby #2) said a thing about my birth story. I’ve written about it but I really feel for parents who don’t have that story to commiserate along with so I don’t share if I can avoid it (and in 5 years I sure have) because I like to squash the conversations. Yep, there are now babies. That’s enough for me.

  9. You’re a mother. You have a child. It doesn’t matter how he came about. He’s YOUR child. We are all in the same Mother club, no matter how we got there. I’m sorry that you have felt marginalized because your experience was not the norm. But it’s your story.

  10. Aw, hugs! Thanks for this point of view. You should hang out with me and my buds, though — I can honestly say that topic has never come up, and I’m surprised to hear that people talk about it often. Maybe it’s a new-ish trend? Or maybe as the kids get older there are just too many other topics of interest for parents to talk about? Like “firsts” and “can you believes” and “I almost died of embarrassments” and…

  11. I feel the same way, just because I had scheduled c-sections and never went into labor. I hate feeling that way. Complicated resentment, being excluded, whatever. I feel like a fraud because I didn’t have a vaginal birth – and there are so many judgements in certain circles over having had a scheduled cesarean, like people assume you were duped into it by unethical doctors, which takes away your sense of agency and legitimacy… like if you’d been smarter or more self-actualized and less gullible you too could have had an unmedicated vaginal birth. Sorry to hijack the comment box here… I guess I still have a bone to pick…

    Thanks for putting all this out there.

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