Last Saturday I attended the Birth Without Fear Boston Meet-up, featuring January Harshe. I wanted to attend the conference to gain insight as to how to be a better support to laboring women. What I got out of the conference was so much more…
The conference began with January giving a detailed account of each of her five births. Each birth story was very different from the last, and only one of her births was as close to a perfectly executed birth plan as she could get. She had me engaged in her every word; I found myself laughing one second, and had tears streaming down my face the next. She really has a way of captivating her audience – even over the gentle yells, cries, and laughter of a room full of happy babies. At one particularly poignant part of her story, I gazed around the room. I was curious to see if other people were as affected by her story as I was. I saw women rubbing their round, pregnant bellies, enthralled; I saw women burying their face in their hands and wiping away tears; I saw women nervously clutching their babies, holding them so close; I saw women who had been through similar struggles, nodding their heads very enthusiastically with a look of pained sympathy as if to say “yup, I remember how terrible that was”. It was quite touching, and a nice vacation from the “mom-bashing” I have seen so much of recently on social media.
After January shared her birth stories, she opened the floor to a Q+A session. After a slow start, moms started opening up about their own experiences, and asking for guidance. As most of the women were local, there were a lot of “I need to get your information at the break” and “we have a support group for that” and “talk to Dr. XYZ about that” and “you have to join the Facebook group ABC” etc. That is another reason why I think this conference was ingenious – because almost everyone was local, we were able to network and find solutions together for specific issues. Well done, January, well done.
After the Q&A we broke for lunch – at which time I introduced myself to Heather from Cookies for Breakfast. I spotted her right away in the morning, but didn’t know how she felt about being approached by her followers. Turns out, she loves it, so feel free to introduce yourself if you see her After I ate I checked out the vendors, grabbed my tea (after ingesting so much red raspberry leaf tea I don’t think it will even be enjoyable again, haha), and started to silently panic about the afternoon session. Why? Because we were about to participate in the Earth Mama Angel Baby Harmony Circle – which is designed for people to be able to share their birth stories in small groups, share why they were at the conference, and squash their fears together in a small, supportive group. So, why the panic? I didn’t have a birth story to share. I couldn’t introduce myself as “Mary, mother of…” and was overwhelmed with pity for myself. I tried to remind myself of why I was there: to gain insight to better support the families I work with. I wondered if that would be enough to get me through the circle; I wondered if I could skip my turn and just be able to focus on everyone else; I wondered if people would think it was weird for me to be there without having any children of my own; I wondered how I was going to get through it. I took a gulp of my tea, which went down like a golf ball, took a deep breath, and headed over to Table 1.
Hearing my table mates’ stories was incredible. While certain people could say “me too” to certain parts of other people’s stories, it was amazing to me how different each experience was. From traumatic miscarriages, to the perfect homebirth, to VBAC accomplishments, to lacking confidence, to feeling alone, to mistreatment in childbirth, to postpartum depression, to trusting instincts, each woman shared her story, and hopefully felt supported by the community. The woman who spoke before me certainly deserved a hug during her story, but I was so paralyzed by my own fear that I just couldn’t make my arms work. It is really my only regret of the day; that my moment of selfishness may have caused a woman to feel less supported than she deserved. So, I decided I was going to skip my turn, that today wasn’t about me, and we were here to support birthing decisions. But then the sandbox was handed to me…
Everything I was going to say suddenly sounded silly in my head. Other women in my circle had already opened up so much, sharing intimate, extremely personal aspects of their life. So, I leapt into my introduction: “Hi, I’m Mary and I am a childless mother”. The simultaneous “awwwww” ran me over like a bull and I fell apart. But, the caring women I was surrounded by instantly picked me back up. On either side of me I had women hugging me; from across the table an encouraging nod to proceed with my story. I was safe here; I had the support of women who had gone through their own struggles. So, I fumbled through a severely condensed version or my story and why I was there, and was very happy to get back into the role of supporting rather than being supported.
When the conference was over my doula friend Jen of The Supported Birth, her daughter, and I waited patiently for our turn to meet Mrs. BWF herself, January. We were of the last three to meet her, and it was so worth the wait. At one point earlier in the day January warned that anyone who stood near her would get pregnant…so naturally I stuck my uterus out as far as it could extend in hopes that I would catch some magical baby dust by standing so close. It was certainly refreshing to speak with someone else so passionate about changing birth for the better, and empowering women during such a joyous yet confusing time.
After the conference, I was able to enjoy some time with my friend, and soak up some sweet, growing, happy baby time. It was a nice decompression after a very emotionally strung day. Jen was able to snap some candid pictures of our time that I will certainly treasure <3
Do you have a birth story to share? Do you want to be supported by local women who have gone through a similar experience? Look for a Birth Without Fear Meet-Up in your area.