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(33) Your Birth Story with Virginia

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I’ve been meaning to cover this topic for over a year. It focuses on one of the most impactful parts of our parenthood journey – our baby’s birth, the story, and what we tell ourselves about that story – the meaning we give it. My guest, Virginia Bobro, offers her expert insight into the nuances of our birth events and stories, and the potential pitfalls of sharing these raw stories with others. Have you ever shared your birth story and felt worse after doing so? You’re not alone. Virginia and I talk about the polarizing effect of telling birth stories without guidance, how birth regret differs from birth trauma, and how our birth stories are ever-changing inside of us. We also discuss how our agreements about our birth set the stage for how we mother, and the truth about empowerment and activism. We also give lots of suggestions and specific questions to ask yourself if you want a new relationship with your birth story so you can free yourself from narrow-minded self-judgment. Yeah, so this episode might feel like a mini therapy session that again, goes along with my belief that a well-timed conversation can change your life.

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Brandy:                   Hello, Adult Conversation Podcast listeners. Today’s episode is one that I’ve been meaning to bring to you for over a year. It covers one of the most impactful parts of our parenthood journey: our baby’s birth, the birth story, and more importantly, how we relate to that story. What are we telling ourselves about those events? My guest today, who was one of my very first birth work mentors, Virginia Bobro, offers her expert insight into the nuances of our birth events and stories and the potential pitfalls of sharing these raw stories with others. Have you ever shared your birth story and felt worse after doing so? Yeah, you’re not alone. Virginia and I talk about the polarizing effect of telling birth stories without guidance, how birth regret differs from birth trauma, and how our birth stories are ever changing inside of us. We also discuss how our agreements about birth set the stage for how we mother, and the truth about empowerment (hint, it doesn’t come from getting what you wanted). And we also give lots of suggestions and specific questions to ask yourself if you want a new relationship with your birth story, so you can feel free from the narrow-minded self-judgment that is not serving you. This episode might feel like a mini therapy session that, again, goes with my belief that a well-timed conversation can change your life.

Brandy:                   I know that we’ve all had to give up important things in our life right now, and grieve them. One of the things that I’ve had to let go of is having a normal book launch –something I’ve been working towards for years. This pandemic has taken the wind out of my sails and shifted my focus in terms of marketing my book, but I know that stories matter. They build bridges to one another, especially during tough times, and I wrote this book as a bridge to other moms – that’s where the whole thing started. In the spirit of that, in just two weeks, May 5th, I have a book coming out, and it’s already available for preorder! It’s called Adult Conversation: A Novel. It’s a darkly comedic novel about the relentlessness of modern motherhood where the main character seeks an answer to the question, “Is motherhood broken, or am I?” After a series of mom wins and failures, she and her therapist end up on a Thelma-and-Louise-style road trip to Vegas, where they are tempted and tested while finding lost pieces of themselves that motherhood swallowed up. If you are enjoying the podcast, chances are you’ll love the book too – especially right now while you’re likely with your kids 24/7 and might need some validation, humor, and a wild trip to Vegas (in your mind). You can buy my book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, and Bookshop, which supports local bookstores. You can also go to my website,, to find out all about it. Lastly, for those of you who have book clubs, or who want to start a virtual book club, and you choose my book as one of your reads, I am happy to virtually show up and lead a book discussion with your group. I’m also happy to host the call on Zoom if you feel like you can organize the rest. Basically, I can’t do any in-person events right now, so I’m at your service for anything virtual… anything! (Maybe not anything) {laughter} Go to, email me, and we will work out the details together. Oh, my God, finally.. onto the show —

Brandy:                   Today on the podcast, I have with us someone who I trained under in birth work. She’s been in the perinatal health field for twenty-five years, and she’s done things ranging from lactation consultant work to doula work and childbirth education. She spent the last twelve years training doulas and doing work that tries to mitigate trauma and disappointment in the childbearing year. This person is also a huge mentor of mine, the amazing Virginia Bobro. Welcome, Virginia.

Virginia:                 Hi, Brandy. Glad to be here.

Brandy:                   Yeah, I’m so happy to have you here. There are so many things that you and I could talk about. You’ve been doing this important and deep work for so long that even the most mundane things to you are life changing to people who haven’t heard it. I’m thrilled to have you here today to share you with my listeners. No pressure, but you have to deliver this huge medicine to everybody today. {laughter}

Virginia:                 {laughter} I’ll do my best.

Brandy:                   I remember the first birth-related workshop that I ever took, and it was from you. I think my son was about three years old. I was still fairly new at this motherhood thing, and the things you were saying blew my mind because I came in with this mindset of, “We should all strive to get a natural birth.” I was very much in that outcome-focused headspace, and you and your philosophies beat that shit right out of me in about three days’ time. And, I mean, you nicely beat it out of me. {laughter} I, honestly, had a complete mental shift in how I saw birth and parenting since the moment I met you, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Virginia                   Well, I couldn’t have done it for anybody else if I hadn’t gone through that same shift myself. I, of course, as a new mom was very into attachment-parenting and breastfeeding. I was pretty dogmatic and rigid in what I thought being a good mother meant, and I, equally, had that shit beat out of me by my mentor, Pam England. {laughter} It’s part of a lineage. I had to go through that transition and change of heart of giving more compassion to myself for making mistakes, for not doing things perfectly, and not striving so much for a specific outcome or result in my children. I can see now, looking back, (my children are all in their twenties and graduating from college) that there were definitely aspects of my parenting where I was very rigid. I was pretty attached to things being a certain way and controlling, and I don’t think that was good for me. It wasn’t good for them. I don’t think it was the overarching experience of their childhood, but it’s certainly something that came into play. I feel like my own growth and development as a human being was around this attachment and wanting things to be a certain way. A lot of the suffering that I’ve had in my life has been because I couldn’t let go of a fantasy or a hope or an ideal of the way things should be.

Brandy:                   Yeah, I feel like parenthood gives us all the opportunity to really examine that, if we are open enough to doing so. It definitely tests what our agreements are and attachments and all of those things. It’s beautiful in the way that you talk about it, like it’s this lineage. You had it beat out of you, then you beat it out of me, and then, maybe, I’ve beaten it out of a couple people. It’s this beautiful beating. It’s this beautiful abuse. {laughter}

Virginia:                 Yeah. {laughter}

Brandy:                   But, you know, it’s good. It’s definitely a good thing. I’m so much less of an asshole now. {laughter}

Virginia:                 {laughter} I agree. I feel the same way, and my grounding isn’t solution-focused thinking. I like to think about the “moving towards” rather than “moving away.” My metaphor, instead of the “beating it out of me” might be just the breadcrumbs: the little nuggets of self-compassion and understanding and nuanced-thinking — these little crumbs that were laid out for me from my teachers.

Brandy:                   There are so many things that we could discuss today. I feel like this is another one of those podcasts that could really be a five-day summit.

Virginia:                 {laughter}

Brandy:                   Today, we’re going to focus on talking about the aftermath of birth, our birth stories, and the medicine many — probably all of us — need around it. But before we get to that, what is something the listeners need to know about you?

Virginia:                 Well, I think that my path, before I got into birth work and before I became a parent, is really important because it still filters through every aspect of how I see the world, see myself, and how I work with my students and colleagues, which is that I’m a quilter. As a quilter, I am not a “use a pattern, use a ruler, follow the rules” kind of quilter at all, so I think there’s some sort of parallel there with how I see birth. I take all these different fabrics, cut them up, rip them up, rearrange them, rearrange them again, and kind of use my intuition to create something unique and beautiful and practical out of something very ordinary. Something very special comes out of that, and as a process quilter, I think of myself as an intuitive or improvisational or process quilter. It’s one of those places where I can really let go of rules, and that’s a place where a lot of quilters are very attached to their rules and their patterns and getting perfect points and making everything very straight. For me, it’s the place where I’m not down with that. I like quilts that are wobbly and asymmetrical that nobody else could recreate it. It’s just something that only I could have made at that particular moment of my life.

Brandy:                   I love this idea of process quilting, which I think can extend into process crafting. It’s such a metaphor for all that you have taught me and what we’re going to talk about, which is not the outcome-focus and not the shiny prize at the end, but the process of it. I wonder how many listeners out there have similar crafts or hobbies or artwork that they like to do that has this same vibe about it — the no rules and the no straight lines.

Virginia:                 Well, there’s something that’s really about risk taking, I think, because —

Brandy:                   {laughter} Sorry, but – risky – quilting has never been riskier than right now!

Virginia:                 {laughter} Right! Got the sharp objects. There’s an iron. You never know what’s going to happen.

Brandy:                   {laughter} There’s batting.

Virginia:                 {laughter} Well, by risk, I guess I meant the emotional risk, which I know you know that.

Brandy:                   Ah, yes. {laughter}

Virginia:                 But, you know, seeing the perfect cake on Pinterest or Instagram and wanting to recreate something that somebody else has already done. That’s a way to learn things, of course, through imitation and reproduction, but it’s a starting point. I think just like with parenting, we start with an idea of what we want to do, but then real life teaches us and our children teach us that we have to improvise. We have to figure things out. We have to change our plan. For a lot of moms, maybe crafts are a way to reign in that unpredictability and say, “I’m going to control it. I need exactly four popsicle sticks, or I need exactly this. I’m going to make it look exactly like this picture because I can be in control of that when all hell is breaking loose around me.”

Brandy:                   That’s exactly where my mind goes. I’m like, “Why would I do crafting that’s risky when it feels like parenting is risky?”

Virginia:                 Well, your time is precious, too, if you’re a mom with a bunch of little kids. You don’t have the luxury of having a whole day to go off the deep end and spend your precious alone time coming out with a disaster of glue and glitter.

Brandy:                   Right, on a quilting bender – a three-day quilting bender. {laughter}

Virginia:                 Right! I’ve done that! {laughter} I’ve done that, I will say.

Brandy:                   Our topic today about processing our births is expansive. Where do we start? Do we feel like “trauma” and that word is a place to start, or is there somewhere different you think we should start?

Virginia:                 Trauma is a hot topic. It’s kind of a buzzword right now. It’s in health and wellness circles. People use the word a lot. There’s something really liberating about that. It’s helping to lift some of the shame that people have around bad things that have happened to them in their life and focus on ways to understand it. I think that’s all good. I think there are some limitations to pigeonholing and labeling when we’re talking about birth, at least, because in a clinical sense, something’s traumatic if somebody has a diagnosable illness of PTSD. They’re exhibiting a certain number or range of symptoms, and it’s diagnosed by a therapist or psychologist. I think, for sure, there are 10% to 15% of women who have clinically diagnosable PTSD symptoms after their birth experience. But the number of women who say, “I had a traumatic birth,” are about 50% to 60% depending on where and when and how the study was done. It’s a pretty high number.

Brandy:                   Yeah.

Virginia:                 It’s just like when people use the word “pain” when they talk about childbirth. I really like to do that dive into, “Well, what do you mean by pain?” What are all the different kinds of intense sensations or experiences that someone might experience in childbirth that might not actually fall under that category of pain? There’s a lot of intensity, but that isn’t necessarily pain. I feel the same way around birth – there are a lot of really, really negative experiences that people have had around birth – either giving birth themselves as a parent, or watching their partner give birth, or being there as a mother or a sister or as a healthcare provider or nurse or doula – that not all of them have to be traumatic. It’s almost like our feelings around birth, our negative feelings around birth, aren’t valid unless we can say they’re traumatic. Somehow trauma gives us this permission to talk about it and be taken seriously in our negative feelings. I think it’s sort of a cultural influence on how we think about who’s allowed to feel unhappy, who’s allowed to be angry, who is allowed to have regret or guilt or shame. We don’t have to have trauma to have a legitimate negative feeling about our birth. It’s something about legitimizing being able to talk about a bad birth story. If we call it traumatic people will listen, and people will pay attention.

Brandy:                   You just gave me chills talking about that because I think you just hit the nail right on the head. All of those other things that you’re talking about that I want to get into, such as the regret and the betrayal and grief and all of these things, we don’t see those as a justifiable reason to feel negative feelings about our birth. We probably assume that if we speak up about those things, we’re whiners or we’re not strong. I think you’re exactly right that we lump everything into trauma. This one word that has to encompass all of these things because we want it to be valid when, in fact, there are so many different subsets of trauma or maybe even something slightly different. I think it’s so important for us to understand those pieces and to value them, but I think we can’t value them until we name them.

Virginia:                 Absolutely. Trauma is in the eye of the beholder. I don’t believe that a clinical provider or mental health professional has to diagnose someone with PTSD symptoms for that person to totally, righteously, and firmly say, “I had a traumatic birth.” That is up to each individual human being to say their truth around that. You can’t say whether somebody else is traumatized or allowed to be traumatized. I just wanted to make that really clear. The symptoms and diagnoses are not important to me. I’m not a therapist. Those things aren’t important to me. What’s important to me is, like the fabric for my quilt, is like, “Let’s cut these things apart a little bit. Let’s take apart your birth. Let’s take apart all these different pieces. Which is the part you want to work on first? Which is the part that feels closest to the surface that’s most negatively impacting your life right now or is most on your mind or the part you don’t understand or the part you’re really angry about? Let’s begin to take it apart and unravel the different parts of the story.” Often, we find that, yes, there was one part where this person may have had physiological trauma or emotional trauma. Something really, really scary happened to them, and there were many, many other moments and aspects of their birth. All of these different emotions and physical sensations and memories, they’re all layered over each other in a birth story. Even the idea of being able to tell someone your birth story, to me, now, almost feels absurd.

Brandy:                   Yeah.

Virginia:                 Because it’s like, “Well, what is a birth story?” Let’s look at the language that we’re using to even talk about birth. That meta conversation is, “How are we going to have a conversation about birth?” I think the language that we’re using to talk about birth and birth stories and what happened and our feelings is really, really important. A really essential part of our emotional intelligence is actually having the words to express exactly what is it that happened, what I felt then, and what I’m feeling now.

Brandy:                   That’s a hard thing to do because we aren’t in touch with those different feelings. Also, I think one of the biggest pitfalls of sharing birth stories is that you have a bunch of wounded people who are sharing their stories from a wounded place. If you don’t have somebody there, like you, to help facilitate the conversation — I mean, even if you do, as we know, it’s still tricky to have that conversation. But when you have people who are listening from a wounded place and who are going to speak from a wounded place, it’s almost like this mush pot of re-wounding that happens over and over again. It’s hard because we want to be able to share these stories and have real dialogue about the events and our feelings, yet, a lot of times, we don’t know how to quite do that so that we’re not coming from just a wounded place.

Virginia:                 Yeah, and I think we all, as human beings, have lived life for a few decades, and we all have wounds. We’re all wounded in some way, but I think what you’re really tuning into is the telling of raw birth stories. Birth stories that haven’t actually really been fully understood, not that we can actually fully understand them, but that haven’t had the time to really reflect on the story, the events of the story, and what happened to them as well as what happened within them. Mothers, particularly, learn the template for how to share a birth story from the people who went just before them: the people who gave birth three months ago or a year ago. They’re sharing their stories within a few days of giving birth on social media or in new mothers’ circles or what have you. They’re pretty raw.

Brandy:                   Yeah.

Virginia:                 Those stories are really important. I don’t want to invalidate them at all. They’re super important stories. It’s a really tender, crucial aspect of the emergence of a birth story is in those first few weeks when there maybe isn’t really a totally clear, linear narrative of the story. We don’t really know exactly what happened. We’re still really making sense of it. We’re, also, totally sleep deprived and trying to learn how to take care of a baby and breastfeed and everything else. It’s kind of hard to really process a life changing event when you’re sleep deprived and learning a whole new job. The process of integration is, I think, more delayed than it can be with other big life changing processes or events. But even so, when you think back on the really important things that have happened in your life like breakups, job loss, someone you know dying, an accident, or a big sudden change in your life that was negative, do you understand what just happened when it just happened like a month or two months or three months later? Very often it takes us a year or two or three to have some distance and perspective on what that thing was. And what did it mean?

Brandy:                   And it changes.

Virginia:                 Of course, it totally changes, and it has to change because any big challenge or change or crisis in our life, it changes us. We’re changing as we’re also integrating the story. The “I” who is telling the story isn’t even the same “I” that experienced it.

Brandy:                   Yeah, and I noticed a phenomenon when my son was born. You’re kind of starved for adult conversation, and maybe in your inner circle you have people who have real rigid beliefs around birth whether that be, “You should always go natural,” or, “I would never go natural. You should always get the epidural.” It doesn’t feel like a safe place where you could really share what happened to you without somebody going, like, “Oh, well, why didn’t you just get the epidural?” Or, you know, “Why did why did you get the epidural?” I remember finding myself pushing my son in a swing. He was like six-months-old at the park, and it’s just crazy how quickly the conversations go to this because we’re all dying to process this and to talk about it. We’ve all just been through this life changing thing, but then here you are next to a stranger, pushing your baby on a swing, talking about your birth, and it’s almost like people talk at each other instead of with each other. I remember having conversations where it’s almost like I felt like I could step away from the conversation and this person would still be talking. It was like they just had to vomit it out.

Virginia:                 Yeah, they just pressed the download button, and you just happened to be standing there.

Brandy:                   Yeah, exactly. And then for the person on the receiving end, it almost feels like they just press their button and say all their things back and have this very medicalized story a lot of the time that is really void of the meaning behind it or how you got through it. It’s more like, “Well, at 2:00pm, I was this many centimeters dilated, and then we did this,” and it’s this very dysfunctional, robotic sort of scene. I just remember having that scene over and over for quite a while until I got into birth work. I didn’t quite understand what that was because you think, “Oh, when I talk about my birth story or I’m sharing it with another mom, that should feel cathartic or relieving or somehow validating,” and yet it rarely feels that way. It never felt that way to me until I started doing the work that you taught and the birth work that I did. I was never in a situation where somebody was actually listening without their own agenda related to this, and I think that’s so hard to find out in the world unless people have been actually trained in it.

Virginia:                 Yes, it’s like everything around life, but I work in birth so I’ll keep it to birth. Our human nature is to just distill and simplify and have rules and learn how to be black and white. People ask me all the time, “Well, just tell me what to do to have a good birth story circle group, or just tell me how to heal from my birth. Just tell me how to not feel traumatized by my birth.” It’s like, “Well, we need to go back. There’s a lot of aspects to this.” There’s a time and a place for a support group where people who have a shared experience that was traumatic or scary can get together and feel connected and understood and heard. The way to do that is not actually through letting everybody tell their entire story from beginning to end without any interruption or guidance because, often, the people will just tell their story in a sort of recited way or way that they’ve been telling it for months or years. It doesn’t mean their story is wrong or doesn’t deserve to be shared or heard or told, it’s just that we have to hold on to that thought of, “Well, if everyone else in the room also had a traumatic or negative birth experience, how are they able to hold this person’s story if they’re all still traumatized or raw or haven’t come to some level of understanding or insight or resolution of some sort?” It’s very hard for someone who’s in a negative mental state to hold somebody else’s story because there can be triggers, of course, if something similar happened or if something very different happened. I mean, it’s frought with landmines. There’s just so many ways it can go wrong is how I think about. Especially when you’re talking about new mothers who are already vulnerable and under-supported and sensitive and immune suppressed and sleep deprived, they’re so vulnerable as it is that I really want to hold that reverence for that tender place and say, “Well, what does somebody really need when they’re in that space, and they’re still struggling to come to terms with what happened in their birth because it can still be impacting their life?” Especially, if they had one thing after another in their birth — the baby has to be taken away for whatever reason, they don’t get to breastfeed, they’re recovering from surgery and there’s a delayed physical attachment breastfeeding is difficult. They may still be struggling with the repercussions of their birth at one year with their physical healing. The birth story is still alive in them. The birth story doesn’t end. It isn’t something that ends when the baby comes out.

Brandy:                   Yes.

Virginia:                 It’s like the story continues because we’re often still living the story for months or years even afterwards because our body is still recovering. We’re parenting this child who’s a part of the story. It’s alive. It’s still alive. I think it takes a certain kind of perspective and sensitivity of thinking about, “Well, what is it that somebody needs to understand their birth?” I think that being bombarded by a bunch of other moms telling their stories in an unguided way is –

Brandy:                   Terrorism? {laughter} A version of terrorism?

Virginia:                 It’s hit and miss, right? You could form a really deep bond and connection and trust with somebody if the chemistry or the personalities or the maturity level of the people involved are a good fit. It absolutely can create really magical connections and friendships, which is, as you were saying, so important for new parents who can feel isolated and not understood in their experiences. But there’s also just as much of a risk of a mom coming into — I mean, this is my experience from early La Leche League meetings that I went to — is seeing the polarization in the group when everybody is there because they want to breastfeed and they have that in common. But you have someone who’s had three beautiful home births and is carrying her silent baby in a sling, and everything’s so easy for her. She starts talking about how home birth is so great. Then here’s a mom who’s two months postpartum, had a cesarean after an induction and all these things, she can’t really hear that story. She can’t connect with that positive intention of that mom who is raving about natural birth or her positive birth experiences. The mom with that cesarean may feel like she has to defend her decisions, or she may withdraw and never come back. The risk goes on where the women who have empowering or positive birth experiences feel that they can’t share them because they’re going to upset people who had a difficult birth. The people with difficult births feel like they can’t share them because people won’t understand it or they’ll be judged. There’s a lot of shame swapping that’s happening silently behind the scenes.

Brandy:                   Yes.

Virginia:                 I think that’s where, talking about “how are we going to talk about birth stories” is so important. I feel like that about almost every topic like, “Before we talk about sex, let’s talk about how we’re going to talk about sex.” Or like recently with my partner, “Before we start talking about politics, let’s talk about how we’re going to talk about politics.” {laughter}

Brandy:                   {laughter} Right.

Virginia:                 Have the bigger conversation about how we are going to communicate around these important but fraught topics. Let’s have a conversation about how we talk about birth stories before we actually start sharing the birth stories. Let’s name some things that might come up for people or some guidelines or some questions for yourself to think about and reflect on your story. I always think the best birth story sharing is one where the person shares it in a way that they’ve never shared it before, and they surprise themselves with how they talk about their birth because I’ve never talked about it in quite that way before. You kind of have to set that up a little bit as a listener, whether it’s an individual person or it’s as a doula with someone or a client who wants to talk about their last birth before we start planning for their new birth or it’s in a group or even with a bunch of birth workers. I’m definitely in lots of environments where there’s a bunch of doulas swapping birth stories, and I always want to say, “Let’s talk about some ways to think about your story before you share a part of it.” To me, that feels so magical and so essential because then we’re setting everyone up to discover something new in the sharing, and it’s not just about swapping stories to see who suffered the most or who made the best decisions or who got luckiest.

Brandy:                   Right. I love the idea of — and this is something that I learned in the training with you at these circles that I would host as well — I would love to ask people, “In the sharing of your part of your story today, can you share with us a moment when you didn’t think you could keep going, and you did – and then how you did that?”

Virginia:                 Yeah.

Brandy:                   It’s like everybody kind of malfunctions for a minute, “But I want to tell you about why when I was five centimeters at 2:00pm and then by 5:00pm…” They want to just be like, “But I was going to press the play button and download.” It’s like you immediately scramble them, and then they have to look at their birth. In that sharing, it’s hard for there to be judgment and it’s hard to suss out who did what. I think what you’re talking about is so right with these positive birth stories, too, is that you get people for whom things were pretty straightforward, and they come into a room and they’ve got judgment. Most of the time, they come from a judgy place because what happens is because things were smooth for them, most people (and I only know this because I was one of these assholes) – most of the time you make it like, “Well, it was smooth for me because I made this choice and because I did this right.” You no longer have the idea that birth has things happen to you that are lucky or unlucky. I know in our training, we talk about the “birth fairy,” which is just this outside of us, the universe, God, however, that sprinkles a certain amount of “dust” on you and makes your birth you know, harder, easier, whatever. But when you come from this place of things going well, it’s so easy to attach that, “Well, I’m the reason they went well because I made these choices.” It’s hard, in that place, to listen to someone’s story about having an induction or a cesarean and for that person who had the positive experience to not be like, “Oh, well, you shouldn’t have let them do an induction.”

Virginia:                 Yeah.

Brandy:                   It’s so gross, and I know it so well that I think that we don’t realize that pitfall, too, from that place. Let’s say you see a flyer or a Facebook Event that’s like, “Let’s all share our birth stories!” The people who are wounded are thinking to themselves, “Well, maybe I can finally talk about this, and maybe other people had a similar experience.” And then you have the assholes going, “Yes, I can’t wait to go share all the things that I did right.” I just see a dumpster fire.

Virginia:                 It’s a train wreck.

Brandy:                   Yes!

Virginia:                 I mean, it’s a train wreck depending on how it’s moderated because if the person who’s holding it and running it is wanting to share how great midwifery care is or how great home birth is and has any kind of agenda, then that’s going to influence how they hold space for these different stories. Even when we say, “Here’s a good birth story,” and “Here’s a bad birth story,” I think that is also barking up the wrong tree.

Brandy:                   Right.

Virginia:                 A birth in which a lot of hard, scary things happened, that we didn’t want to have happen, could still have moments or elements in it of, like you were talking about, triumph or perseverance, a sense of connection with ourselves or our body or our baby or relief that it’s over.

Brandy:                   Yeah.

Virginia:                 I mean, there can definitely be positive experiences within a negative experience because a birth story is many, many, many events all close together and touching, but it’s not just one event. And same within a birth with a “good” outcome is that someone could actually feel very conflicted or have negative memories or experiences within a birth that was “perfect” from the outside. It’s like if we categorize births as based on their medical outcome, their birth location, whether the baby was healthy or not, whether there was pain medication or not, who the birth attendant was — that’s what we think of as the end of the birth story. We just are focused on the plot and the linear events of the story, and we’re missing 90% of the story.

Brandy:                   Right.

Virginia:                 But people think that sharing a birth story is sharing the plot, rather than sharing the story. If you read a summary of — I don’t know, what’s your favorite movie?

Brandy:                   Umm, Tommy Boy. {laughter}

Virginia:                 Pick a favorite movie and read the two-sentence summary of it. Did you experience that? Do you have an understanding of what that movie was like when you just see a plot summary?

Brandy:                   No.

Virginia:                 It’s really, really different than watching a movie and seeing how things are connected and the cinematography and the soundtrack and all the different nuances of it. Not saying that people should take as long to tell their birth story as it took to happen, because that would really be a whole different kind of train wreck, but, for sure, there’s like, “What about the theme? What’s the theme of the birth story? What’s changed? How has there been character development?” That’s the part of the birth story that’s so interesting and unique, even if the events of the birth are similar. When we just think about birth as how they happened, how they turned out, or what decisions were made, we’re missing so much depth and potential for connecting with each other through our shared story, listening, storytelling. But that’s where the connection can happen through our birth stories when we stop focusing on how it turned out or medical decisions that were made or what you wanted and didn’t want. Like you were saying, “What was a moment when you struggled? What was your favorite moment? What surprised you the most about your birth?”

Brandy:                   Right, I love that one.

Virginia:                 “What was something that happened that you just couldn’t have possibly expected that to happen? What made you laugh or was very funny, but based on things that happened later, you even forgot about it?”

Brandy:                   Right. It’s more of this Hero’s Journey kind of stuff. If we’re talking about it in terms of a story, and the birthing person is the main character, “How did you come out of this differently? What did you learn that you that you didn’t know before?” When I think our birth stories can be medicine for each other, those are the moments for me that are so valuable. Where you can really look at somebody and go like, “Holy shit! How did you do that?” And you don’t even need know, “Did you have a cesarean? Did you have an epidural? Did you not?” It’s just like distilled down to that character change. And then, “What do you walk away with? How do you live your life differently having been through that experience?” All of that, to me, is so rich. But it’s funny because in the beginning, I was all about the like, “What choices did you make? What did it look like?” And it’s like, “No, the juice and the medicine and the human connectedness is in these other pieces that we’re not talking about most of the time.”

Virginia:                 Absolutely. There are so many forces at work in any one birth. It’s happening in a body that’s been around for twenty or thirty plus years. That body has experienced a lot of things before it got pregnant. It’s happening in the in the heart and the psyche of someone who’s learned all kinds of things through their lifetime. They’ve had all kinds of different experiences. The baby itself is created from genetic material that’s been passed down. Then you bring in the doctor or the nurse, the partner, the mother, the grandmother, and they’re all interacting with this physiological emotional process. To think that we could have the arrogance to say, “Well, it’s because I made a birth plan, it’s because I did all the Spinning Babies protocol, it’s because I said my positive mantras, or it’s because I trusted my doctor.” To wrap up the whole story with this sort of, “This is why that happened,” is —

Brandy:                   Yes, the audacity to think that we know why it happened.

Virginia:                 Yeah, because we can’t. I know science is trying to figure it out. We know more about why certain births go certain ways, and how to fix things that aren’t optimal, than we did a hundred years ago, and more mothers and babies are surviving because of it. But I don’t think we can suck all the mystery out of birth.

Brandy:                   That’s so true. I want to talk a minute about some of the things that we mentioned at the beginning, because I think the listeners will really relate to them. We had talked about some of these feelings that are more specific than just trauma. I want to go through a couple of these and just talk briefly about each of them — regret in birth. Can you talk a little bit about your experience with mentoring people through regret in birth, and how that’s different from trauma and how prevalent regret in birth is.

Virginia:                 Yeah. Well, I think for women, particularly, we’re socialized around regret and guilt and second-guessing ourselves. A lot of it does come from being outcome-focused, so we have regret when we think, “If only I made a different decision, I would have had a different outcome.” Our mind crawls back through the story trying to find the little decision trees, you know, “Where did the path divide?” Those little splits in the pathway, in our memory, are where those little markers for regret are put down that our mind picks up on and revisits over and over again. It’s like, “What if I hadn’t done that? What if I had waited longer? What if I had waited longer to go to the hospital, for instance? What if I waited longer to get the epidural, or what if I waited longer to get the induction?” Because the outcome of the birth wasn’t what they hoped for or worked for, then it’s just so easy to go back and second-guess ourselves like, “I wish I’d known then what I know now.” It’s such a human thing to do. Of course, there can be a functional, positive aspect to that. That’s why we’re wired to do it, because humans are wired for learning. The wiring there is, “If I know what mistake I made before, then I can learn from it, and then I will won’t make that mistake again.” Regret is sort of linked to protecting ourselves next time.

Brandy:                   But the fallacy with that – and I would say this birth regret came up in almost every session I’ve ever done with people on birth story healing work and all that stuff – is I always like to show the flip side of it. In your case, when you’re talking about, “Maybe had I waited to go to the hospital…” It’s like, “Okay, well, let’s play that scenario out. What if you did wait and it was too late, and you ended up having your baby in the car, which may not be the thing that you want to do.” It’s flipping it to, “Let’s say you got your wish, and you did that thing. And then this other thing happened that isn’t what you wanted, you’d be sitting here going, ‘I should have gone. I should have gone to the hospital.’” So when we see it from these two different ways, when we’re really sitting in our regret that is no longer helpful to try to plan to avoid in the future, but we’re really sitting at it and beating ourselves up, it’s like the uncomfortable nature of this is the unknown. It’s not that we fucked up.

Virginia:                 Right.

Brandy:                   It’s that we just couldn’t know. We’re doing the best with what we have. Just as much as you think that one moment — I’m sure there are listeners out there right now that have a moment in their birth — that one moment, everything hinged on that, and had I made a different choice, that would have all been different. Give yourself a moment to think, “What if you made that choice, and it was equally what you didn’t want just in an opposite direction?”

Virginia:                 Yeah.

Brandy:                   You have to paint yourself a way out of this scenario that isn’t just you taking the “blame” for something that is legitimately an unknown that you just could not have known. Maybe, for people who have this moment or a couple of these moments, the way you did choose, actually, led you to a place that had less suffering, and you don’t even know it. You can’t even enjoy it — maybe enjoy isn’t the right word — but you can’t even take solace in that because you’re too busy beating yourself up. I think what’s so great about the work that you do, and the philosophies, are that they lead towards this self-compassion, which is really at the root of so much of this birth story stuff. In those sessions that I know you do (and I was doing a similar version of them), it’s like it all comes back to this self-compassion and this place of making an agreement about yourself because this unforeseen thing happened. Because this happened, I am “fill in the blank.” Whatever that is — “I’m a failure,” “I’m not a good mother,” “I wasn’t meant to do this.” It’s about taking our own compassion and seeing it from a less judgmental angle and changing that blank to something that’s really more mature and true and loving. It seems so silly to think that it’s inside of us — a lot of our processing (and I don’t know if “healing” is the right word), but this grace that we can give ourselves is actually inside ourselves. But, I know it’s a lot easier said than done.

Virginia:                 Yeah. I have a few things to say.

Brandy:                   Yeah, that was a lot.

Virginia:                 That’s okay. {laughter} Well, one of the things is when talking with someone who is holding a regret — you mentioned one way, which is, “Well, what if you had done that thing and something else had happened?” Just to emphasize that all we know is what happened. We have no way of knowing what could have happened if the butterfly had fluttered its wings at a different moment, so to speak.

Brandy:                   Right.

Virginia:                 How can we possibly know? That’s the question I like to use is, “Well, how do you know that if you hadn’t been induced, or you hadn’t said yes to the epidural, how your birth would have turned out? Why do you hold this sort of certainty (in which I would call the illusion of certainty)? You seem so certain that your birth would have been better if you’d done something differently. How did you come to believe that?” I think very often, there’s a lot of fruitful conversation that can happen by just helping them reflect on, “Well, how did I come to believe that? How did I come to believe that this kind of birth is better or that inductions have this kind of result?” I kind of just try to poke some holes in the black and white or cause and effect thinking, but having them come to it on their own, it dawns on them that they’re not being realistic, they’re not being wise, they’re not being kind to themselves to expect themselves in an activated or hot emotional state of — which birth often is. There’s pain and exhaustion and cloudy thinking and sometimes fear. These all kind of lead to an activated physiological state where we make decisions in a really different way. Science has shown that our brains function very differently around decision-making when we’re in pain, when we’re in an unfamiliar environment, when there’s a time pressure, when we’re afraid for our own well-being or baby’s well-being. When we’re in a cold or inactivated emotional state, or what we think of as our normal, rational state of mind, which is where most people are when they’re taking a childbirth class and getting ready for birth (and it’s also often where they are later, a few months later thinking about their birth), they’re looking at the things that they did in a very different state of being and saying, “I shouldn’t have done that, or I don’t understand why I did that. I’m an empowered, articulate, intelligent person. Why didn’t I speak up? Why didn’t I say no? Why didn’t I ask questions?” And they’re actually judging themselves for being in a very different state of mind, which is totally natural and to be expected, but they just weren’t prepared to do it. They didn’t know that that’s exactly what would be happening, and they’re shaken by being in such a different state. But then later, they can’t understand why they made decisions that maybe weren’t in alignment with their long-term values and goals, which very often happens in birth. Sometimes, I think, just doing a little teaching around that in these birth story sessions or circles, it just helps. Again, it’s like it’s a little piece of information. I just often think of my birth story classes or circles as often being childbirth education after the fact.

Brandy:                   Right.

Virginia:                 If we can plant those seeds beforehand and talk about birth stories and how to listen to birth stories as a pregnant person, how to consume birth stories as a pregnant person, what to do when you’re searching online for birth stories, or when people at your baby shower tell you birth stories. I give them tools right away, so they are on the receiving end of a lot of these birth stories as pregnant people.

Brandy:                   Yeah.

Virginia:                 If all the expectant moms and dads in the room learn about this beforehand, then I kind of give them permission to not share their birth stories afterwards. Unless they really want to, unless somebody really has earned the right to hear about it, they can choose the time and the place and the person and how much they share their story. Not because it’s a dirty secret or not because it doesn’t deserve to be told, it’s because it’s their story. For them to have reverence for their own emotional experience and their own memories, they’re allowed to not talk about certain parts of it if they’re not ready to share it or they’re not sure what kind of response they’re going to get. Like you were saying earlier, if they feel like someone’s going to pepper them with an interrogation about why they did this or start sharing their own birth story or responding in some way that wouldn’t be helpful or desired — they’re allowed to just say, “Oh, you know, now is not really the time or place, but thank you for asking,” or, “Wow, it was a really intense experience. I’m still coming to terms with it. I don’t think I’m really quite ready to share it yet.” Just giving them some of these phrases so that when they come out of birth, there’s this sort of permission that they understand it’s going to take them some time to digest their story, and they’re not obliged to tell anybody about what happens. And that that’s a boundary that’s actually really healthy.

Brandy:                   Yes.

Virginia:                 And it’s protective of them being in a very vulnerable and open emotional state after the birth in those first few months.

Brandy:                   One of the things that I remember learning about, and it just sort of blew my mind, was this idea that for a time after your birth, it’s — and I know that we’ve referred to it as this gate of no story, where there’s actually not a story yet. And it’s so quick how your baby is born, and it’s like people immediately want to know, “How did it go?” And just to protect that little bubble because you don’t even know yet. Your brain has not even processed all of the things that have happened. It can be a real challenge, but it’s worth protecting that because as a lot of people probably know, people interject their own stuff into that story. Maybe there’s a story about your baby being a certain size and somebody goes, “Oh, wow, that’s really small,” or, “That’s really big,” or whatever they say. That is now a part of your birth story. We subconsciously take that in, and then tell the story, “Well, my baby was very small (or big or whatever the moment was).” Other people have opinions about it, and I think it’s important to realize that when a birth is fresh, and even a couple weeks after when your story is forming itself, that’s an okay time (I mean, all of it’s an okay time, but that’s a specifically okay time) to put up a bubble around that, to not let people dump their shit all over your birth story, and to and to not let them co-create it with you, really.

Virginia:                 Yeah, and a certain amount of that is unavoidable, unfortunately.

Brandy:                   Yes, of course.

Virginia:                 I’m not living in some, like, Utopian birth story planet, which would be awesome, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

Brandy:                   {laughter}

Virginia:                 I think when people talk about birth being empowering, people often think (both the people saying and the people hearing it) that it means you got what you wanted.

Brandy:                   That’s such a good point.

Virginia:                 In my experience and in being in the field for so long, I really feel that empowerment doesn’t come from getting what you want. Empowerment comes from coming through something you didn’t want and finding some sort of new strength or new gift or the ability to do something that we couldn’t have done or tried to do if that challenge hadn’t been there. That empowerment comes later when we can look back and say, “Look what I got through. Look what I was able to do. Look what I survived.”

Brandy:                   Yeah.

Virginia:                 The empowerment comes when we come to see who we are after we’ve been tested. After we’ve gone through something really hard, we discover something about ourselves. We have a perspective on the world, and we have some sort of wisdom. I’m not saying you had to have this thing to teach you a lesson. I don’t believe that at all. I think shit happens to us, and then we figure out how to get through it and have it make sense. And if it feeds a story of, “I am a whole person, and I am a resilient person,” then that’s the story of triumph. It’s totally separate from whether you had a cesarean or you pushed your baby out in the bathtub at home with candles.

Brandy:                   Right.

Virginia:                 They’re both just things that happened. It’s the meaning that our culture ascribes and the birth world, the birth writers, the birth thinkers, and the birth teachers can ascribe a lot of morality and meaning to events that happen. I think if we realize, not to take them away, necessarily, but to at least realize those are just captions being put on a photo, and we can change the caption. If the caption that’s underneath your story — the things, the events that happened – if that caption isn’t working for you because it’s making you maybe over-neurotic with your children because you feel like you messed them up because you had a cesarean and now their immune system is messed up for life and you’re obsessive about making sure they have probiotics, that they only eat healthy food, and they can’t have sugar because there’s sort of an atonement happening around, “I failed them,” “I let them down because they got off to a bad start,” “They had formula,” or “Something happened and they didn’t go full term so they didn’t finish developing.” I mean, there are all kinds of things that can happen around there that then the mother — particularly the mothers, the fathers don’t seem to have this —  mothers have this either consciously or unconsciously, an atonement of making up for the thing that was wrong. Like, can we let go of that? This idea that, “My child is damaged because they were born by cesarean.” First of all, we don’t really know. There’s plenty of babies born by cesarean who are way, way healthier than children who were born vaginally. It’s like one factor, but it’s not the factor.

Brandy:                   I have that in my family. My daughter was cesarean, and my son was born at home. My daughter has such a more robust immune system. She constantly proves that whole theory wrong. Not that it’s a monolith and my daughter exists to make other people feel better, but I’ll just say that I’ve seen it in real time, and I’m like, “Yeah, this is bullshit.”

Virginia:                 Statistically, from a health perspective, if you’re looking at the four million babies that are born every year, probably, statistically, that’s accurate. But in any one case, how is it helpful for you to believe that your child is fragile or not healthy or that you failed them in some way? We can kind of step away from medical fact at that point and just look at the story that this woman is telling herself, whether it’s six weeks after the birth or six years after the birth–

Brandy:                   Absolutely.

Virginia:                 That “I failed my child or I let them down.” If it’s driving her to make certain parenting decisions, creating anxiety, or not helping her relationship with her child or herself, we have to ask, “Well, maybe we could change the caption. Why not change the meaning? Why not change the narrative because it’s just a story anyway?” Even science, I mean, it’s factual, but it’s also a story. We can think about, on an individual basis, what is the most passionate, productive thing for this mother to be telling herself about herself because of her the way her birth went? And I’m always going to vote for the, “I did the best I could. I acted out of love or courage. I’m learning to use my voice.” These sorts of stories are so much more fruitful and life-changing than, “My body failed,” “I’m weak,”or “I’m a terrible mother.”

Brandy:                   Right. One I saw a lot was in situations like you had mentioned earlier, where a mother and a baby are separated for whatever reason after birth, I noticed with working with those situations is that the mom would usually have an agreement that, “I was not there for my baby. I was not a good mother, because I wasn’t there for my baby.” They’re forgetting the part that was like, “Well, you couldn’t be there because of the circumstances. This wasn’t like they gave you a choice: ‘Would you like to be with your baby or not?’ And you said no.” I see that that one is so prevalent with people whose babies were in the NICU when they didn’t have those moments that they’d hoped they would, that they just assumed that they would. To see it, like what you’re saying, is how this plays out in their parenting and even in their marriage and in their lives and how they move about the world. As I see this one the most in people, and I see a lot of times moms who’ve been in this situation, they overdo for their kids. They never want to leave them and never get a babysitter. Like you said, they’re atoning for that moment, and they’re trying to make up for that moment where they weren’t with their baby. I remember you saying it years ago, but you just have such a beautiful way of saying that piece about those moments — it’s not a make or break. You can have those moments when those moments arise. You can have a raincheck on that, so to speak. I know you had said it in such a more articulate way, but just realizing that what happens in your birth and if you have these moments of trauma, or, more specifically, regret or betrayal or these things that you wished hadn’t happened, you are likely playing those out in your belief about yourself and how you parent. Maybe in the end — gosh, I guess I don’t want to say that that’s worse — but I guess just being mindful about taking a look at, “How is this affecting me,” and exactly what you’re saying, which is, “Might I want to change the narrative on this?” If I look back at myself as a woman who was in labor and had to make these wild decisions, and there were intensities and many of which I’m wasn’t in control of, might I look at myself and go, “You know what, (exactly what you’re saying, Virginia) I was doing the best I could, or I was learning how to be a woman that lets go in a very animal moment.” All of those things, I think people could so benefit from that.

Virginia:                 Absolutely. This is true when there’s negative feelings and meaning outward as well like rage at the system or anger at the doctor, or feeling disgusted with your doula or your partner for what they did or didn’t do. But is it possible that that person also was doing the best that they could in that moment with the whatever resources they had? And that there’s no possible way of knowing the answer to that question, of course, because we’re talking about somebody else. This may not be the appropriate line of thinking for everybody in all cases, but I’ve seen this for sure as a doula with a nurse who was very, very attentive to fetal monitoring, and she would just rush in anytime the monitor stopped picking up the baby’s heart rate. She was very invasive in the woman’s face to hold the monitor on because she was just obviously very worried about that. I don’t know why she was like that, but I have a story in my head that she probably lost a baby once as a nurse. She was older, so probably she remembers when there wasn’t constant monitoring. Probably, a baby died, and they didn’t catch it. I’m just wondering if she’s just held on to this like she’s trying to atone for her own regret. I wonder, if we had — and again, I’m not saying this is appropriate in all cases — I really trust the birth storyteller to know what their path to healing and understanding is, but for some people, this is very helpful to think about. That person also could be traumatized, could have had their own losses, or their husband could have just left them that morning. We don’t know what’s going on in their life, and we like to think that professionals are professional all the time. But I like to think that the people who care for me are human beings too. If that means that they do make mistakes and they’re not perfect, then that’s part of being human. We’re in a community with other humans, and if we can allow our own imperfections and other people’s imperfections — you ask old folks, and they’re pretty unified in their perspective on life around, “Life is hard, and we’re kind of all doing the best we can, and people aren’t perfect.” It’s sort of the advice that you would give your younger self, “I wish I wasn’t so hard on myself. I wish I wasn’t such a perfectionistic person.” It’s like that’s, again, sort of an inoculation in this birth story. Understanding that it’s sometimes a really important part of the story and if that person feels like they can never trust a healthcare provider again, clearly, that’s going to have a negative impact on the rest of their life, if they don’t trust medical intervention.

Brandy:                   Absolutely.

Virginia:                 If it’s their partner who froze because they were overwhelmed and not prepared, and all the medical stuff and medical language freaked them out and they sort of froze, then there’s some reconciliation and understanding that might need to happen there. If the mother feels like, “God, he totally spaced out. He didn’t protect me.” — or she might not feel that, but he might feel that. I think that’s very common with a lot of men who’ve been a part of a more medicalized birth experience where something urgent happened. They freeze, and they don’t know what they’re supposed to do. They don’t have a template for responding, and they later feel — especially if there is some sort of complication with the baby or the mom, they often can feel responsible like, “I should have stopped it. I should have spoken up. I should have made a difference here.” Men like to fix things, and often, there’s a lot of things in birth that men can’t fix, or they aren’t given the tools in advance to help or have an influence over, and then all these men are walking around. I think the numbers on traumatic birth for men, it’s about 10% of men are traumatized by their experience of birth.

Brandy:                   That’s it though? {laughter}

Virginia:                 Well, those who actually have PTSD symptoms.

Brandy:                   Oh, PTSD. Got it.

Virginia:                 Those who actually had flashbacks and nightmares and physiological stuff.

Brandy:                   Oh, wow. Okay, that’s a lot.

Virginia:                 It’s a lot of people.

Brandy:                   That is.

Virginia:                 I think with men, it does take them having more severe symptoms for them to acknowledge that they’re not okay. I think a lot of men are just like, “Oh, well, that was really scary, and I’m just closing the door and walking forward and we’re going to not think about this.” Oh, and then she wants to get pregnant again three years, and he freaks out and says, “Oh, my God. I don’t want to go through that again.”

Brandy:                   Right.

Virginia:                 And he hasn’t even talked about his trauma for three years. That happens a lot.

Brandy:                   Yeah, and sometimes even the talking about the birth story together — having two people, who were at the same birth, talk about that birth can be a tricky subject because, we aren’t — as the person in labor, your brain isn’t working in the same way that it does, like you said, when you’re at a childbirth class or a couple months afterwards. There are things that you felt that are true to you that then someone else at your birth did not see or feel, and it can sometimes turn into almost like an invalidation and an argument on like, “Oh, no, it was two o’clock when that happened,” And then the woman in labor is like, “No, it was this way.” Then it can be so disorienting, and the reality is that two people can be at the same thing and have differing viewpoints and experiences and yet they can both be true.

Virginia:                 Oh, absolutely. It’s subjective. It’s definitely a subjective experience for everybody who’s in the room. Everybody is having their own lived experience. It’s filtered through their own bodies and everything else they’ve ever lived and experienced as part of the filter of how we experience life at the present moment. The problem just comes usually when there’s either invalidation of one partner’s story or the other, and often dads just feel like they can’t even talk about it if they feel traumatized because if she’s also traumatized, he feels like, “Well, she can’t hold my story,” which is a wise insight for them.

Brandy:                   Yes. Yes. Yes.

Virginia:                 But then they don’t really have anybody else because the mom does probably have other people to talk with about her story, but often men don’t. And if he feels — maybe this is a strong word — but even if he feels kind of emasculated by the experience because he didn’t act or he didn’t say something or he didn’t stop it from happening (whatever it was), he can feel pretty disempowered by the birth and not even realize that that’s what’s happening. If he doesn’t realize that’s what’s happening, he can’t even bring it up as a conversation. And then, of course, we see how that can impact a marriage.

Brandy:                   Yeah.

Virginia:                 Even in the best of circumstances, but with a new baby and sleep deprivation, a couple having very, very little time, or no time to be together privately where they can actually sit and have a conversation that’s not about diapers or Christmas plans, where is the space for them? It can just can become this thing that nobody speaks of.

Brandy:                   Exactly.

Virginia:                 She might say, “Oh, my God, you were a total asshole. I hate you now, or I don’t trust you. I don’t trust you with the baby.” She may say those things, but often she may feel them and not be able to trust him with the baby. Then it kind of feeds into that neurotic attachment parenting pathway which some people go down. Not that all attachment parenting is neurotic, but when it comes out of birth trauma, it has a particular vibe about it, which I can almost always tell it comes from like a traumatic origin. They’re not just attaching to their baby as a positive thing. It’s like an avoidance or, “I’m trying to fix this other thing,” and if they’re in that kind of mode, then they may not trust. It’s like, “Well, I couldn’t trust him in birth,” “He couldn’t read my cues,” “He didn’t touch the baby the right way,” or, “He wasn’t there for me in the way that I wanted or wasn’t present because he checked out for some reason.” Then it can definitely influence their parenting together, co-parenting together, and their sexual relationship for sure.

Brandy:                   Absolutely.

Virginia:                 If you think someone’s not there for you or isn’t present, it’s like, “I don’t really feel like spreading my legs. I’m not feeling the intimacy here. You kind of weren’t there for me.” And I think it’s so often an unspoken piece of the unraveling of the postpartum period, of unraveling of intimate relationships, but it’s not spoken about.

Brandy:                   Yeah, this whole birth experience sets the stage consciously and subconsciously in so many different avenues. It’s like you’ve got to take a second, and of course, this is way better and ideal if you have somebody who can hold this space for you, somebody who can help mentor you through this, but really looking at, “After this experience, what do I now believe to be true about myself, about my partner, about my baby, about myself as a mother, my parenting?” And being open to seeing what really comes up for that, and then reassessing with this new, sort of mature, loving, compassionate thing. It’s like, “Do I really believe those things, or did they just imprint on me when I was in a state of not being able to choose consensually that those things are meaningful to me or that I think that they’re true?” It’s really reassessing what you believe to be true. It can legitimately change your life and change your parenting. That’s the part of the work that I am crazy for is watching people just in an hour and a half time or whatnot reassess — like you’re talking about what the quilting — to tear these pieces apart and somehow cobble them back together in something that feels more true and real to them has always, to me, felt like such an honor to be a part of, and it’s just such rewarding work. And speaking of which, can you tell us where people can find you and what you’re offering now? It would be great to have somebody who has some experience in this to help walk people through it. I mean, you’re just like the best for that. Tell us how we find you.

Virginia:                 Yes, so my website is That’s also my Instagram handle and Facebook and all that. I do do one-on-one counseling with folks over the phone or on Skype or whatever for people who want to talk through their birth story and come away with some new insight and feeling a little more at peace with what happened and maybe having some steps for what to do next.

Brandy:                   Do it you guys do it, do it. That’s all I have to say. Legitimately life changing, and it trickles down real fast. Sorry to interrupt you. It trickles down into everything. That’s the beauty of it. You get this one piece and it relates to birth, and all of a sudden, shit in your life that’s been plaguing you forever, you realize like, “Oh, my God, this applies to everything else in my life.” This isn’t hyperbole that it’s life changing. It legitimately is. Okay, keep going.

Virginia:                 It can be. Yeah, childbirth education. I also do online and in-person, and I do a lot of continuing education and training for birth professionals who want to bring more consciousness and more skills around how they talk about birth, how they prepare parents for birth, how they interact with them during the birth, and then afterwards how to make space for someone telling their birth story. So I do trainings, workshops, retreats for professionals around this as well.

Brandy:                   Yeah, lovely.

Virginia:                 I had a thought that I wanted to add about what you were just saying.

Brandy:                   Go for it.

Virginia:                 Some people wonder or worry that if they take steps towards processing their birth story or “healing” from it — I don’t really like using that word too much. It’s a word that our culture understands, so I use it like in marketing, but it’s not really the word I like to use. I like to use “digesting” or “processing” or one of my teachers use the term “metabolizing.” Metabolizing our story, it has to make its way through. Some people are worried that if they don’t feel angry about some aspect of their birth, that it will happen again. That there’s a righteous anger, and I don’t want to let go of it. There’s some sort of belief that by feeling really wounded and suffering, that it’s actually giving them power and maybe even agency to make change. A lot of activists hold this story. I just want to take a moment to address that because I absolutely agree that we need activists. We need people who see what’s wrong in our maternal health system, especially for women of color, and are out there making change and are out there being angry and speaking up and speaking out about mistreatment and malpractice and things that shouldn’t be happening in our birth rooms. But the most powerful activists and changemakers in history and on our planet are people who are doing their personal work too. You don’t have to be suffering while you’re also being an angry activist. You can be angry and full of rage but actually come from this place of wholeness and peace inside. We don’t need to be suffering in order to be effective activists. I just want to speak to that because I’ve definitely heard that from people saying, “Well, I don’t want to feel resolved about my birth. It’s my path in changing injustice.” And it’s like, “No, you do it, but I don’t want you waking up suffering because of what you’re holding in your story.” It’s important that that rage be productive eventually, hopefully, and I think a lot of us are in birth work because of experiences that we had as new mothers.

Brandy:                   That’s the nice way to say that many of the people in the birth world are wounded. I’m not saying you believe that, but I definitely see it firsthand.

Virginia:                 There’s a lot of unresolved trauma is maybe how I would put it.

Brandy:                   Yes.

Virginia:                 Unfortunately, that’s not who I think makes a great doula or midwife, is someone who has unresolved trauma. I would like my doula to have some clarity and be able to be really present and not retriggered if something shitty goes wrong in my birth. I want her to be able to be not in that hot activated state, but be able to be reasonable so that if she needs to speak up and say something, if she needs to protect some aspect of my birth plan, or advocate that it’s coming from a place of real grounding and wisdom and self-confidence and not from a place of anger or fear. I think that doulas and nurses and midwives and anyone who is regularly at births, especially in a hospital environment, need a regular sort of birth story unwinding, metabolizing process for themselves because it does build up. I’ve seen from training doulas for so long that the doulas who have not worked through their own difficult births and bring it to the birth rooms, they burn out so quick because they quickly see that they can’t actually change birth in one birth at a time in that way. They get disempowered and re-traumatized over and over and over again when they’re in these hard births, and they get burned out. They feel powerless, they get frustrated, and they say, “I’m going to go become a home birth midwife where I’ll have more control,” or, “I’ll go into childbirth education where I can teach people how to avoid these things.” That’s just a little part of my birth story utopia. I’ll start with the people I work with, which is families and primarily doulas and say, “Let’s do our work. Let’s do our work for ourselves, so that when we step over the threshold into a birthing room, all we’re bringing is our strengths and our gifts and what we’ve learned through living through hard things, but we don’t have to actually bring the hard things in with us.”

Brandy:                   Virginia, thank you so much for coming here and sharing your wisdom with all of us. There were a couple times when we were talking that I really did just get goosebumps and had this overwhelming sensation of, “I know there’s somebody out there right now who’s listening and this is hitting them just like an acupuncture needle. It’s right in the right spot that they need it.” And again, you and I have talked about this kind of stuff for what, ten years together? I do think sometimes we forget that people who have no frame of reference for it, it can be really powerful. But I just so appreciate the powerful messages that you gave everybody here today and for sharing your time with us. Thank you so much.

Virginia:                 Well, thank you for inviting me here. I want people to know that whatever happened to you and your birth or any other time, those things happened. We can’t change them. It’s just what happened. But right now, in this moment, we can change our body and our hearts’ responses to what happened. Our memory is a pliable thing, and we do have the potential of changing the meaning and changing how it sits in our heart for the rest of our lives. There’s always potential for changing your birth story. Even though we can’t change the events, we can change how you live from it. Even if it’s been forty years since you gave birth.

Brandy:                   Do those people know how to listen to podcasts? {laughter}

Virginia:                 {laughter}

Brandy:                   Just wondering. Maybe they’re reading the transcript. {laughter}

Brandy:                   I tried to cut this episode down for time, and I don’t know why, it’s not like I pay per minute or something, but I just know how starved for time we are, especially, right now. But this is as short as I could go without losing critical information. And we really are just scratching the surface here. This is another one of those five-day summit topics. I know this episode gave a lot of questions to help you find some breathing room in your story and to discover new parts that maybe you hadn’t noticed before, but here are just a few more. What’s a moment of your birth where you surprised yourself? Maybe a moment where you were strong, maybe a moment where you didn’t know what to do, but you kept going anyway. What was that moment, and how did you know to keep going? And of course, if you want to explore your story further and the meaning that you’re making from it, connect with Virginia. She is truly a master at what she does.

Brandy:                   If you are enjoying this podcast and would like to support me in continuing to make it, you can go to and find out how to join the others. As always, thanks for listening.

** As always, thank you to Scott Weigel and his band, Seahorse Moon, for providing me with that jaunty intro and outro music. You guy are awesome. Check ’em out on iTunes.