I cannot let Empowered Birth Awareness Week close without reflecting on the fact that birth leaves powerful lifelong imprints. Our empowerment lies in becoming aware of them and from understanding that these birth imprints are always available to be revised, renegotiated and healed. In a moment I will share for the first time ever the story of my son's birth imprint and its powerful healing.
Birth is one of our most momentous embodied experiences. And even though we don’t consciously remember this huge event in our lives, each of us carries the story of our birth etched in our body and psyche. We carry unconscious traces of somatic memory that can keenly influence our behavioral and personality patterns.
For example, it isn’t uncommon to see that the person born with the cord around his neck doesn’t like tight collars or tight spots…the person pulled out with forceps resents being rushed or forced to do things…the person born breech does things backwards…the person born after an unusually fast labor has fears about things moving too quickly…the person born after an unusually slow labor has fears of getting stuck…the person born prematurely never feels quite ready for anything…the person born by C-section can’t quite finish things, or often needs to be rescued.
This is an incomplete list, too simplistic, and all focused on negative imprints. There are as many birth imprints as there are births and individuals: each of us comes into physical existence with our own uniqueness, and our own unique ways in which the events of our birth inscribe patterns and tendencies.
For example, some people born after their mother’s labor was artificially induced are stubborn and will do things only on their own time, while others born after being induced just can’t seem to get going on their own, and constantly need that nudging from the outside. Indeed, birth experiences often leave a trace of something that we both fear and gravitate to, since it’s so familiar at such a fundamental, intangible level.
My Own Birth Imprints
Well, mine and my son's. First mine: I was delivered with forceps and one of the things that can most push my buttons is to be rushed or coerced! Have I gone to great lengths to heal or "fix" this imprint? No, but simply having the awareness of this dynamic is extremely helpful in certain life moments. Believe me, as an adopted person carried in a stressed womb and then separated from my biological mother at birth, I've had plenty of revising and healing to do! This is work that began in earnest once my first child was born, since motherhood brought up a lot of these embodied memories for me and pretty much brought me to my knees.
There are many fruitful avenues for renegotiating our own birth imprints, such as Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) and other energy psychology modalities. As with most things related to our inner life, the biggest step and most powerful force is consciousness itself, so I invite you to turn a compassionate, unhurried mind's eye to the questions of what kinds of birth imprints you might have picked up. Maybe you'll even have a conversation with your mother--an adult version of, "Mama, tell me again about the day I was born."
As for our children's birth imprints, I see that we are offered countless opportunities through our parenting to notice, become aware of, and address them.
My Son's Birth Imprints
As I shared in an earlier post about the power of birth stories, during labor & birth my son Ian had the cord around his neck, and this definitely left its imprint. How? With every contraction during labor, not only is a mother's uterus working to move the baby down, the baby is also pushing forward against the top of the uterus to move himself toward the world! Each time that Ian exerted his effort to move forward, the cord tightened around his neck and his heart rate dropped. So 0ne of Ian's first powerful lessons was something like, "To move forward and emerge threatens my life."
Once I learned about birth psychology, I watched for expressions of Ian's birth imprints during his childhood. He had occasional night-terrors and sometimes daytime situations that made him a little anxious, but these were few and far between. I did a bit of sleep-talking with him, which helped. (This is the technique whose guidelines are offered in the free gift I offer Mothering readers.)
A few months before his college graduation, Ian was spending his winter break working as a music intern in New York City, with plans to move there after finishing school. One evening he was WiFi bivouacking at a city library, killing some time before an engagement he had some hours later. The library was closing soon, but he wasn't due at his next stop for another couple hours. He took the chance to write his dad and me a newsy email update. I look back at this as divine timing: had Ian not written this email at that moment, I may have never seen the red flag: his "panic at emergence" birth imprint was kicking in powerfully, even at age twenty. Here is an excerpt from his email, in which his breezy, casual comments are abruptly punctuated by a completely different voice, a panicky voice, which he actually put in different format--ALL CAPS:
anyway, it seems like i've got enough connections (gaining more and more by the day, it seems like) to get on my feet pretty quickly in NYC, but i'm still hesitant. but there is no question that this is where i should end up. AHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!! i feel like i'm going crazy with all this anticipation... that said, things are just fine. right now i'm in the public library, in the huge Rose Reading Room, killing time before going.... IDON'TKNOWWHERE.
here's a list of things i'm doing next semester:
- Intro to the Black Experience (3 credits)
- The Art of Teaching Music (1 credit)
- Digital Audio Skills (1 credit)
- Private Reading on Spoken Text in Avant-Garde Music (1 credit)
- Secondary Piano Lessons (2 credits)
- Rehearsal/Performance for Reefer Madness (2 credits)
- MAYBE Intro to the Qur'an (3 credits)
I AM CONSTANTLY FILLED WITH TENSION ABOUT THE FUTURE, AND IT'S GETTING TO BE DEBILITATING. I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO. I SHOULDN'T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT THIS STUFF UNTIL THE SUMMER, BUT IT'S ALL CRASHING IN ON ME RIGHT NOW. I'M SURE THIS WILL PASS IN A FEW HOURS, BUT KNOWING THAT I ONLY HAVE 40 MORE MINUTES IN THE LIBRARY AND NOWHERE SPECIFICALLY NEARBY TO GO IS STRESSING ME THE F*** OUT. I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHY. but please don't worry about me, because when it comes down to it, things are great here. this anxiety hasn't been going on very long, and i'll find some way to deal with it.
To me it was unmistakably clear. I didn't figure this was the time to bring up his birth imprints and how that might be affecting him, although I did reply to him and mention the glaring symbolic parallel between the imminent closing time of the library (Where will I GO?) and his imminent graduation from college (pushed out of that safe place of books and study -- Where will I GO?).
For my birthday the following month I gave myself the gift of a session with energy psychology practitioner Dr. Wendy McCarty. Wendy is one of the most knowledgeable clinicians I know about prenatal and birth trauma. Our extended session together was one of the most profound processes I've ever experienced. Combining her amazing expertise and my willingness to "go there" and open up and be uncharacteristically vulnerable, we engaged the barely-fathomable power of a transpersonal energetic healing approach to renegotiate and re-pattern some of Ian's and my interrelated / interwoven birth imprints of trauma and terror.
I never mentioned any of this to Ian at the time*, but never again have I detected "emergence panic" or even anxiety on his part. Not at graduation, not at striking out to live in New York City, not at his many daunting gigs in the four years since. (He's even played piano at Avery Fisher Hall!) Nerves, excitement, sometimes even normal apprehension -- but not the contractions of suffocating panic that was one of his primary birth imprints. [*I only discussed this fully with him yesterday as I set out to write this article, as I would only have done so with his permission!]
So like Birth Empowerment Awareness Week, birth itself may come and go quickly...but in the quantum way of so much of human development, our birth is always with us still...ready to be reawakened, revisited, and re-envisioned in a way that brings healing, wholeness and vitality. For ourselves and for our children.
With almost every parent I have coached, there has been either a prenatal or birth imprint being expressed through their child's behavior. Recognizing and addressing it has been the key to shifting things into a more positive, harmonious direction. If this resonates with you, I invite you to try my "Shift Your Child's Perplexing Stuck Behaviors Overnight" Plan -- a step-by-step strategy to "un-stick" those birth imprint patterns and bring more harmony, ease and delight to your parent-child relationship.
Because it is in that harmony, ease and delight that we truly empower our children and ourselves to reveal our magnificence!
I'm the author of Parenting for Peace: Raising the Next Generation of Peacemakers, and also the adoption expert on Mothering's expert panel. I write and speak on prenatal, child and parent development and I have a private practice coaching parents-in-progress. I raised two humans, earned a doctorate, and lived to report back. On the wings of my book I've been visiting many groups and conferences around the world, and I'm happy to be sharing dispatches and inside glimpses with you here on Mothering.com! As well as good old parenting stuff. As a special gift to Mothering readers I'm offering "A Unique 7-Step Parenting Tool."
Cesarean image by: Robert S. Donovan through a Creative Commons license