Why Birth Stories Matter

Of the many things I hope to pass on to my daughters, first among them is an arrival story -- like the one my mother told to me.
holding newborn baby

Ocean Photography/ Veer

I came into the world with a story to tell. Courtesy of my mother, my tale is a thriller, a farce, and an historical drama all rolled into one. She relayed it to me so often during my childhood that I can reel off its details like the Pledge of Allegiance.

The story begins after a family dinner late in my mother's pregnancy with me. My grandmother served apple pie. She teasingly warned about indigestion. "When you go home tonight," she cracked, "don't mistake the apple pie for labor pains!"

My mother went home and did exactly that. This error in judgment cost her several hours, until the terrifying moment when she realized that the Time to Leave for the Hospital had come and gone. She and my dad would have to hustle.

Did my young, hippie father grab his keys and lead her to their car, replete with fuel and a thoughtfully packed overnight bag in the trunk? Of course not! He took a shower. Then he got dressed in a three-piece suit. ("To meet the baby," he explained.) By the time he'd finished getting ready, my mother's contractions had grown intense. He would have to dress her.

At this point in her telling, my mother would shake her head and roll her eyes extravagantly at me. What outfit did he choose for her hospital trip? A mini-dress. Knee-high socks. And platform shoes, naturally.

The drive to the hospital was like a road-trip scene in an indie movie. They had to pick up my Aunt Barbara, a maternity nurse, and my grandmother, who would babysit Aunt Barbara's children that night. When my grandmother got out of the car, she stood there praying the longest prayer that anyone has ever prayed. (Trust my mother on this.)

Then came the stop at the gas station, because the car's tank was a hollow, echoing cavern. After the fuel attendant had finished with the transaction, he offered my father the station's giveaway item of the week: a commemorative glass could be theirs if they held tight while he ambled back inside the station to fetch it. My father was happy to wait.

Finally, following a nick-of-time arrival at the hospital, came the triumphant ending: me in the world.

Each time my mother recounted the events of that night to me, I soaked them up and learned from her story. I learned nothing less than who I was and how I fit into the world. On the one hand, I was a child so treasured that my arrival was worth describing again and again. At the same time, the story wasn't really about me; I only appeared at the finale. The lead characters were my parents and other family members. My narrative came out of theirs—their love, their humor, and their foibles. "You are precious and beloved," my mother might have said. "And also, you are not the center of the universe." Isn't that what every child needs to know?

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