“Thank you for sharing that horrifying birth story!” Said no pregnant woman ever.

by Janelle Hanchett

A friend of mine is expecting a baby any day. Thinking about her, about the last couple weeks of pregnancy, the days passing like the melting of arctic sheets (before climate change), each contraction offering hope (“could this be it?”) only to find yourself still pregnant 24 hours later, wondering the same damn thing, feeling like a turtle on its back – so damn powerless – sure you’re the first woman in history who will actually stay pregnant forever.

And all the assholes keep texting: “Have you had that baby yet? My goodness you must be READY TO BURST!”

I’ll kill you in your sleep if you call again, bitch.

So of course I sent her a text about how much the last days of pregnancy suck ass, and she agreed, but also responded with a text that surprised me. Apparently mothers were sending her messages about how hard breastfeeding is.

What the hell?

Why would you tell a woman about to give birth how “hard” breastfeeding is? Particularly if it were something she wanted to do?

Why do mothers feel compelled to “tell their stories” as if it’s universal fact anyway?

For every breastfeeding horror story, there is a beautiful one. Take mine, for example: my mom was a La Leche League educator. She showed me how to nurse my baby. Of course I did it wrong for a while, and my nipples felt like my own personal burning milk volcanoes for a couple weeks, but we pulled through and it was all good and the baby nursed til she was two. Is that beautiful? I don’t know. But I’m sure it wasn’t “hard.” Or maybe it was a little hard, but it wasn’t deal-breaker hard. And then with my other two kids, nursing was the easiest thing on the planet. I love nursing babies. I miss it sometimes.

But here’s the kicker:  that is just my experience with breastfeeding. I don’t know about your experience with breastfeeding. How the hell would I know? Maybe it will totally suck for you, or it won’t work, or you’ll hate it.

I’m not you. You’re you.

I’ve had experience being a wife but I have very little insight on your marriage.

I lived Texas for a while, but I have no idea how your trip to Austin’s gonna pan out.

I’ve lost a shitload of weight doing certain things, but I don’t know what you and your body need.

Um, DUH, right?

Yeah, it seems like “duh,” until you enter the presence of that special person who has just got to share her horror birthing story EVERY DAMN TIME SOMEBODY’S PREGNANT, or mentions birth, or thinks about mentioning birth, or thinks about getting pregnant, or knows somebody who once thought about getting pregnant.

“Oh my God, birth was the most traumatic experience of my life!!!  I was in labor for 9 days. No really. NINE DAYS. I didn’t eat food or drink water that entire time so when I went into the hospital they all thought I was going to die because I was so X, Y, and Z, and then they gave me Pitocin and I was in SO MUCH PAIN but they accidentally put the epidural in my calf instead of my back so I got NO relief. Finally I was at 10 and the doctor was like “PUSH! PUSH!” but there were nineteen interns in the room and I was trying to push but I couldn’t feel anything on account of the leg epidural, so I pushed for 5 hours until the doctor said “this baby is just too big to birth and the heart rate is declining,” so they rushed me in for an emergency ceseran and I passed out during it due to exhaustion so I didn’t even see my baby for 48 hours, which caused me PTSD and night terrors. And now I also have hemorrhoids the size of golf balls and the veins in my eyes are permanently popped and my calf is numb and half a hospital staff has seen my vagina. Basically I had rather stab spend the rest of my life stabbing myself in the eyes with bamboo shoots than give birth again. But good luck with yours!”

Oh COME ON. You know I’m barely exaggerating.

Seriously, what’s wrong with these people? How do we become so self-righteous as mothers that we think we KNOW The Way it Is, failing to recognize that all we know is our own tiny slice of life – a miniscule speck, a nothing. How have we become so self-centered that we believe it necessary to spew our horror stories across America, into the laps of hopeful, brave, capable women trying to carve out their own path in this crazy motherhood gig?

Is it empowering? No, it isn’t fucking empowering.

Does it help anybody in the world? Hell no. (Unless you count the storyteller’s ego.)

And I don’t know if you’ve noticed that these storytellers generally have one kid, maybe two – but probably one. Why do I think that?

Because after you’ve had more than one, you know that EACH BIRTH IS DIFFERENT and each nursing experience is different, and nobody can tell you what to do to birth your own baby.

And most importantly, you realize you don’t know shit.

Not that you won’t tell your birth story. That’s an actual god-given right and addiction and obsession of every mother. It must be done. Can’t be helped. But it can be done in a way that’s like “well, this is my experience,” rather than “This is the experience you will have and therefore this is what you should do.”

[Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I pretty much always tell my good friend Cara Lyn the gory details of all my birth stories, because it’s just so fun to watch her squirm. Plus, she isn’t pregnant. YET.]

But basically, the people who offer unsolicited apocalyptic stories need to remove their heads from their asses and get over themselves. (in my humble opinion – HA!)

Let a woman create her own damn horror story. Or, better yet, not.

Because check it out, psycho-horror-birth-story moms: For every dreadful traumatic birth story, there is a Rocket-birth story…
where you labor 6 hours at home with contractions timed perfectly apart, where you fall asleep (literally) between contractions, and you sway and rock and get in the shower, and you’re riding the waves of a gorgeous blue ocean, so whole and contained in some primal Eden, until your husband says “we have to go,” and you get in the car and drive to a birthing center, where the nurses think you can’t possibly be in hard labor – because you’re so just too CALM  – but they check you cause your mom insists (you could care less) and you’re at 8. You have 2 more huge contractions and forty-five minutes after arriving you get in the birthing tub and push three times, birthing an exquisite 8.5 pound baby boy.

The midwife says “Turn around, pick up your son.” (because you gave birth on your hands and knees)

So you turn and see him there with wide open eyes and outstretched arms, pushing the water like the fins of a little fish, until you scoop him up and pull him to the surface – to you to life and to earth – watch his eyes blink and lock on yours, his petal mouth draw its first deep breath while his body floods pink and your heart explodes then, for him.

And there isn’t a sound in the room.

There isn’t a single ripple in the entire universe to disrupt the waters of this one moment.

A midwife whispers “how do you feel?”

And you answer with a smile from your belly, “elated.”

OR, you can have a birth like Georgia’s, where you flail around the house screaming like a fucking hyena, wishing you’d die, until you finally, after 2.5 hours of pushing, birth a nearly 10-pound baby in a funky position (in a horse trough in your living room, FYI).

Both of these stories are “truth.”

But the thing is they’re just my truth: small and unique and mine.

You know what I think we should be telling women who are about to become mothers?


Just that.


Welcome to the path that’s never been tread before, leading to a place nobody’s visited, a spot carved out for you and your baby, where the two of you fit, just right – like a motherfucking glove.

[So don’t stress when they scowl at you, muttering “Damn, that looks uncomfortable.”

You got this.

So just keep on keepin’ on, new mama, we’re right here with you, walking our own dusty roads, hoping you’ll steady us as we steady you.

And welcome, welcome to motherhood.

Come on in.

The water’s fine.


  • Chrsitina Hietbrink

    Ah Janelle,

    That is why I love you!

    That’s all!


  • Janie

    OH MY GOSH YES. Bugs the hell out of me. I always think I had a really terrible poo once, like the turd came out sideways and my butthole bled so bad I need an overnight pad. But I don’t tell every schmuck walking toward a bathroom about it.

    I am a recently certified natural childbirth educator and I want to tell every mom, “first forget everything you’ve ever heard or portrayal of childbirth you’ve ever seen”

    Breastfeeding I’m torn. I want to only teach that it is simple and beautiful because it is. But there needs to be some expectation of difficulties so they don’t think all is lost and just head for the similac swag as soon a nip hurts.

    • renegademama

      I’M DYING about the turd thing. Hysterical.

      And I agree about the breastfeeding education – wholeheartedly! I was “educated” by my mom since I was a little girl. What I was talking about is just the sweeping statements “breastfeeding is impossible,” or “hard,” or whatever, as if that’s just the only truth about it. Know what I mean?

      • Janie

        there might be way too much potty humor in my class, I might need to address that.

        Yes I totally agree on the breastfeeding thing. Its that one area that I choose my words carefully.

        Who am I kidding?

        I don’t choose words carefully. ever. its why I have so few friends.

    • Jessica

      That first paragraph……FUNNY!

    • Rebekah C

      OMG the turd thing! I can’t stop laughing!

  • paige

    “I’m not you. You’re you”

    I think that can be applied almost anywhere. good lookin’ out. you’re wonderful.

  • Sarah O'Malley

    REALLY! I HATE CRYING! Now I am crying and since it is the new year I got rid of all of my amazing comfort foods.. so I am laughing and crying and drinking water! Because The Water is Fine! Wish I had a friend like you when I had my babies! But now, because of you, I know what to say to my friends who are having babies for the first time. Thank you!

  • Vanessa

    I’m 40 weeks, 4 days pregnant today, so I feel for your friend. The texts from friends and family? It’s taking everything I have to not reply with multiple expletives or at the very least STOP TEXTING ME WE WILL TELL YOU WHEN I GO TO THE HOSPITAL LEAVE ME ALONE. Every twinge in my uterus is mocking me right now. But this is my third baby, so mostly I’m just beyond ready to have this kid outside of my body, and no matter what happens I’m pretty confident I’ll survive and be much happier than I am now in this state of limbo. Yes to everything you said, by the way. Having babies and nursing them is generally hard, but SO worth it. I honestly look back fondly on both of my births and nursing experiences even though they were far from perfect. But they were mine, and my little girls were the result, and that is more than enough.

  • Marisa

    1. Breastfeeding can be so many things, all rolled into one. I’m sure she will find out on her own. Why freak her out?

    2. Telling someone a horrific birth story before they give birth is just plain mean. AND telling birth stories to some one who hasn’t given birth, well, is almost a waste of breath. Usually they’re not all that interested. Now, talking to other moms about it, yes, they’re are all usually interested.

    3. You’re the best!

    • Marisa

      4. I forgot….I was in shock when I went into labor. I honestly wasn’t miserable, and everyone kept talking to me about how horrible the last few days were. I didn’t feel horrible enough. No, I couldn’t be going into labor…I wasn’t ready!!!!

  • Rebekah C

    Janell, lol, the tears are streaming from my eyes. Your powerful memories brought back my own. Birth is such a powerful moment in every woman’s life. That’s why the ones who experience horror stories share it all the time. they are seeking validation of an experience that left them feeling robbed or something.

    You are absolutely right…for every horror stories there are beautiful ones. I LOVE the entire concept behind the simplest thing to say to a new mother is WELCOME. Welcome to the hells, the joys, the crazies, the insanities, the laughs, the tears and incredible journey that is being a mother. Giving birth is the easy part, lol.

  • Shan

    Gah! Love this! It reminds me so much of our birth board days, when so many of those mamas-to-be who had been wondering why the hell other women felt compelled to share their horrifying stories turned around and gleefully did the same to others. What is the point? Well, like you said, it’s the storyteller’s ego. Nailed it.

    All that being said, it’s very hard not to be that woman, too, sometimes.

  • Stacey

    Women are going to want to share their horrifying birth stories with me? Dammit. I thought the unwanted and super creepy belly touching was the worst part.

  • Vicky

    Stop making me cry! My baby is a few days old! Seriously, I’m crying all over my keyboard.

    I love you, woman.

    Thank you.

  • Kate

    Doctors aren’t very nice either. I’m a little larger than average and my DOCTOR (f him) told me women who have large breasts often have a hard time breastfeeding. What did he know? my birth nurse had six kids and showed me how to breast feed and we had a lovely time of it until he self-weaned. i like the thought of women helping women through it rather than scaring women through it, it’s scary enough, that new territory. as usual thanks for your voice!

  • Katie Vyktoriah

    I think that the women who tell horror stories are the ones who HEARD horror stories when they were pregnant. They were terrified, so they want to terrify others. It’s like bullies at school – usually they have been bullied at home.

    That said, the horror stories never really bothered me. I took it all with a grain of salt. What gets to me more is that my partner and my mom love to tell everyone what an “easy” birth I had with my son. My mother swears I didn’t need the epidural I got at 7 cm because I was already handling the pain so well. And they love to brag about how the baby came out with literally one push (well… actually, it was 2 half pushes, as I had to pause halfway through so the midwife could remove the cord from the neck), and I didn’t tear at all. But because I didn’t wail and scream or freak out about it all, they assume I did it painlessly and happily. Nevermind that I was induced, hooked up to a ton of wires and drips due to various medical issues and had to go through all of the early stages of labor on my own because in the UK, visitors aren’t allowed until you’re nearly there. Bah. Here I go telling my story like the ego-hungry monster I am! 😉

    As for breast feeding, I do think it’s important to tell new moms that it can be hard and painful AT FIRST. Especially if/when nipples crack and bleed or you are unlucky enough to get mastitis (I had it 3 times in the first few months). I have several friends who gave up on breastfeeding (despite really wanting to do it) because they assumed pain/mastitis was telling them they were incapable of continuing. No one gave them encouragement to feed THROUGH it. And now they regret not trying harder.

    I dunno. I’m torn. I think that if someone ASKS for advice or anecdotes, it’s cool to tell them the truth. But volunteering horrible stories just for the sadistic pleasure of watching someone squirm is such a shitty thing to do.

  • missy

    Welcome. Yes. I like that part, about fitting like a motherfucking glove. How else could it be?? Thanks for the lovely image to remind me that we all live in the only world we will ever know.

  • JeninCanada

    Welcome indeed! Thank you.

  • Clg

    “Oh my God, birth was the most traumatic experience of my life!!! I was in labor for 9 days. No really. NINE DAYS. I didn’t eat food or drink water that entire time so when I went into the hospital they all thought I was going to die because I was so X, Y, and Z, and then they gave me Pitocin and I was in SO MUCH PAIN but they accidentally put the epidural in my calf instead of my back so I got NO relief. Finally I was at 10 and the doctor was like “PUSH! PUSH!” but there were nineteen interns in the room and I was trying to push but I couldn’t feel anything on account of the leg epidural, so I pushed for 5 hours until the doctor said “this baby is just too big to birth and the heart rate is declining,” so they rushed me in for an emergency ceseran and I passed out during it due to exhaustion so I didn’t even see my baby for 48 hours, which caused me PTSD and night terrors. And now I also have hemorrhoids the size of golf balls and the veins in my eyes are permanently popped and my calf is numb and half a hospital staff has seen my vagina. Basically I had rather stab spend the rest of my life stabbing myself in the eyes with bamboo shoots than give birth again. But good luck with yours!”

    I DIE!!!! I laughed so hard at work my cube sister came over to see if I was ok. But let’s be honest, don’t we ALL know mothers (hint hint) who share scary stories about motherhood to those unsuspecting fools (double hint hint) for fun? Hummmm???

  • Lori

    My eyes are all full of tears. Thank you for sharing. You are a talented writer. I’m jealous. 🙂

  • kelly @kellynaturally

    Women share their stories in all of their amazing glory and peace and pain and terrifying awfulness because birth is one of the most touching and excruciating and frightening and awesome experiences in life. Ever.

    When a woman tells her story, I try to just listen; without interjecting my own experience, without judgment.

    As her story is hers, and mine will be mine, and her’s doesn’t have to become mine, but allowing the story to flow is what she needs right now. So… why NOT allow her space to tell and share? Sometimes there’s great healing in the sharing.

  • JulieK

    Actually … I kind of sought out birthing horror stories. Because I was doing a bit of reverse psychology on myself, saying “well if THEIR birth was that bad, surely mine can’t POSSIBLY top that… so I’ll be fine!” 😉
    Plus the stories are oh-so-intersting… kind of like REAL reality shows! LOL

    About the BFing – I sorta WISH someone had told me that it was hard because all I heard was “It’s so natural, just pop him on the boob and you’re good!” and oh-my-gosh-it-was-so-hard and painful… so I felt like an utter failure and it almost became a deal-breaker…until I found out: my son had tongue-tie and nobody said anything till he was 6 weeks old!!! we got his tongue tie snipped and everything got better after that…

    But anyway – I get what you’re saying though – everybody’s experience will be different… and people shouldn’t push their horror stories on other moms… unless they’re me and then yep, I’m right here waiting to hear it! 🙂

  • Athena

    So, I’m a midwife and therefore a magnet for birth stories. Women usually preface their story with, ‘I’m sorry, this must happen to you all the time’ but invariably go ahead and pour out their (often traumatic) story anyways.

    I get it. I know we devalue women’s experiences of birth and I know that some really horrible shit can happen to labouring women, particularly in hospitals. And you know what, if they need to tell me about that then I am usually pretty receptive.

    But what I CANNOT understand, and I have really applied some serious thought to this phenomena, is why these women want to frighten the bejesus out of other pregnant women.

    Fear fucks with the neuro-hormonal process that drives labour and birth and can actively impede the progress of labour. This is not hippy bullshit, this is science folks. So the horror story isn’t just a story. Telling horror stories to a pregnant women is like shoving a bloody great barbed-wire covered obstacle in front of her. It’s another thing she has to negotiate, worry about, be afraid of and try to forget about in order to remain sane and birth her baby.

    She has enough of those things in her brain already! Like the whole baby coming out her vagina bonanza. That alone is already keeping her up nights.

    Give her a freaking break.

  • SM

    Renegade Mama, thank you for writing this, and THANK YOU Athena, for giving the best, most sound reasoning I’ve seen so far, for WHY women shouldn’t do this to each other! And for pete’s sakes, definitely not if you’re someone the woman may look to for support or confidence.

  • Celeste

    This post made me really sad. I posted something today from the other side of the horror story discussion. People “push” their wonderful, empowering birth stories all the time, and are invited to share “positive birth stories only” at baby showers and other functions.

    There are all sorts of births, and all of them are a huge transition. We should learn how to discuss all of them and hold all of us in mind. Yes, some traumatized moms can be assholes and almost seem to revel in sharing their stories. Maybe we should address how to share our more traumatic birth stories, rather than which stories are okay to share.

    Also, maybe these mothers only have one child because the birth was so traumatic. That’s actual trauma. How about a little bit of empathy?

  • Ida

    I think it’s more about sharing your story when you are NOT asked to share it which is the problem here than traumatic birth experiences as such.

    I have given birth once, and yes if I were to tell you what happened it probably would come pretty close to your parody story in your blog post, only I had to really endure it – and I suffer physically from it still as well as the occasional anxiety attacks.

    I’m not always in the mood hearing about other women’s lovely birth experiences either, fact is I don’t want to talk much about giving birth at all – if someone insists on telling me anyway, I usually keep the conversation short. Still, it isn’t that their stories are truer or falser than mine, it’s just a topic of conversation that I don’t want enter into unless I say that’s fine. Some people enjoy being mean to pregnant women and they do it in various ways, and that’s never ok.

    Also, as Celeste implies above, labeling my birth experience as a “horror story” pretty much excludes me from the community of mothers you wished me “welcome” to. It was bad and traumatic but I think we all have a right to be heard and get our experiences validated – if we’re asked to share.

  • Jessica

    I wish someone would have told me how hard breastfeeding CAN BE before I had my daughter. I thought, “We have survived thousands of years as a species, and would not have survived if breastfeeding was hard, so it is natural.” (and easy!) However, I have huge boobs and large nipples, and my daughter was a pain in the ass and essentially refused to nurse. My mom was also a great help, as in, she successfully breastfed three children, including a premature, autistic child, and when I asked her for help she was clueless. She would say, “When she gets hungry enough, she will nurse.” I am only commenting in the hopes that one woman will read it, remember it, and not give up. I saw the hospital consultant when my daughter was eight weeks old (I kept trying until then), and when she told me I was a lost cause and she had never seen a child like mine who refused to nurse, I used it as my excuse to “Give up.” I then fought through severe PPD and exclusively pumped for 8 solid months to feed my daughter only breastmilk. I wish I could have done it longer, but my husband basically threatened me that if I did not go back on an antidepressant, he would divorce me. I would never feed my child antidepressant laced breastmilk. It was a nightmare I would not wish on anyone. So, while I envy you that you had an easy time breastfeeding (and birthing), I will say that birthing is not a choice. Every kid has to come out. But breastfeeding is a choice. Unfortunately, one that few mothers make in the United States now. I would have appreciated knowing how hard breastfeeding CAN BE. I hope my post saves at least one woman from giving up breastfeeding.

  • Kim

    I completely agree the one should shut one’s trap about horror birth stories. The following link has helped put into words the warning I want to communicate to pregnant women about the very real possibility that they wont be adequately supported to achieve the birth that they may be hoping for…….It starts….
    Dear Friend, Birth Doesn’t Have to Suck
    Posted by Cristen Pascucci on Jun 4, 2014 in Articles | 37 comments

    Dear Friend,

    If you’re reading this, it’s because I care about you, and I want you to rock your birth. I believe you deserve the best. If “rocking your birth” sounds like something other people do, and you just want to “get through it” with a healthy baby—girl, raise your expectations. You’re both too valuable to whiff on this one. If this is your first baby, it’s even more important, because it will set the tone for your future births and may determine your options for the rest of your life.
    See more at….

  • Phillipa

    I was about a week out of having my 4th and somene asked me how the birth went and I said “awful!” because this one really was. I didn’t go into much more detail b/c I then realized that she was pregnant. With her first. So I smiled, said….”but this labour and delivery was really weird” and wished her well.

  • Jess

    THANK YOU!!! You just put everything I’ve been going through in such perfect language. I feel validated and calmed and relieved. You are a gift!

  • Lindsey

    And of course women are STILL commenting their horror stories here. You just can’t win with them. Thanks, for this beautiful article. I will work on remembering the positive stories that I hear / read. Instead of getting upset thinking I’m going to be traumatized.

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