If our deliberate intention were to teach a baby that it had fallen into an indifferent world, a world of ignorance, cruelty and folly, what better way than to birth in a hospital delivery room with its clanging instruments, loud instructions to ‘push’ ‘harder’, bright lights, rough towels on the skin and a lack of respect for the newly born.
Obstetrician Frederick Leboyer was one of the first to look seriously at newborn faces and recognize that crying screaming babies at birth indicated an experience of pain and/or trauma. An excerpt from his book states: “The torture of the innocent. One would have to be naive indeed to believe that so great a cataclysm would not leave its mark. Its traces are everywhere……..in all our madness, our tortures, our prisons, in legends, epics and in myths.” Lloyd De Mause is a psychohistorian who has examined the political significance of the traumatic experiences of birth and early childhood. He writes about how human societies restage the early trauma later in life in wars and social violence. We recreate in the outer world the unconscious images we carry deep within our brains, the repressed memories of the conflicts and losses we have experienced before during or after our births.
Frederick Leboyer pioneered arranging obstetrical practices in his control to respect the sensory sensitivity of the babies in his delivery room. He:
- Dimmed the lights
- Moved the baby more slowly and gently
- Created a hushed atmosphere
- Left the cord intact
- Put baby on the mother
- Waited to observe the baby until he settled down
- Provided bath water near womb temperature
Babies born in this gentle and respectful setting seemed to cry less and smile more and were calmer after birth. Frederick Leboyer was the first to coin the term ‘Birth Without Violence’ and this led to the Gentle Birth Movement. I like what he says about the hands that first greet a newborn:
“The hands that touch the child reveal everything: nervousness or calm, clumsiness or confidence, tenderness or violence.
The child knows if the hands are loving. Or careless. Or worse, rejecting.
In rigid and hostile hands, a child retreats into itself, blocks out the world.
In attentive loving hands the child abandons itself, opens out.
It is like making love, and is this not the sovereign remedy for anguish?”
When women are prepared, self confident, empowered, breathing, calm and relaxed it is possible to give birth without pain but with ecstasy instead. The same conditions as above apply to the birthing environment for the mother. Leboyer says only a few things are really required: “Only a little patience and humility. A little silence. Unobtrusive but real attention. Awareness of the newcomer as a real person.
Unself-consciousness. And love.”
“The baby sees into our hearts, knows the colour of our thoughts, feels everything, all without the spoken word. The newborn baby is a mirror reflecting our joy, or our despair”.
The onus is on us to create the conditions for joy and love at birth and in our future worlds.