This series of articles is about my experience. If you read it and resonate with it, or if you find it affecting you deeply, I invite you to understand that healing the trauma of your time in the womb can have a profound effect on your life.
The first few phases of cell division, and attaching to the wall of the mother’s uterus, are often unremarkable by comparison with conception.
After I the egg had joined with me the sperm (described in Part 2 of this series), I as the newly formed zygote was uncertain whether I would successfully become attached to the wall of my mother’s womb. Driven by the impulse to become anchored, I felt that I knew what needed to be done but not how. As it happened, I didn’t need to figure anything out. I drifted to the wall of the uterus and the attachment was done.
Grant and I did not spend much time studying specific stages of gestation after implantation. The stresses I experienced during this time were more related to my mother’s ongoing emotional, mental, and physical experience.
Why are the hardships of conception, gestation, and labor necessary? Why can’t our experience of the time within our mothers be of safety, easy growth, and beauty?
There is a story, whose exact origin I do not remember, from a man who saw a butterfly struggling to emerge from its chrysalis. He was touched by what looked to him like great difficulty, and decided to make it easier for the butterfly to emerge. His help caused the butterfly to die. It had been deprived of the struggle necessary to stretch, inflate, and harden its wings. It could not fly.
How is this relevant for us humans?
This world requires us to be tough and resilient when we come in. The stresses and challenges of the womb, including birth, are necessary in the same way that the struggles of the emerging butterfly are necessary: they prepare us for survival. As an absolute minimum, we have to be able to breathe and take in nourishment on our own. We need to be tough enough to deal with gravity, cold, a new array of sounds, bright light, unfamiliar odors, and other physical discomforts. We need to be able to make the sounds that will communicate our needs.
Our experience in the womb is designed to prepare us for life after birth. In our responses to these challenges we build the physical and emotional strength and resilience we will need.
Through every tiny increment of growth, we can transcend our previous selves while including the best of what we have been.
The necessary challenges of pre-birth life include pain. It is not a mother’s fault that her baby experiences pain, discomfort, or trauma while in her womb. She is to be honored, not diminished, for providing her baby with the experiences that will prepare it for life.
We live in a time when identifying and punishing the “guilty” pervades societal attitudes and behavior. This is not how we become better individuals or a better species. We need to offer acceptance rather than blame, and compassion rather than shame, when events unfold less than perfectly. In particular, we need to offer love and support to women who experience the loss of a baby.
To those of you who are or will become mothers, I offer deep respect. Only you truly understand what it is to bear the responsibility of motherhood. You carry and nurture within you for nine months a being which, if all goes well, will develop from a single egg, united with a single sperm, into that miracle that is a real live baby. As one friend said, “A mother is a miracle.”
I invite you to know that regardless of what you have experienced in your own life, you deserve to respect and love yourself. In so doing you serve your children, and through them all of life.
I make the same offer and the same invitation to men who are or may become fathers. As men, it is our responsibility to be as healthy as we can in all dimensions of ourselves. We will then be able to have the good lives we deserve, and to be with our families, our communities, and all of life in a good way. Perhaps you will resonate with this idea expressed by a Native elder: “Women protect the children. Men protect the village.”
When I regressed into my mother’s womb, I was fully in the present, always-moving, eternal present moment. Past and future had no meaning; “time” did not exist.
My mother’s body held, protected, and nourished me. There was no need for me to do anything. Growth and learning was effortless.
I have discussed some earlier developmental events in part 2 of this series and the opening paragraph above. This post is about pain of a different nature.
The relationship between my mother and me was so intimate that her emotional and physical experience was also my experience—almost my entire experience. I felt both my mother’s transient feelings and her enduring baseline emotional state as though they were my own. When something made her laugh, I was elevated by her joy and the endorphins her system produced. If she was surprised, I felt the same adrenaline that stimulated her. If she was in a state of stress and her system was flooded with cortisol, I felt her stress and my blood was charged with cortisol as well. I was almost literally awash in her emotions, and I felt them intensely because they were new.
I felt the effects of her fluctuating levels of nutrients, toxins, stimulants, even oxygen and carbon dioxide. As she moved, I moved.
I was not stressed the way too many fetuses are. My mother did not drink alcohol, smoke, or use drugs. But if she had a strong cup of tea, I was overstimulated. If she was afraid, I was in a state of terror. If she was sad or depressed, I was in a black pit.
In the womb I also acquired a version of my mother’s basic beliefs about the world and herself. This was linked with the emotions that arose from her beliefs. When she saw the world as a good place, I benefitted not only from the serotonin she produced, but also from the energy of her positive thought patterns. When she saw the world as a painful place, I was influenced by that belief as well as by her elevated levels of stress hormones.
I was unable to do anything other than be immersed in my mother’s experience because I did not have a sufficiently developed mind to assess rightness or wrongness. Without the capacity to detach from what my mother felt or believed, I had no way to know whether what I was experiencing was ordinary or unusual, healthy or destructive. I could not know that my mother’s way might not be the only way.
In a rudimentary way, I assumed that the life I experienced in her womb was normal. I also took on the understanding that life was like this not only for me, but for everyone else as well.
Before I met Grant McFetridge, the possibility that I might need to heal old emotional wounds did not interest me. As a young person I had abundant energy. There were more enjoyable, constructive things to do than explore and heal long-ago wounds that I didn’t believe in anyway.
Then, as I neared fifty, life presented me with a series of events in which I both caused and received deep emotional pain. Those happenings forced me to make a choice: continue to run from my pain or turn and face it.
I recognized that “the only way out is through.” I devoured books and articles, seeking to understand what was going on inside. I learned about a pattern[i] in how we try to deal with emotional wounding in this deeply individualized society. I saw that I had followed that pattern like a script, suffering inside while appearing to be a success in the eyes of the world.
I learned how the health of the body is affected by unresolved trauma and ongoing stress. The immune system weakens and eventually collapses when the stress is too great for too long and physical illness, including “incurable” degenerative disease, is a predictable response to chronic stress.[ii] I saw too many people around me who were examples of the crippling power of those effects but who had become dependent on drugs that could not truly alleviate their pain or restore quality to their lives. My intellectual understanding was superb—and my emotional pain was unrelieved.
At some point, peeling the onion of my pain with all the courage I could muster and with spiritual help as well, I found that my most important themes for healing were shame and abandonment.[iii]
I worked to heal physical and sexual shame for several years, using various modes of therapy. Emotional Freedom Techniques was the most effective, but the healing never felt even nearly complete. I had seen miracles with my EFT clients, and knew that my personal “failure” was not due to the limitations of the technique. Then another lightbulb moment: the real impediment was my unwillingness to locate and address the deepest sources of my shame. When I could uncover those, I could heal.
But even after experiencing and healing the pain of the three specific pre-birth events discussed earlier, I still felt deep shame and abandonment. I realized that their origins must be somewhere other than the developmental events I had already addressed, and earlier than my childhood. There was only one place I could see to go: back to gestation. (At that time I had not yet discovered the effects of carried trauma from past lifetimes; that’s a topic for another article.)
When I revisited my time in the womb, I soon found the origins of my shame. Because I was immersed in my mother’s worldview and emotions, I had no other experience or reference points. Her thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and behaviors became mine as well while I was in the womb. As a consequence, I was born carrying my mother’s shame, and lived for years in an environment that reinforced and deepened that shame.
Arriving at this realization was not easy, and facing it was no fun at all. But the possibility of healing and liberation was exciting, and I approached it eagerly.
I applied for myself a technique of regression I had developed while working with clients whose issues were rooted in painful experiences of early childhood or before their birth. Once in the womb, I used EFT to address my acquired shame and other issues arising from the womb environment.
It worked. As I felt the releasing and dissipation of my shame, I felt my mother’s shame lifting and becoming lighter as well. Her shame was being healed at the same time! (It is a common occurrence in EFT practice for people who are close to each other to experience a resonance effect where the healing of one also benefits the other.)
In the course of this journey I have come to have much greater compassion for my mother. Her early life had not been easy, yet I know that beneath the pain, she loved me. It is sometimes not easy to see, but beneath whatever pain is present in their lives, our parents love us with a love that comes from their souls.
[i] This range of responses is similar to the stages of dealing with the prospect of death described by Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross in her ground-breaking book On Death and Dying (1969).
[ii] See Gabor Maté, When the Body Says No (2003) for an insightful and compassionate exposition of this process from a well-researched medical point of view.
[iii] In my work with Emotional Freedom Techniques I had come to believe that abandonment is a nearly inevitable consequence of our growth. It is certainly one of the most common wounds that shows up as my clients and I “peel the onion.” I now understand feelings of abandonment as an overreaction to the normal process of healthy individuation. This perspective makes healing much easier.
March 14 2023