Birth Stories Project was awarded the CIRCE creative fellowship in 2023. The project creatively explored personal narratives around childbirth, connecting art and wellbeing.
The project was initiated by my own experience. I gave birth during the fellowship and reflected on it in a story that I shared with other mothers in a storytelling circle. I developed a set of exercises to help other mothers create their own stories. Workshops were held in England and Croatia, uniting mothers from diverse backgrounds, ages (some participants gave birth twenty years ago, while others came with babies only a few months old) and very different birthing experiences (hospital, caesarean, home, traumatic, orgasmic). The workshops incorporated creative media such as writing, oral performance, movement, drawing, improvisation and acting.
Birth Stories illuminates the transformative potential of sharing personal childbirth narratives and their contribution to mothers’ wellbeing and social resilience. The workshops enrich maternal experiences, suggest improvements to maternal care and societal perceptions of birth, empowering (and transferring knowledge between) mothers of all ages.
Here are some examples of the stories created. Each story is marked with initials agreed with the author, to protect anonymity.
IKEA red sofa (SA)
We bought this sofa in 2014. I remember, it was the cheapest one we could find. My husband didn’t like the red colour. He found it too bright for our small flat. We had just moved in together; two poor students. The sofa was called Klippan, loveseat. We found that hilarious and laughed like crazy. On that sofa we ate popcorns, celebrated birthdays with wine, covered ourselves with a duvet on cold winter nights, made love, jumped with joy when I got the job, cried and cried when our dear friend died. We ate Chinese takeaway and watched movies, we fucked like mad and we fought about housework. We dreamt about the future and booked tickets for that big adventure in Asia. We said we will buy a new sofa once we are proper grown-ups. The most expensive one, a corner one with a velvet cover and lots of cushions. I gave birth on our Klippan sofa. Loveseat from IKEA, bright red colour. The blood stain never came out: it shows exactly where I sat as I pushed.
The Birth Poem (KC)
In the depths of darkness, I laboured, my body a battlefield, raw and unfiltered.
A primal struggle, an unrelenting battle with each contraction, as I surrendered to the chaos of creation.
No Hollywood smiles masked the agony, no soft melodies covered the screams. Sweat and tears mingled with the blood, as I pushed through the pain, my breath trembling with each exertion. There was no perfection, no pristine façade, only the stark reality of a body strained to its limits.
In that crucible of creation, I discovered a newfound strength, a connection to the primal forces of life.
There, in the rawness of the birthing process, I found a glimpse of the untamed, a revelation of the beauty that emerges from chaos.
The ancient rhythms of the Earth.
The Cut (IS, translated from the Croatian by Kristina)
They didn’t ask me anything. They didn’t explain. They treated me as if I was not there. A body in front of them, in a cotton night gown with little purple flowers that my mother bought for the hospital. My mother taught me to put on the finest clothes when going to see the doctors. Show respect to the doctors, she would say as she packed gifts like coffee and chocolate. They showed no respect to me. For them, I was a screaming body that needed to be tamed. They cut me, mother. They cut me bad. With a sharp razor that sliced my skin. The pain was so strong I couldn’t scream. The next moment: baby in my arms. I didn’t have time to let anger and fear out of my body, they are left, buried at the back of my spine. I showered the baby with love. But as I went home, for the next three months I couldn’t sit or lie down in bed without experiencing pain from the cut. The feelings are still buried inside me. They didn’t ask me, they didn’t explain. At the end of it, I only remember the doctor’s words: “it was for your own good”.
The Museum of Jaffa Cake (KG)
Never did a Jaffa Cake taste so good like between second and third stage of labour.
Cold water (CP)
The midwives were nice to me. The doctor was a kind woman. I was feeling safe with them. But at those early stages of labour, I missed my mother. In normal circumstances, she would have been with me, in the birthing room, holding my hand. In my province in China, we drink special herbal tea during labour and another set of herbs after delivery. I was closing my eyes and imagining the smell. My labour lasted fourteen hours. I was exhausted and believed my body was not made for it. When I finally pushed my son out, I knew I could do anything. I felt the power of a tiger, as if my head is on fire and my whole body is burning from energy. Back in the room, the nurse offered me a glass of cold water. She said it is to cool down. She couldn’t understand me. I wanted to stay fire for many days.
Animal inside me (AL)
At the beginning, I was a mouse; small and scared. With each surge pain was increasing, but my power was growing. From mouse I turned into cat, and from cat to a tiger. I was no ordinary tiger. I had the weight of a majestic elephant; I had movement of an elegant jaguar. I had wings of an eagle and I produced sounds like a wolf on a full moon. I felt connected to nature in the most sacred and profound ways.