|8 weeks after conception; photo from Wikipedia|
Our first eight weeks of life are amazing! While being in stillness and really doing nothing much, we accomplish perhaps more than we ever will the rest of our lives. We create a complex body from one cell.
What could be more miraculous? The more you know me, the more you will know of my passion for the mysteries of embryology. I have studied embryology with fascination since 1997, when I incorporated it into my self-designed doctoral program in Pre- and Perinatal Psychology. At that time I reasoned that, since little ones learn through their bodies, understanding the little body was an essential key to comprehending the psyche associated with it. I still agree with that, but my appreciation for the gifts embryology has to offer has deepened and widened over the years.
As I was completing my PhD, I began formally studying Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy, which I now teach. Biodynamics is based on the importance of universal, or biodynamic, forces, which guide our formation in the womb. We perceive that these forces continue influencing our formation and re-formation throughout our lives. The specific events of embryo formation are perhaps less important than the underlying principles of development directing those events.
Soon after completing my foundation training in Biodynamics, I found myself being urgently drawn to immerse myself in the fluid investigations of Continuum Movement. I learned from Emilie Conrad, somatic visionary and founder of Continuum, that our tissues form in relation to their context. This is a basic embryological principle that Conrad had seen in her practice of Continuum. As she and her students applied the breaths, sounds, awareness and gentle movements of Continuum, their tissue patterns apparently melted. Within the restful, creative, accepting context of Continuum, tissues took on different shapes than when engaged in everyday fetch wood carry water activities. Conrad noted that, in the speed and focus of everyday life, our tissues become more dense, solid, and rigid, and our perception narrows. We have less access to the rejuvenating vibrations that form all things in nature.
Here we return to a basic Biodynamic concept. As the Austrian scientist Viktor Schauberger recognized, all things in nature form as spiraling forces around a mid-line. The embryo is no different. You and I, now old enough to write and read this page, are also no different. Biodynamics involves orienting to these deep, formative forces, rather than to just their effects as outer form. When we slow down, whether through Biodynamics, Continuum or other awareness practices, our tissues begin to dissolve. The patterns we have lived in relation to begin to become less important as we remember and return to more essential and original intentions. How do we lose touch with these?
Longing for Original Intention
Have you ever had an urge to know your true nature and purpose? Or felt you weren’t quite living your life the way you intended, really deep down? Years ago, I used to teach a workshop called, “Express Your Essence.” The other day, in the midst of talking yet again about the amazing potential and original intention of the embryo, that title came back to me. I think I have always been after the same thing.
Original potential. Original intention. What does that mean? Where did it go? How do we get it back?
As we float quietly in our private amniotic sea for about nine months, our rapidly changing, growing bodies are not only influenced by universal Biodynamic forces. They are also impacted by conditions around us. The context affecting our formation, includes both universal forces and the world around us. In the womb, our context and our world is primarily mother.
Abundant research now shows that ongoing or extreme prenatal maternal stress profoundly affects the prenate’s nervous system. Levels of cortisol, a major stress hormone, relate to the mother’s stress during pregnancy. Individuals exposed to high maternal stress prenatally tend to be much more sensitive to stress throughout life.
Cell biologist, Bruce Lipton, explains that genes in the unborn child are turned on or off depending on mother’s perception of her environment. If she experiences being safe and supported, baby prepares physiologically to enter a safe, supportive environment. If mother feels threatened, unsafe and/or unsupported, baby prepares to enter a dangerous world. This may reflect being pregnant during a war, in relationship with a violent partner, or even feeling overwhelmed by such everyday stresses as taking a subway to work, feeling unappreciated by one’s boss, or extreme financial stress.
An additional stress for pregnant parents is the tendency for their own prenatal history to emerge during the pregnancy. Stresses that might have been more manageable at another time can be overwhelming for someone unconsciously immersed in their prenatal trauma. It can be helpful to remember that little one’s in the womb are not meant to be dealing with finances or subways or violence. When our prenatal history has not been acknowledged or processed, we tend to slip into it unconsciously in situations that remind us of that time.
The little one is not able to differentiate between their own feelings and those of mom. They tend to identify with the feelings. If there is anger, they become the anger. If there is fear, they are fear. When we return to a prenatal state, we also tend to become our feelings. Our ability to be with them from a witness state becomes less accessible. Just understanding this situation can help us to differentiate between then and now. We then have the possibility of meeting our inner embryo, rather than becoming him or her. As a relatively capable grown up, we are capable of witnessing and holding the little one within us, offering what is needed, rather than wallowing in the pain.
Accessing Resource and Support
If any of these ideas are provocative or disturbing for you, I suggest you really take your time to read about them. Pause and take a few deep breaths. Allow yourself to feel your body, your feet on the floor, the seat under you. Take a moment here and there to stretch and be with your current, grown up body and being. Remind yourself that you are here, now, that, whatever happened back then, you are actually o.k. in this moment, with many skills and tools you didn’t have back then. When you feel settled, read on.
It has been said that it takes a village to raise a child. New mothers in the modern world rarely receive the kind of support they need to be resourced enough to easily nurture their child. This begins even before conception, when preparation for becoming pregnant is not the norm. Some couples intend conscious conception, preparing their bodies and their homes, and engaging in prenatal and birth therapy to resolve or at least bring to consciousness their own early traumas so as not to unconsciously pass them on to their children. More than half of pregnancies, however, are unplanned.
Even for parents desiring a child, discovering an unplanned pregnancy can be shocking. There are bound to be feelings of ambivalence and questions of readiness for this profound event. Such shock and ambivalence is part of the context in which the little one forms. The psyche may register the experience as an imprint of not feeling welcomed. The individual may spend a lifetime seeking home, seeking to be wanted, longing for welcome and a sense of belonging. Such an imprint is particularly strong if the pregnancy is not wanted, with abortion or adoption being considered. Fortunately, babies are highly fluid, resilient beings. When they are later welcomed, celebrated and loved, much healing can occur. This can happen at any age. Even as adults, we can offer such healing acceptance to the little embryo self still floating somewhere in our psyches. It is never too late, as they say, to have a happy childhood!
Haunted by History
There are other stressful influences within the womb, besides mom’s experience during pregnancy. Prenatal and birth therapy pioneer, William Emerson, describes the little one in the womb as marinating in the unconscious of the parents. Where parents have not resolved issues from their own early life, these become part of the context in which the little one forms. Unresolved issues may also include such tragedies as the loss of a baby prior to this pregnancy. Our modern western culture doesn’t tend to support grieving the loss of loved one very well. Grieving the loss of an unborn baby seldom receives the space and support it needs. After a miscarriage, a couple may be told to wait awhile so the woman’s body is strong again and then try again. This is not bad advice, but what about the couple’s feelings? It can be devastating to lose a child at any age. It seems that the younger the child, the more intense the feelings of loss. Losing a baby shortly after birth is more acknowledged than the loss of an unborn child, but in any case, the feelings can be massive. There may be feelings of guilt and inadequacy as well as the loss itself.
Looking deeper, it is not unusual to lose a twin in the womb. We now know that more than half of conceptions are multiple, while the rate of twins being born is much lower. This means that many of us have had a sibling in the womb. When a twin dies before birth, its little body may be resorbed into the uterus or absorbed into the surviving twin’s body. Often the only one aware of the vanishing twin’s existence is the surviving twin. The loss then becomes a shadow within the survivor’s psyche. There may always be a longing for someone who can really be close and understand them. There may be a sense of something missing or not quite right. The loss has usually never been consciously or verbally acknowledged. Therefore, the memory of it is not available on a conscious level. The feelings cannot be fully processed.
Twin loss can affect anyone. If a parent has a miscarriage, one of the feelings that may be touched is the primal feeling of loss of a twin before birth. The intensity of having lost a child then becomes multiplied by the unresolved and usually unacknowledged feelings of loss of a twin. Such feelings of loss can be confusing and overwhelming. If unprocessed, they remain present for the next pregnancy. The new baby then grows within a haunted womb.
The new parents may have difficulty fully welcoming their new baby when they discover the pregnancy. They may be distracted by unresolved feelings from the past. Unable to face their difficult feelings, they also may not fully embrace the joy of having conceived. They may be so terrified of losing another baby that they avoid becoming attached to this one.
The little one marinates in all of this. The context for this little one is extremely challenging. The universal forces are still present directing development. Without them, the little one would not survive at all. In these challenging conditions, however, the conditional forces strongly compete with the universal. Babies may be born with various physical challenges where the body has not formed in resonance with the universal forces. Growing in a field of unresolved grief affects the new child’s physiology. Being awash for months in maternal bio-chemicals profoundly affects the little one’s psyche.
Beyond Personal History
There is so much that can happen on the way to birth. I won’t go into all of it here. It would not only take too long to read, but would also be too overwhelming. Our hearts would burst in resonance with the pain of coming into being.
I believe at least part of our pain at perceiving such suffering relates to our innate knowing of how it could be otherwise. Along with the trauma, there is potential. There is an original intention and intelligence that knows how to form us. When we remember ourselves as little ones, it is tempting to either completely deny any pain or to be so seduced by personal history that it is hard to function. Through many years of healing my own wounding from that time and facilitating this healing with others, I have learned the importance of remembering the potential. Our early days may have included overwhelming pain and trauma, but they definitely also included a mysterious connection to source.
My work these days is about supporting that connection. I find that, when we are able to remember the potential of that early formative time, our old wounds can begin to dissolve and heal in a gentle way. We can hold our inner embryo with love, appreciating how we made it through whatever happened, and remember the miracle of how we formed from one little cell. We can hold ourselves how we may have wished we could have been held, perceiving our beauty, our potency, our creative forces, and the larger field in which we grew.
There was another field there, not just the historical one relating to our parents’ issues and relationship - a greater field existing prior to our parents, before our bodies, and beyond our little personalities. We can remember the spiraling forces directing our formation and allow our curiosity to lead us deeper. Just take a breath, perhaps offer yourself a little humming sound, and notice what else might be available. We are, and always have been, so much more than our history!
In future blog entries, I will be writing more about how to support children and adults in resolving prenatal and birth trauma. In the meantime, if you would like to learn more, I invite you to listen to an interview I gave last week as part of the Infinite Waves of Health Virtual Summit on Embodying Embryology: Accessing Our Original Potential. Click here to register and access the recording.
You are also invited to join me next week for a three-week webinar series on the same subject. To learn more and register, click here. Or you can still register this week through Infinite Waves of Health for a significant discount.
You can also read more in my two chapters in the recently published book, Foundations in Craniosacral Biodynamics: The Sentient Embryo, Tissue Intelligence, and Trauma Resolution, now available at Amazon.