Sunday, April 20, 2008

Babies Remember Birth


Those of us adopting our children from China will probably never know our child's birth story. As an experienced doula, I know there is one thing to be very grateful for and it is that our children were probably born naturally, meaning the birth mothers weren't given narcotics or other drugs during labor, and they were probably born gently, most likely, at home. Contrary to the teachings and beliefs of western medicine, homebirth is much safer than hospital birth for healthy women, especially in this day and age of super-bugs, bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics, which is most commonly found in hospitals, but not in our homes.

I have seen many, many births here in the United States of women of different cultures and have studied videos of births in other countries, including China, and have attended several seminars from various natural birth experts, from Elizabeth Noble to Ina May Gaskin, and I'm grateful for the fact that my daughter will have probably had a good birth experience.

Conversely, though, the stress that Chinese birth moms experience during the pregnancy and birth surrounding the issue of the baby's gender, may negatively effect our children in profound ways.

I was fortunate that in my doula studies, there was heavy emphasis on pre- and perinatal psychology. One of the books on the required reading list, currently out-of-print, but available used at Amazon is: Babies Remember Birth and Other Extraordinary Scientific Discoveries About the Mind and Personality of Your Newborn by Richard Chamberlain, Ph.D. Another book that refers frequently to Babies Remember Birth is Elizabeth Noble's book Primal Connections.

I have seen a woman who was given Demerol after the birth of her first baby, act like a baby herself. She had regressed to early infancy, curled up on her hospital bed in the fetal position and making sucking motions with her mouth. The Demerol, combined with the birth experience had taken her back to her past.

In her book, Primal Connections, Elizabeth Noble states, "For a woman, giving birth is a potentially powerful regression experience, just as reliving being born can be mixed with a woman's own experiences of labor and delivery."

She goes on to say, "Unintentional regression can occur during viral illnesses such a flu, infections and hepatitis. Fevers, hyperthyroidism, goiter, premenstrual syndrome, prolonged sleep or food deprivation, motion sickness, and sea sickness all diminsh the forces of repression. Drugs that abolish consciousness, anesthetics, barbituates, and alcohol also weaken repression, either when they take effect or when their effect is wearing off."

The stress and trauma of "gotcha day" is definitely enough to trigger early memories in our children, perhaps of their abandonment. They may have memories of being safe within their birth mother's womb and then left alone after birth, or nurtured for several hours, days, weeks or months by their birth mothers and/or other family members and then suddenly they are alone and then with dozens of other babies and strangers. The majority of birth memory stories I've studied are startling in the fact that the babies recall being separated from their mothers and wanting them desparately.

Another incident involved the daughter of one of my closest friends. At this child's birth, the nurse giving the baby her first bath was very brusque, to the point of being too rough, and the baby was screaming. When that little girl was about 6, her mom was showing her her baby pictures and comparing them to the newest sibling that had just been born. I had attended my friend's recent birth and bathed the baby myself. The baby was calm and relaxed, stretched out slowly and began to explore the new sensations. Suddenly, the little girl said to her mom, "I was crying because there was soap in my mouth. I hate soap in my mouth!" Sure enough, I remember the nurse using tons of soap, Nutrogena, which is very caustic.

I highly recommend both of these books and others that can be found on the subject of birth memory. I've attended terrific classes at my adoption agency on bonding and the stages of attachment development and the types of disorders that can occur when there is a problem with attaching. I'd like to take it a step further, or, rather, a step backward, and bring up the fact that the most primal separation occurred shortly after birth for most of our children. The Amazing Newborn is another book I highly recommend, by Marshall and Phyllis Klaus and Maternal-Infant Bonding by Marchall Klaus and John Kennell. These books explain how highly developed our babies are at birth.

Elizabeth Noble says in her book Primal Connections that, "Although ordinary memory may be flawed, Chamberlain reminded us that at a deeper level there is a vastly extended memory, reachable in nonordinary states of consciousness. During a traumatic event, a person is often in shock, and later in normal consciousness is unable to remember very much at all. Yet under hypnosis, crime victims for example, can recall such details as the numbers on a car license plate.... Regressive association is the process by which we put two and two together, not by reasoning but by spontanious feeling."

Knowing how babies are psychologically and physically "hard-wired" to bond, as well as the stages of growth in these areas, will help us help our children when we meet them. It will give us a deeper understanding of what they are experiencing, which will help us through the bonding and growing into a family and give us a better understanding of some of the issues our children will have surrounding their birth and bonding and the significance of the separations they've experienced and will continue to experience in the normal course of life.

1 comment:

~ Alison & Mali ~ said...

So, so interesting. According to (her orphanage's) best estimates, Mali was most likely an 8 lb baby at birth. That's fairly big for a Chinese baby. All goes along with her story . . .

Thanks for enlightening me =)