“Did you happen to see on Facebook that I gave birth in the back seat of my car last month?” Alexa began.
Yes, in fact, I had seen the post, and marveled at the courage and capability with which Alexa and her husband Dave had brought their second son into the world on the side of a country road in New Hampshire in the middle of the night.
Alexa was emailing me not to brag, however, but to ask me if I could help her write up her birth story.
Could I? I thought about it. All of my memoir work thus far had been with seniors: people in their eighties and nineties recounting decades’ worth of stories, reflections, and lessons learned. Could I help Alexa write the story of what happened in the space of just a couple of hours as she gave birth to her son Camden?
But as we discussed ideas, I came to understand that Alexa had a bigger mission than just recounting the tale of her own son’s rather remarkable birth. Already interested in the potential of holistic birth experiences, she wanted to use her circumstances to spread the word and help give other women confidence in themselves and in their bodies as they approached childbirth. I could help her do this, she believed, if we could collect and compile a whole range of birth stories intended to illustrate the variety of experiences that women and their partners have as they bring babies into the world.
The compilation approach was familiar to me; although most of my projects are single- (or dual-) subject memoirs in which an individual or couple recounts the many decades of their lives, I’d done a few books at nursing homes and retirement communities where a large number of participants were invited to each tell me one story from their life, and the stories are them compiled into an anthology of sorts. That format could work well for birth stories, I thought: a series of stories of one or two thousand words, told in many different voices. Illustrated, of course, with adorable newborn photos.
“But where will we find people who want to tell us their birth stories?” I naively asked Alexa.
She only laughed. At the age of thirty, she was surrounded by women immersed in the process of birthing and raising young children. She was certain she could round up a pool of willing participants for me.
And she was right. Over the next six months, I heard stories of births of all kinds: births in hospitals, birth centers, homes, beds, bathtubs, labor tubs, and of course Alexa’s story of giving birth in a Subaru Outback. Our only requirement was that the women who participated believed that their experience had been positive and affirming, and could inspire other women.
It took us eighteen months to complete the book – exactly twice as long as the gestation of an actual baby – but as of this week, our newborn has arrived, and we love it already. We named it “Carried In My Body, Cradled In My Arms: Women Share Their Uncensored, Authentic and Empowering Birth Stories.”
It took my co-editor, my cover designer and me a long time to come up with the three adjectives in our subtitle. After much debate, we settled on “uncensored, authentic and empowering.” True, that’s what these birth stories are meant to be. But the more I think about it, that seems to me that those adjectives apply to my senior memoirs as well. I want readers – whether they are reading about their great-grandparents’ long lives or a stranger’s single day of labor and delivery – to believe that they are getting an informative and inspiring account that might help them to approach their own life better.
Uncensored, authentic and empowering stories of real lives, no matter what the topic or the stage of life: this is what memoir writing is all about.
Click here to see the book!