“Mother is the first world we know, the source of our lives and our stories.” -Naomi Lowinsky
It dawned on me at a recent annual check-up that anytime I have a new appointment or change physicians, I am asked to share details about my family's health history. I understand the point is to see if there are patterns of illnesses or diseases in your family line, while also placing you on a track to prevent some of these. I started to think about this more and realized that during my pregnancy with my daughter, or even in conversations with other family members, no one ever mentioned their OBGYN or Midwife inquiring about their family’s birth history.
How many people in your life could actually share how they arrived into this world? When I was pregnant, many family members and close friends shared their stories around birth. Much of the focus centered around the pain aspect--who used pain medication and who didn’t. The fear associated with labor and delivery was the other focus. My husband and I made it a point to refocus our energy. We decided we would listen to those stories and take the pieces that would help us develop an environment that would allow our baby to come in calm and relaxed while following the intuition of my body and her needs. We committed ourselves to creating a journey and story for her that she could find comfort and strength in.
I recently discovered that I was born on my due date. That little fact spurred my interest and I asked my mom to tell me more about the day I arrived earthside. I wanted to know how she felt. Were she and my father prepared? What was labor like for her? What coping techniques did she use. Did she reflect on that experience for my sister’s birth?
My mom told me that she and my father didn’t attend a childbirth education class because she felt “learning to breathe was corny.” I giggled a little when she said this, as I could picture clearly the conversation between her and my father and how she was probably so matter of fact about it. During her prenatal visits, the hospital informed her that as soon as she began showing signs of labor to make her way to the hospital. When the time arrived she did just that. Upon arriving at the hospital they immediately broke her water. Since she was afraid to get an epidural she opted to have Nubain, as a way to cope with the discomfort of having both back and front labor. After 6 hours I was born vaginally. At that time nurseries were still a normal practice for hospitals and I spent much of my time there unless I was nursing. My mom tried nursing me for 2 weeks but felt that with the lack knowledge and support, she really was at a loss of what to do. Thus she eventually gave me a bottle of formula. Throughout the whole experience, my mom indicated that she wasn't really prepared for what labor would be like or what was available to her to help her through it.
As my mother was sharing my story, light bulbs began going off in my head. Of course, I managed to arrive on my due date, as being punctual and following the plan are two of my greatest strengths. Which also means I struggle a bit with spontaneity, If it wasn’t on the calendar, in my planner or a part of the discussion of the plan, it’s going to take me some time to adjust. While I am an extrovert, I am not a huge fan of crowds, and while I might be pulling this one quite far, I think spending an extensive amount of time in a nursery could have some correlation to this. Throughout the conversation with my mother, I really felt like things about my life started to make more sense and, naturally, I began reflecting on my daughter's birth.
My daughter was 2 1/2 weeks past her due date and while I do understand that due dates are an estimate, I love the way a good friend put it: that it was her first form of protest. Because I was overdue I was scheduled for an induction. I was in labor for 36 hours and pushed for an hour before Naomi was born. Throughout her birth, I could feel her strength through every surge from a contraction. We felt her love in the way she brought our family together, even through the challenging parts of her labor, we all felt joy from being in that moment of time together. Naomi is strong willed, curious, fearless and the best snuggler. When I think about her birth everything matches up to who she is today.
"Listening to our mothers' stories is the beginning of understanding our own." -Naomi Lowinsky
Knowing our story allows us to reflect on who we are. I remember learning in my Intro to Psych course in college that there are three levels in our mind of memories: the conscious, subconscious and unconscious. The conscious part of our mind is what, for the most part, we use in our day-to-day interactions in communicating to ourselves and others. Our subconscious is the part of the brain that we tap into for our recent memories and which can help in accessing both our conscious and unconscious. The unconscious is the part of our mind that stores memories related to our past experiences. These memories can be repressed due to trauma, or just easily forgotten as we may not find the use for them anymore. Yet it is from these memories that our true habits and behaviors are formed. All three parts of these memories are in constant communication with each other. The unconscious constantly communicates with the conscious through our subconscious, using our feelings, emotions, sensations and dreams. On the days when you're walking through a bakery and all of a sudden you can see yourself standing in your grandmother's kitchen after school, that's your unconscious mind talking to ya.
Most if not all of our memories of our birth lies in our unconscious. It’s when the story becomes vivid in our minds, we find that those memories from that event, have many correlations to our daily lives. Many people say that in order to live your future you must know your past. I think the same can be said about knowing your birth story. When you hear it and discover the correlations, it allows you to make changes and new decisions so that you’re no longer letting that day dictate your behavior every other day of your life. Rather you’re using that day as a platform in understanding your decisions and behaviors in reactions to events and people in your life.
My mother had four children. Her mother had 7 and my father's mother had 7. Mothers have been birthing babies forever. When we were deciding on the birthing vision we wanted for Naomi, it was a piece of knowledge that I often reflected on. I could do it, and do it the way I wanted because mothers before me had that same mindset. My power of birthing my daughter laid in the power of those before me.
"I really saw clearly, and for the first time, why a mother is really important. Not just because she feeds and also loves and cuddles and even mollycoddles a child, but because in an interesting and maybe an eerie and unworldly way, she stands in the gap. She stands between the unknown and the known." - Maya Angelou
Knowing their experience, gave me a tiny insight into what to expect. Of course, every birth, every mother, and every baby is different, but there are many aspects of birth that do not change, no matter the circumstances of which a birth came about or the circumstances of which the birth takes place. The strength that a mother (family) has in bringing their baby earthside, the challenge of the experience, the connection between the mother, their body and their baby are the pieces that remain constant. Those are the parts of the story that we can honor our mothers in. Through each birth, a mother passes on lessons to her children and that continues the cycle--using their experience to shape and enhance our own. To me, this honor can be for the mothers that birthed us, adopted us or even somehow have taken on the name mother for us. Knowing our stories can give us confidence and empowerment in preparing for the birth of our own children. The model that is laid before us equips us for our turn.
My husband is a historian and last year he planned his family's reunion. I truly was in awe and admired his ability to piece together the stories he had heard about different family members and the legacy of the Gourrier family. I, on the other hand, have a handful of stories that have been passed down to me and that I have actually been able to keep sealed in my memory bank. Yet this challenge of mine serves as a constant reminder of just how important oral history and history itself is in connecting a family.
“These cords of meaning weave through our birth-giving experiences like umbilical cords, connecting us through those who bear to those who bore us and to those who bore our mother and father….” - Naomi Lowinsky
Knowledge of how our family experienced pregnancy and birth strengthens our generational bonds. A picture not only into how the world has changed around the history of birth but how our family has changed as well. It’s part of our families’ story, it allows us to get to know family members before us and it’s a piece of our history that shapes us. No matter who we are, what we believe in, who we marry, and so on, all of us were born into the world. Our birth stories are common ground tying us together despite our differences.
Uncovering your day--your story--doesn’t just have to come from your mother, it can come from anyone that shared in that experience.You may not be able to get all of the pieces, because of many factors, but even knowing the time of day or where you were born is a start. The beauty of talking about your story and learning about it is that knowing the history of that day connects you all even more because you all will have that memory forever.
*Further inspiration from this post was stirred from excerpts read from Dr. Naomi Ruth Lowinsky’s The Motherline.
“The Motherline describes a woman’s journey to find her roots in the personal, cultural, and archetypal realms. It was written for women who have mothers, are mothers, or are considering motherhood, and for the men who love them. Telling the stories of women whose maturation has been experienced in the cycle of mothering, it urges a view of women that does not sever mother from daughter, feminism from “the feminine,” body from soul.”
I encourage those who read this blog, to take a look at her work.*