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The (Social) Mediated Myth of Childbirth

by Ethan Tussey

Social media can be a platform for expressing a plurality of experience, and yet it too often becomes an echo chamber for dominant narratives. Just as Butler (2007) theorized a performativity, or acting out, of our gender roles, so too is there a performativity of motherhood online. It prescribes many aspects of how we should parent, and starts with how children should come into the world. Carefully curated birth stories, shared in social media platforms like Facebook and Youtube, establish what is a “good birth” and, by implication, what is a “bad birth” (Das, 67). My intention is not to suggest that individual mothers, in choosing whether or how to share their birth stories, participate in further entrenching this dominant narrative. Rather, it has become an implicit cultural norm that births involving medical intervention are not shared online, creating and perpetuating a sense of shame around those common and very real birth stories.

When preparing for the birth of my first child, I turned to social media for guidance. I read birth stories posted on Facebook, watched Youtube videos, and listened to podcasts where women shared their birth experiences. Almost without exception, the narratives I found described natural, unmedicated, vaginal births. When my own birth necessitated a cesarean section, I felt like a failure because this was not the experience I had seen in the stories shared online. These stories had led me to believe that I was immune from the medical interventions that I should have known were a statistical possibility--according to the Centers for Disease Control, in the United States, 32% of babies are born via cesarean.

Since becoming a mother (now twice over) I have experienced being among a group of new moms gathered behind closed doors, where often the conversation turns to birth stories. There is something that compels us to share the intimate details of our most vulnerable moments. In these circles I learned that my story is not unique. And yet, mine was not the birth story that I saw on social media as an expectant first-time mom.

What would it look like if the diversity of childbirth experience was truly represented online? What would it look like if we shared our truths and supported one another on our individual birthing journeys, regardless of what they look like? By sharing our unique stories we can break the culture of shame that a single narrative of birth can create (Adichie, 2009). I share my own story in the hopes that it might spark a conversation about this mediated myth of childbirth, and empower women to contribute to building a rich plurality of experience online by sharing theirs.

Adichie, Chimamanda. “The Dangers of a Single Story.” TED . London. July 2009. You Tube. Web. 19 Nov. 2010. .

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble : Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. Routledge, 2007.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Health Statistics, 2017, Accessed May 1, 2019.

Das, Ranjana. “Mediated Subjectivities of the Maternal: A Critique of Childbirth Videos on YouTube.” Communication Review, vol. 21, no. 1, Jan. 2018, pp. 66–84. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/10714421.2017.1416807.

Homebirth Cesarean: A Story of Empowerment

Video for Charlotte Keniston's post for the Motherhood and Media week on In Media Res

from Homebirth Cesarean: A Story of Empowerment (2019)
Creator: Charlotte Keniston
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey