Lake Norman & Mooresville

My story about childbirth contradicts our culture of pain

Stories were always an important part of our extended family life.

After gathering for a meal, most of the kids would scurry off to play while the adults settled at the table or in the backyard with a cup of coffee and took turns spinning yarns.

They were adventure tales from days gone by - narrow scrapes in the woods, crime and punishment, coming-of-age true stories.

One of my family's favorites left me with a very powerful image.

It was 1929, and my great-grandmother - Granny - was married to a tobacco farmer and pregnant with their second child.

My grandmother, who was 2 when her brother was born, tells the story.

"Granny had been hurtin' all day," she said, and knew the birth was near. So she sent for great-grandfather down at the tobacco barn to let him know she was in labor.

But he had been drinking since morning and wasn't in a hurry.

So Granny prepared her bed and gave birth with no one to help other than my 2-year-old grandmother.

A simple story, yes. But each time my grandmother told it, the women in the family cringed a bit.

The thought of having to go through labor and delivery alone, at home, was terrifying.

By the time I was old enough to have children of my own, that mental picture of Granny was a scary possibility that I didn't want to repeat.

Subconsciously, however, the story planted an idea: If I had to, I could also give birth in similar circumstances. Granny did it.

Women have given birth in hovels, on battlefields, just about anywhere.

Furthermore, like Granny, I grew up in the country, where I witnessed animals giving birth without wearing hospital gowns, without epidurals, without venomous vituperations aimed at the fathers-to-be.

There are actually two overarching stories of birth, but only one of them is prevalent in our culture. On TV and in movies, we see a laboring mother who is relatively helpless, at times angry and out of control, and in a great deal of pain.

The other birth story, which is so seldom told, is that birth is a natural process that shouldn't be traumatic or painful.

I was already a mother by the time I heard this alternative version of childbirth.

When I was pregnant with my second child, I learned about hypnobirthing, an approach to birth in which the mother prepares herself mentally and physically, trusts her body, and creates an intimate, relaxed atmosphere with her partner at her side.

I had such a profound experience with our daughter's birth that I began teaching the classes to other couples.

Unfortunately, the prevalent picture of birth - the scary one - is so dominant. Entertainment media and our own horror stories are detrimental to birth in our culture. Such images create fear. Fear creates tension. Tension creates pain that leads to more fear. It's a terrible cycle that we've created by telling stories.

So let me tell you another simple story about birth.

Just a few weeks ago, I gave birth to a healthy baby boy. The birth was gentle, slow - even spiritual. I listened to soft music and leaned on my husband for support. I concentrated on what my body and baby were doing and shut out all other distractions.

Most important, I trusted that my body was fully capable of bringing about the birth without artificial augmentation or anesthesia.

I acknowledge that birth sometimes has its complications, that every birth will not be an easy one. But it need not be as much of a medical event as it has become in our culture.

If you are looking forward to birth, I encourage you to learn as much about it as you can. Learn how women in non-Western cultures give birth. Understand the implications of where and how the birth happens, that the experience is not just about the mother, but also about the baby and, ultimately, about family - just like the stories we tell.

And be careful which stories you listen to.

When stories are about birth, passed from mother to daughter, their power is unmistakable.

Maybe you'll write off my experience as just a story, maybe even a tall tale, but it's my story. And I hope a thousand words are worth a new picture.