Accessing Forgiveness of Self: Birth in the Context of the Childbearing Continuum
Birth is big. That’s the paradigm I work with. There are very few events in life that have the same potential for life affirming or destructive power as birth does. It is such a key event, both in the life of a child and a mother (not to mention the circle around this dyad) that can, if respected and fully explored and engaged with, bring new depths to self knowledge, to empowerment and to intensity of life.
Having said that, something that is revealing itself and unfolding in my own psyche and world view at the moment is the context birth sits in. There are two elements to my thoughts on this at present:
One, birth is not only a physical event. Whilst the intense physicality of birth is so powerful and encompassing, there are other elements to it: social elements, psychological elements, emotional elements and so on. These elements may be intrapsychic- that is, part of the ‘inner world’, or they may be systemic- the wider circles that surround the individual in family, community and society.
And in this particular frame, I am only addressing the elements that are tangible, or at least knowable in some extent through personal reflection, and often, the support of professionals or other care providing people within an individual’s life.
There are also unknowable elements. Birth is a time where many women feel connected to the Divine, or have some kind of spiritual experience. I personally believe that the birthing of a new soul into the world is just as important and significant a process as their bodily arrival, and there are powers and forces at play that I cannot even conceptualize. Instead, I trust. I am open to the processes and purposes of birth at every level, and acknowledge that some of these levels are so deep that I cannot access them, or be anything more than peripherally aware of them.
Similar to this, I also believe there is a species-wide impact of birth as we create it. Slowly we evolve, both in a physical sense (one of the reasons high levels of non-medically indicated intervention alarms me) and in forming and shaping our collective unconscious and collective consciousness- that is, the material that is passed through generations, both overtly and obliviously, through the human race. Birth as a collective phenomenon is made up of the nuances of each individual birth down through the ages, and the individual interpretations shape our society; personal mythology becomes the innate strength that we take into all challenges as a race.
In looking at a birth experience, we can explore the way it has impacted a mother and the mother-child dyad in a number of ways- physically, emotionally, all those aspects I mentioned earlier. However, we also need to explore that some levels of our experience are not knowable, understandable and able to be dissected and disseminated, and come to an acceptance of this human inability to see the whole meaning of the birth experience from all these unknowable angles: a challenge in itself in a culture that has little tolerance for the undefined and ambiguity!
Secondly (going back to my current expanding of the view of birth), birth is not a single event- as I have been writing in this entry- but part of a childbearing continuum that takes in conception, pregnancy and the time after birth. In fact, the continuum extends further than that- think perhaps, of the parent’s desire and urge to have a child or even the generational issues that have been passed on down through the family; or, on the other side of birth, the effect of a blissful babymoon on parent-child bond, or the long journey of healing and growth after a traumatic birth event.
Many women judge themselves through the birth they gave. If the birth has been pleasant, then this kind of judgement can be affirming of themselves as a woman, or as a mother. However, if the birth has been traumatic, or loss or disappointment has occurred, judging self through birth can become a source of harshness and further psychological impediment.
Furthermore, judging self by birth out of its full context- both in the facets unknowable, and in the chronological continuum- is counterproductive as it is only taking part of the picture, and drawing conclusions about the whole, from this section of the picture alone.
Instead, we can take a wider perspective, and perhaps, find forgiveness of self. We can ask ourselves:
- What facets of the birth can I truly take responsibility for (the intrapsychic factors mentioned earlier)? How did my support people, the location of the birth, and the wider maternity system effect me and my birth (the systemic factors)?
- Could this child have chosen this kind of birth for some reason? Could I perhaps be meeting the child’s needs by providing this birth?
- What is unknowable?
- How does the birth fit into the context of childbearing as a whole? What was my intention to create a new life like; did I conceive consciously; what kind of pregnancy experience did I create; what was our first meeting like; how do I connect with my child now? Do I feel satisfaction with the way I travelled this whole journey, and its different paths? What lessons can I take from this?
Not only can exploring these questions help you gain a clearer and wider picture of a birth, they can also identify issues for healing, where you may be judging yourself unfairly, and also find forgiveness in embracing and celebrating the love and positive actions you brought to the whole of the childbearing continuum.