...and then the stork dropped you off. The end.
February 10, 2011 7:06 AM   Subscribe

My son's birth was not a good experience. How can I make it into a positive, kid-friendly story? (I tried to leave the details out, but some traumatic birth story stuff inside.)

My 2-and-a-half year old son is indisputably the most awesome person ever. :) Unfortunately, his birth sucked. When I was a kid, hearing the story of my own birth was one of my favorite things. How can I frame this to give him a better birth story?

When my son was born, I basically didn't do a lot of the things I knew I should do (get a doula, do prenatal yoga). The birth itself was not what we expected. I'll spare you the gory details, and will just say that I had to be induced, my plan for a medicated birth failed, and the last three hours were pretty much my worst experience ever. It's been almost three years and while I've finally stopped hyperventilating when I think about it, I still have a hard time talking about the experience. Added to this is that I learned last year that the experience of the birth left me with a potentially fatal health problem (think aortic damage) that precludes future pregnancies.

OK. So. I want my son to have a positive, affirming birth story that lets him know how much he was wanted and is loved. Clearly, I need to leave a lot of the actual birth parts of the story out. How can I frame this so it becomes a story I can tell over and over and not get the shakes every time?
posted by devotion+doubt to Human Relations (55 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think that you have to tell the story just in these terms. He won't understand these issues for a long time. He might just want to know that you went to the hospital (if that's what you did) and doctors and nurses looked after you, and he was born happy. How was your own birth story phrased? How about looking for some childrens' books for examples?
posted by life moves pretty fast at 7:13 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

One of the bits we've learned over time is that the we only ever need to tell the kids just enough about topic X if we feel that they're not old enough to hear about it. He's wanted and loved because you went through it all to get him here. When he gets older and learns about the mechanics of labor and delivery, you can get a little more detailed if you want.

So, today: "Having a baby can be very hard work for a mommy. All's well that ends well, and here you are!"

Down the road he can have the details if he wants/needs them and you are ready. In no way am I minimizing the trauma here, of course, it's just he probably doesn't need to know the gory details, and won't for some time to come.
posted by jquinby at 7:15 AM on February 10, 2011

There are lots of ways of conveying to your son that he was wanted and loved, without having to describe his birth. My mother has never discussed my own birth with me, nor have I found it necessary to ask. I do not know whether it was an easy or a difficult delivery and I feel no need to find out. However, if it is necessary to discuss your son's birth, you can simply say that after he had finished growing inside your stomach (technically uterus) to the correct size, he came out, and of course, you are happy that he did.
posted by grizzled at 7:16 AM on February 10, 2011 [30 favorites]

I don't think this is something a child would necessarily think to even ask about, and it's certainly not necessary for you to describe in detail. It has never occurred to me to discuss this with my mother in all my 34 years. Just tell him how excited you were when he was born and leave it at that.
posted by something something at 7:18 AM on February 10, 2011 [26 favorites]

I never ever have heard the story of my birth. I don't know why one would have to go beyond what grizzled just explained.
posted by k8t at 7:18 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I never got such a story either, and didn't feel deprived. It's great that your birth story was your favorite thing ever, but that doesn't mean it has to be your son's favorite thing ever.
posted by jon1270 at 7:20 AM on February 10, 2011 [19 favorites]

If it's painful to think about, you don't have to tell him the story. Just because you loved hearing about how you were born doesn't mean he will.

But if he does get curious, know he would probably only want to know how excited you were to finally get to see him and that you loved him always and that he's your special guy. Everything else is likely just unneeded detail.
posted by inturnaround at 7:20 AM on February 10, 2011

Is this really meant for your son when you think he is going to ask how he was born?

Or is it a story you want to share with your son because you feel the need to confess?

I think I may have asked my parents how I was born and they told me things like "you were born healthy, you weighed 8 pounds, and you spent some time under a heat lamp for jaundice"

I still don't know what my mother exactly went through to push me out, but I learned about the labor process generally and imagine it was no cakewalk.

I think you can share the traumatic aspects of the birth when your son is much older (think 20s), but leave all of that out for now.

But you may still need to talk about it with someone closer to your own age.
posted by abdulf at 7:21 AM on February 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Why not just tell him all the stuff that DID go according to your expectations? You went to the hospital... you were in labor for awhile... you and dad did X,Y or Z while waiting (played cards? paced nervously?)... and finally, he was born! The best feeling in the world! (Doubly so in your case, but he doesn't need to know that, right?)

Maybe emphasize the anticipation you felt during your pregnancy more than the actual birth part. Watching your belly grow, getting maternity clothes, buying things for him like clothes and a crib, feeling excited to meet him.

And you may find that he doesn't really care about his birth story at all. That might disappoint you a little bit, but it could also be a relief.

Eventually, by telling the story over and over without all the bad stuff being mentioned, you may even be able to remember the event (somewhat) fondly yourself.
posted by wwartorff at 7:21 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There is a forum at Mothering.com called Healing Birth Trauma. The women there may be able to help you process your experience, in order to frame it in a positive way for your son. I think part of the solution to not getting the shakes is to get some resolution and peace in your own head and heart about the way things went down. Sharing your story -- the raw guts of your story -- may be the first step. Have you ever written the whole thing out, gory details and pain and confusion included? Once it's out there, you may feel lighter. You don't have to carry the weight of it all by yourself.
posted by fancyoats at 7:23 AM on February 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You're confusing what you experienced in the birth with what he wants as a birth story. (And I don't blame you, it all sounds very traumatic.) Unless you prime him to believe that without a doula and yoga, the birth was somehow subpar, he won't ever know that you have regrets about that.

(I'm going to assume you're married for my example story, fix as needed:) I mean, "We went to the hospital, your daddy wore his favorite shirt because it was such a special day, but he forgot his glasses so we had to go back so he'd be able to see you! And then you were reaaaaaaaally slow coming out because you wanted to stay INSIDE! You already had your own ideas and you liked it in mommy's tummy. But it was time for you to come out, so the doctor gave mommy some medicine to help, and then I had to push and push and push, and it was hardest thing mommy ever did, but I wanted you SO BAD that I just kept pushing even though it was so hard, and then you were there! And you were crying because you were so mad and mommy was crying because I was so happy, and daddy cut the cord and then they gave you to me and we were a family and it was perfect."

I had a C-section, which was LITERALLY the thing I was most scared of in the world, with the possible exception of spiders as big as my head, and I think the, "it was really scary, but I was brave because I wanted you so badly" is a powerful birth story for a child -- as is yours about how it was painful, but you made it because you wanted your son so badly.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:26 AM on February 10, 2011 [18 favorites]

Best answer: My parents told me this story after I was old enough to understand, generally, where babies come from: Mom went to the hospital and you were born, and the doctor held you up and said, "You have a little girl!" For me, my dad's jubilant re-telling of that one line--"You have a little girl!"--is what I loved (and still love) about hearing that story. So, if you had a moment like that, something that was just an absolutely joyful moment for you, then share that with your son, even if it happened days or weeks after his birth. There's something really special about a story that says, "I have always loved you"--but your son won't care whether that story takes place at his birth or after.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:28 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

My own and almost every friends' birth stories are radically different from what we "planned" and wanted. After hearing and reading countless birth stories in real life and online, there's always something that goes "wrong" and some way things could have been better. Without minimizing your very real emotional and physical realities, I would encourage you to just chalk it up to Life. I say this as someone who has ended up with some disfigurement due to labor. It's a drag, and I'm sometimes angry about it, but in the grand scheme of things, it's not really a big deal. (And note that I am also not someone who thinks "As long as my baby's healthy, nothing that happens to me matters!")

A 2.5-year-old probably wants to hear about your excitement that he was coming, your trip to the hospital, the time from start of labor to delivery (I've heard my 5.5yo compare this with his friends), how you felt when you first saw him, and how you decided on his name. I assume those sorts of things don't have as much trauma associated with them for you, so you could leave it at that for quite a while. I don't believe much in sugar-coating life for kids, so once he gets older I'd probably say something like "What a day that was! It was crazy and I was scared a few times and it was really painful as birth often is. But I got through it so that I could bring you home and be your Mom. That's what Moms do." Even older and I'd feel comfortable revealing your health issue (if it's one that limits you in any way) as a battle scar from birth. He may even think it's cool and if you can get to a place like that, it would probably be good for you, too.

Above all, separate your emotions about your physical experience from your emotions about his presence in your life. And never imply that you blame him or hold him responsible for your health problem. It may be fatalistic, but I think most of us have "potentially fatal health problems" by a certain age and life experience.
posted by Yoshimi Battles at 7:31 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I was a kid, hearing the story of my own birth was one of my favorite things.

When I was a kid, I didn't really care all that much about it.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:32 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have two teenagers - neither has asked about their birth story, and I suspect they would break out in hysterical laughter at the term "birth story" if we ever tried to tell it to them. Kid don't feel loved because of what you did or didn't do while they were in the womb, or on their way out of it. They feel loved because of everything that happens after that point.
posted by COD at 7:36 AM on February 10, 2011 [6 favorites]

My mother only told me that my birth took a big number of hours, framed as if she had been running a marathon or something equally inconsequential. Now that your question makes me think about it, that long a birth in the poorest region of a poor country with few conditions and, ehem, over 30 years ago... There must be a significant untold story behind my birth, and her recovery of it.

Once a child has a notion of the very basics of birth - where you pop out from and how, I'm guessing that if you do not provide more detail, they will assume their birth as normal and unremarkable. You obviously love your child and I don't have to tell you that even the slightest mention of their birth associated with your injuries might trigger significant guilty feelings that no child deserves.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 7:39 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am another person that didn't have any kind of birth story told to her and I have no resentment surrounding that. I was born two months premature and so my parents talked about how little I was and whatnot. My mother didn't tell me about the hair raising aspects of my birth until I was grown.
posted by crankylex at 7:45 AM on February 10, 2011

Best answer: You seem to be still dealing with the trauma of a difficult birth. It didn't happen because you didn't get a doula or because you didn't do yoga. It happened because childbirth is inherently dangerous. Many births are happy, glowing experiences and we all want that. Some babies have a head the size of a healthy watermelon (lookin' at you, son), some are wedged in the wrong way, some have the cord around their sweet little neck 3 times (lookin at you again, son). Childbirth still kills and injures some women, fortunately, this is relatively rare, in the 1st world at least. I'm sorry that you had such an awful time, and I'm happy that you and your child are intact. I recommend you write the full story, gory details and all, and post it here, so we can tell you, in detail, that you worked hard, were tough, strong and courageous, and that your birthing story is valid. You aren't in any way to blame for not having an easy birth.

Your child doesn't need to have a magical birth story. Your child can have a magical "1st day at home" or "1st birthday" story. The story says "You are soooo special. We love you soooo much. We want you here in our lives. You are exactly the baby we wanted"
posted by theora55 at 7:45 AM on February 10, 2011 [36 favorites]

If he ever asks why he's an only child, maybe you can say that when he came out, and you first saw him, you knew that he was the best baby of all time, and your heart grew so big because of him that you could never have another baby ever. Or something like that...

I don't think he ever needs to know the gory details. Though I think it's funny when moms are like "I was in labor for 24 hours with you, you little brat!!" in a loving way, so maybe you can allude to a difficult labor in a funny/loving way when he's a teenager or something, he'd probably be proud of himself for it.

The trauma of birth will likely fade as the years go by, and all labors are traumatic. I had the easiest labor/delivery of all time, but still, now, 6 months later, I'm STILL traumatized by it.
posted by katypickle at 7:48 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have heard the story of my birth countless times, and personally I have never, ever enjoyed hearing it. Really, never! That I listen politely instead of walking out of the room is purely for the sake of the teller. Why do I need to know all those details?

Actually, I can understand why a mother would want to talk about the experience. As far as experiences go, it's pretty huge. But I think you're relatively unusual in actually having enjoyed hearing about your own birth. I think people who have gone through the process themselves would be a much more thoughtful and appreciative audience.

On the other hand, if you want your son to know he was wanted, tell him about how much you wanted him and how happy you were after he was born, all the ways he made your life wonderful. (If you really want to talk about it you can say "it was a hard birth, but you were so worth it.") If you want him to know he is loved, that's something you show him every day.

Finally: I think relatively few parents get doulas or do prenatal yoga. Don't beat yourself up about it.
posted by mail at 7:49 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Did your mom tell you about how she pooped on herself while she was pushing? Really your child will be totally a-OK with an edited, fluffy, "it was hard, but then you were there!" version, seriously, I promise.
posted by anaelith at 7:53 AM on February 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

I would suggest something along the lines of:

'Before you were here, there was just mum and dad. And we were so loooonely in this house with no one to draw us pictures and kiss us good night. So we were really happy when we found out you were inside my tummy. But you were really, really small, so we had to wait until you were ready to come out. We waited and waited. We were so excited. And we said, 'Little one, are you ready yet?' But you didn't say anything. And so we waited. And then the doctor said, 'Little one, are you ready yet?' But still you just waited in my tummy. We getting really impatient because we wanted to be able to see you. Finally the Doctor said, 'Little one, this is enough! You must come out!' And finally, finally, finally you did! And we loved your little nose and ears and toes from the moment we saw them. And we said, 'This is the most awsome little boy we have ever met'. And do you know what you said? 'waaaaaaaaaaaa'.'
posted by brambory at 7:54 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My kids ask to hear about when they were born, but they are way more interested in the parts of the story about them, not about me. They like to laugh that my daughter wouldn't cry in the delivery room, just grunt, and that my son sounded like a duck when he cried. Tell him stories of how he scrunched up his nose or whatever and his grandmother came to see him and gave him a present and he threw up on her. These are the parts he will want to hear. (We have a picture of my youngest child, who is two now, all covered in blood in the delivery room. (It was a c-section.) The two older kids won't even look at the picture and think it should be banned from the baby book. They don't want details.)
posted by artychoke at 7:55 AM on February 10, 2011 [6 favorites]

One of the things I was disappointed in was realizing that I don't know my parents, that they didn't actively share experiences and feelings they had while they were growing up with me while I was growing up. If you spin what happened into a positive story, sooner or later, when the kid grows up, he's going to wonder what else you spun.

Birth is gory and hard and, even as a woman, I didn't know the reality of bad things that happen...well, I'm learning every single day through the internet how awful pregnancy and childbirth can be (I'm pretty angry about this because everyone always made it seem like it was easier than a trip to the dentist, saying that pregnancy and birth is the most natural thing (and I confused it with as "easy" and not harmful and without consequences to the woman's health) in the world. And I attended the most respected and well-known women's college in the US and the world where I was a straight A student.

My point is, you shouldn't feel like you have to turn your experience into anything more than what it was. He's probably too young for it right now, but when you finally do tell him, and if you go with the truth, it will make him better informed. Make sure you mention that lots of other women have those kinds of experiences too, so it doesn't make him feel like it's his fault especially (if that's the concern). And it will make him sympathetic to his future wife or partner or women who have to go through that. Some men don't think birth is a big deal and think women who have difficulty with it or fear of it are weak and stupid because it's "natural" (so they too confuse it as healthy and has no capacity to have a negative effect on a woman's health and physical and mental well-being).
posted by anniecat at 8:02 AM on February 10, 2011

So tell the story of the birth but in terms that mean something to a 2 1/2 year old.


We were excited to have you and made all kinds of plans but things didn't turn out like we expected -- it was really hard! But you are so special and awesome it was all worth it!

From my reading, that is how you actually feel about it.

Added bonus: your child learns that things don't always work out like you plan and that good things come out of difficult circumstances.

As the child gets older you can add details (if you wish and are able).

Frankly your child has an interesting birth story, though I understand how you might not yet have come to terms with all of this.

There is no shame for a child in being part of a difficult birth if the underlying message is how much they are loved.

Also: you did nothing wrong either. I suspect you are feeling some sort of guilt when there really is nothing to feel guilty about. Lots of people don't get a doula or do pre-natal yoga. Some people do these things and still have troubles in delivery. A difficult birth does not indicate some sort of negligence on the part of the parents, most of the time it's just something that happens.
posted by mazola at 8:03 AM on February 10, 2011

For some reason my 2 and 4 year olds LOVE hearing how they were born (and I'm not at all into this "birth story" stuff, it just came up once as a bedtime story, we also tell them a similar story of how we got our dog from the animal shelter). Of course you should skip all gory yucky pain bad bad bad stuff! Our story is pretty simple: she was growing in my belly and we hadn't met her yet. I thought it was time for her to be born so daddy drove me to the hospital but the doctors said it wasnt time yet and they sent us home. On the way home daddy drove over a bump, and the car went bump, and daddy went bump, and mama went bump, and mama's belly went bump and mama thought it really was time to go back to the hospital but we decided to wait. And mama waited all night. And daddy slept all night. And in the morning we went to the hospital and waited some more until it was time for her to be born. And then she was born and she was beautiful and looked just like her daddy and we loved her. [we talk about how little she was, what we ate, that the nurses and doctors looked at her, who came to visit us, etc]. We stayed at the hospital for a few days and then we all went home. We put her in the car seat and she went for her very first ride in our car. And when we got home our doggie licked her and loved her too. [ie, I was in labor, went to the hospital, they sent me home, major contractions started on the way home, I labored all night and went back in the morning, etc].
posted by ellenaim at 8:03 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

My birth story goes like this- the nurses wheeled my mom out for one last cigarette before she was induced. My sister's birth story is this- when I went back to have your sister the room that I had you in has been changed into a bathroom. And my brother's birth story is this- your dad left when you were a month old.

So, of course there are more to those stories then that but those are the things we all held onto and talk about. With my girls, I wanted them to feel loved and wanted. I had really quick labors. When I talk to my other mom friends I tell them how nobody ever talks about quick labors in childbirth education classes and how hard it was to get to the hospital and be 8 centimeters dilated and told I couldn't have an epidural and then to spend 2 hours with just infrequent checks by the midwife, and then to have a baby who was Jaundice and had trouble breast feeding. It was scary and I was totally unprepared. To my daughter I tell her how it was a sunny Sunday and her dad helped me a lot, and my mom came right after she was born, and how cute and tiny she was. With her sister- I had a lot of anxiety that I was going to have her too fast to get anywhere or get help. But her birth story is about how she was born just a few hours before the girl who lives next door and who is her very best friend- how they were in the nursery together and they have a life long friendship that started at birth! My point is you can have both the awful story and the nice story- you just need to figure out away to re frame it in a way that is developmentally appropriate for the audience you are talking to.
posted by momochan at 8:08 AM on February 10, 2011

My mom was in labor for 18 hours with me before they finally had to revert to a c-section, and afterwards the doctor told her it would not be wise to have other kids given the difficulty of the birth. When I was young and curious in the most basic terms about the origin of my life (we're talking "mommies grow babies in tummies" stuff), my mom simply took the tack others above have mentioned - "It can be hard work to get the baby from in there to out here, but now you're here and we're all so glad! Yay!"

I recall being perfectly satisfied with this rendition. As I became an adult, I got the whole story of my birth, but not in the sense of something I "needed to know", but just in the way you tell stories of big things you've gone through or experienced.

I'm a girl, too, so a lot of my interest in the later details came out due to sympathy born (ha) of shared biology. If anything, I'd bet your son will be less interested in the deets. Tell him that it was tough but worth it, and then you can tell him long, involved stories of how neat it was to have him home and how much fun you had as a new family.
posted by superfluousm at 8:14 AM on February 10, 2011

Best answer: Lots of good advice here about your question, I think. I wanted to pick up on a point that Katypickle made. While your child may or may not ever be curious about his own birth (my 2 sort of are), chances are very good your kid will someday inquire about siblings. If your delivery was hard enough on you to preclude that option, it's good of you to be thinking about your response now, since it's clear and indeed understandable that your very tough birth has left some emotional scars.

Another thought to throw out there. The information that's available to women about the process of labor understandably focuses on the "typical" delivery. "Textbook" labor and delivery are intense and scary enough that it's debatable how wise it would be to give every pregnant woman info about the truly amazing range of ways that the process can deviate from the norm. But even things that happen rarely *do* happen to *someone* and it can be a really devastating surprise when one of those bad outcomes happens to you. There's also this suspicion of the practice of obstetrics, the medicalization of birth, in the popular birth-prep culturee that doesn't help in this matter--that makes it so, so tempting to second guess what you or your attendants could have done better, or to assign blame in hindsight, when in the vast majority of cases everybody is doing the best they can with the circumstances they were facing moment by moment.

All that by way of saying: it's so hard to make peace with a difficult birth. Find a good support group, in person or online, and process it, and work toward letting it go. Finding other people who have gone through it too is hugely helpful and there is no statute of limitations on dealing with it. I know how painful it can be (my story is different but I had some searing disappointments too), and also how good it feels to heal. Hang in there, sister.
posted by Sublimity at 8:16 AM on February 10, 2011

Best answer: I don't know how old I was when she first told me but I feel like I've always known my (traumatic!) birth story and I loved it. My mother still likes telling it and it's an epic story of A Stupid Doctor who could have killed us!!! BUT WE SURVIVED!!! And now we're here, safe as houses! The first of many victories!

This, though:

I basically didn't do a lot of the things I knew I should do (get a doula, do prenatal yoga).

Is just heartbreaking. Those things can be nice, but they've got nothing to do with what happened - childbirth is dangerous.
posted by moxiedoll at 8:17 AM on February 10, 2011 [13 favorites]

I wonder if you loved the story of your birth so much because you loved the teller of the story so much. For us boomers, dads sat in a waiting room and it's never occurred to me to ask Mum about my passage through her vagina. On the other hand, I loved hearing stories about the depression or the war or coming to Canada and learning to drive. There will be so many other experiences to share with your kid that it seems a shame to be fretting over this one.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:20 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I knew from the time that I was little that my mom almost died having me and it only served, if anything, to remind me how much she was willing to go through for me. There's a picture of her that I love of her in the hospital bed holding me where she looks like a ghost, she's so pale from blood loss. I don't think you have to frame it as a perfect-happy-fun birth if he asks, just leave out the gory details and tell him it was tough but it was all worth it because he's such an awesome kid.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 8:21 AM on February 10, 2011

Whenever I asked my parents about how I was born, they've told me the funny/ sentimental parts:
How it felt the first time they held me ("I completely forgot about all the pain. I was so happy and you were so perfect.")
My father being nervous on the drive home from the hospital
How the nurse/ midwife who happened to be on duty that night was the one nurse my mom didn't like ("but it was fine, haha")
The next day their neighbor ran over to say, "I heard you both get in the car and leave late last night, but when I heard the car pull up this morning I only heard one door slam-- you must have had the baby!"

I guess those are all silly little things, but as a kid that was always more than enough to make me happy. As far as I know my brother was also happy with this approach... my brother's story usually includes stuff like:
My father almost didn't make it to the hospital in time
My father kept trying to put an oxygen mask on my mother so she threatened to make him stand across the room ("but of course we were both completely happy the second we saw him")
My parents being surprised by how much hair my brother had

Your child might not even want the whole story, or the parts of it you're worried about. I once asked my mother what an episiotomy was and she followed her explanation with, "I had one with you and your brother. It wasn't that bad." Believe me, I never asked her for any other childbirth details.
posted by Sifleandollie at 8:23 AM on February 10, 2011

theora55 is so right, about telling the story. I think women become so obsessive about telling their labor-and-delivery stories over and over because it's such a HUGE THING, even when it goes well, it takes 30 or 40 or 50 tellings just to integrate the story into you self-knowledge and be able to understand what happened to you. If just thinking about it has made you hyperventilate, I'm willing to bet you haven't told it nearly enough times to come to terms with it. I think it took me at least 10 tellings to realize that I had ACTUALLY BEEN CUT IN HALF, and that was just in the first two days! I must have told it 100 times in the first month. My husband and I still tell it to each other, I like to tell the part where I was super-stoned in the recovery room and the sunshine was SO PRETTY. And everyone thinks the part where I forbade my husband to peek because he might see my intestines and I had a deep inner knowledge that we'd have to get divorced if he saw my intestines is hilarious. (But it's true! Spousal intestines are private! You can't come back from that!) Feel free to memail me if you want some practice telling it. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:28 AM on February 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

I've also never heard the story of my birth or been interested in asking. If I bothered to ask now, I'm old enough to handle gory details. Don't volunteer information, and your kid might not care enough to inquire either.
posted by nicebookrack at 8:37 AM on February 10, 2011

This might be a cultural thing, but postive, affirming birth stories? Not for my parents, or my friends parents. The drama and danger of birth is what's emphasised there (and there's a reference to something similar in Terry Pratchett's books, so I think this might be a universal UK thing).

So all the birth stories I've ever been told have "and then the midwife threw up again" or "and then the ambulance nearly crashed", or "and then they couldn't find the anaesthetist" and so on. I think that Eyebrows McGee is probably on to something with the telling and re-telling the story - these mums were all very comfortable with what had happened through those re-tellings, as it became the safe story of "how our Vera was born in the hospital car park" (or whatever), rather than the rawness of the actual event.

You don't need some lovely birth story to feel loved. You went through something dangerous and nasty as pregnancy and labour (and however much we try and ameliorate it, pregnancy and labour are nasty and dangerous) for a child you love - and that's the important bit.
posted by Coobeastie at 8:43 AM on February 10, 2011 [7 favorites]

You could emphasize the fact that you "worked really hard!" to get him to come out, and that sends him the message that you really wanted him and that he was worth the effort. Beyond that, maybe full details aren't necessary until he's older and has a better understanding of the whole process.
posted by illenion at 8:51 AM on February 10, 2011

When you tell your child at say age 10 all the painful details he isn't going to hate you for that. He is going to think of you based on how your relationship of 10 years has transpired. Besides, think of the spin that you can add to the story. Your story has lots of drama and obstacles to overcome and in the end you came out of it with a healthy child that you love.
posted by mmascolino at 9:09 AM on February 10, 2011

You can be honest with him without telling him everything.

I don't know anything about my birth story except three details:
1. I was late. Cute then, but I am still late all the time. Jokes are made about this.
2. I was enormous and all the nurses came to stare at how big I was.
3. My parents had picked out a name for me, but immediately after I was born, my usually-reticent father apparently made a totally unexpected demand that my name be changed to a name they'd never discussed. Their first-choice name absolutely does not suit me; my dad's choice suits me just fine. I'm glad he changed it, and it still boggles my mind that he did- he's usually very laissez-faire.

Those details are more than enough for me- it never even occurred to me to ask about the more medical, birth-y parts of the story (and there probably were some, come to think of it- I was big). My mom wouldn't want to tell me anyway- she's private about medical stuff- and honestly, this moment is the first time I've wondered.

I think you should just pick a few special, charming details that stand out to you- little funny anecdotes about the pregnancy, how you chose his name, how excited you were to meet him, how you felt when you saw him for the first time, observations about him as a newborn, etc, and make a story out of those. When he's an adult you can get into it deeper if you want, but there's absolutely no need to tell him the hard parts at this age. He'll drink up whatever you give him, so just give him the good parts.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:27 AM on February 10, 2011

My mom has told me the story of my birth every year on my birthday, yet when I was pregnant it almost became a joke that she would tell me an awful thing that happened to her during pregnancy or birth and then be surprised to find out she'd never told me before. As far as I can tell she didn't find it emotionally traumatic, but they still weren't really celebratory images.

What I finally figured out (and what I'll work on when telling my own son) is that when you're telling your child about their birth, *they* are the star of the story, whereas when you think or talk about the birth right now, *you* are the star of the story. The baby wasn't in pain during birth, so that part's not so relevant. You worked really hard to get him here, that part is relevant.

Details my mom included that may help you: Day of the week, time of day, weather on the way to the hospital. How late I was. The music playing in the operating room when I was born. That it was a big deal at the time to let the dad into the OR, and so they told my father (a sensitive longhaired 70's musician) that they wouldn't help him if he passed out. I always thought that was funny, though it sounds a bit scary now. How big I was, the color of my hair and eyes, little things that made me different than other babies in the nursery, things that made me special.
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:42 AM on February 10, 2011

I understand about negative birth trauma experiences but I also look at it this way and will tell him so.

1. I so wanted a baby. (went through infertility)
2. I loved every moment of my pregnancy and remember everything from movement, to ultrasounds, to hiccups, to my DH talking to him before we went to bed.
3. DH couldn't wait to see him and tried every method to start labor
4. The water breaking story was classic
5. Roads were shut down as soon as we got to the hospital due to ice storm
6. He shot out like a cannon.

The down side he doesn't really need to know is he had an Apgar of 1, blue, unresponsive, I heard "oxygen, suction, come on baby breathe, sir--turn the camera's off, get ready for NICU in 1 more minute, he's not responding." Then the whirlwind after effect of what happened, why, will he be ok for the future? Then other illness caused a whole set of anxiety and concern. First year was really rough.

But he's here. His name means "Fighting Spirit". It suits him. He's the best thing that has ever happened to me.

I guess in short, while there was a horrible, horrible period of the labor/worrying in his life, I relish even more so his smile, laugh, silly ways and am amazed at him. I sit and look at him in awe when he's not looking/sleeping and wonder how anyone could ever hurt a child (former abuse survivor).

As cliche as it sounds, seriously focus on the good, the amazement, and that he's here. He will understand that life is precious, you love him, and you did everything possible to make sure both he and you are here to have a happy and healthy future despite some scary setbacks.

You may also want to start reading about traumatic birth experiences and/or find a support group. There are more women out there like us than you think or that people talk about. And seek help about post partum anxiety/depression. It's not as typical as "oh I don't want to be with my baby" severe blues. For me it turned into massive panic/always thinking he was going to die, then depression.

Feel free to email me if you wish. Good wishes to you for happier thoughts associated with a wonderful thing.
posted by stormpooper at 9:54 AM on February 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Hi, fellow mother here. Birth stories are our war stories, a friend once pointed out, and as such it's appropriate for you to have two versions. One that you tell other women who have been through childbirth, and one that you tell your son. Don't feel like you're denying your experience happened if you have a happy, "ta dah!" version for him.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:02 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I did not hear a lot of "how you were born" stories as a child.

When I was older, like maybe teenage (and otherwise being a snotty little drama queen), my mom would sometimes allude to having been in labor with me forever.

I've generally surmised it wasn't flowers and puppydogs. It has done no damage to my delicate snowflake spirit. Meh.
posted by Sara C. at 10:32 AM on February 10, 2011

Anecdote! I must've been around 8 or 10 when I asked about my birth. It turns out that something went dramatically wrong just before my mum went into labour, and they had to stop the process with all kinds of drugs and give her an emergency c-section (but not until after they'd taken my dad aside and explained all the brain damage I would probably have). I turned out OK, although I am the youngest.

I never made any connection between the difficulties of my being born and whether or not I was wanted or loved. I don't think you should feel the need to create a positive story for your son. That's just my opinion, though.
posted by monkeymonkey at 11:05 AM on February 10, 2011

For this exact reason, I love the book On the night you were born. I give it along with all baby shower gifts. Instead of focusing on the actual gory detail, it talks about how the polar bears danced until dawn, how the geese flew home and how the night wind whispered the baby's name. All in all, its pretty terrific, plus no vag talk.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 11:06 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

My birth story could almost be a B horror movie. It was pretty awful, and my mom didn't spare any details in telling it. But it was still special to me because, dang. They went through a lotta work to bring me into the world! My mom and I both could easily not be here today, but we are, so there must be a reason for that. That's how I look at it. I don't think you necessarily have to varnish it for your son. Maybe spare him the gory details while he's too young to understand it, but eventually tell him everything unless you know he doesn't want to know.
posted by katillathehun at 11:46 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I loved the story of my birth as a little kid. It was a good 15 years or so before I realized that given the timeline on when my father left my mother, she was flat out making most of the story up.

I love my mother deeply, and can't even imagine how hard it must have been for her to flat out lie to me over and over again for years so that I could believe my father loved me and was part of my birth. I love that she did that for me. But I'm also sad to think of her doing that for me.

Moral of the story, I'm never going to know the details of my birth, but I grew up absolutely secure in the knowledge that I was loved and wanted and an immeasurable joy to my mothee. Now that I know the truth, all that is just as true, but more so.

You obviously love your son. Whatever details you do or don't give him, it'll be fine.
posted by Stacey at 11:55 AM on February 10, 2011

Thinking about this more... My mom's story wasn't so much Your Birth Story, but The Story Of The Night You Were Born. After nearly 32 years, the parts I remember are about when she realized she was in labor, how excited she was to be having me, and how she felt seeing me for the first time. I'm not sure there were many actual birth details at all. Maybe it would help to frame it based on your feelings about him, not the process itself.
posted by Stacey at 12:09 PM on February 10, 2011

I really had no desire to hear the gory details of my birth, and only asked my mom about her labor experience when I was expecting with my first child. (Even then, she was vague, and I'm not sorry.)

When I talk to my 4-year old about his birth, in addition to the "we were so excited to meet you!" stuff that everybody mentioned above, he is interested in knowing what happened to him in the hospital. I have pictures of all that, so he knows that after he was born, he cried because all babies cry when they're born, and Daddy cut his umbilical cord, and he had a bath, and his grandparents came to see him, etc. Other than "You liked it so much in there that you didn't want to come out, and finally the doctors had to take you out of my tummy!" I would never dream of telling him any details about what I went through, either now or when he gets older.

I hope that you can reach out to other people who are recovering from birth trauma and that it will help you to leave behind your feelings that you somehow caused your horrible birth experience by not doing all the right things while pregnant. Frankly, some women do all the wrong things (I'm talking things like drug abuse, not skipping prenatal yoga) and have easy births and healthy babies, and some women eat kale at every meal and do all their breathing exercises and still go through an ordeal. It wasn't caused by you, and there's no reason your kid ever has to know. But you should deal with those lingering feelings of trauma for your own sake.
posted by chickenmagazine at 12:39 PM on February 10, 2011

mail has a point - sometimes telling these stories is as much for the teller as the tellee. I can see that your own birth story is one of the things that you loved hearing about, but that doesn't mean that every child needs to know the details of theirs, particularly if they're not so easy.

Looking at my friends who have had kids, those that have had births that went (more or less) to plan, without major complications, are the ones that are happy to talk to their children about it. Your mother might have been one of the lucky ones.

I would disagree with mazola saying that there is no shame for a child in being a part of a difficult birth - I knew from a young age that my birth was difficult (I didn't get all the gory details, but having had close friends who've had some pretty horrific experiences, I'm quite glad of that). But it was often mentioned when my mother was mad at me, so I grew up with a feeling in the back of my mind that somehow I was to blame for my mother not liking me very much. As an adult, I realise that she never really wanted kids, and resented me in particular for being the first and changing her lifestyle, so the birth itself wasn't really the cause of our issues. But as a child and a teenager, even without the gory details, it really did make me feel guilty. If you do decide to tell your son how tough his birth was, make sure that (a) you temper that with how much he was wanted and how happy you were when he was finally born, and (b) never ever EVER refer to it when you're yelling at him about something completely unrelated. (It sounds like you probably don't need that advice, though...)

I like corpse in the library's advice. Find the good / funny / loving bits of the experience and build a story around those. It's not lying, it's just providing your child with a story that has him at the centre and makes him feel loved and wanted. Talk about it to others, definitely. But not to your son. Develop a version for him that focusses on the positives. At least until he's a lot, lot, older (i.e. about to become a father himself).
posted by finding.perdita at 1:05 PM on February 10, 2011

Eh, my mom's version of the birth story is, "I was knocked out while they C-sectioned me." She leaves out the gory details, but about 50% of why I'm an only child is the gory details and my dad putting his foot down on doing that again.

Honestly, I can't say that ever fazed me much (other than the part where I am terrified of giving birth, but that would have happened anyway). I wouldn't expect sunshine and rainbows from that particular activity, especially given the dead babies and C-sections that run in the family.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:22 PM on February 10, 2011

More anecdotal FWIW: I don't think either of my parents ever told me about my birth. I know I was several weeks premature, and I know I had amniotic pneumonia from trying to breathe too soon, but beyond that I don't know and am not terribly curious.

Also FWIW, I'm an only child and I don't remember ever asking why my parents didn't have another child. I was happy being an only child and they were happy having only one child, and it just never seemed to come up.
posted by Lexica at 2:17 PM on February 10, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers, everyone. I really appreciate all the different perspectives. To be clear, I have no intention of telling him the really traumatic parts, and I probably should have distinguished between his"birth story" (i.e., the way it actually went down as I might tell it to another adult) and the "how we got you" story (i.e., we went to the hospital, watched a documentary on the Hindenberg (odd but true), and were so happy to meet you...).

So. Thanks for all the suggestions, and thanks for the support on dealing with my own trauma from it. Lots of good advice. You all rock.
posted by devotion+doubt at 4:42 PM on February 10, 2011

Probably echoing comments above, but... find the humor in it, if you can.

My kids love to hear about the police escort we had when I was in labor, and the fact that that baby was born 10 minutes before I was officially checked into the hospital. That period was pure hell for me, but in retrospect, I can see it as funny instead of traumatic.

I don't mean to downplay the physical problems you're enduring as a result of what you went through. I'm so sorry for the very difficult aftermath of this problematic delivery.

But if you want a story for your little boy, DRAMA is going to get his attention like nothing else. So just tell him what happened, making sure he understands that it was all worth it to you!

(This advice is not intended for your two-year-old; you're going to need to wait a bit to tell him this story.)
posted by torticat at 7:47 PM on February 10, 2011

My 3.5-year-old is fascinated with birth (ever since her sister was born a year ago) and constantly wants to look at the photos of both of them, including the ones where they've just lifted the baby out from the incision. I gloss over the utterly horrific story of her birth with something like "You were growing in my tummy. When it was time for you to be born, we went to the hospital and the doctor helped you come out. And look how cute you were! Aww. Such a sweet baby! etc."
posted by belladonna at 4:19 PM on February 11, 2011

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