Storytelling

I am currently reading Birth Day by pediatrician, Mark Sloan (not Dr. McSteamy!) In Chapter 2, Dr. Sloan has written a fascinating description of the miracle of the transformation from fetal to newborn life. Chapter 3 describes the history of the cesarean section. Dr. Sloan tells us a wonderful story about the doctor who performed the first modern-day cesarean surgery in the English-speaking world on July 25, 1826 in Cape Town, South Africa. A doctor in the British Army, Dr. James Barry was well-known and respected for his surgical skills. However, he was extremely unpopular due to his cantankerous and demanding personality, battling even with Florence Nightingale. After his death, the doctor performing his autopsy was stunned to discover that Dr. Barry was actually a woman. For over 40 years, Dr. Barry masqueraded as a woman to attend medical school and to serve in the British Army. I am looking forward to reading more interesting stories in Birth Day.

One of the most effective ways to make birth ”real” to your students is to tell stories. Storytelling can become an interactive teaching strategy if a discussion follows the story. Or some funny stories just become good entertainment, with laughter being the interactive component. Unfortunately, your students will hear (and sometimes share with the class) far too many frightening or frustrating stories. Still, learning can take place if you then ask the question, “What could have been done differently so this would have had a more positive outcome?” Sharing solutions to potential problems or telling encouraging birth stories can increase women’s confidence in their own ability to give birth (“if she can do it, maybe I can too.“)

One of the best ways to get across the point that labor has so many variations is to tell birth stories you have heard or experienced. Rather than giving a lecture that a long prodromal labor is normal, it is far more effective to tell a story about a woman and her labor partner who coped effectively with several days of pre-labor contractions. Instead of making transition in labor a long list of “discomforts,” tell stories of coping with transition. Students enjoy hearing how others have handled situations dealt to them. Even more impressive is to invite former students to share stories of their births with a pregnant class. Allow time for processing the stories told after the new families have left.

As you gain experience as a childbirth educator, you will develop a repertoire of stories. Be careful to change names and identifying information, so that you are not violating anyone’s confidentiality. (When you hear a story that you know you will want to repeat, ask permission to share the story.) Some educators tell their own stories in their classes. There are times when this helps to strengthen the teacher’s relationship with class members; but there are also times when it is better to put one’ s own story in the third person.

There are many books available that are compilations of women’s birth stories. (Do a search for “birth stories” on a bookstore website such as Amazon and then read the reviews of the books that come up.) The Lamaze Journal of Perinatal Education also features a birth story in every issue.

Adapt or create a story to make a point. Stories make us laugh and cry and make learning more fun and effective.

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