When unwanted events happen, the nervous system might experience childbirth as an assult. Mothers might be left feeling all kinds of unexpected emotions. The excitement and joy might be overshadowed by anger, guilt, resentment, regret, shock, shame or sadness. It is as if her heart is frozen by the experience.
There are three main responses to a disturbing event. Two of them we are very familiar with: fight or flight. The third response is a state of immobility or freezing. The freezing response might be the key to understanding human trauma,according to Peter Levine, author of Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma.
When animals are faced with a frightening event, they instinctively respond by fighting or fleeing. In some cases the wisest reaction is to “play dead”. After the danger is over the animal gets up and shakes off the residual effect of the disturbing event. Then it moves on leaving the event behind.
In the case of us humans, the neo-cortex (our rational brain) is very powerful and cultural conditioning deeply ingrained. Often our instinctive responses are not expressed. When the disturbing event does not get released, it might get stored in the mind and body.
In my practice, I witness over and over how mothers quickly release and clear the traumatic event and integrate the experience when provided with mother-centered, compassionate guidance and support.
How can we protect the mother-baby from birth trauma?
1. Understand the “Failure to Progress” Myth
It has been documented how labor can stall (“freeze”) when the woman does not feel safe. Sometimes just walking into a hospital, or anything unwelcome by the mother can stall labor. In her book Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth Ina May Gaskin writes about how a dilated cervix may “slam shut” when the laboring mother is disrupted either by real or perceived danger.
Stopping labor is a way that nature has programmed mothers to protect their babies during the process of labor and birth.
When a mother perceives danger, her mind and body will work together to keep her baby safe. Sometimes the only safe place is the womb.
FAILURE TO PROGRESS IS INDEED, FAILURE TO PROTECT AND SUPPORT THE MOTHER.
2. Be aware of the impact of the cascade of interventions can have on the nervous system
Medicalized birth with its cascade of interventions can be a frightening experience for some women. The smells, sounds, procession of unfamiliar people, vaginal exams, bright lights, lack of food, lack of ability to move instinctively and the generalized “birth is a medical emergency” attitude can trigger the fight, flight or freeze response.
Epidurals can be another way a laboring women might experience trauma. If the woman is experiencing pain or fear, if the people in the room are fearful themselves or impatient, inserting the epidural can become a traumatic experience that gets stored in the cells.
When the exhausted, frightened, mother is unable to “progress” the result is often a cesarean birth. Some women go into surgery still fighting; some are petrified with fear and grief.
Even when a person recognizes a surgery to be necessary, on the cellular level the body might still register the cutting through flesh and muscle as a life-threatening experience.
Some women invest a great amount of energy preparing to “fight” for the birth they envision. In some cases a woman “fights” during labor to protect herself and her baby from unnecessary or unwanted interventions.
By the time baby is born she might be exhausted and bonding with her baby can be compromised adding to the experience of trauma.
3. Recognize and honor “The Pause”
Mothers as well as newborn babies need to pause right after the baby comes out of the mother’s body, says Karen Strange, Midwifery and Neonatal Resuscitation teacher. Mother and baby are experiencing a huge transition of body-mind-spirit. The adrenaline is often running high in the room and the need for mother-baby to pause and integrate what happened is often ignored.
“A woman will exhale from the work of birth before she begins to inhale the presence of her child and her new identity as a mother.”~Mary Esther Malloy, mother, birth doula
Mother and baby have been thru a hugely intense experience that no one else in the room shared. Only mother-baby understand what they have been thru, and they need a moment.
The lack of acknowledgement of this sacred pause can leave a mother feeling confused and guilty for not instantly bonding or even wanting to reach for her baby.
“Shock is a normal psychological and physiological response to an unknown, intense or [perceived] biologically-threatening situation. Labor, even normal labor, qualifies for all of those categories. So birth shock is a completely normal response to either normal or complicated births and postpartum; it occurs in home births and hospitals births.” ~Pam England
4. Listen to the body
You are not crazy or a bad mother.
Although your hormone balance will be affected by pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum and breastfeeding, you are not “hormonal”. Something is not working FOR you.
Symptoms such as depression, mood disorders, headaches, fibromyalgia, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), heart disease, cancer and all kinds of dis-ease are the way our body speaks to us.
Releasing trauma is a transformational experience. The energy that has been blocked by the traumatic event and the life force that is invested in repressing the painful memories can be freed. When trauma is released and cleared, our life force energy is available in the present moment to create the life we want for ourselves and our children. Every moment becomes new and filled with possibilities!
Red Tent Resources to Clear Birth Trauma
• ClearingBirth Trauma Private Sessions – These sessions are uplifting and solution-focused. It is not necessary to relive past events or experience any pain during the session. Many women find that the new perspective gained in the sessions open space for positive changes in their daily lives and relationships. One to three sessions is the average length to address a specific issue. You will feel a shift from the very first session. These sessions are a perfect preparation to birth again after a difficult birth.
• Birth Story Healing Workshop is a unique, uplifting and transformational guided process that will change the way you see yourself and the birth of your baby. In this intimate workshop you will be gently guided to find new meaning in your birth story. You will have the opportunity to gather with other women in a compassionate and non-judgmental circle to explore your feelings about giving birth and becoming a mother. The group energy and the format of the circle allows for profound changes to take place. You will see yourself and the birth of your baby in a new light.
• CranioSacral Therapy is a gentle light-touch treatment that releases tensions deep in the body to facilitate the body’s ability to heal. It enables you to gently transform emotional trauma by supporting the body’s inner wisdom and natural healing processes. CST along with SomatoEmotional Release (SER) can help release trauma that might be stored in the body at a cellular level. CST’s effect on the parasympathetic nervous system improves emotional well-being addressing anxiety and other mood challenges.
• A good Nutritional Supplement is important to help restore the body’s immune and nervous systems after a traumatic event. Micro nutrients are also essential to repair the tissues.
Essentials™ – Mega Antioxidant and Chelated Mineral (a complete daily vitamin, mineral and antioxidant supplement )
BiOmega™ ultra-pure fish oil supplement. Provides EPA and DHA (two omega-3 fatty acids) to support your nervous system. In the Adelaide Mothers’ and Babies’ Iron Trial, a 1% increase in blood level DHA was related to a 59% decrease in depressive symptoms of postpartum.
Vitamin D Vitamin D deficiency is a global epidemic. An estimated 1 billion people do not have adequate vitamin D levels. And 64% of Americans don’t have enough vitamin D to keep all of their tissues operating at peak capacity.
What Clients Are Saying…
I attended the birth retreat & I’m left almost speechless. I have finally come to accept our birth journey. I now understand why I did everything I did at the time of labor. A weight has been lifted and I literally feel free and full of energy. I cannot recommend this class enough. I’ve been searching for these answers for over a year and with Evelyn’s help & her mix of meditation & arts I’ve found my conclusions. If you’re still feeling lost about a labor no matter how long ago it was please do yourself a favor and take her class I promise you will not leave disappointed! ~Kristina F.
I went to Evelyn for Transformational Mentoring about a difficult birth experience, followed by CranioSacral therapy. It was truly some of the best money I’ve ever spent. Evelyn is an unbelievably wise and kind soul. She made me feel heard and validated, and then went further by giving me different perspectives that truly changed my view of the experience. The CST sort of clarified and cemented everything.
I was somewhat skeptical before going, but it was really, well, transformative. I have been able to release so much of the trauma I was carrying and move forward with a very healing second birth. I am so thankful to Evelyn. She is absolutely a miracle worker. -Kelly M.
I had a lot of tension and many fears surrounding my upcoming birth. During and after my CranioSacral therapy session with Evelyn, I can honestly say I have never felt so relaxed and in tune with my body. It was like a weight was lifted off. I was able to clear my mind and focus on her healing touch, envisioning my birth and holding my baby boy! It was an amazing experience, and I will definitely be going back soon! Thank you Evelyn for supporting women in our community! ~Megan (Megan had a successful VBAC after a three hour labor!)