Traumatic Birth as Fertile Ground for Growth

(This article was published in the Midwifery Today magazine, Issue 108, Winter 2013 )

On my morning walk through the fields I paused in front of a meadow of corn freshly plowed by that mammoth machine that turns over the earth. The vast field, hunk upon hunk of soil, seemed to be resting. Resting and waiting.
I stopped walking for a moment to soak up that feeling, sharing the moment with the earth.

A few weeks ago, on another morning walk, I stopped in front of that same field to marvel at the sheaves of corn – tall, green and remarkably lush. Now this earth, that was merely a sea of chunky soil, seems bursting with potential, and a thought entered my mind that was momentarily exhilarating: what’s going to grow here?
The possibilities are infinite…

“I experienced an awful natural birth,” she says over the phone, “and I haven’t been able to shake it for months.”
We meet at my clinic.
During our meetings, we turn over the soil. The soil of her birth experience. Meter by meter we tread the field of her experience, and greet the crop she gathered. We observe the sprouting weeds, move them aside and consent to see what they conceal. Together we watch the patches where nothing grew, the patches of her internal field that were denied their due nourishment.

I suggested we play a game. A game called: “What if anything was possible?”
If anything was possible when you gave birth – absolutely anything – what would you have felt at the birth?
In order to enable her to engage feelings that seemed to her so distant at that moment, I called the process a game. An invitation to ‘Play'  implies that the words we say need not necessarily be realistic or logical for us to agree to work with them, and this enables us to express the deepest of feelings, the discovery and exposure of the tapestry which makes up the experience.

The game “What if anything was possible?” is an effective tool for many things. Those moments that women carry around with them many years after giving birth (or after another significant life event), the moments that refuse to leave them, or that they refuse to abandon, are the moments when what they felt on the inside did not concur with the actual event. What I mean is, a moment when she intended to do something, but froze. Or wanted to say something – but remained silent. Or wanted to ask for something – but was embarrassed. Or wanted to move – but stopped.
“What if anything was possible?” I ask at my clinic. “What would have happened, at the exact moment they told you that… or you felt that… or you were lying on the bed and…”
This question is there to grant permission. To offer an opportunity to express that which has not been given expression. What results is that the energy, which until now had been captive and immobile, begins to flow.

Flow of energy occurs even if everything we say is just 'imaginary', even if we know that we can’t turn back the clock and change the details of the event. The opportunity to allow the stagnant moments to flow brings about change. What kind of change? Here's one story for example:

"If anything was possible…" she said. "If anything was possible, I would have felt that I had succeeded, not failed. If anything was possible, I would have felt that I knew how to give birth. I don’t feel that way now."
The stagnant energy is clearly visible, just at the point where she depicts a specific birth event as success or failure. Stagnant at the point which she perceives as differentiating between women who know how to give birth and those who don’t. At a later stage of our work together, we’ll come back to these beliefs, lay them out and examine them again.

We continue. She describes the birth. The words tumble out and I gather them. I gather for her the words that describe her feelings in a particular moment. These statements will serve as landmarks in her great, confusing and overwhelming story that is overstuffed with information, people and events. I write excerpts of what she says on a white piece of paper:
"Mistake"
"Failure"
"I had a detailed plan"
"I felt like I was bothering the midwife"
"I felt like they saw right through me"
"I felt like someone took the reins away from me, took my birth away from me"
"I felt like I had failed"

These statements are the key. A kind of gateway to the inside. We approach and explore the statements one by one.
We ask questions like: What are the moments that represent a 'mistake' you made in the birth? What is it like for you to feel that you made a mistake? How do you feel when things in life don’t work out as you had planned? When you say “I failed,” whose face do you see in front of you telling you you've failed? And other similar questions.

I call this process: friendly interrogation. Friendly interrogation is exploration for the purpose of an encounter, not to point fingers. This is another way to expand our ability to access those moments that require attention. Until now, she reveals, she has never told anyone the story of her birth. "I didn't want anyone to know I failed."
People prefer not to attend to the moments which they associate with pain. Moments that are left unattended remain dark and threatening. But if we agree to switch on the light, we’ll discover that although the scary monster might not have turned into a princess, it’s a creature we might be willing to invite over for lunch and maybe even share a little light conversation.
On our journey together, whenever we think we've found a scary monster, and only after receiving her consent, we turn on a flashlight, and only then, very slowly and only if we’re ready, do we draw the blinds and let the sun in.

When we explored “I felt like I was bothering the midwife”' we took a trip back in time. She described the details of their interaction and I asked, “And what happened just before that?” And after she answered, I asked again, “And what happened just before that?” So that at each moment, we stopped time and examined what she felt inside. For example, What did she feel just as the midwife came in? What was going through her mind, what did she want to say or do. And another significant moment at which we stopped was when the midwife told her, "You don’t look like you’re ready to give birth yet," and despite insisting that she was in pain, the midwife walked away.
How did she feel then? This is what we examined.

Stopping time allows us to identify the little moments that lead to a chain reaction, the source of which slipped under our radar.
We know that identifying the moment won’t change an event that has already occurred. But it can change our point of reference to the event, and serve as soil that we’ve plowed and turned over. Later, we’ll examine together what this plowed soil needs in order to cultivate fresh growth.

While recalling the midwife’s words, we paused at moments in the story, like stopping a video frame by frame. She noticed how her body cringes when hearing the midwife's words, how she feels as though she’s stepping backwards flat against the wall so as not to take up any space. When I asked her what sensation arises, she replied: "I felt invisible.”
And what happens when you feel invisible? "I feel dismissed, rejected." And what does it create in you when you feel rejected? I continue to ask. "I automatically crumple up. I back away. And then I tell myself, I'll manage alone," she replies.

With the understanding of what she was feeling inside at the time, we stepped out of the birth story for a moment into other situations in her life. Yes, she can see how she has repeated this pattern for years. We examined where it most often happens, and conversely, with which people and in which places it actually happens less, in which situations she feels completely loved and accepted for who she is, and what this enables her to do.
This observation was a significant key. Many events that happened later in her birth, she discovered, were the product of this initial point: the point when something inside her closed up, shrunk, transparent and rejected, never having been free to reach for help and support.

We continued to work with the birth story, crossing more and more junctions in the story. We explored one statement after another, each time until we felt a sense of relief. Until we felt it flowing, shifting.
It wasn’t always easy to face what we found. But the heavy feeling she cradled when she first arrived at my clinic, was changing. Her facial expressions began to express emotion, she told me that she felt generally lighter, and she felt she had more energy and strength to deal with life.

After we’d turned over the earth and aired out the soil, we examined what’s required to cultivate growth.
It seemed we still needed to tie up some loose ends in the preceding story, in order to begin a new one.

Very often the visible, topside story hides other stories below the surface.
After she’d agreed to confront her moments of pain during the birth, several things happened. The first was that powerful moments from the birth surfaced for the first time, moments which did convey a feeling of success. She could have noticed the moments during which she felt that she ‘knows how,' and would have had a sense of control and choice. This discovery provided a brand new perspective to her birth story. Now, when observing the birth, the experience was different. It did contain pain, but also a few pleasant moments.

The second thing that happened was an understanding that her feelings of blundering her way through the birth also apply to how she feels about the period following the birth, namely in her communication at the time with her extended family.
She describes feelings of lack of understanding, lack of communication, hurt from words left unspoken and moments when she could’ve reached out, but didn’t. She feels that she was wrong in the way she treated them.
She chose to write. She wrote letters telling them about herself, about how she felt and how she feels today. She shared things that she hadn’t shared before. When she was writing, we didn’t know if she would send the letter to its intended recipient or not, or if she would rewrite it differently. My initial instruction was simply to write down everything she wanted to say at that moment.

Right then, the moment was flowing from her onto the page. Later, we’d deal with the exact fate of the page.
Writing in such a way is simply another tool that allows expression within a safe space. It’s a tool that allowed her to understand her inner self on another level. And it’s another way to get stagnant energy flowing again.
Once the energy flows, change can happen. In a way that we don’t know is possible at the time.

Writing the letters felt like closure. She said that something inside her, which had been restless until now, had finally agreed to rest.
Together we felt that, at least for now, that stage had come to an end. We could stop here and rest. Later on, we would see if there's anything else calling for expression.
Meanwhile, she already began thinking about working from home on a new work project.

So here we are. This is just what it felt like when I saw that field of chunky soil. “I wonder what’s going to grow here,” comes to mind.

השאר תגובה