In one of her recent Monday Power Talks, Kay Gillard focused in on the loss of power that can happen in connection with becoming entangled in other people’s stories. This video is definitely worth a view – especially for doulas as I’d say we are so often the recipients of other people’s stories, and we need to be able to maintain healthy ways of relating to the stories that come to us…and a lot of stories do tend to come to us I think, and we often care about those sharing these stories and the stories they tell us tremendously.
What came up for me in watching this video was actually another common way we lose power through becoming entangled in other people’s stories – when we begin to take on or internalise other people’s stories about us. We’ve talked about this a little already in ‘Can I understand the truth of what happened in my birth from my notes?‘ But actually I think this is just one small part of a bigger issue.
There may be times when we make assumptions about other people’s stories about us, and that can certainly bring a loss of personal power. That’s not what I’m talking about here. There are times when other people have powerful stories about us that are at odds with our own stories about ourselves – and a real danger if we start to internalise and act on those stories.
I suspect I’m not the only doula to see this played out in the lives of my clients in various ways – with medical care providers (Michel Odent of course has a name for talking about an aspect of this in terms of antenatal care – the nocebo effect), but also with often well-meaning family and friends. Often this comes into play when a woman’s personal or instinctive choice about her body, her baby or her birth is at odds with the standard care provided or with what other people feel is right for her. The problem is, so often she can feel isolated (or certainly in a minority!) with regard to her truth and her story.
In pregnancy, in birth, in the postnatal period we are in a particularly open state. This is simply part of the nature and mystery of this time in our lives – this openness can be really beautiful and transformative. But it brings with it a real vulnerability to those around us, to what is said or suggested, to what stories are told. The social and institutional pressures to conform, to reframe our stories through the dominant lens are considerable.
I know from my own experience how easy it is to take these stories in, to hear for example how at 42+ weeks gestation you are risking the life of your baby by continuing the pregnancy – only typically it’s said as “You know your baby has a much higher risk of being stillborn. Are you willing to take responsibility for your baby’s death?” I know what it is like to have this voice from a care provider (who in the guise of informed consent is more than anything else, motivated by fear, is seeking a guarantee that s/he not be held liable for any bad outcome) pierce an inner knowing and certainty about what is right for this baby and for this birth. I know how this feels so very different to knowing within that every birth carries us close to death, that birth is about more than walking away alive, and having made a choice about that. It is different, it isolates even the strongest and most confident mothers. (Of course pregnancy and birth can carry difficult choices and care providers must discuss these with women – but there is a skillful way of speaking with mothers about these issues, and the above example isn’t it.) So a mother who has made an informed choice to carry on her pregnancy til it’s natural conclusion, having balanced the risk of this with the risks of induction, will carry this story of a mother deliberately endangering her baby against medical advice UNLESS she is able to release it. (By the way my baby was born absolutely healthy and well in a quick, undisturbed labour at home at 43 weeks with no signs of post-term issues.)
Yet when we internalise these stories, and so often we do, we risk having our own stories alter or even be lost as a result. We risk making choices that are not right for us or our babies – we risk losing ourselves and our power. And because of this, it is so, so important to connect every day with our own stories, our own truths.
I think also at times of vulnerability, it is pretty much essential to connect with others who can bear witness to our personal stories without investment in our choices and without projecting their own stories onto us. This is really one of the primary roles of a doula, in my view – and a skill that as doulas we need to cultivating, that of listening, bearing witness, of validating a woman’s place at the centre of her own experience. Seeing her, hearing her so that she can chose for herself according to what is needed in her situation whatever that may be. Being willing to be present with her along her path whatever comes along the way and whatever the outcome (which is in all truth beyond any of us to control or guarantee).
When a woman (or any of us) can get to the point of saying, “Yes, I can see this other person’s story about me. I can acknowledge that person’s perspective” but not let that story ensnare her or overcome her own story- that is a powerful act. When she can do this, when she does do this, often everything begins to shift around her.
It’s not an easy process. It’s not always straightforward. But it is so worth it.
Are you currently caught up in other people’s stories about you or finding it hard to reconnect with your own story, your own truth? Write, connect with friends or a doula who can really listen to your story – and if you feel need more help in extracting yourself from unhelpful stories, past or present, do get in touch to learn more about a Birth Story Healing Session. These interactive sessions can work powerfully and effectively to help you release from the unhelpful stories and connections so that you can recentre yourself. I’m always happy to chat so if you’d like to learn more, do contact me for a free consultation.
If you are a new or aspiring doula who’d like to learn more about how to work with women in this way, ask me about the forthcoming ‘Deepening into Birthwork’ programme that is launching in 2013 - I’ll put you on the list to be the first to know the details!
Mothers, doulas tell me your stories! Please share in the comments below your experiences of how other people’s stories about you have impacted you in pregnancy, birth or parenting. I know it is a BIG topic – do share below, or get in touch!