Healing identity by telling childbirth stories on the internet
The use of the internet in pregnancy and parenthood is high, providing both practical information and support. Sharing stories and experiences among site users is a principal motivation for use and can offer a safe space to try out the new identity of mother.
Using a narrative analysis approach, 15 consecutively posted self-classified ‘trauma’ birth stories were analysed from the UK parenting site Netmums. The aim was to investigate the purpose of sharing traumatic stories with the anonymous users of the site.
A ‘protest event’ was found in each narrative, changing the power dynamic of the story and allowing the narrator to regain agency in an apparently out-of control situation. Three excerpts are presented to illustrate the common themes of healing identity, maintaining control and restoring coherence.
These three themes link to the meta-theme of performing control in the absence of an expected context of care, giving three practice points for reflection: management of antenatal birth expectations through joint birth planning with the midwife; offering postnatal debriefing in unusual or complicated birth experiences could support the healing of the woman's identity; awareness of sensitivity among birthing women to the power dynamic in the birthing room and their potential interpretation of institutional policies and practices.
Childbirth is challenging and while there is a reliance on experts such as midwives and doctors to provide education in the rules for birth (Cheyney, 2011), informal sources of information regarding pregnancy and childbirth are still cited by many women as being more influential. These sources include magazines, the internet (both formal health education sites and chat forums), other women's birth stories and the experiences of the woman's own mother (Gibbins and Thomson, 2001; Fisher et al, 2006; Madge and O'Connor, 2006; Cheyney, 2011; Records and Wilson, 2011; Lagan et al, 2011; Martin et al, 2013). This finding prompted the exploration of online birth stories from a parenting website for this article, to investigate the purpose of sharing birth stories from the perspective of the teller, and reflect on what we can learn as professionals from such stories and storytelling activity.
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