Did you know that how your baby is born can have a significant effect on her emotional and psychological makeup as an adult? Everything she registers and feels during her initial entry into the world will be memorised and can influence the rest of her life. Elena Tonetti, an advocate of conscious birth, refers to this as “limbic imprint”. Leslie Temple-Thurston, a teacher of enlightenment, refers to this as “negative or positive imprinting”. The greater the birth trauma, especially through unnecessary or even necessary intervention, the greater the negative birth imprint.
Babies are extremely sensitive, and those born to intervention and rough handling can find the experience extremely shocking and abusive, even if birth attendees consider the handling normal (Leslie Temple-Thurston). While babies may forget their ordeal in the hours and days that follow, the memory of the experience is held deep within them and doesn’t spontaneously go away. Unless babies are helped to release the stress of this imprinting (Aletha Solter, The Aware Baby), it (stress and imprinting) stays with them for the rest of their lives whether they are conscious of it or not. This is because during birth the limbic system registers all of the sensations and emotions around the experience of birth, and the memory of it lives in the body for the rest of our lives whether we are conscious of this or not.
Elena Tonetti says that “if our first impressions of being in the body are anything less than loving ([violating], painful, frightening, lonely…) then that “anything” imprints as a valid experience of love. It is immediately coded into our nervous system as a “comfort zone”, acting as a surrogate for the love and nurturing [that we expect to receive], regardless of how painful, frustrating and undesirable it actually was. And in the future, as adults, we will unconsciously, automatically recreate the conditions that were imprinted [into us] at birth and through our early childhood” (The Limbic Imprint by Elena Tonetti).
If birth trauma is extreme, a baby’s first experience of life will feel like he has entered a dangerous and violent world (Leslie Temple-Thurston). Chances are good that the psychological conditioning he receives, because of his experience at birth, will also be extreme. Abuse and trauma at birth imprints a baby with tremendous shock and fear (Leslie Temple-Thurston). If a baby feels disempowered or victimised at birth, either through rough handling by less than sensitive birth attendees, or as a result of mechanical intervention, he will unconsciously try to recreate this experience in later life either by becoming a perpetrator of abuse himself, or by allowing others to abuse him. A large body of evidence exists to show that complications during delivery are associated with physical conditions and behavioural disorders in later life. Birth trauma has been shown to be associated with a range of problems including addictions, poor problem-solving skills, short attention span, low self-esteem, inability to be empathetic and responsible and a host of physical health problems (www.birthpsychology.com).
So how we birth our babies clearly has a considerable influence on the kinds of people they become and has a lasting impact on how they will function in the world. This isn’t something to be taken lightly. How many of us spend time considering the possible emotional and behavioural effects that birth can have on our children’s lives? Unfortunately we live in a culture where the emotional and psychological impact of the birth experience on a baby is not taken seriously or really even understood. Birth is usually regarded as a physical, medical experience (often emergency), and the instinctive, natural and spiritual component is seriously disregarded. As a result many women feel let down by their birth experiences, and some even go as far as enduring traumatic births, often unnecessarily, and suffer consequent post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) long after the birth (Birth Trauma Association, www.birthtraumaassociation.org.uk).
Birthing a baby is not “routine procedure” – it is a completely unique and sacred moment in time. It is possible to have a natural, gentle, healthy and positive birthing experience, and if you are expecting a baby I would say that you are entitled to it. In most cases in this day and age, a gentle, natural birth requires disciplined preparation and is not usually handed to us on a plate. In fact, entering a birthing field consciously (fully present, aware and unmedicated) requires serious mental and emotional preparation. And contrary to popular belief, with proper guidance and support this is possible for a considerable number of expecting couples. In most cases, both mums and dads need to be mentally and emotionally prepared for the birth of their babies in order for the birth experience to be a healthy, gentle and positive one. According to Elena Tonetti, many delivery complications are the direct result of family psychological problems that have not been resolved. She suggests that it is crucial to the quality of the birthing experience that these dramas are dealt with before the due date (www.birthintobeing.com).
With adequate preparation we as parents have the opportunity to soften the birthing experience for our babies and help them enter the world with a more favourable first imprint. With proper preparation we can have gentle birth experiences and control to an extent how their nervous systems will be limbically imprinted. In many cases traumatic births can be avoided if the necessary mental and emotional preparation has taken place.
When we decide to have children, we enter a sacred contract with them agreeing to be custodians of their emotional well-being. It is of paramount importance to the future emotional health of our children that we begin this responsibility right at the beginning – at that pivotal point of entry into the world. Because when a baby is born gently into a loving environment, the shock and fear factor is greatly reduced, and this softer imprint stays with her for the rest of her life.