Subconscious and Spiritual Themes in Childbirth
By Jennifer DeBrito, CSP, CCLD, CCBE
Founder of the Eden’s Promise Holistic Christian Birth Community
Let’s be honest, ladies. Becoming a mother is one of the most beautiful events you will experience in your lifetime. It is also one of the most challenging. Your beliefs, identity, relationships, personal hardships, and health are all challenged as part of the undercurrent in this life-changing event–and these are topics you won’t be able to obtain much guidance from your OB about. To learn more about the conscious (and not-so-conscious) themes present in childbirth, I have created this handy B.I.R.T.H. acronym for professionals and parents alike:
B is for….BELIEFS & FEARS
By the time a couple is married and having a family, they are returning to the church. While there are numerous articles out about why Millennials are leaving the church, according to Scot McKnight, the answer is simple. They are just young. “Statistics show that young adults have always been less affiliated; when they get married and have children they return to their faith. Part of the life cycle is reflected in this.”
Which brings us to the B in our acronym. If you are about to start a family, you are probably looking to finally identify your beliefs. You are aware that you will soon be explaining the mysteries of the universe to your own child, and you are deciding where you stand regarding the very core of your existence.
Even if you (or your spouse) weren’t churched during your youth, this deep search for belief is a part of being human–and it emerges during these important years in a more pressing way than ever before.
What if you don’t know what you believe about your own existence, or the presence or goodness of God? This isn’t something you are going to ask your OB about at a prenatal appointment; it’s something happening beneath the surface. Not knowing your own beliefs or where to turn to find them can lead to anxiety and depression, as well as a feeling of loneliness or isolation. From a Christian perspective, it is also a highly vulnerable time, spiritually-speaking. We know that the enemy prowls around like a lion, waiting for someone to devour. Parents who will soon have the power to influence an entire bloodline, who are looking for something to believe in, probably prove to be an extra delectable target.
I- IDENTITY, WORTH, AND PERFORMANCE
In addition to seeking answers on their beliefs of human existence is a perhaps even more pressing concern that expectant parents have no choice but to also ask themselves: Who am I?
As you think about what kinds of parents you want to be, you are forced to somehow reconcile who you were with who you now are. For some, there is a mourning process involved. For others, it is a welcome new beginning. Either way would be reason enough for all parents to seek some form of counsel.
On top of that struggle is an entirely new and unexpected challenge to your identity that you probably won’t be expecting. In Suzanne Hadley Gosselin’s book, Expectant Parents, she discusses “Postpartum Oppression” and how tricky it is to navigate the various opinions and competitions set forth within the birth culture. The question of “Who Am I” quickly turns into “Which parenting camp do I agree with?”. Your decisions about birth planning, vaccinations, working, diapers, strollers (and the list goes on and on…) will also become a big part of your identity if you let them. To which parenting camp will you belong? It’s like starting at a new school all over again.
The enemy’s mouth waters.
Multiple studies have provided evidence of the positive influences that mothers experience when receiving labor support from a companion present during birth¹. While who the supporter should be isn’t specifically covered in these studies (making a strong case for doulas like me!), the relationship between the father and mother of the child cannot be overlooked. In fact, 3 of the 6 risk factors listed by the March of Dimes for premature birth include relational problems between parents.
As both parents are working through the questions of what they believe about their own existence and who they are as individuals, they are also working on who they will be together. Based on a 50% divorce rate revealed by the American Psychological Association back when we were children, it seems many of us didn’t have healthy marital models to learn from in the first place. Perhaps this is why CDC reports that 40% of children in the U.S. were born to unwed mothers last year.
Relationships are complicated whether parents are married or not. Even in the marital relationship there are communication barriers and other problems (many covered in my devotional, Expectant Parents Workshop: Devotional). But except in the face of blatant abuse, most women won’t be mentioning their difficulties to their OB. Most will navigate relational issues in stoic silence, perhaps complaining to an occasional friend, while their heart searches for that deep and endless question: “Am I Loved?”
The enemy drools a little.
T-TRAUMA & TRIGGERS
In the Psychology world, there is “trauma,” and then there is “Trauma.” Everyone experiences trauma as they experience day-to-day life. (Perhaps you got lost in the grocery store as a child, for example, or accidentally made a mistake at school.) But a surprisingly high number of people also experience “Trauma,” and are therefore living with some form of PTSD. 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before age 18.² 1 in 3 women have experienced an abortion by age 45³, and up to 34% of women feel traumatized by the birth experience⁴.
If you add all of these statistics together, that means that 99% of the female population has experienced at least one of these events. These statistics do not even account for other issues such as domestic violence, traumatic loss of a loved one, or substance abuse–and they don’t need to for us to see that Trauma is not the anomaly. It is the norm. Most of us simply fail to address the issues we are dealing with, minimizing them to “little t” status and locking them away. But to be honest, even those “little t” traumas can add up in a big way.
Either way the enemy threatens: “Be afraid.”
H- HEALTH & WELL-BEING
Also in the undercurrent of the birth experience is the concern for mother and baby’s health. There is the obvious trend toward a more natural birth, in relation to evidence-based care. There is also the vaccination debate. The list goes on and these are real, true, honest concerns. They are conscious concerns and, outside of the identity issue formally described above, they are legitimate.
There are also other health issues and deeper fears that could be related to any of the above topics. Even in a perfect birth experience, there could be heavy, emotionally-rooted health problems. Eating disorders. Allergies. Cancer.
Continuing to ignore the undermining thoughts, fears, and spiritual issues at the root of these physical problems is like covering a splinter with a band-aid. Eventually, it’s going to resurface.
The enemy lies: “I’ll keep you safe…this won’t hurt a bit.”
Birth is a highly complicated life event that includes body, mind, and spirit. While you can easily prepare yourself with knowledge about the basic mechanisms of childbirth and hire someone to coach you through the process, it is important to recognize that the mental, subconscious, and spiritual aspects of birth play just as big of a role in the childbirth experience. Mothers (and fathers) are vulnerable, and subject to the teaching and moral standing of the doulas and other professionals they seek to learn from.
Subconscious and spiritual themes don’t have to have a negative effect on your birth experience. Numerous studies are finding alternative therapies such as EMDR and EFT to be highly effective in treating PTSD and other fear-based symptoms. In addition, prayer therapy can be added to these techniques for ultimate healing from God of beliefs, identity, relationships, trauma, and health. To learn more about navigating the subconscious and spiritual aspects of birth, Splankna Therapy, or any of the Approved Birth Professionals with the Eden’s Promise Initiative, Click here.
Jennifer DeBrito, CSP, CCLD, CCBE is a Master Splankna Practitioner and Colorado Springs Doula and Childbirth Educator..She is the owner of Eden’s Promise, LLC and the founder of the Eden’s Promise Initiative. She authored Expectant Parents Workshop: Devotional, and is the creator of the Expectant Parents Workshop childbirth preparation class. Jennifer was the 3-time doula to Suzanne Hadley Gosselin (esteemed author of Expectant Parents, a pregnancy/childbirth/parenting book by Focus on the Family). In addition to coaching expectant parents toward a Christ-centered childbirth, Jennifer also specializes in prenatal and postpartum wellness coaching and Splankna Therapy in Colorado Springs. Jennifer is a featured blogger for My719Moms.com. To learn more about Jennifer, go to EdensPromiseLLC.com.
¹(Campero et al., 1998; Sosa, Kennell, Klaus, Robertson, & Urrutia, 1980; Zhang, Bernasko, Leybovich, Fahs, & Hatch, 1996).
² Hopper, J. (1998). Child Sexual Abuse: Statistics, Research, Resources. Boston, MA Boston University School of Medicine. Child Sexual Abuse: A Mental Health Issue. Kentucky Division of Child Abuse and Domestic Violence.