Everything turned out fine, and by mid-August, Lexie had decided she wanted to write about her experience. Specifically, she wanted to write what is generally called a birth story. I had forgotten about birth stories, but I was plenty familiar with them back in the years when I too was busy giving birth. Some parents find it interesting, therapeutic, entertaining, cathartic, or all of the above to write down all the details that carried them from the first contractions (or splash of water on the floor) to the baby snuggled in their arms: the story of their baby’s birth.
So Lexie asked me if I could help her with some editing. But as with so many stories people describe to me, I couldn’t keep my hands off of this one. “I don’t want to just edit it; I want to turn it into an actual book!” I told her.
Because really, who says a memoir has to be about someone looking back on years or decades? Why couldn’t I write a memoir about the first ten minutes of someone’s life?
Of course, the book wasn’t really the baby’s memoir. It was the parents’ memoir, reflecting on the twenty-four hours or so between Lexie’s first indication that her water may have broken right up to the moment when the midwife, who arrived on the scene too late to do much in the way of actually birthing the baby, helped her upstairs to her own bed. And a little bit beyond, to how her two-year-old expressed his memories of the event a couple of weeks later.
We worked together on it. We told Lexie’s story. Then I interviewed her husband Dave and wrote up his part of it. I interviewed her doula, who had been instrumental in talking them through the process over the phone and then assisting at the scene moments after the baby’s arrival. Together, the three of them each told a branch of the story that then braided itself into a narrative – a narrative about one child’s arrival into this world.
I had never thought before about helping new parents to write birth stories, but no sooner were we done than I was asking Lexie and Dave, “Do you think other parents might want to do this too?” Because it turned out to be a lot of fun. And it also felt like a kind of cosmic counterbalance to the other interviewing and writing I’d been doing this month for projects with people in their eighties and nineties, people reflecting on decades of stories and experiences. Those books will be longer than Lexie’s. Hers is a tiny book, appropriate for containing the story of a tiny baby. But it’s a book nonetheless: a keepsake commemorating the remarkable circumstances that brought her baby into existence: who helped her along the way, how she overcame her fears, and even how her memories of her much-loved younger brother fortified her resolve (and gave us our title).
What I learned from this, besides how to give birth in the backseat of a car – a skill I sincerely hope never ever to draw upon, for a wide variety of reasons – was that stories are all around me: not just with the elderly people or business leaders or mission-driven philanthropists I so often join forces with on memoir projects, but with anyone who sees something that has just happened to them as remarkable. Moreover, Lexie had a great follow-up idea: for new parents who don’t see their birth story as quite substantial enough for a stand-alone book, how about if we compile some shorter accounts in a collection of birth stories?
A while ago, I spoke with a business leader who said her mantra in developing new ideas was “You’ve got to see it to be it.” I think what she meant by this is that you have to formulate a vision of what you want to do before you can achieve it. I would respectfully disagree with her. My mantra these days seems to be more like “You’ve got to do it to do it.” I never thought of writing birth stories as part of my professional repertoire…until someone asked me to. But come to think of it, that’s how I got started with standard memoirs as well: a high school friend asked me to help her mother with a memoir project.
And so a new idea was born along with a new baby. It inspires me to think that new ideas are everywhere if I just listen for them. In a way, that’s the best thing about my line of work. I don’t really have to be out there thinking things up and envisioning dreams. I don’t have to “see it to be it.” I just have to open my mind and my ears to the ideas that find their way to me.
(Lexie’s book is on Amazon – click here!)