I recently listened to an inspiring high school valedictorian speech given by a young Hispanic woman. She began her speech by saying this will be no ordinary graduation speech. She went on to say the speech will be about expectations and realities, and in it, she talked about how unexpectedly, she ended up at this high school. She also mentioned how, unexpectedly, she became successful even though she was a girl, Mexican, undocumented and poor. I was so moved by her courage and her creativity. While she started out explaining she was going talk about expectations and realities, what she really talked about was the unexpected, and how these realities impacted her life. I thought I would make my own list.
I was a bodyworker with a very successful practice in the walk in basement of an adorable house next to a river in Bethesda, MD. I had just had my first baby and I felt amazingly happy. Unexpectedly, my life took a turn I did not expect. Here is the list.
Unexpected Reality #1: Babies have experiences in utero and during birth, and they can be overwhelming and shocking. And these experiences can last a lifetime.
I started massaging people in 1994, and spent years massaging as many people as I could, and taking every class that came my way. I studied craniosacral therapy and trauma resolution in 1998-1999. After years of holding and touching people, I saw how we come into form through the study of embryology. I learned about the impact of the birth process on the body, and how that could last a lifetime in people. I saw the impact of birth in everyone I saw. At first, it was just looking at the cranium, and asymmetries of the face. Then I got a deeper taste of what babies go through.
In 1999, a woman walked into my private that would change my life forever. When she filled out my intake form, she came to the question about her birth experience. As craniosacral therapists, we ask about birth patterns because we often feel them with our hands when we work on the head in particular, but birth affects the whole body. She told me that her difficult birth was probably the reason for her lifelong depression, and she wanted to heal this by the bodywork I was offering. Not knowing much about birth memories, I agreed to try. Our sessions were intense. She processed a difficult breech delivery where she encountered her near death, and her mother’s, and her heroic action as a baby that saved both their lives. While I was holding her in the craniosacral therapy, I began to have panic attacks. This is how I found out that my difficult breech birth was similar to hers. Somehow, as she processed her shock and fear that was embedded in her body from her earliest experiences, my own early unhealed birth process was evoked. This experience set me on a path to discover more about the baby’s experience, how these experiences could last a lifetime and how to heal them.
My journey took me to many places and teachers. At that time, we worked on adults to understand what happened when they were a baby. In prenatal and perinatal healing, we learn about patterns that start preconception. Were we a wanted baby? Was conception easy? Were our parents ready to have a baby? Did our mothers have support or were they highly stressed? Was our father present? Did our mother feel alone? What was the family like then? What was our culture like, what was happening in the world? Did we need many interventions at birth? Were we separated from our mothers after birth? Did we breastfeed? So many questions. So many patterns of ways we can come into the world as babies.
But this was with adults. I kept asking, when will I learn to help babies? The years passed. I took training after training. Finally, I started working with babies. Until about 5 years ago, only osteopaths worked with babies. Eventually more craniosacral therapists started to learn. As teachers who knew about babies began to emerge, I took their classes. I also taught my own classes and worked with babies, and their families. I worked with midwives and nurses who taught me about birth. I learned to be a birth doula. Finally, now, I know how to work on babies to help them feel better in their bodies, and to help them breastfeed. Now I have an amazing skill base to help families heal from difficult births so that babies can grow optimally. They will not be the woman who walks into a healing arts practice with lifelong depression that started at birth.
But all this work has led me to Unexpected Reality #2.
Unexpected Reality #2: The mother’s experience can be the baby’s experience.
If a mother feels stress, pain, terror, fear, self-hatred, exhaustion, grief and horror, the baby feels it too. In fact, sometimes the baby feels he or she is responsible, or even that he or she IS that experience. And sometimes, the mother’s lifelong experiences from before she got pregnant affect the baby. Even further back, sometimes the grandmother’s experiences affect the baby, because the mother was a baby once herself inside the grandmother. Experiences from two previous generations can influence our life.
After many years of learning how to help the baby, I now realize that I need to help the mother. In fact, sometimes if I treat the mother, the baby gets better. I started really caring for mothers. Part of my healing arts practice is called MotherCare. I realized if we cared for mothers better, our human race, culture, and society would be better, more peaceful, calmer, more loving.
Then I realized that I needed to help women before they get pregnant. Even deeper, I realized I needed to help girls feel better in their bodies, and to feel more empowered to trust their bodies and themselves.
There is a lot of work to do.
Unexpected Reality #3: We are more compassionate, forgiving and loving than I even imagined, and it starts in when we are babies.
I was in a class with advanced craniosacral and polarity instructor Anna Chitty, and prenatal and perinatal therapy pioneer Ray Castellino when I had a deep awakening to what was possible for humanity. It was completely unexpected. Anna was leading us in an exercise to increase the function of parasympathetic nervous system. For me, shock is coupled with deep parasympathetic experiences, in other words, deep rest. It is a pattern that I have been working on for years. As you can imagine, if I can’t deeply rest, what happens to my body? As I go deeply into rest, I tend to stop breathing. This is a great example of a prenatal and birth imprint. I feel positive I experienced cord compression in utero. If I really let go and rested, I impinged my cord. At least, that is what I have sorted out from exploring this pattern. So, while we were exploring ways to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, I felt myself going into shock. I told the student who was working with me at the time, and she called Anna over.
I’m going to have a heart attack, I told Anna.
Really, she said, what are you noticing?
I could see her feet. I was in a freeze position on the massage table. I did not dare move. My breathe was shallow and fast; my heart was beating extremely fast. And it hurt like hell.
Anna was so calm. So, I was calm. I became curious and began to notice what was happening my body in minute detail. Anna led me as I reported what I was feeling.
Ah, she said. You are not having a heart attack. Your heart tissue is releasing.
I could sense she was right. My heart tissue, a muscle, was shivering. It was releasing from a frozen state that was likely the imprint from my prenatal or birth experience. As it released, my body became flooded with endorphins. It felt ecstatic and it pulsed. As this flood of what felt like love moved through my body, I heard a message and it was, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And, I forgave them, whoever “them” was. Anna kept asking me what I was noticing, and really, I felt flooded with compassion. This part of me was more mature than expected. Where did it come from? Who was that? Was that me? The short answer is yes. That is the spirit in me that knows more than I know in my tiny fragile human self. It was awesome, in every sense of that word.
If I have that inside me, then everyone does.
Part Two of this Blog is: Unexpected Realities versus Unrealistic Expectation in Prenatal and Perinatal Experiences. Tune in next week!