Until recently, the field of birth* contained a significant yet unspoken and undefined subterranean sphere that remained unrecognized within therapeutic and medical discourse. Since it had no recognized professional name, it remained invisible despite the need for its existence and its significant impact on our lives as individuals and as a society.
I would like to point to two noteworthy phenomena unfolding simultaneously in the field of birth:
- During the period surrounding a birth, most women who seek professional support for an emotional process turn to women in birth-related professions (rather than to traditional forms of psychotherapy)
- Most professionals in the field of birth accompany women and couples at different levels of personal processes, even though they did not officially train to do so.
The observation of these phenomena reveals that the field of birth has thus far contained a transparent sphere: the period of fertility, pregnancy, birth, nursing, and motherhood involves unique processes of personal development, which, for the most part, remain hidden. This is a significant sphere that is not yet recognized as a professional field. In our work, we notice that acknowledging its existence offers life-changing possibilities both for those giving birth and for those being born.
A Subterranean Process
Over the last decades, in Israel and elsewhere in the world, one can find independent women professionals who have created their own personal integration of therapy and the field of birth. Some are therapists who have chosen to specialize, in their own personal way, in working with women on birth-related issues; others are birth professionals who have acquired therapeutic skills.
Working alone in their own way, they have integrated two fields that have thus far remained split off from one another (therapy and the field of birth) by identifying the "empty space" requiring attention. As the Israeli anthropologist Shaana Shechterman (1) writes in her study "The Birth of a Profession, "this empty space, and the need it represents, is not considered worthy of official attention in public, medical-social institutions, while receiving no clearly defined designation in the field of mental healthcare." Shechterman's study includes descriptions of additional transparent fields, as well as of the needs and conditions that transformed them into recognized professional spheres. In her study of the birth-related professions, she notes that "the professional approach in the medical, institutional work sphere privileges scientific reasoning, while denying the presence of the emotional sphere." She describes the "establishment of a new professional field born out of a space that has not been properly designated as worthy of professional attention."
The empty space we are designating here is the need experienced by women and their partners to receive focused professional accompaniment for the personal processes they experience in the period surrounding birth.
Below are several summaries of case histories that emphasize the need for the focused professional facilitation of experiences which often remain invisible and unacknowledged:
♦ A woman who, following a short period of hospitalization during her pregnancy, is overwhelmed by memories of her childhood hospitalizations and operations, and becomes anxious about the encounter with the hospital environment during her baby's delivery.
♦ Women who experience great difficulty during vaginal examinations, and fear that this will affect their ability to give birth. Some of these women experienced sexual abuse in the past.
♦ Partners with a family member who suffered birth-related damage, and who may experience high levels of stress while preparing for the birth of their own child.
♦ A partner with a background of military combat who realizes how the birth arena triggers memories of stressful experiences, and needs help understanding how he can be there for his partner experiencing emotional difficulty of his own.
♦ Pregnancy following the loss of a previous pregnancy, which creates the challenge of allowing for the simultaneous experience grief and happiness.
♦ Providing a space for mourning other transparent losses, such as: A woman mourning the knowledge that she will not have a daughter, or will not be able to give birth again, or a woman mourning the loss of the initial bonding moments with a premature baby taken away for treatment immediately after birth.
The field of Birth-Oriented Therapy (B.O.T.) answers the need to fill this empty space, and is transforming the transparent field into a recognized professional sphere.