One of the first assignments I was given in midwifery school was to spend the United Way’s National Day of Caring interviewing female residents at a local nursing home. I was to spend some time socializing with residents and at some point, ask them if they would share their birth experiences with me. This day changed my professional life.
I met with four lovely women ranging in age from 89 – 102. They had been residents in a skilled nursing care facility for a few years. All had outlived their children. Two of the women had flowers sitting on their windowsill but they were unable to remember who brought them.
I arrived around 10 am and stayed through the late afternoon. These ladies were unable to determine the time of day, what they ate at their last meal, or who had recently visited them. They enjoyed having someone to share time with, but all had very little recollection of any memories of their day-to-day life.
One common thread among these women was their ability to retell (in great detail) the stories of their children’s births. They were all eager to share. They were all able to keep the conversation going without any awkward pauses. No one struggled to remember any of the details of their pregnancies, birth, or the time of bringing home their newborn babies. They smiled as they shared. They became sad about outliving their children. I just listened, not adding much to the conversation.
I returned to my school work later that day with a new found appreciation for the work that I do and the lifelong impact a woman’s birth has, even when she is almost a century old and unable to remember what she ate for lunch 30 minutes earlier. She still remembers her birth and the care she was provided. (I’ll share more information about how these women felt about the care they received in another post). She still remembers what she was capable of or how the nursing staff treated her. She remembers how it felt to have someone hand her a drink of water and wipe her forehead with a cool rag after each and every contraction. She remembers if that examination was gentle or if she felt violated. She remembers the name of the person who helped her the most. She remembers the name, voice, the words, and facial expression of the person who treated her poorly.
Childbirth is a lifelong memory that impacts every woman forever. There are many stories never to be forgotten and needing to be told. Take the time to listen. No matter whom you are – whether you are a birth worker, a granddaughter, a neighbor, or niece – listen to the stories of the women who came before you. Then you will learn the importance of the childbirth experience.
Wendy Trees Shiffer, MS, FACCE, LCCE is a mother and maternal-fetal health educator. She is the founder and program director for Family Trees Birth Programs serving childbirth professionals and new parents.