It’s a minefield, says Robyn Wilder.
Do talk about your birth if you need to. The physical and emotional act of having a baby is so unlike anything else we experience in life that sometimes we just need to speak about it in order to process what happened. Even if your baby arrived in a scented pool filled with water lilies while cherubs strummed harps on nearby clouds, you may still find yourself, in the following weeks, clutching at strangers and whispering, “He weighed nine pounds. Nine pounds!” Let yourself do this. It is entirely normal, and you will stop doing this eventually.
Don’t steam-roller over a woman who’s telling you about her tricky birth by saying something like, “Well, it all worked out all right in the end” – it might well have worked out for her, and she may now have a lovely baby, but cutting her off or shutting her down may feel as though her experience isn’t valid. And, if you have ever produced a human out of one of your orifices, you may be aware that as experiences go, it’s probably one of the more memorable ones you’ll go through.
Do read the room when telling people about your birth story, though. Is a group of mums wanting to compare experiences? Then go nuts. Is it a bunch of 14 year-old-boys who aren’t even making eye-contact? Maybe stick to the bare bones of the story, and skip the slideshow.
Don’t shame the choices another mum made during labour, or belittle her birth experiences. This sounds fairly basic, but you might be surprised how easily phrases like “Oh, you had a C-section? I was considering it, but I didn’t want to risk not being able to bond properly with the baby” can come tripping off the tongue and cause offence or distress – quite without your intending to.
Do talk about a birth that frightened or overwhelmed you, or just didn’t go the way you wanted. A traumatic birth can affect your mood, cause anxiety, give you flashbacks, and affect how you bond with your baby. But you can recover very effectively – and talking about your experience is key. If you feel this way, talk to your health visitor or GP as you can be treated with counselling and/or medication. Also, many NHS trusts offer a service where you can go through your birth notes with a midwife to understand exactly what happened during your labour, and come to terms with it a bit more. Visit the Birth Trauma Association for more information and support.
Don’t tell a mum-to-be that her birth plan is unrealistic. Again, a fairly basic one, but it’s probably not politic to point out that the baby is unlikely to cut its own umbilical cord, or that her own hair and makeup won’t be on-point for that all-important Instagram shot. As a veteran mother you may want to share your wisdom, but try not to do so unless she genuinely asks for feedback.
Do bodily tackle the woman who was invited to your friend’s baby shower, but then proceeds to hold court, sharing the gory, graphic, stitch-by-stitch details of her episiotomy. You tackle her to the ground before your poor innocent pregnant friend decided to lock herself in a tower and never give birth at all. Be the hero she needs right now.