Bonding after an Emergency Delivery
When babies have been separated from their mothers and fathers after birth due to medical intervention or other complications, they are sometimes extra sensitive to noise, strangers or sudden changes in the environment. For days or weeks following birth, these babies may be irritable and fussy - reacting to early deprivation.
Such babies, as well as their mothers, may need special attention and loving care. In my work with women and their babies, I have discovered that emotional separation after birth, especially for a prolonged period, may trap both mother and baby in a loop of negative feedback. I believe that in such cases, both mother and baby are in some way reliving the birth experience, unable to resolve the pain of early separation. When this is the case, simply taking time to heal through visualization while the mother holds her baby, can calm them both. It can also create a positive change in their relationship. The following case illustrates the problem of oversensitivity resulting from emergency procedures at birth, and one way it can be resolved.
Alice delivered her daughter, Emma, by cesarean section due to distress during labor. Emma was taken by ambulance to another hospital immediately after birth. Emma's father stayed with Alice, so Emma was without family members around her until the following day, 12 hours after being born, when her father went to see her. Following observation and medical examination, it was determined that Emma was, in fact, fine. She was returned to her mother three days after birth.
When Alice came to see me, two months after her baby's birth, she could not relax and appeared very nervous about her ability to care for Emma. She reported that she answered Emma's every cry, sometimes crying with her for hours at a time when she could not quiet or comfort her. She loved her baby very much, but was having an extremely difficult postpartum adjustment because Emma, who was rarely quiet and contented, usually screamed even when held. Alice had consulted with her pediatrician, who could find no physical reason for Emma's excessive irritability and heightened sensitivity.
I observed during the session that Emma started and cried very suddenly and loudly at almost every change in her environment. Her cries were piercing and frantic - unlike most babies, whose cries are usually shorter and who are more easily comforted.
As we reviewed her birth experience, Emma began to wail frantically. Alice said this was her usual behavior. I pointed out that the experience of being in a strange place and in strange hands during the days after birth may have made Emma particularly needy, and that Alice was, in fact, doing a wonderful job of mothering Emma through this unusual beginning. I suggested that Alice mentally go back to the birth and imagine what it would have felt like to have held Emma in her arms. After all, she had missed this, but it did not stop her from holding her now and imagining what her wish could have been for herself and for her baby.
Speaking over Emma's frantic screams, I instructed Alice to breathe and relax, holding Emma close. I suggested she imagine the birth as she would have wished it to be and simply enjoy visualizing herself holding Emma and keeping her close after birth. She knew now that Emma was fine, and she could take that knowledge back with her to the time of birth, allowing it to change the picture back then, healing the past -- holding her close and warm, with no separation at all, just keeping Emma next to her after she was born ...
Within two minutes of relaxing into a healing visualization of bonding after birth, Emma abruptly stopped crying and looked around the room and at me for the first time. Alice and I continued to talk about the possibility that Emma had developed an overwhelming negative and fearful response to any change in her environment, however slight, based on her first experience of being whisked off in an ambulance with sirens blaring and no one to hold or comfort her through the many medical procedures she endured in the hours that followed. What a shocking way to enter the world! We also talked about the healing visualization, the feelings of holding Emma immediately after birth with no separation, and giving herself this healing experience now and throughout the next few weeks. Later in the session, Emma cried again, but much more quietly, and she calmed in response to Alice's holding - and the image of holding her after the birth.
The most striking part of this story is that, from that day on, Emma's crying spells tapered off, soon becoming normal. She became consolable, and Alice's relationship with her baby was free to develop without undue strain. By the following month, they were not only loving, but also enjoying one another.
I believe that some babies and mothers may find themselves in a negative-feedback loop after a very negative or difficult delivery experience. If it is not resolved, the baby may re-experience fear based on early trauma, which reactivates the mother's own trauma and unresolved emotions about the birth. These feelings are passed from one to the other in subtle body movements and tension. Women who have been separated from their babies due to medical emergencies often experience guilt and pain, which is reflected in how they hold their babies. I believe the healing visualization helped Alice and her baby reconnect in a new and different way.