Saturday, October 08, 2011

Is pre-natal psychology a load of nonsense? Willam Emerson speaks out

In celebration of 25 years of APPAH, the Association for Pre and Perinatal Psychology and health, the current president, William Emerson, wrote the story of how the loss of his twin sister 12 hours after birth compelled him to study the physical and psychological aspects of pregnancy in great detail, and to work hard over many years to help babies to enter this world with the minimum of trauma.

Many womb twin survivors are attracted towards pregnancy and birth as an area of study, but in a man that seems counter intuitive, as one would imagine that such subjects would be of more interest to a woman. However that little dose of oestrogen, that he would have received before birth, would have  helped him to feel comfortable in an organisation dominated by women.

In celebration of APPPAH’s 25th anniversary, I'd like to share the brief story of my entry into the prenatal and perinatal world. It occurred when I had my first birth memory, at the age of 28. I re-lived and catharted the trauma of birth, and its healing impact was profound, as you will soon discover. The healing created a certainty about the impacts of pre-verbal trauma, and propelled me into joining APPPAH, becoming a 27-year member (and still counting), a 17-year director on its board, and ultimately its president.

The memory occurred spontaneously during a psychotherapy session in 1968. I was on a carpeted floor at Vanderbilt University doing breath work (a reliable regression technique) when my body was triggered into an intense and unexpected upheaval. My feet pushed frantically against the wall, my body writhed and twisted, my lungs and chest spewed mucous. At first I was frightened because I thought I might be having a seizure, but soon I found I could control the intensity, and trusted that this was some kind of compelling and healing body memory. Suddenly, I had the astonishing idea that I was experiencing my birth, but I had never heard of such a possibility.
As my birthing-body moved toward the cervix, I became increasingly aware of my twin sister who was close behind me, and was much weaker and smaller than I. As the memory progressed, I became convinced she would die unless I intervened, and this provoked a depth of sadness I had never before encountered. I cried intensely and agonizingly about her impending death, but hoped for the best. My emotional and physical pain reached a peak when I reached back with my right arm in an attempt to pull her along with me, trying to rescue her before she died. As I stretched towards her hand, I felt a shooting pain in my right scapula and shoulder, a throbbing agony I had felt my entire life when playing sports or exerting my upper body. I realized that in my failed rescue attempt (she died 12 hours after birth), I injured my right shoulder and scapula, and that this accounted for my ongoing scapula and shoulder issues throughout my life. 

In addition, after encountering and reliving the pain in several more regressions, I was pleasantly surprised there was no more pain, and that I had, for the first time in my life, pain-free and full motion in my right shoulder, that has lasted to this day. I also discovered that a childhood and young-adult pattern of rescuing others (particularly women) came to a pleasant end, providing a healthier basis for all my relationships. It was as if my rescuing had been an unconscious attempt to revive her, and to re-establish the intimacy of a twin. I was extremely discouraged and dejected when my therapist was disbelieving at the time of the session, and, after consulting with his colleagues, told me that birth memories were not possible, but only fantasies, and warned me about the dangers of fantasizing. But my student colleagues saw the changes occurring in me, as did I, and so we all believed something valid was happening. That was inspiring, and also a significant aid in my healing.

Listen to Dr Emerson telling his story on a podcast

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