by Jane Hardwicke Collings
This article is in addition to Jane’s presentation at the 2019 Wise Women Gathering, regarding the work of healing traumatic birth.
Processing past experiences that hold traumatic memories stored in the body and mind can support women on the journey of healing after childbirth. The teachings we receive from working with unprocessed trauma provide valuable opportunities to be with what is, trace the patterns of our experiences and help us to make new choices as we move forward.
For some women, childbirth is an experience that can leave them feeling traumatised. This work of healing after traumatic birth experiences is big, important, necessary and potentially life changing. It often shifts paradigms (world views) as women awaken to the patriarchy within and without.
Growing up within a cultural context heavily influenced by the patriarchy, women have been taught on a subliminal level, (which means they may not be aware it’s happening), to feel ashamed of their bodies, how their bodies cycle and the innate power stored within a woman’s body. It’s such a cultural set up.
The first, most obvious place women receive cultural messages about their bodies and their cyclic nature is at Menarche. Menarche is a girl’s first period, the time she is initiated into young womanhood. Whatever happens at this rite of passage (or doesn’t happen) teaches young women about how their culture values the next role they are moving into (womanhood) and therefore how to act and behave to stay safe and not challenge the status quo.
The dominant mindset that women take on from their menarche is menstrual shame. Menstrual shame leads to body shame. Body shame leads to low self-esteem. Low self-esteem leads to depression, self-harm, eating disorders, and dangerous sexual decision-making. Menstrual shame is known as one of the main factors involved in the oppression of women within the patriarchy.
So how does Menarche relate to women’s birth experiences? Menstrual shame impacts how a woman gives birth. If she comes to the birth process with menstrual shame, she comes without trust in her body, a necessary factor for birth. It is no surprise that there are so many traumatic births and even just so much unnecessary intervention at birth.
She who was initiated into womanhood at the altar of menarche is she who shows up to the birth altar. A woman comes to the birth altar with years of practising whatever her menarche taught her she needed to be and do, to be accepted as a woman in our culture. A woman has years of practising how to listen to, and honour her body, or not, through her menstruation experience.
When a woman who has experienced traumatic birth uses the mandate of Hygieia, the Goddess of Health and Healing – The Wound Reveals the Cure, and asks of the experience “how does this serve me?” “What does this teach me about myself and the way of things?” She begins to search within for the repeating pattern that might be playing out or the familiar feeling the experience causes. This can lead to cultivating new levels of self-responsibility, ceasing to blame others for her experiences.
A Jungian concept, the Sacred Wound is when you ask these questions of a life experience, in this case a wounding, you render the wound sacred. It begins to teach you what you need to know to take you to the next place on your life journey.
“Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”Rumi
This is a life work. The most important thing to do is tell your story to someone you trust and be sure to anchor yourself in the here and now, eyes open and fully aware that the experience is NOT happening now. Creating a space of present moment awareness as you recall your birth story.
In telling your story to a trusted person, you notice where your emphasis is and how it feels when you speak of it. Debriefing after birth is a very important part of the process. Once you notice how you tell the story, then you can notice the subtle, or not so subtle ways, it lives on in you. You may blame others or shift responsibility and then lose the opportunity to see the potential playing out of a usual pattern in your life or your red thread, your Motherline.
We live in the Cult of the Expert and in this cult/culture it is implied and said, that we need experts to teach us, take charge and control, hand over our power to – our decision-making and autonomy – because they know best/more. And in some cases, and places that’s necessary. Unfortunately, in many cases it’s not and its simply protocol or policy. It’s oriented around the practitioner, the system and the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical companies that influence all that. And we blindly trust the experts.
We can begin to unpack our birth story and ask ourselves, what happened? What is the story I am telling myself of my birth experience? How has it affected me, my relationship with my partner, my baby, other children? What is the lasting and potentially ever-present feeling from the birth?
What does this remind me of? – this could be the question that leads deeper into a recall of how similar all your ‘issues ‘are at their core, e.g. “it’s always about me feeling like I’m helpless…”
Has this been happening over and over?
What’s the earliest memory I have of this sort of thing? This may start the process of uncovering the original and potentially ‘sacred wound’. If we trace it back to the first time we experienced these feelings, we may arrive at the earliest imprint. Imprints offer us the starting place, to see how patterns have been played out and the lessons they offer.
The body holds so much wisdom and we can access the wisdom when we take the time to attune to its messages. What is this bringing up for me/you? – what emotion, what memory, what body sensations?
Somatic inquiry into a traumatic experience may hold information that is not accessed through the mind/emotional body. The feelings we experience when we recall a story will give us clues to how the story is stored in the body. Releasing held energy in the body is an important part of healing. Do this yourself by locating stuck energy and moving it with your will, your breath and with shaking. Body workers can help with this too.
This is a life work, and the healing may happen in layers. Set your intention to heal, take responsibility for yourself and then apply the lessons in your life and mothering.
Other questions that may be useful are:
- What are you/am I trying to defend here? Avoid here? Hide here?
- How does this wound serve? What would it take for me to heal? What will I need to do, to change, to heal it?
- Am I prepared to do this? – here you might start to see how much the woman has ‘invested’ in her wound; she may need to let go of more than she may want to, like her whole persona.
Contemplation to do if you have more time, or do later, would be to ask yourself these questions:
- 1) How were you born? For that is your cellular imprint on birth i.e. how you know birth happens.
- 2) How the women in your family give birth.
- 3) Reflect on your experience of menarche (your first period) and what that taught you about being a woman.
- 4) Reflect on your experiences of menstruation pre-childbirth and how that reflected how you were born and your menarche
- 5) Write down all of your previous birth stories, including miscarriages and abortions and feel into what that taught you about being a mother and how that played out in your mothering and in this recent birth experience.
- 6) Ponder and acknowledge all the fears you have about giving birth and what the belief is that underpins those fears and whether you believe them or not – update your belief system.
A process for moving held emotions in your body
You may help the energy move from caesarian scars and stuck areas in your body.
- Stand up,
- Put your hands over your womb space.
- Visualise / feel an energy flowing through your body, coming in at the top of your head, your Crown Chakra, travelling down your body to the earth, down through your head, your throat, your solar plexus, through your womb space, out your yoni and down to the earth. This is the birth force moving through you.
If you have had a Caesarian
- Do the same process and when you get to your womb space give extra attention to moving the energy past your scar and onward down to the earth.
You may like to do this visualisation with drumming in the background.
Once you have dealt with one part of your body, you have the opportunity to notice if there is anywhere else in your body that is calling you to notice it. This is a private process.
Feelings may arise through this process and your opportunity is to notice how you might usually be with that feeling. Noticing this can free you to choose a different way if necessary. There are no shortcuts, you have to feel the feelings. Often once you feel the feelings, things shift. So often it is the avoidance of feeling the feelings that maintains their underlying and ongoing effect.
If you feel overwhelmed, or scared, open your eyes and see where you are. Bring yourself back into the present moment and remember that traumatic birth experience you had is NOT happening now.
Check into your body, notice if you are holding any tension anywhere. Relax around that place, notice how you are holding on there, soften the area around it, notice how that feels.
You may like to address some of these questions :
- If that sensation is connected to a feeling what would that be?
- If that sensation is connected to an emotion what would that be?
- If that sensation is connected to a memory what would that be?
Now focus in again on the sensation, the tension or heat or whatever it is… The next thing to do is to make the sound, out loud, that comes to you when you focus on the tension.
- Say in your mind to yourself, I release this energy with this sound and movement.
- Make that sound now, and move spontaneously how your body wants to move, holding the intention of releasing the held energy…
- When that releasing sound is finished start making a humming sound and direct that to the place where the tension was, sending it a healing vibration.
Come back to where you are.
- Shake out your body
- Make a low sound
- Have a drink, something to eat….
You can do this more for all sensations you have in your body…
There may be other work you’d like to do. Meeting with a therapist can be helpful if you find the traumatic experience taking up your thoughts and sensations often. Different process work will be effective for different people.
Jane Hardwicke Collings is a mother and grandmother, and was a registered independent home birth midwife for over 30 years. She is a wilderness first responder, a teacher, writer and menstrual educator. She gives workshops in Australia and internationally on mother and daughter preparation for menstruation, the spiritual practice of menstruation, and the sacred and shamanic dimensions of pregnancy and birth. Jane founded and runs The School of Shamanic Womancraft which focuses on preparing women to practice and teach conscious rites of passage, awareness of cycles (Earth, lunar, life and menstrual cycles), and the mind/body/spirit connection.