Contraction and Expansion in Birth Trauma:

Further Developments in Primal Integration and Regression Therapy

By Shirley A. Ward, M.Ed., Dip.Ed., M.F.Phy.

Stuck Places

I was first alerted to the idea of being stuck in contraction and expansion during the birth process by a stimulating lecture given by Barbara Findeison at the pre and perinatal Psychology Association Congress in Atlanta in July 1991. It gave me yet another new and fascinating insight into working with clients in “stuck places”. It has been a successful technique for me to develop in my practice as a pre and perinatal psychotherapist.

Birth Images

For many years in the school of Frank Lake’s teaching we have looked at the way people talk in the birth metaphor and how our speech patterns are smattered with images, imprints, colourings or memories of our birth, which filter into the ways we live our lives. It appears these birth metaphors are created at conception, cemented at birth, reverberate in “birthy” situations throughout life. So, to complete the healing it is necessary to go back to conception. This is the recent research in which we have been involved.

The Birth Trauma

Looking at the birth process first of all: Obviously how we have learned to breath is how we have learned to control feelings. We can be stuck on the in breath and in contraction. These habits may be there forever if we are afraid of real expansion which may well stimulate something we have been avoiding for years. Breathing through these fears is real expansion. For the therapeutic process it became obvious that one of the first elements of moving from contraction into expansion is learning how to expand the chest cavity and to breath into feelings.

Circuit Breaker

Many negative emotions are stuck in a contracted place in the body, thus causing tension, body pain, mental stress, and physical illness. For example, anxiety is being stuck in contraction. When contraction is too great there is tremendous anxiety. The preborn becomes helpless, hopeless, immobilised or frozen in this contracted place. Finding the circuit breaker in the contraction of the preborn’s own body during the birth process in the birth canal is one way of releasing anxiety in the adult body.

Forceps Delivery

A forceps birth occurs when a preborn becomes helpless, traumatised or distressed. For them expansion means pain so they are more comfortable in contraction. Moving out as painful is firmly rooted in the memory and they find it difficult to do alone. To avoid pain they never want to move forward. If the birth canal is narrow, the baby cannot experience expansion and it feels that it will die if it goes forward or die if it goes backward. This death place is one of great terror and fear. It is often hidden by many adults who find their feelings irrational. When someone contracts in on themselves, there is no place to breath, nowhere to move and nowhere to go.

Expand Slowly

Being pushed out of relationships in adult life can refer back to being pushed out of the womb. Inwardly it means losing everything. The terror of the forceps delivered baby is often unexplainablc and unpredictable. It can lead to almost untreatable mental pain and the pain of living in the narrow contraction throughout life can cause enormous fear of any close relationship. Where the forceps delivery has caused exceptional inner damage there may be times of acute crisis in the adult. The forceps delivered adult has to expand slowly and with limitations if the expansion is to be without pain. For those who have great gifts and potential, the “coming out” period to be teachers or any vocation where they are pushed out in front, will take longer than the expansion born baby. If they are “pushed out” too soon they may experience severe depression, periods of feeling pushed over the edge.

Induced Birth

Induced birth means the baby was not born at its own timing. In the adult this can lead to a real difficulty with timing. Induced adults need to learn to do things in their own time as well as in cooperation with others. Where there are particularly strong and prolonged contractions in an induced birth and seemingly no breathing space, it can create continual contraction. The adult may find relaxation and play difficult, being stuck in continual contraction. During the induced birth there may be no physical co-ordination between mother and baby. This may lead to an adult with poor physical co-ordination and difficulty in relating to others. Shock may be another factor in the contraction place in birth trauma. Induced adults can often spend their lives catching up on themselves, with a great fear of being left behind.

How do we learn to Expand?

The therapeutic process is about expansion. Great patience and love between therapist and client is needed during regression work in the pre and perinatal period. It can be a healing place. The person needs to understand the contraction/expansion place they are in and to be understood by the trained therapist. There are not enough therapists trained to understand these problems and not enough residential sanctuaries where people may go to experience these life difficulties. Unfortunately many people undergoing difficulties associated with original birth trauma, end up in mental hospitals or sedated by antidepressants. We have a long way to go to help the understanding that many of our human problems go back to birth trauma and before.

Shirley Ward is an experienced Primal Therapist. She is a director of Amethyst.