The baby above is a few minutes old and had a gentle birth.
Most of us born in the 60s, 50s, and earlier had a birth more like this:
These photos are from Frederick Leboyer’s book Birth Without Violence. This book isn’t exactly new—it was first published in 1977.
In the book Leboyer describes how the usual birthing practices of the day were torture to newborns, and shows how they could be vastly improved. In this post I’d like to explore how our birth experience can affect our experience of life.
I think it would be fair to say that most of us have experienced self-sabotage to some degree—I know I have. Some examples might be:
1. When things are really looking up, getting stuck into alcohol, smokes, coffee, overeating or the like.
2. Just as we are having exciting developments, having an accident.
3. As we heal one physical ailment, another manifests itself. Then this happens again and again.
4. Not making the most of opportunities, for no apparent reason.
It’s as though we just can’t break through to a higher level. Why is that?!
Or we may know someone who seems so alive and talented, yet they keep knocking themselves out with substances or behaviours. Why do they do that?!
We’ll do anything, it seems, to stop that damn aliveness. Why?
Perhaps we can find some clues about this in Leboyer’s beautiful and moving book.
I re-read Leboyer’s book yesterday, before writing this post. I was moved to tears for much of it. I’d imagine anyone who lets themselves be immersed in what it is saying would feel disturbed, and this would be largely because the book would be stimulating subconscious memories of their birth. I think this is a good thing, as it would be getting some stuck emotion moving—but not everyone might!
For many of us, our first experience of life was pain and terror. Harsh lights hurt our eyes, chatter and loud noises surrounded us, and we were handled roughly… our delicate skin was abused, we might have been slapped, as well as held upside down, or put on our backs, so our newborn spines were suddenly stretched out painfully. As well, our first breaths were taken in panic and pain.
Leboyer describes how breathing begins during a natural birth… a newborn takes his first breath when his chest first expands, on leaving the birth canal. This results in a cry, which may be followed by one or two more cries. The baby rests a little here, and is supplied with oxygen from the still-pulsating umbilical chord. The baby gradually clears his lungs and after a few minutes is breathing fully and freely. After an average of 4 or 5 minutes, the umbilical chord stops pulsating, and can be cut.
However, what usually happened, at least in the times Leboyer wrote his book, was that the umbilical chord was cut as quickly as possible, with the result the baby had no oxygen supply. A physical panic set in, leading to the baby gasping air into his still fluid-filled lungs, which is extremely painful and traumatic. The medical staff would also do whatever they could to “stimulate” the baby to cry a lot, because this meant to them that the baby was breathing well. This was the likely result:
The above is often considered normal and desirable—the baby is howling so therefore is breathing. Leboyer suggests this baby is in pain and fear.
He also suggested it didn’t have to be like this—below is a newborn who had a gentle birth:
Our births and first breaths were our first taste of being fully alive—or more alive than we felt where we had just been, at any rate. If these experiences were horrifying, or even less-than-great, how will we react every time we start to feel more alive, now? Will we put on the brakes, somehow?
I’m suggesting that we just might.
Leboyer begins his book with a quote from Gautama (the Buddha): “To be born is to suffer”. Do we have to be consigned to endless suffering, just because we had a lousy birth?
Early developers of the therapy known as breathwork (or rebirthing) coined the term “birth trauma” for the trauma we went through during birth, and have kept with us throughout our life. Breathwork can help us heal ourselves of our birth trauma… somehow, through the breathing method used, we let go of old stuck body memories. And incidentally, I have had two kinesiology sessions recently, and they shifted deep stuff, too.
I think that most people would heal themselves fastest if they combine a physical therapy like breathwork with consciously working with their thoughts and intuition to facilitate leading the life they want to lead. Who knows how much aliveness we will be willing to tolerate. We might even end up living forever!
I’ll finish with two more images from the book (the newborn had a gentle birth):
I’d love to hear what you think about this.