On Sunday late afternoon, my neighbor and I set out on our weekly walk, and fell to talking about childbirth. Our weekly walks are more than just a chance to exercise our bodies, but a chance to unload our thoughts from the week--the pitfalls, the funny moments, the complaints, the grouching about things we can't control. I think we crave that part of the walk more than we crave the actual exercise. We often swap stories, she and I, about pregnancy, and sleep woes, and sometimes brief reminiscences about childbirth and those early infancy days. Her children are younger--4 1/2 and 3, so she is still knee-deep in much of that, but those days don't feel so far away to me, either, strange though that seems. Sometimes I have to mentally pinch myself to remember that a whole decade has gone by since I gave birth to L. and yet I can recall, as vividly as if it were yesterday, my pregnancy and birth experience.
As we talked, I thought about how we women so often fall to sharing these tales with other women. When L. was an infant, and T., too, it was so common for me to run into other moms and, eventually, our conversation would turn to the birth story. I'll never forget one such conversation, when L. was ten weeks old. He was nestled in the Baby Bjorn, and I was outside the grocery store.
"Wasn't giving birth the best experience EVER?" A young woman, with a new baby of her own, gushed to me. "You know," she said. "I told my husband that very day that I wanted to have another one."
I winced, and my stomach plummeted, because I had certainly NOT felt that way. At ten weeks post-partum I was still feeling tired, and cleaved in two, still replaying the events of L.'s birth in my mind, and trying to reconcile it all with the way I had thought things would be. Childbirth had not the best experience ever for me; nor had it been with T., either, although that experience had been very different, and closer to my ideal; the one I'd carried around with me for nine months through the pregnancy of each child.
I wondered, though, when I watched that young mom head into Wegman's, with her toddler girl in tow, and the new baby in his car seat bucket, swinging from her strong arm, if she had really, truly, thought giving birth had been the best experience ever for her. Had she felt the need to say the words, in order to make them true? Was she afraid to admit to me, a stranger, that giving birth had been anything other then wonderful? I wondered how many women walk around feel ashamed and sad and inadequate (as I did when I was in the grips of the roller-coaster post-partum swing of emotions) because their birth experience had been less than the rose-tinted ideal they thought it would be?
My neighbor-friend and I walked and talked while the evening unfolded, and parted around us. We laughed over the grisly, absurd parts of our own childbirth experiences, and the amazing parts, too. It felt cathartic to pull out the experiences again, to say the words and have them become alive between us, in the evening air. I think we women tell our birth stories--and our adoption stories, too--because we love them, even when they are painful to remember, when they expose a part of us that had been made so profoundly vulnerable, laid open to all. Our stories are etched into our bones, our fabric of who we are, our coming into being as mothers--they are our own birth stories, after all.