How to Listen to a Birth Story

Women have been talking about their births for thousands of years. And yet somehow, as the tide of childbirth has shifted dramatically in the past 70 years, we’ve forgotten the importance of being on the listening end of a birth story.  The next time you hear a mother start to discuss the details of her birth, consider taking these recommendations to heart:

Take Responsibility For Your OWN Emotions! I cannot stress enough how important this is. Women should be free to share their birth stories without fear of “offending” another mom. For example, if a woman is sharing how she labored without any pain medication, please do not jump to the conclusion that she’s calling you a wimp for choosing an epidural! Whatever your birth experiences were, they are yours and yours alone. Maybe you’re still carrying disappointment or sadness about your births, for any number of reasons, and those emotions often resurface when hearing another woman’s story. But instead of projecting your emotions onto another mother (which we sometimes unknowingly do), own whatever emotions you’re experiencing and resolve to set aside time to work through those feelings. By doing so, you will be better able to objectively love and support other mothers.

Do Not “One-Up” Her Story With Yours! Do we really think it’s helpful  to say, “Oh 20 hours of labor, that’s nothing!! Listen to my whopper-of-a-birth-story…” Certainly it is in our nature as mothers to talk about our births.  Even elderly women will gladly share all the details of their births when asked. We want our stories to be heard and they should be heard! But choose with caution the opportunities to share your story. Instead, if you’re listening to another woman’s story, listen intently and remind yourself that this is her time.

Respond with Empathy. Many women are burdened with painful emotions they are carrying from their birth experiences. Often we feel uncomfortable when a person is sharing about their grief or sadness. In our discomfort, we end up saying things such as, “Well at least your baby is healthy” or “the best thing is just to move on.” But to a hurting woman, these well-intended words are like pouring salt into her wounds.  Instead, validate her emotions. Phrases like, “That must’ve been so scary for you” or “it’s understandable why you are disappointed” are reassuring and can aid in her healing. And if you really do not know what to say, you can always respond with, “I’m so sorry you experienced this.” Remember: you might be the very first person to respond to her pain with empathy and kindness.

“Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. When we really listen to people there is an alternating current, and this recharges us so that we never get tired of each other. We are constantly being re-created.”

~Brenda Ueland

by Expert Mommy, Sarah Baker