Perched on barstools, we leaned into one another. A small, round table littered with wine glasses separated us.
And our stories bound us.
It happens every time. When my girlfriends and I get together, we tell our stories. Invariably, these are the tales of womanhood, motherhood, of birth, of bodies. It is possible we have heard them before. But we never grow tired of them. For each time in the telling, we peel back another layer of experience, of emotion.
And each layer shed binds us closer still.
Maybe there is an element of “the fish was THIS BIG” in the telling but mostly, our stories change only in our understanding of them. Sometimes hearing your story reflected back to you in the comments and observations of your friends can clarify a point or encourage a fresh perspective.
I learn so much from my women friends.
But I tell my stories because I need them to be heard. I want to be understood. I have learnt that some of the deepest and darkest parts that hide within me have been illuminated, and therefore, healed, by a shared experience. To have a person stand before me and say that not only do they understand my darkness but that they have a darkness just like it is incredibly powerful.
Looking within myself is not nearly as scary as it once was because I have told my stories and other women have told me theirs.
We are not so different, you and I.
Sometimes I have shared a story and the response I have gotten has shaken me to the core. Not every woman will reflect empathy and commonality back to you. And though this may feel hideous at the time, I have learnt it offers an important opportunity to further reflect. A differing perspective can lead you to two conclusions – either the new information will reshape your position or it will strengthen your original conviction. Both lead to a greater understanding of the self which is what, ultimately, we are here to do.
A challenge to our beliefs, especially those we hold about our own stories, can be a gift. As long as the challenge is respectful and does not seek to invalidate, then yeah, we don’t always have to agree.
I wonder if I will ever be able to relay my birth stories enough. There are some stories I have grown tired of telling. But birth, my goodness, I love to talk about it. And equally, I love to hear birth stories, too. How did the loves of our lives make their way into this world? I find it endlessly fascinating and wildly moving.
But some of us don’t have the kinds of birth stories others are comfortable hearing. I have talked before about Sally and her firstborn daughter. Inevitably, when we get together, we will talk about Hope. Sally may initiate the conversation, but just as often, someone else might bring up her baby girl. It has been five years since Hope was born still. For some people, this might breach the arbitrary time limit upon which a person must get over their grief. But when I think about how I might feel if one of my three children were no longer alive, I can’t imagine a time when I wouldn’t need to acknowledge that loss.
Sally will sometimes apologise for the conversation having turned to Hope. I’m sure that’s a kneejerk reaction to the fact that our society doesn’t handle grief well. But I wonder if the secret of handling grief is to stop with the imposed time limits and just talk. No matter how uncomfortable it makes us. For as long as that takes, we tell our stories.
It just so happens that Sally is one of the most hilarious and fun women I know. She is not shrouded in mourning black (although you could forgive her for doing so). She is fascinating and interesting on so many levels. I want her to know she can tell me the story of Hope one thousand times. One million times. I will never tire of hearing it. As her friend, I want to share her heartbreak as often as she wants or needs to.
And in return, she needs to be prepared to hear me say the word vagina ad nauseum. I don’t know why but I am truly obsessed with saying that word. VAGINA.
Stories. We need to tell them. We need to hear them.
Thanks for listening to mine.