By Molly S. Wales CCE(BWI)
Our small town of Athens, Ohio is home to a consumer birth group called The Birth Circle. Over the ten years since it began, The Birth Circle has grown from a handful of mothers who got together to share their birth stories, to a powerful community organization that has made a substantial difference in the lives of birthing families, and in our local birthing climate as a whole. We share information, offer support, and build friendships. We do not endorse or judge. And as the director of this group, I have the great honor of witnessing how, every single time we gather together, whether to talk about potty training or pain management in labor, or to share a meal, or to grieve a childbearing loss, we lift each other up, and give each other courage, simply by being present.
Let me give you two examples of this from recent meetings. A few months back, a new couple joined us for a discussion about gentle discipline. They quickly shook my hand, took a seat, didn’t engage with anyone around them, and in general gave an impression of being very shy and conservative. She was pregnant for the first time, and new to Athens, and I hoped that this meeting would open some doors for them, in terms of building community and answering questions about birth and parenting. About halfway through the meeting, a mom seated on the floor across from them pulled her breast up and out of her shirt, and began to nurse her baby. The dad looked at his wife with wide eyes, clearly a little shocked at how she displayed her breast. Within seconds, the mother’s toddler came over, and she tandem nursed them for a while, the baby laying in her lap while the toddler kneeled and wiggled. The new parents tried not to stare, but their discomfort was obvious. I thought to myself, “We’ve lost them.” When the meeting adjourned they rushed out, and I didn’t expect to see them again. But to my great surprise and delight, at our next meeting a month later, there they were. And at the next meeting, and the next. They never spoke up, but they came to every meeting, and along the way their demeanor relaxed a little. I don’t know what sort of birth they had, nor the sex of their baby, nor if they’re even still in town. But I think of them often, and how their decision to return showed openness and courage, and I think of that mom, too, who tandem nursed so nonchalantly in public, and never knew how she’d so beautifully exposed this couple to a new idea.
Another example. Every April we dedicate our meeting to sharing birth stories. This last time was heavy with home births, with hospital birth stories (both natural and with interventions) interspersed in between. After the meeting I got a call at home from a mom who was 38-weeks pregnant, who had decided, after that meeting, to change her care provider. She was tired of “impersonal, rough OB care.” She wanted to know about midwifery options. I encouraged her to interview local midwives, and a few days later she called back to let me know she’d taken the plunge. She had chosen a home birth team, had collected her records from her OB office, and was ready to come pick up a birth pool (we loan them out for free). When she showed up with her husband, she was glowing. They smiled ear to ear. It seemed such a bold to move, to change caregivers so late in her pregnancy, and I commended her for her bravery. “I would never have thought I could do it,” she said, “if I hadn’t heard those birth stories.” What exactly was said that empowered her, I don’t know. But that’s not really important. She heard something that helped her take a critical look at how she was being treated, that helped her see and feel her own personal truth, and that emboldened her to make a decision that her extended family perceived to be reckless, yet which was absolutely right for her and her baby. Those are the times that I think, “Wow, we are changing the world.”
And that is the power of a birth circle. The power of women and their families getting together to talk. Not to compare, but to share. We lift each other up. We are challenged. We teach and learn. And with every tiny bit of support that is exchanged, intentional or not, we become more fulfilled people, and better parents for our babies.
Molly S. Wales is the director of operations of The Birth Circle in Athens, Ohio.