Birth, Change, Healing

Katalin Orosz, Clinical Psychologist
Hungarian Transpersonal Association

MPPPOT (Hungarian Society of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Medicine) Conference
October 2003

The present lecture summarizes our experience gained throughout the past 12 years’ transpersonal psychotherapeutic work related to the spontaneous and diffuse occurrence and targeted therapy of the birth experience and its potential trauma.
Following a longer period of preparation, two years ago we developed a 20+5 hour personal experience weekend group that aims at stimulating the emergence of the memories related to birth and helps gain corrective experiences and psychotherapeutic elaboration. In the past two years over 110 people participated in our groups; the after effects of these we also try to follow.
Exploring the lecturer’s own birth trauma had great significance in the process, since it helped her follow this highly subjective road with great commitment. In Hungary therapeutic experiences related to the names of Stan Grof, Reich and Lowen are less known, therefore, we will briefly mention them.

The methods of the group are the same as those applied in our other psychotherapeutic groups. In the course of imagination and body-work exercises we do not use hypnosis or any other suggestive method, everybody is invited to recall and understand as many memories as he or she is ready to deal with based on his or her actual inner state of readiness. Catalyzing the elaboration of the emerging experiences, writing them down, drawing pictures of them and a deep emotional sharing constitute organic parts of the workshop. Participants receive guidance regarding the expected processes and we also suggest methods for further elaboration.
Our experience confirms the already known link: one important psychological consequence of birth is that the experience becomes the essential personal pattern of change. The newborn baby learns how to solve a complex problem, in the course of which the baby also changes. Then, countless events occur throughout our life when this pattern quasi ’directs’ the actual processes of perception and reacting. Out of these, the birth of  a child is of outstanding importance both for women and men.

Keywords: giving birth, birth, personal experience, self-knowledge, psychological group, body-work

Subjective reality
Our subjective history, accepting and understanding what has happened to us constitute an important area of our adult life, and keeps us busy probably until our death. Achieving completeness as an inner goal seems to be an important driving force of our life. The compulsive repetition of traumas, the spontaneous interest in our childhood, our dreams and various other phenomena that we meet in our everyday life and psychotherapeutic work indicate that there is a certain drive to change our spiritual life even without psychotherapy.

Going against the flow
The story of our birth is one of our many subjective experiences. However, various psychological experiences indicate that it is one of the most important and significant events. The force of alienation seems to be the strongest here, since even psychology hardly deals with the birth experience itself. As if a few sentences of the family legend told by the mother or some other adult family member contained real information concerning the birth experience of the baby. Often we do not even make an attempt to destroy this wall judging it an impossible effort.
Social practice encourages this by judging subjective experiences as inaccurate, influenced by emotions an therefore suspiciously dangerous, maybe even painful and after all not valid or true at all. We do not respect the special inner reality of subjective experiences and do not learn to deal with these experiences; instead, we tend to label them using problematic, troublesome and messy judgments. Our bodily and emotional experiences and inner images associated with events and stories remain obscure, therefore, they fail to pass on to the level of a more differentiated work.
In my own work I devoted the past ten years to restoring the importance of subjective reality in everyday life and to developing tools to achieve this. Linking this together demanded certain integration of my work and personal life, the most outstanding event of which was exploring my own inner reality concerning birth and upon a psychological elaboration its transformation into a method and helping others.
An important professional issue lies in how it is possible to develop special methods of examination for existence, experiences concerning the meaningfulness of life and subjective reality and the tools obviously different from modern scientific methodology. The present description is a little addition to this, an immature experiment, in which I am looking for partners and colleagues. Let me also add that its analogy is present in all great cultures of the world: in Buddhism it is called the left handed path, in American university departments various feminine parallel analyses are conducted and initiation ceremonies also belong here.

Description of the group
The roots
I started exploring the story of my own birth about 15 years ago. The family legend gained unexpected importance and I began to wonder what this might have meant for me. I discovered some fundamentally significant links and connections of my own inner reality that remained unavailable even after long previous psychotherapeutic work and elaboration.
Finally, books on birth and discussions with experts provided factual information and confirmed that my story was not unique.
In the course of developing the group method and process I used various methods and integrated them with my own psychotherapeutic experience and the findings of my own story. The most important of these are the body work principles of the schools of Lowen and Reich and the tools of the Dutch Boswijk’s transpersonal psychotherapeutic center. Although I do not directly use holotrop breathing, Stan Grof’s method, its effect cannot be disregarded, since I learnt a great deal from it.

Description of the group
The group has 10-14 participants and lasts for a weekend (20-22 hours).
I conduct an interview with those who apply and together with the client we consider subsequent psychotherapeutic work as an option. I refuse many people since I do not see the guarantee of a subsequent elaboration. I often suggest clients to join the group.
3-4 weeks after the group a 3-5 hour long meeting is held, which constitutes an organic part of our work. We discuss the past period, its events and questions and also try to discover connections.
Two assistants, a male and a female help the work of the group leader. Their responsibilities also include keeping written records.

The method of the group
I make the first meeting on Friday afternoon more intense with the help of objects symbolizing birth. While participants are getting involved, they can express their good or bad feelings, activity consciously or unconsciously.
After this a fantasy journey is made to the womb ending with the termination of birth. Participants write down their experiences.
On Saturday morning we discuss the experiences of the previous night’s journey and participants almost automatically start linking it to the story of their own birth. Personal everyday life experiences connected to the story of birth are emphasized.
In the afternoon a simple body-work exercise follows, where all the participants are present and they get a chance to try themselves if they want.
On Sunday morning another discussion takes place that is followed by another, more intense exercise.
Finally, participants have the chance to tell their experiences and to draw the first conclusions.

The most important elements of the group process
This is a mere list of the issues that most frequently occur in the course of personal experiences. The detailed analysis of these may constitute the subject of an important subsequent research.
Issues related to the psychological process:
The attitude towards birth is explored,

  • Reflection on the approach towards own subjective stories,

  • Taking on the subjective side of experiences occurring here and now, participants often ’learn’ this type of attitude,

  • Experiences make possible bringing back birth that is projected into the present situation. Participants examine what the significance of this timing is in their everyday life,

  • Feedback in the group occurs in a clear communication, many people experience this quality for the first time.

There are three special themes directly linked to birth itself that constitute the most important part of the group:

  • The experience of loss: fetal life ends here; life inside is not possible any more. Loss, mourning, helplessness. That certain Thalassa-experience that has been present so far is now lost, has disappeared, it must be mourned and new opportunities must be noticed and seen without fear;

  • The sensitive period after birth in the relaxation period is the time when personal bonding develops. The problems of bonding are explored and numerous research results are described in Michel Odent’s new book entitled “The Scientification of Love”;

  • The ability to change: birth itself is a dramatic change in the life of a baby. The imprinting of the experience takes place and subsequent changes in life seem to follow this pattern.

The effect of the group
In the group feedback is given on the happenings of own experience exercises by the helpers and participants without any explanation or theory. The participants discover signs of potential traumatization by themselves. Later on, in discussions aiming at elaboration the group leader may help them understand experiences.
It seems that this corrective way of experiencing birth and its elaboration offers a chance for inner change that subsequently becomes apparent in behavior, and in the changes in mood and emotions. Another important complimentary experience shows that in case a person had another serious trauma, it also emerges in the psychological processes.
In the following weeks and months deep emotional processes are likely to intensify, which may also have a disturbing effect in everyday life. In such cases follow-up, often shorter or longer psychotherapeutic help is needed. This is frequently emphasized during the group.

The frames of life
The symbols of birth
Analyzing the symbols of birth the question of where analogies may be found in life emerges. In the animal world examples include a butterfly transforming intro a creature with wings from a caterpillar passing through the phase of pupating, or a snake shedding its skin that hiders further development, or the mythological phoenix that sends itself into flames in order to rise again from its ashes.
We can also find such examples in the inanimate parts of nature: a cave giving shelter, a spring emerging from the ground or the Sun reborn each morning.
Mythology also offers such themes, among which the creation in the Bible and the myth of the golden age are well known, but examples are present in almost all cultures.
Birth and death belong together; they constitute the frames of life so it may not be surprising that many near-death experiences are also the symbols of birth. Wherever there is light, there is shadow too.

Social reactions
What is the message of amplification? Throughout its 150 years of development, psychology has examined the things of life and only rarely did it make a detour to take a look at its frames. It may not be by accident that today, when Western societies show growing personal interest in the problems of birth and death, we also try to understand these with the help of scientific tools. We wonder why a science and a society dealing with life within the frames find it difficult to approach the frames themselves. Examining the frames requires the position of an outsider. For this, stepping out of the frames is essential, which is inevitably accompanied by uncertainties. So far, frames seemed infrangible, unquestionable and offered safety.
We cannot expect the society to remain calm when such fundamental feeling of safety is questioned. This is displayed well by social reactions like the resistance of institutions towards the changing of paradigms brought along by alternative methods. Just as a person may react to uncertainty by becoming stiff, something similar happens in the larger scale too. This leads us to two important consequences. On one hand, whoever deals with this area must have a strong personality and persistence. On the other hand, achievements and findings must be communicated carefully in order to reduce the emerging resistance.

A story
A young male and father wrote the following letter, from which I am quoting a few lines.
“For my little daughter – let us call her Lujza – my younger sister’s unborn baby is an everyday issue, she is highly interested. One afternoon she said ’this is little dumpling’s room’ and pointed at her belly.
One evening Lujza asked for chocolate and was given two pieces. She took the first piece to my sister, than gave the second piece to her too saying ’this is for little dumpling!’ Then she sat down and said ’when I was born, I was a little dumpling too…’ – word by word. I think this is not bad for a two-year old child….
Seeing her carrycot made her say stunning half sentences: ’Lujza into mother’s belly… back…’. When I asked her about how she was there, beyond saying that it is good there she could not express herself, but she was apparently busy thinking about this for hours. Then when she was lying on the little table after bathing I noticed that she was fisting her hand (with her thumb pulled in the middle) like she had never done since the age of six months.”
This and similar stories make it clear that this is an important issue, its judgment is facing great changes and many people need help to understand themselves better in this regard.

I often ask myself about the significance of this work. Does it change anything? The process of becoming our true selves does not free us of suffering. What is more: the more open we are, the more intensely we experience this suffering. At the same time, more joyous experiences are possible; it gives us more delightful moments full of harmony and freedom.
It seems as if this process could correspond to the symbolic thought that creation is not finished, the world is changing, and there is continuous development. Those who arrive at such depths in getting to know themselves and opening up become their own creators. They step out of the traditional, safe and commonly accepted social games, where responsibility is jointly rejected, while dependences and illusions are jointly maintained. Recognizing reality helps the development of devotedness, practicing love and accepting ourselves. This way energy is multiplied, spiritual richness and freedom increase incredibly