Birth Dreams and ones Natal Experience
Few people who have not re-experienced it for themselves, can believe, or comprehend, the enormous influence ones birth has upon personal development and adult behaviour and feelings. Many images in dreams link directly to the influences/memories still alive within us relating to our birth. Being in a tight place and struggling to escape, being under water without breathing, being strangled, crawling through a tunnel, coming out of a pool of water, difficulty in breathing – may all relate to birth experiences. See: active imagination.
The experience of being in the womb and of being born lie at the very foundation of all we learn and accomplish in the further years of our growth. The way we react to that earliest of life dramas defines the way we react to later situations. I am not saying such reactions emerge from a self-aware centre in the baby – far from it, but like any other mammal or living creature, we as a baby can learn conditioned reflexes to given situations. We can and do make a sort of ‘life decision’ about things, a decision in the form of a massive feeling response.
So, if for instance the emergence into life outside the womb is difficult and without any compensation of loving contact and welcome, we might very well have a deep feeling of withdrawal, of not wanting to be ‘here’ in the external world. In later life this will be experienced as difficulty in wanting to be involved in everyday life or other people.
The psychoanalyst Nandor Fodor has written extensively about the subject of birth dreams, and gives the example of a woman who was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck, and in adult life frequently dreamt of being strangled. Also an example is quoted of a person who received a head injury during birth, and in adult life frequently dreamt of being scalped.
Such stories are of course not definite evidence for the influence of birth experience in later life. But I believe it is something that is very important to consider in any attempt to understand ones adult behaviour or tendencies. I myself was born two months premature, at a time when there was no intensive care in hospitals for such babies. My recovered memories of that experience, gained from working with dreams, are intense and have convinced me that enormous personal difficulties regarding relationship with people and with meeting opportunity in life, have their roots in my premature birth. My memories revealed to me that being born so early left me feeling physically and psychologically inadequate to relate to and deal with independent life. My digestive system was immature, as were my breathing organs. My vulnerability caused my mother anxiety, leading to a lack of bonding between us. In my condition I needed months of being held close to her body and bathed in feelings of confidence and care. Instead of that I felt deeply anxious and alone. My lack of psychological readiness to be in the world also meant that I had an inner feeling of not being as capable as most of my peers. The constant desire to be back in the womb remained into adult life. I didn’t know that my interest in meditation and the unconscious was in fact a desire to find the ‘heaven’ of life in the womb again. This fixation of delving deeper into my inner life also caused a lack of understanding of motives that led other people to grasp opportunity in external life. In fact external life didn’t mean much at all to me. The disruption this caused in achievement and in feeling a part of everyday social interaction has been enormous. Now, seeing the extraordinarily premature babies who are kept alive, I cannot help but feel pity for what they will face as adults.
Whatever it is we may have lost during our birth, or whatever gained in the way of painful or disruptive decisions and conditioned reflexes, our dreams try to lead us back to the Garden of Eden that was our life in the womb. They try to recreate the scene of the expulsion from Eden, so we can understand and perhaps grow beyond the afflictions gained at that time. To lead us back to this recovery of our lost selfhood or wholeness, our dreams represent our story in symbols or in a sort of personal mythology. As I have explained in the feature active imagination, finding ones way through the imagery back to direct meeting with oneself as the baby, needs certain skills to be learnt and practised. Without these skills, or the help of someone who can introduce us to the skills, we may become lost in the shifting world or imagery and imagination, where resistances to meeting our pain play with us in a shadow world of truths disguised in dream landscapes and imagery.
Van de Castle quotes the description of Jane English, a physicist who writes about her dreams and how they helped her uncover the influence of her caesarean birth on her life – (her book is Different Doorway: Adventures of a Caesarean Birth.) Jane’s dreams were not direct expressions of a birth situation, but held within the symbols the feelings and sense of being overwhelmed that when met and allowed more fully into consciousness, led to the direct insights into her birth.
There appear to be several reason why dreams do not directly represent such early experiences and experience resistances. One is that they have never been thought about, or been a part of the refined imagery and concepts which arise as we learn language. Another is that they are usually intense body and feelings experiences, and to truly remember or represent them, needs us to actually feel emotions and physical sensation at that intensity again – something few adults are willing to do. Such memories are not neatly separated off from our personality and labelled ‘birth memories’. They usually arise as intense emotional reactions which we fully identify with and do not necessarily see as having to do with anything more than present experience. Many a relationship has foundered because the powerful emotional response in a marriage has not been seen as relevant to birth rather than to a problem in the marriage.
When you experiences a dream which may relate to your birth, one of the most helpful tool’s to use in exploring the deeper levels of the dream associations is fantasy or active imagination. Skill in using fantasy can help you create an environment in which the spontaneous processes of the psyche are set free, enough at least to move beyond the boundaries of common experience and present the strange, awful, wonderful world of babyhood. See Processing Dreams
In doing this certain basic psycho-physical facts are worth remembering.
Firstly the self regulatory process underlying the fact that your body and mind are still functioning without your conscious effort, holds in it the continuous move to heal whatever hurts you experienced. It does this by pushing those experiences toward your conscious awareness in any way it can. The depressed feelings, psychosomatic body pains, irrational reaction we have to some situations, and of course the strange and sometimes frightening dreams we experience, are all ways this process attempts to make conscious what was hidden.
Secondly, the difficulties we need to deal with are all lined up just beneath conscious awareness, like a queue behind a closed door waiting to come through.
Thirdly, the reason things do no surface, become known and resolved is because we resist them. These resistances are obvious and need to be melted for healing to take place. Dreamers wake with terror from a nightmare for instance and desire nothing more than to blot it out from their feelings. The nightmare is an attempt to make conscious the intense feelings from a trauma, but we resist this because we have not learned the ability to witness such feelings and personal emotions without fear. Another resistance is the automatic withdrawal from pain. Just as we automatically draw our hand away from a hot surface, so we draw our awareness away from a painful memory. The methods we use are many – using redirected attention, as when we rush to entertainment, alcohol, talking with friends, nicotine, breath holding, and so on.
Such resistances are the main reason we do not find healing through dreaming, even though dreams are constantly trying to heal us. Of course another one seen in massive number of dreams is fear. Fear acts just like pain to make us avoid/resist the action of dreams.
So recognising these processes in oneself is the first step to self discovery. See: active imagination; self regulation fantasy and dreaming; Life’s Little Secrets; fundamental processes; self regulation; lifestream.