My kids love to hear me tell stories of when I was a kid. They don’t want fantastic adventures or fairy tales. They don’t want tall tales of realistic fiction. They want to hear about the time I forgot my beloved stuffed raccoon in the five-and-dime store. Or, about the time I got stuck in the middle of a muddy corn field and my brother left me there to cry. Or, about the time I got my chance to finally ride the big slide at the fair. It was a day I had been looking forward to for years, or at least it felt like years when I was a five-year-old. They want to hear about how my excitement turned to fear turned to speechlessness as my stomach dropped to my toes and finally turned back to excitement once again.
I’ll be honest, I don’t understand their fascination with these stories. To me, they are everyday, run-of-the-mill, lacking of spice happenings. But they love them. Perhaps it’s a way for them to better relate to me and see me as more than just Mom. Perhaps it’s a way for them to understand that I was once in their shoes.
Recently, I got to see how my stories can influence their choices. Sure, it was in a small way, but it showed me just how much words and tales have the power to influence.
A few weeks ago, we went to the county fair, which is something our family does not often do. We gave the kids the opportunity to ride just a couple of rides. We explained how many tickets they had and how they had to choose wisely. When the tickets were gone, the rides were done and we were leaving. They looked around at all of their options and both immediately said the one they definitely wanted to do was the big slide. There were roller coasters and swirling things that I’m sure would’ve been way more exciting for them, but they wanted to do the slide, just like their mom had done as a kid.
As I watched them climb to the top, I wondered what they would think. Would they like it? Would their stomachs drop like mine did? Would it leave them speechless as they slipped over bump after bump on their decent to the bottom? Or would it be a total disappointment?
Suddenly I became nervous. I hoped it wouldn’t be a disappointment. Would they regret spending three whole tickets on that 5-second joy ride? What if I had influenced them and then they would be disappointed? What if they were only doing the slide because of my story?
And then I began to wonder, how much of our lives are influenced by others’ stories? How many birth choices are because of what other moms around us have chosen to do and those are the only examples we have?
In many of the conversations I’ve had with women about birth, I’ve come to realize how few women have any experience with birth until it is their turn to have a baby. They often don’t know what to expect or what questions to ask. Sometimes the only stories they hear are the scary tales of never-ending back labor that Aunt Susie felt compelled to tell at the baby shower. Or, they see images of women on TV screaming and cursing and swearing off sex for the rest of their lives.
But what about the other stories? Sure, every birth is unique, but not every birth includes complications. Not every labor leaves the woman screaming for an epidural when the first contraction hits.
This is why I feel compelled to tell my own stories and to share the stories of other women. Years before I became a mom, I had the privilege to be in the delivery room seconds after my nephew was born. I saw the placenta being delivered. I saw the joy and elation in my sister-in-laws eyes, and the broken blood vessels from pushing so hard and for so long. I saw a patient and respectful doctor who insisted on skin-to-skin contact and promoted early breastfeeding before it was the typical practice of that hospital. And all of this made a big impression on me.
Now, not everyone has a sister-in-law who is as open as mine. Not everyone will have the chance to be in a delivery room. But, we do all have the chance to share our stories to help other women better know what to expect. I’m not saying this should be the topic of your next dinner party. I’ve come to realize that not everyone likes hearing the word “placenta” over dinner.
But, don’t be afraid to share your story when it’s appropriate. The stories women hear will influence their own choices later. Just like with my kids.
For the record, they were not disappointed. I don’t know that it was a momentous enough occasion for them to tell their children the tale of when they went down the big slide. But, once again the slide did leave an impression on me. It made me realize the power of story and the influence it can have.