A few more weeks have passed and I have been observing the development of my new baby. Birth is an intense experience for all involved, including dads. However, we all experience it differently. We often only hear about the mother’s side of the story, forgetting how the dad and the baby might have felt about it. Just because the baby is not able to speak doesn’t mean that she is not trying to communicate and express herself. For some reason, we also seem to think that the baby’s experience is somewhat similar to the mother’s experience. This is not necessarily the case.
I had what I could describe as a very good pregnancy and a wonderful and easy home birth and yet my daughter went through a period of intense crying. She seemed to have a typical case of colic – crying loud and inconsolably (usually in the evenings). As a mother this was heart-breaking and tiring, but as a practitioner this was a useful eye-opener.
I noticed that my daughter’s nervous system was very charged. She struggled to relax and fall asleep in the daytime as she was constantly distracted by any visual and audible stimulation, however small they might have been. This caused her to become over-tired by early evening and she had to resort to crying herself into exhaustion in order to fall asleep. Her eyes were often bulging out when she looked around as if she was panicking and her body became ridged when she cried.
Once I had recovered enough I started treating her with cranio-sacral therapy on a regular basis to sooth and relax her. I discovered compression in the base of her cranium and in the sides of her head, near the ears, as if her head had been squashed in. This is quite a normal birth pattern for a baby who is born vaginally. Usually these patterns smoothen or even disappear naturally over time and with breastfeeding. In some babies, however, these patterns may persist – perhaps due to emotional shock from a fast delivery or perhaps due to being distressed during labour.
To gain a second opinion, I took my daughter to see a Bristol-based cranio-sacral therapist Matthew Appleton, who specialises in working with babies. He is also psychotherapist, which he applies in his cranio-sacral practice. Matthew made me pay attention to my daughter’s body language, which clearly indicated where she was feeling/had felt pain. My daughter was a week late, she was quite a big girl when she was born and she had been engaged low in the pelvis for some weeks before the labour started. Therefore it is likely that the compressive patterns around her ears had already developed during the end of pregnancy, whereas her sense of panic seemed to be more linked with the shock caused by the speedy nature of the labour.
During this treatment, my daughter re-visited her birth, physically acting out the different stages of labour. She also expressed a lot of anger, pain and panic through her body language and cry as she progressed through her story. At the end of her story, she relaxed and fell asleep for a couple of hours. The following day she repeated her birth story a few times, but each time with less intensity and for a shorter period of time. After each time she seemed relaxed and calm. After a few days she had settled and, although still crying at times, her cry seemed to clearly link with wanting for food or sleep and it never went on for long and we knew we would be able to settle her.
This experience taught me the importance of listening to our children – whatever the age. What I had been trying to do with my daughter was to make her feel better rather than let her ‘tell’ me about how she felt. How would you feel if you were living in a comfortable home and one day you were chucked out to the street and people around you where not listening to you or telling you that it’s ok? In that context, it is perhaps easier to understand the feelings of anger, loss, pain and other more difficult emotions. What about if you had not even initiated your move or prepared yourself for it or if you were pulled out of your home with force? This experience made me also re-evaluate my son’s birth five years ago. He was induced. He hates been rushed even now. Is this just a coincidence or does our experience of entering the world fundamentally shape our personality?
Birth is an intense process whatever way you are born – caesarean section has its own effect on the baby to do with the sudden change of pressure, although she might not have similar compressive patterns in cranium than those born via birth canal. Perhaps it is not so much about what happens during the birth, but that we have someone who listens to us, which allows us to process what has happened to us and to leave it behind without it shadowing us later in life.