How Birth Trauma Affects Mother and Baby Throughout Life
June 11, 2015
Mike recently shared his story in the comments on my post The Mother/Baby Attachment Gap. Physical trauma during a C-section led to emotional trauma for him and his parents that he still is dealing with.
His back was injured during the cesarean section birth. As I explained in my book, an infant's nervous system develops in part in response to the environment inside the womb, as the baby shares its mother's bloodstream, with whatever stress chemicals or calm chemicals -- including oxytocin -- are flowing through it. There's evidence that the actual birth process "sets" the emotional thermostat by influencing the reactivity of the HPA axis.
The HPA axis is the system composed of the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands. Some people react more quickly and more severely to stress than others. This is partly due to genetic predisposition, but also to epigenetics: genes that are "turned on" or "turned off" in response to experience and the environment.
As he entered the world, Mike learned that it's a very dangerous place: People came at him and his mother with knives.
Mike wrote: "I grew up unable to express, accept, or understand love, but I can't blame this entirely, or
perhaps even partially, on the C-section. My mother went into menopause immediately after my birth, and sex became painful for her. My father took this personally and basically lived his life away from home. Both of my parents independently told me they blamed my birth for the destruction of their marriage."
How brutal an experience to grow up like that! My mother couldn't express love and was very angry, but I wasn't forced to bear guilt for her life. I can't imagine what this would be like.
So we see that the physical and emotional trauma of Mike's birth had profound repercussions for his mother's body and emotions, as well as for his father's emotions.
Mike has spent several decades in therapy, which has gotten him to the point where he understands all this and, I hope, is beginning to take steps to heal.
I want to reiterate that we can change our bodies and our brains at any age so that we can begin to experience trust and connection. Sometimes it takes very, very small steps. Working with a therapist who specializes in dealing with birth trauma can be helpful.
Please take a look at the website of the Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health. Some people think the idea of prenatal psychology is woo-woo. I don't. I think what science has learned about epigenetics supports their work.
Mike, I'm rooting for you to keep going on your journey.