The Stories We Carry

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On March 11th, I began the week-long stretch of upholding my civic duty by riding the bus downtown. My scheduled 2-days of jury duty stretched into five because I was chosen for a trial. It ended up being a beautiful and wonderful experience giving me faith in my community and hope in humanity by the end. But that's not the story I'm telling here.

One afternoon after a long day at the courthouse, I was sitting on the bus trying not to completely drain the battery on my phone. Instead, I was awake and observing the world around me. Across the aisle from me was a group of three women, just on the other side of middle aged. They all seemed to be coming from the same workplace, chatting comfortably as coworkers do.

I couldn't help overhearing some of the discussion about the baby. Because, well, that's my bread and butter. My passion, my heart. I didn't hear everything, but what I did hear was that there was a grandchild on the way for one of the women. Her first, I believe. And as they discussed their excitement about the baby, the pride in the grown children about to enter parenthood for the first time, the conversation turned to each one of their own birth stories, and their experiences and challenges as brand new parents. 

The stories were specific and tinged with that bittersweet aroma of awe and gratitude. Amazement at how young they were, how much they didn't know back then, how they survived, scars and all. There was excitement about the new season for the expecting parents, and hesitation when they remembered how their own parents or in-laws handled their becoming, back in the day. 

And as I listened to the words that rose to me above the grinding bus noise, I thought how nice it was to have this in common. Not everyone is a parent, or wants to be, but when we welcome a child into our homes and our hearts, we do most certainly change in ways that non-parents don't. We hold the story of our children's entrances onto the scene because it's a defining moment when our own identities as adults shift entirely, though almost imperceptibly ath the time, and when we look back years later, we remember our former selves. We recognize who we are now, and we notice that we haven't been that old self for quite some time now.

When a child is born, so is a mother. So is a father. So may be a sibling. So is a family formed that is entirely different than before this particular life entered in. These moments define us. We carry these stories and continue to tell them because they have changed our whole lives. When something is that important, that life-altering, the stories must be told. And told again. And by telling our birth stories, we are telling the story of who we are today. We are connecting with each other on a deeper level than small talk about the weather or the next project. We are connecting at a soul level. A human level. 

As a birth worker witnessing this human interaction on the bus that day, I very much wanted to insert myself and participate in this moment of connection. But at the same time, I recognized the sacred nature of a seemingly unremarkable exchange of words. So I chose instead to listen, to sit with my fascination that these women whose babies were babies a lifetime ago were still telling each other their birth stories.

I want you to know that these stories don't come boldly out in your presence because grandma or auntie or sister or friend necessarily wants to undermine your experience or assert their authority over your family. But your new baby sparks their memories. These stories come from a place of identity. There may be grief for a season that's ended. There may be nostalgia for the days of unrelenting exhaustion and joy felt in the bones. They may be seeing themselves in your wide, worried and tired eyes. They are trying to connect. Trying to hold up a welcome sign. Trying to lead you away from the mistakes they made and toward the rose-colored magic they remember of those days. 

Because soon enough, you might be the one on the bus sharing stories with your coworkers, wondering where the time went, and so excited to offer whatever you can to make your own children's journey into parenthood a smoother one than yours.