It seems that when it comes to modern birth culture, the general theme seems to be “All that matters is a healthy baby.” Now although for the most part this statement is filled with the best intentions from well meaning people or professionals, I have seen it used over and over again to emotionally manipulate or corner women and their families into following their care provider’s policies or agenda. And you know what, this isn’t even the part that pisses me off that most. What frustrates me is the general disregard for baby’s emotional well-being throughout the majority of pregnancy and birth. Or the general disregard for the possibly mega negative imprinting any trauma, aggression, brightness is pushed onto defenseless bubba.
“Do you think babies like being born?”
“What do you mean, like to be born?”
“Exactly what I said. Do you think children are
happy to come into this world?”
“Happy? But a newborn baby doesn’t feel anything.
So it’s neither happy nor unhappy.”
“How do you know that?”
“Well, it’s obvious. Everyone knows that.”
“That’s not much of a reason, is it?”
“I suppose you’re right. But all the same, they
don’t really see or hear properly, do they?”
“And that makes you think they don’t feel anything either?”
“Of course, they don’t.”
“Then why do they cry so bitterly?”
“Well, that’s to expand their lungs, isn’t it?”
“Expand their lungs! That hardly explains it.
My goodness, don’t tell me you’ve never heard a
newborn baby cry!”
“Yes, of course I have. But that doesn’t necessarily mean
“Do you think he’s expressing his pleasure, his delight at
being with us?”
“I don’t think it’s either of those things. I
told you, babies don’t feel anything.”
“And what makes you so sure? If I may ask once more.
“Well, for a start, they’re so small. I mean, at
that age …
“How can an intelligent person like you say that!
As if size had anything to do with it. Small!
As for age, have you forgotten that, the younger you
are, the more intensely you feel? Young children
suffer agonies about things that seem quite trivial
to us because they feel a thousand times more than
we do. This is the blessing and at the same time
the curse of their heightened sensitivity.”
“Well, you could be right. But, all the same, it’s
still hard to understand that they can feel, I mean
there is no real consciousness at that stage, is there?”
“Consciousness? You mean they have no soul?”
“No, no. I don’t mean a soul. I don’t know anything
about the soul.”
“But, consciousness? You know about consciousness?
Wonderful! At last I have found someone who can
explain this great mystery to me. My friend, I am
on my knees. Tell me, please tell me. What is
“Well . . . actually . . . well, you see,
well . . . consciousness . . .”
Confronting, isn’t it? This is an excerpt from a book that moved me very deeply when I first begun my career as a Doula. Frederik Leboyer’s ‘Birth Without Violence’. It challenged so many of the birth policies in place at the time ~ 1975 ~ and caused major controversy amongst professionals. Controversy that is still rife today.
It wouldn’t take much digging to see what childbirth has looked like in the last 60 years. Artificial hormones, distress from forced induction, forceps, vacuums, pulling, yanking, flipping a baby upside down, slapping bottoms, swinging baby around, bright lights, ice cold rooms, isolated nurseries, desperate cries, circumcision, forced feeding schedules, separated from mother and the only place it knows….actually, birth and new life as a newborn has been a very violent place, for a very long time.
Unfortunately, many of these acts continue to exist. Regardless of whether they are deemed necessary or not, regardless of it being in the context of genuine emergency, Leboyer said it well when he said it remained violence none the less.
You see, for a very long time, there has/was/is this deeply rooted (and absurd) idea that babies feel nothing. That suffering, pain, joy…neither of these can possibly be experienced by a being so small and so new. Absurd, right? An outdated thought similar to the way we look at animals as non-sentient beings only because they cannot speak our language even when their emotional and body language is undeniable.
Our culture tends to look at baby in two ways – simply that baby is dead or baby is alive. And by narrowing our perception into these two tunnels, we’ve allowed ourselves to ignore the very real possibility that our children are growing up suffering the long hard haul of a hardcore limbic imprint.
Elena Tonetti-Vladimirova from Birth Into Being explains, “Limbic imprinting is the inborn capacity of the nervous system to absorb and memorize, on a cellular level, all of the information from its surrounding environment during the early formative period– the moment of conception through 9 months of gestation, birth, and the first few years of life. Every fluctuation of the mother’s hormonal, physical, emotional experiences are registered by the fetus and non-cognitively recorded in its developing nervous system. These early impressions and sensations remain with this person throughout their entire lifespan.”
One can only begin to fathom the impact from a traumatic, overwhelming or stressful birth on a newborn baby.
What can you imagine happens to baby in a system that views it as an emotionless vessel?
In his book, Leboyer went into great detail about the suffering of newborn babies. How their cries and physical cues were actually to show great distress or sadness and that approaching birth with more better (and more gentle intent) was the new way forward.
He saw babies as more than just a living being. He saw them as complex creatures, capable of feelings of all kinds, worthy of consideration. The same consideration you would bestow on any person going through such a physical, transformative, life altering journey.
I have seen truly gentle births, even in emergency situations; it is possible and it is wonderful. Ultimately I would love to see an overhaul of maternal care – one that is well and truly concerned about more than ticking the boxes for their insurance policies; a system that places the vulnerable and sensitive cores of birthing people and their babies at the forefront.
I believe babies are people. They have the right to bodily autonomy, respect and care on a greater level than just being kept alive. How about you?
Melbourne Doula & Birth Photographer