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The seeds of relationships are sown prenatally, later to be nurtured or damaged by birth, bonding and subsequent care.
~ Barbara Findeisen, past president of APPPAH
The relevance and impact of the birth experience has been recognized in a minor way since the early days of modern psychology. However, during the last 50 years there has been an increasing interest in the fields of Pre and Perinatal Psychology and its effect on human behavior. Research has proven that there are psychological and psycho-physiological effects and implications attributed to the earliest experiences of the individual. These studies include the gestational or “prenatal” period beginning at conception, as well as the “perinatal” stage which encompasses the birthing process and experiences occurring immediately after delivery. Trauma at any time during the pre and perinatal stages of development creates an imprint which profoundly impacts the health, well-being and learning ability of the individual.
In today’s world of contemporary obstetrics, birth has become a medical procedure with 98% of births in the US taking place in hospitals. In spite of the increase in modern technology, we have not improved on the quality of the birthing experience for either mother or child. The major source of birth trauma is often the result of the overuse of obstetrical techniques and interventions. Even in a normal delivery, you might find the use of forceps or vacuum extractions, drugs to induce or stimulate labor, anesthesia or drugs to control the pain of contractions, fetal monitoring appliances, and more. Cesarean sections are increasing at an alarming rate up from 3% to 25% in recent years. Research on thousands of infants has shown that more than 80% suffer from some form of trauma as the result of the birthing process.
After 20 years of research, Pre and Perinatal psychologist William Emerson states that prenatal experiences can be remembered (imprinted) and have a lifelong impact on the individual. Babies grow in a warm and intimate environment in the mother’s womb, struggle down the birth canal to be plunged into a cold, bright and seemingly hostile world. Lengthy separation from the mother immediately after birth interferes with the bonding process. Adoption, cesarean, premature or late term birth has its own set of unique obstacles to overcome. It is accepted that even in the most natural births, the experience of coming into this world carries with it a certain level of shock that can be held in the body for a lifetime.
The pioneers of Pre and Perinatal psychology and health are working diligently to affect change by educating the medical profession, parents and families to see mother and child as “fundamentally interconnected” from conception through birth. It is profoundly important to understand the significance of a supportive and healthy prenatal environment that honors the needs and choices of the mother. Babies are sentient beings that are easily affected by early pre-natal and perinatal dysfunction and trauma. While there are efforts to make changes and create a gentle birthing environment, there are many babies, children and full grown adults, who are suffering the effects of trauma related to their birth experience. Without the appropriate interventions and healing processes these individuals will suffer needlessly from a variety of difficulties ranging from learning disabilities, PTSD, boundary issues resulting in excessive timidity or aggressiveness, and the list goes on.
Prenatal memories are the most influential because they are the first.
~ R. D. Laing, PhD
Unresolved birth trauma has lifelong implications that affect every aspect of existence as the shock of birth is recapitulated through life experiences. It is not a treatment that should be reserved just for those with identifiable or severe trauma, but could be of benefit to any and all infants. If the experts are correct in their evaluation of mountains of data around the stress of being born, then why not eliminate these conditions now rather than allow these issues to take root and grow into tomorrow’s chronic difficulties. Traditional medicine will tell you that many of the symptoms that we relate to birth trauma will pass over time. However, I would suggest that they simply go underground spreading their roots into the physiology and psychology of the developing child. We have had amazing results in many cases of symptoms disappearing in the session, such as:
1. breathing issues
a. catches or irregularities in breathing
b. Asthma or extreme congestion
2. sleeping issues
3. feeding difficulties
4. excessive crying
5. choking issues
6. difficulty in bonding
There are marvelous and amazing stories too numerous to mention here. I would recommend that every adopted child have a session in the water to correct the trauma of the loss of maternal love and create a bond with the adoptive parents. One profound example is a baby girl who had complications from a long labor and a traumatic delivery. She had a noticeable catch in her breathing from the beginning and repeated every 3 or 4 breaths. It reduced in frequency over time but at 6 months of age, it was still present. In addition to the distortion in her breathing, she experienced recurring episodes that were unexplainable by her doctors. For no reason at all, she would go into what seemed like a state of panic, screaming while in a trance-like state, staring at the ceiling with her arms and legs shaking frantically in the air. She would not make eye contact nor could her parents console her. Eventually, it would pass leaving her parents distressed, confused and very concerned. After one single hot tub session, both sets of symptoms completely disappeared and have never returned.
The foundation for the water sessions with infants is based on a phenomenon of “rebirthing” where it was not uncommon for adults to experience spontaneous regressions back to the womb during warm water breathwork. There was something about the connection to our watery origins that activated deeply held womb distress and trauma around birth. During these sessions, it was obvious that the origin of many beliefs, patterns of behavior and attitudes went back to the prenatal and perinatal stages of development. Life changing shifts in the person’s state of consciousness were brought about through the release of chronic tension held in the nervous system and the discharge of deep rooted emotions. As the layers of trauma were peeled away, the beliefs were revealed and correction was possible.
Our journey through life is directly connected and affected by the ease or difficulties of our passage into the physical world. As astounding as it seems, there appears to be a direct connection between the way we accomplish or cope in life and our birth story. During the momentous event of coming into this world, decisions are made and the seeds planted that grow into our belief structure. It is our first experience of death and rebirth as the fetus dies to make room for the living breathing baby. This dramatic shift creates a powerful imprint that follows us throughout our lives as a model for success... or failure. Through an understanding of the birthing process and how we are affected by the specific distress of our individual birth, we have the opportunity to reclaim what has been lost.
Life experiences are perceived in terms of prior and unresolved traumas.
~ William Emerson, PhD
The intention for the infant water session is to provide a corrective experience early in life in order to counteract or release the issues, patterns or conclusions that might surface later in life. Therefore, it is important to know the story of the birth as you might see it replicated during the session. The ideal age for using this process with a baby is 3 – 6 months. If a child is premature, you might have a little longer. Once the child is unwilling to be held by someone they do not know, then the ideal time has passed for this particular approach. The criteria for the session are as follows: both parents need to agree to the process, the child is physically healthy and the umbilical cord is healed.
The pool represents the womb and therefore, its condition and surrounding environment is very important. The primary requirement is that the space needs to be quiet, clean and completely private. It is good if the lighting can be adjusted so that it is not too bright. Colored objects suspended from the ceiling are nice for small children learning to swim but can be distracting to this particular process. The temperature of the water needs to be controlled so that it is not lower than body temperature and not higher than 99.6 degrees. A small pool designed specifically for physical therapy or a hot tub is an ideal choice. Ideally the child would be naked as that is how they came into the world.
The process itself begins with a short interview in addition to an intake form. Instructions are given including reminding the parents that the baby will probably cry during the session. Sometimes the crying is intense and they should be prepared for this possibility. Parents often ask why they cannot do this process on their own. The answer to this is simple. It would be inappropriate for them NOT to respond to their crying infant. As in any therapeutic process, the facilitator is neutral and able to hold space without emotion so that optimum healing can take place.
The period surrounding birth represents a short period of time when our capacities to adapt are more suddenly and intensely challenged than ever.
~ Michael Odent, MD
A prayer of intention for the release and healing of any trauma related to the pre and perinatal stages of development is spoken by the facilitator and / or one of the parents. This healing request would include the parents as well as the child. There should always be someone familiar with the method that stays close to the parents for support during the process. It is not surprising to have emotion come up for one or both of the parents. The facilitator holds the infant so that as much of the body is submerged as possible. The head is supported so that water does not come onto the face. The connection to the infant is gentle and loving, but without any interaction so that the child is not distracted. The water will do most of the work of creating the altered state necessary for the process. The symptoms of the altered state vary with some infants looking at the ceiling without blinking or their eyes are closed as they go inside. Once the altered state is reached, it is unlikely that the infant will make eye contact with the facilitator. When eye contact is reestablished, this would signal the completion of the session.
Using a strong connection to their intuition, the facilitator will move the child in the water and allow him or her to push, to stretch or move in whatever way is needed. If the infant cries, there is no attempt to soothe or quiet the baby, even if the cries are strong. It is important to remember that these cries represent a release of physical and emotional stress. It is possible, but not as common, that the session would be very quiet. We do not know how the experience will express itself. We do ask the parents to be aware of sounds, cries or movements that are not typical for the child.
When the facilitator feels the session is complete, the baby is returned to the parents. The infant is held, fed and nurtured in whatever loving ways are appropriate for the parents. The facilitator and any supporters step back, giving the parents time to connect and bond with their child. This segment is the corrective aspect of the session and should not be rushed. The average session in the water is 25 – 35 minutes, depending on the length of time needed by the parents with their baby upon conclusion. The parents are asked to watch for changes in sleeping or eating patterns, improvements or changes in disposition, increase in eye contact or a deeper connection to them. Sometimes these changes are subtle and at times they are quite dramatic depending on the individual situation and trauma experienced
Researchers explored the background of people who have expressed some sort of impaired capacity to love, either love of oneself or love of other, they always detected risk factors in the period surrounding birth.
~ Michael Odent, MD
It is amazing what can be accomplished in one single session with an infant. However, there are extreme cases where more than one session might be recommended. There are methods that take weeks or months of sessions before improvement is noticed. Based on the overall data collected, we believe that this process supports deep healing for babies with birth trauma and their parents. This method is especially recommended for infants with cord trauma, both emergency and planned caesarian section, premature birth, long or difficult labors, vacuum or forceps deliveries, complications in the birthing process, adoption and more. Imagine how life would be different if we eliminated the stress, confusion and conclusions taken on during the difficult journey into the physical world. This simple process of healing the next generation promises to create a future that is very different from the past.
Introduction to life before birth by David B. Chamberlain, PhD
Birth Trauma is Real by David B. Chamberlain, PhD
Treatment of Birth Trauma In Infants & Children: Works of William Emerson, Ph.D
The Vulnerable Prenate by William Emerson, PhD
- Birth Trauma: The most common cause of developmental delays by Viola Frymann, D.O.
The Mind of your newborn baby by David B. Chamberlain, PhD
Introduction to the Birth Scene by David B. Chamberlain, PhD
Birth Trauma and its relation to Mental Illness, Suicide and Ecstasy by Stanislav Grof, MD
The Facts of Life by R.D. Laing, PhD
You can find out more about Carol and her work here: http://bit.ly/NNW01k