Birth Day Part 2: Embodying the Heart of who you Are
Birth (def) : a state resulting from being born especially at a particular time or place. (For Part 1 of Birth Day go here)
It may sound odd that I would use the term ‘rebirth’ to describe my experience in the midst of my youngest’s birth experience. Truthfully it was a very surprising and shocking experience for me. As he emerged onto my chest I felt my whole body wake up, it felt like for the very first time. Although I know there was an awakening when I arrived from my own mother’s womb, multiple early life experiences caused me to be separated and shut down from that awakening and thus from my body.
About 2 years before Asher was born I took a course in mind body integration. During this course I began to realize intellectually the potent value of our body to our mental and emotional well being. I had some profound experiences connecting with my own body and with others in my work. But it wasn’t until that momentous day of Asher’s birth that I realized I had not been at home in my body for a very long time, probably not since I was about 4 or 5 years old. See when we go through traumatic life events we can tend to dissociate or ‘leave our physical state’ to protect us from the pain, and when we have lived in chronic trauma or fear this can become a more permanent state of being. We are still able to function and socialize fairly well. Some have compensated so well with their intelligence that so there’s no sign of not really being present to their life. Sure we have moments where we ‘touch down’ as I like to call it, where the present moment is so powerful and beautiful that we surrender to it. But when you spend much of your life dissociating it’s also uncomfortable to experience joy. As Brene Brown puts it; “we can’t selectively numb”, so those of us that live in this state only half experience joy because of the fear of the sensation it will bring.
It’s important to note here that for all humans, with every emotion/feeling we experience, it brings with it a physiological sensation. It’s different and individual for each person but examples include: we hold our chest in pain when we experience grief, anxiety can churn in our belly, or we swell up in our heart when we experience joy. So with this in mind, dissociating means to run as far as one can away from any and all of these sensations, even after the threat is gone. The reason for this is because our body carries emotional memory. Our body does not know the difference between a pain or joy sensation felt in the present, or one from the past. We may be having a present day experience that causes a tinge of fear, and the body will sense this and jump on that fear increasing it to the point it was often at in one’s childhood when there was a real threat. This is in an effort to survive and protect oneself. Therefore, any slightest bit of sensation can be terrifying even long after the fear factor is no longer present.
This is important in my birth with Asher because, I chose to feel sensation that day, to feel all of it, to not run from it physically or emotionally. I moved into what Gordon Neufeld calls “tears of futility” allowing for the extent of helplessness that flooded by body as I surrendered to a force of sensation that was bigger than me and bigger than my baby. I even stopped to feel the dreaded crowning of his head and the piercing pain that came with that. I wanted to be spared from none of it, I wanted to feel it all, I wanted to feel his life and mine working together.
I believe it was this choice of surrender and futility that caused me to wake up that day, to be reborn to my physical body. It was the experience of walking that brink of what felt like life and death, and surviving. It was doing the deep work of leaning into the pain and trusting that ultimately life would win. I never felt so empowered or transformed as I did in that moment with my son. I knew in that moment my previous three traumatic births were more fully healed, that my body felt strong and vital and it yearned for more of that feeling. I knew the energy and power of the miracle I had experienced was not just about a physical baby’s birth.
I believe that the transformative power in the birthing room is the same power that works in my therapy room. That there truly always is an opportunity to choose life, love, growth and transformation. (This is not to make a statement about child birth that if you only would choose these things you would experience this, that is not what I am saying.) I do not know if there would be any other timing except this timing for me to come back home to my body. I do not fault myself in my other births for the trauma I experienced, we all have own pace and our own time, and this happened to be mine.
Now like I said, I have been ‘reborn’ many times again since. There have been many more times since that I have unconsciously dissociated and yet again had to come back into my body. That’s the really difficult thing about chronic child hood trauma, is that all these survival mechanisms are unconscious and sometimes show up whether we want them to or not. So it’s a continual journey of making them conscious, and choosing to lean into pain and futility rather than run. Since that day there are three external resources that I continue to choose over and over again to stay at home in my body.
Yoga – There is so much research on yoga and how breath and movement regulate one’s nervous system (which is where that unconscious fear response is held). I have experienced extreme visceral experiences of old trauma held in the cells of my body releasing through the practice of yoga. This is why Re.Pose Therapy has trauma informed yoga classes and why I integrate it into my work. But we’ll have to expand on this later in another post.
High Quality Essential Oils – Our sense of smell is our only unmediated sense and goes directly to our limbic system and into our nervous system. What this means is that it is our only sense that does not pass through our prefrontal cortex of our brain. Why does this matter? Because our prefrontal cortex is where we make meaning and think, and while this is an important part of our brain, it often keeps us stuck in our old stories of pain and suffering. When we can bypass this part of our brain and teach our limbic system (emotional part of our brain) to have a new experience, this works to rewire the brain including the prefrontal cortex. And thus we can create a new empowering story for ourselves.
Two Essential Oils I cannot live without:
Lavender – It calms and soothes the nervous system by lowering cortisol (stress and fear hormone). It also works to lower blood pressure and slow heart rate down
Bergamot – It increases GABA which is a calming neurotransmitter in your brain and has been shown through research to have a similar effect to many anti-anxiety medications.
Creativity – This takes many forms in our home, from dance parties in the kitchen, to late night painting sessions (note: I have never actually learned how to paint, but I do it anyways), to baking or journaling. I think we often underestimate the healing power of creativity and the way it brings us back home to ourselves. We live in a world extremely focused on productivity and thus survival. When we stay in this focus it continues to activate the old emotional memory of survival and fear. Creativity is expansive and stirs a sense of thriving and becoming, of something deeper within to draw from.
Our bodies do not want to live in pain or hold onto our past, they want to release and move through the pain, this is what I have learned and what I continue to experience with myself and many others. Asher's birth was only one of the profound experiences I have had of learning the wisdom of my body in wanting to release trauma and restore new life. We may fear that choosing to feel the pain means it will never end, maybe because it didn’t when we were little and couldn’t get away, but it will end, it will subside, it will change and relief will come, at your own pace in your own time. Our bodies want to heal, they want to be fully embodied in life.
With Love and Grace,
Danielle Braun-Kauffman MAMFT, RCC