#140 | How to Write Your Birth Story with Carrie Murphy

December 22, 2021

Writing your birth story seems like a simple thing to do, yet so many of us struggle with where and how to begin; and many of us never get it on paper at all. We can also opt to skip the writing and record ourselves telling the story. Writing  your birth story is not only creating a beautiful memory to be shared and passed on,  but it can also be a necessary and important part of healing from a difficult birth.  Join us today with doula Carrie Murphy who walks us through a simple process to effectively and easily capture your birth story in one hour a day over seven days. 

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View Episode Transcript

Writing your birth story seems like a really simple thing to do. Right off the bat, it seems like that. But I think then when people actually get down to doing it, they can find it to be quite challenging on research and found that for all women, no matter how they give birth, their feelings about their birth and their perception of their birth changes over time. So what someone says two weeks postpartum is different from what they're going to say four months postpartum, and one year postpartum, their whole point, think of a birth story as like a linear thing, like labor begins and it ends with a baby being born. But to me, it's so much more than that, right? Like birth is a foundational event. We know Penny Simkin always says Like if you ask an old woman 50 years later, whatever about her birth, like she will remember she will remember how she was treated. And I think that's so true. Women remember their birth forever.

I'm Cynthia Overgard, owner of HypnoBirthing of Connecticut, childbirth advocate and postpartum support specialist. And I'm Trisha Ludwig, certified nurse midwife and international board certified lactation consultant. And this is the Down To Birth Podcast. Childbirth is something we're made to do. But how do we have our safest and most satisfying experience in today's medical culture? Let's dispel the myths and get down to birth.

Hi, I'm Carrie Murphy. I am a full spectrum doula and professional writer. I currently live in New Orleans, Louisiana. I have been a doula since 2012. And have also been writing professionally for a long time and specialize in reproductive health, pregnancy childbirth, lactation, sexual women's sexual health and wellness writing. And I provide doula services here in New Orleans and online. And I also am the creator of an online class called Writing your birth story which helps parents write their birth race in an easy, simple, non overwhelming format.

So first question, writing your birth story seems like a really simple thing to do. Right? Right off the bat, it seems like that, yeah. But I think then when people actually get down to doing it, they can find it to be quite challenging. So why did you create this course? Which what kind of problems did you see coming up for women in writing their birth story that prompted you to create a course.

So it was really more my own problem that allows me to create the course. So I am a professional writer. I've been a writer my whole life. I have a master's degree in creative writing. Like I definitely like know how to write. And I also am a doula and have been a doula for a long time. And I had my son in 2018. So I had been a doula for six years before I gave birth myself. And I gave birth at home, you know, I had a great birth. And I was just like, it feels so overwhelming to even like, know where to start to write this birth story, you know, but I knew it was something I wanted to do, because it feels hugely important to me to have a birth story. I always, you know, like, type up my notes, my doula notes from birth that I attended, give them to my clients. And that's something that clients like really love, like, they love having like a written record of the birth even though it's through my eyes as the doula but when I was wondering, my own birthday, I was just like, I don't even like know, like, where to start. And it felt really weird because I was like, I know birth. I know, writing why is this weird? So really came out of my own experience. And I always tell people, like if you you know, if you go look at my website, it's like, I have a little question that FAQ that's like, do you need the class? Are you ever story and I'm like, No, you definitely don't need a class right? Your birth story. But I think for people who may be feeling overwhelmed, or just like need a place to start, it can be a really awesome thing. It can be for people who are like I'm people are always like, I'm not a writer, right, like they want to have something but they they feel intimidated about their writing skills. I think it's also useful for people who maybe had a traumatic birth story or experienced some kind of you know, obstetric violence or abuse or not very good care during their story as a as a way to both process that and also to have a written record if they want to, like file a complaint or hold their providers accountable in some way. I think there's a lot of reasons why you would want a course to do it. You could totally just like open up your Instagram app and like, put a picture of yourself and your baby skin to skin and type out your story in five minutes and that is perfect and complete. We find like, I'm not policing anybody's way of writing their bursary. But I think for people who like really want to put a little bit more like, time and energy into producing something that is really meaningful, like really impactful for themselves, and also for their, for their baby to look at later as like a family artifact, or if they, you know, have some processing that they want to do. I think that, of course, can be a sort of, like way into that.

I mean, I took a close look at your course. And I was very impressed. I have to say things. I appreciate that. Yeah, I was because you I've been doing this work for many years, I have written my own birth stories. I've been a professional and published writer at times, I've read hundreds and hundreds of birth stories, and I never would have been able I don't think to create a program like the one you created. And it definitely exceeded my own expectations when I was logging in and looking at it, because I think what you did what I expected was tell us how your birth story began. Like then what happened, then what happened? But you asked very provocative questions, dozens of them to get them exploring, I think answering things no one would think to answer for a birth story. Most people think of the nuts and bolts like my water, my water broke at this time. And then I did this and then I and I was particularly impressed that you not only helped people to explore whether they experienced any kind of injustice, yes, obstetric violence, any trauma, but then you link to resources and tips as to what they can do about it. So it wasn't, it's not like in the end, they're just going to have a birth story, which I think is very valuable and healing. But it actually was giving very practical advice and tools that I don't think they really get anywhere else.

Thank you. Yeah, I mean, I think it would have been remiss of me not to include stuff like that, because you know, the reality that you all are very familiar with as well is that like many people giving birth here in the US come out of birth with drama. I mean, I think also like your birth story starts well before birth, right? Like what you said, Cynthia, do you think it's like, oh, you know, your water breaks. And I think people think of a bursary as like a linear thing, like labor begins and ends with a baby being born. But to me, it's so much more than that. Right? Like, what were the reasons why you chose what you chose for your birth? Right? If you plan an out of hospital birth? Why did you? What were the stories that you heard about birth through your life? And how did that influence you and your ideas about birth? You know, what were your sort of? What was your own birth story? What were some of your like, familial legends around birth or beliefs around birth that influenced you the decisions that you make? What was conception, like, right? Like somebody who may be conceived by IVF may be coming into birth with a different mindset than somebody who conceived accidentally?

Well, that's a fact that's actually linked to higher rates of postpartum depression, because yeah, try to get pregnant for a long time. Older moms, and you know, those who've done IVF they are it is a risk factor, it doesn't mean they'll get a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder, but it is linked to it is one of the risk factors, because the expectations can get so high, right? You just dream of it for years, and then you're pregnant, and you still think you this dream is coming true. And you know, it's, it's all the love you imagined you would feel but then it's all the anxiety you never anticipated and all the other things that come with it sometimes.

And I think complex, and you know, this is I know, but I mean, we, our culture does not prepare people, well for postpartum, right at all. You just have this idea, oh, you're just gonna be like sitting on the couch in love with your baby. And then you're like, I'm leaking out of like five places, and I feel anxious. And I don't know how to feed this person. And it's a whole other like roller coaster ride, right? It's both anger. It's both anxiety inducing and highly monotonous at the same time. Yeah, very difficult emotions to feel concurrently. And maybe we've never even felt concurrently.

And I think the expectation, like I always tell my doula clients just have very low expectations of postpartum, you're just going to do maybe one thing per day, you're going to be like sitting around, you're not accomplishing anything. Don't expect that you're going to feel these like ecstatic feelings, just like it's about like getting through it. And I think that when people have realistic expectations, which are low expectations, like people have a better postpartum experience. But yeah, I do include you know, the postpartum in the immediate postpartum, and some of the postpartum in sort of my questions around the birth story, too. But going back to what I was saying before, like, we we bring our whole selves as humans to our birth. Yes, it's like a moment in time. But it's also like a culmination of our whole experiences as people, the choices, the experiences, everything like that all wrapped up into our birth stories.

So one of the things I found most interesting of all the things I've ever learned in these 15 plus years is that they've done research and found that for all women, no matter how they give birth, their feelings about their birth and their perception of their birth changes over time. So what someone says two weeks postpartum is different from what they're going to say four months postpartum. And one year postpartum, there are whole points where they see it evolves. And I can't tell you how many times a client of mine has contacted me after giving birth, and having what she fully believed in the short and long term, to be a necessary cesarean section due to let's say, fetal positioning, hours of trial of labor pushing. And it's always like this happy, oh my gosh, I'm so grateful. And everyone was wonderful. And I really know I needed the hell the time and space I needed. And we're so grateful, everything's going so well. And I'm so grateful for everything I learned. And I always say to them, that's, that is so wonderful to hear. And don't be surprised, if a couple of months from now, some anger bubbles up in the middle of the night, if you suddenly start crying or grieving the experience that you didn't have that you anticipated, just don't be surprised and prepare your partner that prepare them to go on that on those waves with you and not to say to you all but I thought you were okay with it, I thought you were fine with it, let them understand this is coming, and to just let you ride those waves. And I can't tell you how often they recontact me and say, Okay, it's happening, I'm second guessing things, I'm a little bit miffed about something that happened in the room. So given this, and I know, you must have a very good understanding of everything I just said, What, When is the optimal time for someone to go through this processing, it's not just writing a birth story, your program, the last thing you say at the very end is, hey, if you don't even want to write it, speak it into a recording device. So really, it's like a processing? Do you have any suggestions as to the optimal time? Or does it accelerate that processing? When they go through the modules? Do you think? Or is it just still this inherent human event that happens in the mind?

It also, is it is it a one time event? Or is this something that I imagine that people are sitting down and doing in steps and maybe recreating parts of it writing down maybe the details initially, and then yeah, weeks later and writing more, I set it up. So it you can like do a little bit at a time and it's less structured to be written like a little bit at a time over seven days. But really, you can do it whenever like there's you don't have to do it every seven days. Because I do think it's useful to have, get some of the details out and then take a break and then come back and look a little bit later or something to to sort of like get it out of your body. And then you come back and look at it with your sort of like thinking brain a little bit later. Sometimes people want to just like write up their birth story the next day when they're cuddling in bed with their newborn. And if that's what they want to do like that. That's great. I do think that having a little bit of distance from it, whether it's even a few weeks or something, because I think that again, as you said, like Cynthia, like people's experiences and thoughts about it can totally change. I do think that there is some value in letting it kind of simmer a little bit for myself. Like I said, I had been a doula for six years. And then I gave birth. And I was like, I cannot believe how painful that was. And I gave birth at home, I had no complications. I had a very long, very long pushing stage. And the day after I was just like, I cannot believe that like that was birth, like, oh my god, that was so intense. And now when I think back on my birth, I'm like, I would change nothing about it. It was awesome. Like, I loved my birth, my birth was awesome, you know, your feelings around that can change. And I ultimately had a positive birth experience. Anytime you would have asked me what it was that a positive birth experience, but like, I have a different view on sort of the difficulty now than I would have immediately after. I think that's really common. I can recall feeling the same way. I had a very long first labor and in the weeks following i for a while thought there's no way I'm ever having another baby. Why would I you know, I don't know. I don't want to go through that again. Yeah, I almost think that nature sort of designs it that way a little bit.

I've had a lot of clients who right when the baby comes out, they're like, I want to do that again. And I just think oh my gosh, that's not at all how I felt. But I had so many clients so many Yeah, they say they want to or don't want to can't wait to go again. I work with a joke right away, I'm ready to have another like it's completely pleasurable, satisfying. In my own first birth. I came out with this like Specter, and I want to emphasize what I'm about to say because what the example I gave earlier of a client who let's say had a cesarean section as I mentioned, we we go through the same process when we've had exactly the birth that we are looking for from the onset, right. You know, in my own birth, I had like the birth that I looked forward to having the whole time But near the end of my labor, my midwives asked me to flip from my hands and knees into the semi reclining position. And I obliged and I tell my clients about this now and I say, you know, I wonder why I obliged. I went from one good position to another good position, but I went from the position I wanted to be in that felt satisfying and right into one that they preferred me to be in. And I always say, why did i oblige? I guess, because I'm polite. Like, I think that's the only answer. And it took a couple of months for that to rise up, you know, you're just lying in bed one night with my eyes open, like, what the heck was that I was on a birthing center. And it's how they shouldn't have asked me to get out of the position I was in, you know, and I remember when I was planning my, my second and my home birth, saying to the midwife, are you going to be cool with me birthing in any position I want, because last time my providers asked me to change in the last in the last stage, and that I don't want to do that this time, I want to birth on my hands and knees. And she was like, yeah, yeah, whatever you want is fine. But like four years later, that was the thing I was holding on to. And I think part of the value of this, this, this program or processing one's birth is also that if we do have another baby, it does all rise up again. It does suppress it, it does rise up. All the suppressed emotions come back, the little comments people make. So are you seeing that that's also making a difference for people?

I think so. And, you know, I think sometimes people are like, you know, write down as much as you can remember, like, right away after birth, so you don't forget it. Definitely. And I think if that's something that somebody like, has the energy to do and wants to do, then they should do it. But also like, you will remember things and their details you can forget. Yeah, like the little time of day or Wait, did we call the midwife first or did I call a doula and sometimes it's, it's nice to remember the little logistical things. And if we get to the deep stuff, something that's like really important to that person, then they should do it, right. But if there's somebody that's like, I want to write a bursary to remember sort of like the emotional map, or journey, then you know, that you call the midwife at like, 205 is not going to be that important, but But you won't forget, like the feeling in your body that you had when you wanted to call the midwife. You know, I think that we that people can also like trust themselves and their memories and their like embodied experience, because birth is a foundational event. We know Penny Simkin always says like, if you ask a woman, an old woman, 50 years later, whatever about her birth, like she will remember she will remember how she was treated. And I think that's so true. Women remember their births, wherever.

They don't always, they don't always remember who was there or they don't always remember the details of things, but they always remember how they were made to feel exact always remember the emotional experience.

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Part of it is like recording and processing the rite of passage that is birth. And I think we don't have many other things in our culture that help us and allow us to do that. Right like we do have you can tell your birth story, whatever. But there's also the expectation when you tell a bursary that it's received or that there's some common or judgment or validation that comes from orally sharing it that doesn't have to be there. If you write it right, like you can just write it for yourself and keep it for yourself. And that's it. Or you can write it to put on your Instagram or write it to share in a home birth group or write it to put in your baby's baby book. It can be whatever you want. But I do think the act of like doing it is powerful and important.

Two quick questions. One, how much time would you say most people invest in writing their birth story are specifically related to the course how much time they would anticipate putting into this daily and overall and secondly, if somebody doesn't do this course, could you give us few pointers to people have just where they could begin a few questions to start with the like, what you definitely want to make sure you document about your birth story if you're just gonna do it on your own.

Yeah, so I think that the course is designed to take like 20 minutes to an hour per day, but you could take more or less, and it's designed to do in seven days, maybe a little bit more, maybe a little bit less. Some advice that I have to people is think outside of the linear timeline of birth, not just something that happened at you know, your water broke at x time and you gave birth at x time. Like if you had a birth photographer, attend your birth, your bursary can be like captions to the photos, right? Like if you if you add a playlist, you can print out your playlist and just write like a couple of sentences under each of the song titles. And that's a birth story, it could be a poem, or it could be a letter to your baby. And that can also be like a really powerful and long lasting like gift rather than just the sort of timeline. You know, when you're reading something, what makes it interesting to read is like details like the sparkling blue eyes, right? The steam rising off the bath, the tub in the birth center. So like, what are some sensory details like that, that you could just like write down in a list? And how can you intertwine those throughout whatever the narrative that you come up with is so it is engaging for somebody to read who isn't you, but also so when you read it, you are like, it does take you back to like the truth of that experience and what your body felt what you saw what you smelled, what you heard, just all of these, like sensory experiences that are so much part of birth, right. Like, we know some people keep their eyes closed their whole labor, right. But I'll always have clients that are like, I could hear your voice saying this one phrase and that was that was like their big Touchstone from their labor was one phrase that I was saying.

You mentioned sometimes you made a comment you mentioned sometimes you make a comment and that becomes the one thing in particular women remember. And you reminded me that in my first birth, it was a very, very short birth so my doula was only there for an hour and a half or so until my baby was born. But I believe she said only one thing the entire labor it's certainly the only thing that we remembered her saying, she said, Look outside Cynthia, the sun is rising. Hmm. And it's just such a beautiful memory for me that that was what she said.

Like, you know, storytelling is like how we make meaning. It's never a good not gonna be part of the human experience. And it's never not going to like matter to us as individuals as parents like as, as children ourselves as family members. Like I just think it's so incredibly powerful. To go back to what you said initially, right? Like when I was thinking of making the course I was like, come on, Carrie. Nobody needs to pay for a class on how to write their bursary. Not everybody wants to dive in or approach their bursary with this level of like mindfulness or intention, but for people who do it's a resource and it's there and I'm and I'm proud and happy that I was able to create this resource for those people and for people who don't, their stories are just as valuable and powerful and they're amazing and I hope we continue to see them on Facebook and Instagram and you know, written in their baby books and and everywhere.

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I'm feeling a little bit emotional about that because I just went to birth last week where I said a similar thing and it was like a difficult long labor and it was it just felt really like hopeful for all of us after the long labor to see this sun rising so much about that.


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About Cynthia Overgard

Cynthia is a published writer, advocate, childbirth educator and postpartum support specialist in prenatal/postpartum healthcare and has served thousands of clients since 2007. 

About Trisha Ludwig

Trisha is a Yale-educated Certified Nurse Midwife and International Board Certified Lactation Counselor. She has worked in women's health for more than 15 years.

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