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TABLE OF CONTENTS
Foreword - Stanislav Grof, M.D., Ph.D. 1
Prologue - Being at a Caesarean Delivery 3
Part I - The Territory 7
"Caesarean Born" as a Conceptual Tool 8
Inner Exploration 9
The Story 11
Part II - The Journey 15
Chapter 1-Fire: Initiation 17
Chapter 2-Water: Inner Depths 19
Chapter 3-Air: Ideas and More Adventures 39
Chapter 4-Seeds of Transformation 51
Chapter 5-Earth: Transformation and Healing 71
Part III - Fellow Travelers 89
Marilee James King-caesarean born therapist 90
Natalie Ednie-mother of seven vaginally born children 96
Thomas Ednie, M.D.-psychiatrist 100
Rosemary Hayes-caesarean born artist 105
Bruce King & Marilee James King-vaginally born/caesarean born couple 112
Dennis McCracken-caesarean born social worker 117
Jody Longnecker-caesarean born 118
Sandy Hastings-potential caesarean mother 120
Gayle Carlton-caesarean born rebirther 125
Anne Stine-caesarean born therapist 131
Part IV - The Journey in Perspective and the Path Ahead 135 (an excerpt and illustrations)
Annotated Bibliography 140
by Stanislav Grof, M.D., Ph.D.
How one is born seems to be closely related to one's general attitude toward life, the ratio of optimism to pessimism, how one relates to other people, and one's ability to confront challenges and conduct projects.
It is astounding that the nature and duration of birth has been ignored almost entirely by Western psychologists and psychiatrists. When birth was studied at all, the studies were more concerned about possible perinatal brain damage than the emotional significance of birth. Until quite recently, only a few studies explored the psychological significance of birth and of caesarean section, in particular.
This is especially alarming in view of the fact that since the advent of fetal monitoring which detects the slightest signs of fetal distress and because of increasing fear of malpractice suits, the rate of caesarean birth in some hospitals has skyrocketed to 40 percent. It is imperative that we learn about the psychological and social implications of such a drastic change in childbirth patterns.
Particularly relevant are the differences among individuals born by non-labor caesarean section, uncomplicated vaginal delivery, difficult vaginal birth, and emergency caesarean section. How do they differ in their basic personality, incidence of various emotional and psychosomatic disorders, life attitudes and strategies, interpersonal relationships, and political, philosophical and religious beliefs?
Jane English's research on being born non-labor caesarean represents a truly pioneering venture; she has sketched a much-needed first map of previously uncharted territories. She is particularly well-equipped to accomplish this difficult task. Being caesarean born, she has the necessary sensitivity, deep personal interest and motivations. Having had rigorous training in physics, she is well acquainted with the principles of scientific investigation and thinking. On the other hand, her personal experiences and interest in the new paradigms in science give her the freedom to explore new areas without the strait-jacket of traditional concepts of mechanistic science. Many of her conclusions based on experiential impression can provide inspiration for future controlled studies. This book may provide an incentive for future explorers and researchers to map systematically this important territory of the psyche.
One's overall life strategy can be deeply influenced by psychological work that includes the perinatal level of the unconscious. Under proper circumstances, reliving biological birth and integrating the experience into one's way of being seems to offer possibilities of psychosomatic healing, personality transformation and consciousness evolution that by far exceed therapy limited to work with biographical material from childhood and later life.
Since I was a facilitator in an important stage of Jane's personal quest, I particularly appreciate the value of her book for therapists. I learned important lessons from our often frustrating efforts to apply to her process the experiences and principles derived from work with vaginally born people. It is a tribute to her introspective ability and intelligence that she was able to identify the specifics of the caesarean personality in her own process, validate them by independent observations and formulate them in a way that will help others to avoid the pitfalls with which we struggled.
In a process that is by its nature pre-verbal and reveals itself through experiences which are hard to describe in words, any alternative mode of communication is of great value. The author's ability to express her personal journey through pictorial art adds an important dimension to her work.
Although Different Doorway will be of primary interest to caesareans, its significance is much more basic. Exploring the profound programming imposed on us by our early history is of great interest to all those interested in serious self-exploration, therapy, and philosophical and spiritual quests.
Experiential confrontation with birth and death function as a gateway to a vast domain of the human psyche that can be best described as transpersonal. It includes ancestral, collective and past incarnation memories; archetypal visions and entire mythological sequences; authentic identification with animals and plants; and extrasensory perception. We can no longer ignore the fact that the spiritual or transpersonal dimension is an inherent property of the human psyche.
Experiential work on prenatal and perinatal issues seems to lead to a new type of human being. Such a person has the capacity to appreciate and enjoy existence and shows deep spiritual feelings about the world. He or she has reverence for life, tolerance toward others, and understanding of interdependence in nature and society. This has far-reaching implications for the current global crisis and suggests alternatives to current strategies.
Stanislav Grof, M.D., Ph.D., is a psychiatrist who for
thirty years has researched non-ordinary states of consciousness.
He was born in Czechoslovakia where he received his scientific
training. One of the founders of transpersonal psychology, he
is founder of Holotropic
Breathwork, and is author of numerous books and articles in
professional journals. (see list on the holotropic web page)
At a caesarean delivery Summer 1983
My interest in caesarean birth began in 1973. Ten years later in 1983, I finally had the opportunity to see a caesarean delivery.
My own birth was non-labor caesarean, and pictures and images of caesarean births had evoked strong reactions in me. I wondered what it was going to be like to actually see a caesarean birth. An obstetrician friend of mine who is herself caesarean-born invited me to watch her doing a caesarean. I had never seen surgery, but having been present at two home births, I had some experience of what it feels like to witness a child being born. The incredible opening to the infinite. The sense of something extraordinary happening. The sound of the first cry. The welcoming of a new being to the earth. I had experienced that, but I wondered how I would respond to seeing a body cut open, blood flowing and the organs revealed.
Much to my delight, I discovered that I was very clear. The inner work I had done on releasing the fear of cutting and blood stood me well.
The mother was given general anesthesia; a spinal hadn't worked. It was too bad the mother wasn't awake, but it was good for me to have this caesarean be like my own birth with general anesthesia.
I meditated while I watched. I paid attention to my thoughts, my feelings, my intuitions and my body. I tried to be aware of the quality of the consciousness in the room. It was emotionally intense. Underlying the professional competence was fear or anxiety. Afterward, the intern told me he always gets sweaty whenever he assists at a caesarean. That is his way of reacting to the intensity. It takes a lot of work to suppress such strong feelings. It's important for him to focus on the procedure, not on his feelings. But I wonder if medical people might be trained in the psychological and spiritual aspects of birth in order to come to terms with their gut responses to the cutting, the pulling out of the baby and the emotion.
I stood by the mother's feet and watched the knife and the surgical scissors cutting into the belly. There was not a twitch or quiver in my body. There was simply a feeling of "Yes, this is how it is done." The layers of flesh were shiny and beautiful, even the layers of fat. It was extraordinary to see the inside of a human body. All the pictures I had seen hadn't prepared me for the awesomeness of the experience.
Through all the cutting and suctioning, I admired the skill of my friend and the clarity of her communications with the intern, the anesthesiologist and the scrub nurse. When she cut through the abdominal wall and the uterus, I could see something dark. It was the baby's hair showing through the amniotic sac. It looked like another organ inside the woman's body. With retractors pulling the flesh back, my friend stuck her hand in just above the woman's pubic bone. She reached in behind this dark roundish thing, got one of her hands underneath and lifted.
A face appeared! That was the most awesome moment. This little human face rising up out of all the cut flesh and the blood. A human being entering the world through this different doorway, this extraordinary way to enter the world! And it was a birth. The same feeling of awe, of wonder, of sacredness I had felt at the home births. Yes, this is one more of us coming here to earth for whatever he or she has to experience and learn. In writing about it, I still find myself moved. I still feel the mystery and the wonder.
As I watched, I felt acceptance. It is OK to come in this way: the blood, the cutting, the abrupt intrusion, the emotions of the people, the awkwardness of it. Somewhere inside, I came to a deeper acceptance of how I was born. A big hand came down in and lifted me up, through all the blood, into a bright light.
The baby's first contact with another human being is that hand reaching in. Then the doctor suctions the baby's nose and mouth. I realized that as a child at the dentist's office, I had been re-experiencing the fear that had accompanied the sensations of the suction at my birth.
After the suctioning was complete, the doctor took hold again of the baby's head and pulled, delivering the rest of the body. I tensed up. The pulling was more than I could fully handle. I think the hardest part of my own birth was when they pulled on my head. It is like being killed. This little body that had been curled up is abruptly stretched, without the gradual stimulation of labor. There isn't just physical pain; there is an abrupt surge of energy through an organism which is not only totally unprepared but also drugged by the anesthesia. The body reacts in terror with shuddering and fear.
The baby girl's skin was bluish. One of the pediatricians held her above her mother and cut the umbilical cord before the baby started to breathe. Then the two pediatricians took her to the other side of the room to a warm padded table. They wiped her off, did more suctioning and vigorously stimulated her body to get breathing going. They also gave her some oxygen.
As I watched them rubbing the baby with towels, a little bit here and a little bit there, I remembered my own experience of feeling fragmented. Coming down the birth canal the whole body is stimulated at once. This must give a sense of wholeness, of coherence, of integrity of the body.
Of course, all babies come out, are suctioned, wiped off and so forth, but those born vaginally have already gone through an important learning experience, an experience of their body. The suctioning or the wiping is not the first strong contact they experience. For a non-labor caesarean, the wiping is the labor. The wiping gives an intense experience of contact, of boundaries. The labor is not done by the mother; it is done by doctors and nurses. They might do it differently if they knew they were "laboring" with the child, were actually giving birth to the child.
It was perfect for me that the baby was a girl because I could identify more closely with her. I noticed that her genitals were engorged. That affirmed my own experience of the huge sexual arousal that is involved in birth. A lot of energy is moving through the body, and as it moves through the pelvic area it produces sensations that one later on learns to call sexual. In Stan Grof's work on vaginal birth, he talks about the high level of sexual arousal in the last part of labor, when the child is moving down the birth canal. Perhaps sexual arousal is universally part of birth, and for the non-labor caesarean it happens through the stimulation by the medical people. Birth is one's first sexual encounter. Seeing what was happening in the baby's body was an affirmation of my way of conceptualizing my experience. I said to myself, "I've been there. I know what it is like."
I stayed with the baby as long as she was in the operating room. Then I watched as the medical team tied the mother's tubes as she had requested. The uterus was lifted out of the abdominal cavity. It was amazing to see the ovaries and the fallopian tubes, these amazing structures within the body of every woman, the place from which our bodies come into this world.
Afterward the obstetrician took me to the nursery. A nurse was feeding the baby some sugar water from a bottle. The baby was sucking sluggishly. I imagined her feeling, "OK, so here I am. Now what?" She seemed not too excited and not particularly uncomfortable.
I thought of all those people who had handled this baby, giving her what she needed on the physical level. But it seemed the emotional and spiritual levels were not being nurtured. I hope this book is a step toward that. I hope there will be increasing respect for the fact that a caesarean operation is the birth of a human being.
We have taken steps toward doing caesarean birth technically
well, and we have a lot more to learn. I think we have a wonderful
adventure ahead of us.
Part I - The Territory
My words are the footprints of what I experience. No more and no less. They are not "just words," and they are not my experience. I can use them to express or to oppress myself. Anyone, including myself, who takes the words to be the reality of my experience will be confused and disappointed by the emptiness of the words.
Yet the words are useful as signposts. As I experience new things, I sometimes remember reading what other people have written. This helps me accept my own experience, helps me be more open to it. Perhaps my writings will help others.
-Journal, November 1, 1974
"Caesarean-born" as a Conceptual Tool
Part of every human experience has been the journey down the birth canal. Only during the last hundred years have there been many of us who didn't experience that, who were born caesarean. Although the medical procedure of caesarean delivery has become routine, we are just beginning to learn about the psychological and spiritual aspects of this different kind of birth. In this book I focus on the experience of the child in the caesarean delivery, rather than that of the mother.
There are two kinds of caesarean deliveries: those done before labor starts and those done, often in emergency conditions, after some labor. I call these non-labor caesareans and labor caesareans, respectively. The usual medical terms, elective caesarean and non-elective caesarean, focus on the doctor's and mother's experience rather than on the child's. I was born that way.
Thoughts and images of caesarean birth are for me a conceptual framework, a tool. My interest in using the concept "caesarean born" was not purely academic. It was motivated by great chaos and discomfort in my personal life. The thought of being caesarean seemed to bring some clarity and direction into what otherwise seemed a hopeless morass of emotion and failed relationships in my life. It also connected my body and feeling to the "light" I was pursuing in my photographic work.
This is a book of anecdotal material, not of scientific facts. I am not telling you what it is like to be born non-labor caesarean; instead I am sharing some of what I experienced during ten years of using "caesarean born" as an important part of my self-concept. While the material in this book is relevant to medicine, psychology, religion and other fields, I have chosen to stand outside of those frameworks and simply share this as a record of a journey.
I am, perhaps, beginning to create a map of the territory, pointing out some of the demons and some of the helpers I met on my path. I was inspired by Stanislav Grof's work. I saw the wonderful map he made of vaginal birth and realized it did not fit my journey. I had to make my own map. But I learned from him that this kind of map is possible. Being born non-labor caesarean, my map is of that experience. People who were born in a caesarean delivery after some labor can take pieces of my map and of Stan's map and weave them together to fit their own experience. I was also inspired by Christina Grof's work with kundalini, taking her own intense inner journey and being able to share it objectively with other people.
I felt ambivalent about creating a map of caesarean birth. A conceptual framework can be a prison. People could use such a map to categorize people, not to see them as they are. On the other hand, concepts can be liberating stepping-stones on one's path. I hope that caesarean-born people who have had experiences similar to mine will be able to use that similarity to affirm their own experiences. Perhaps they won't have to spend as much time and energy as I have denying and suppressing their experiences, both positive and negative.
Using caesarean birth as my conceptual framework is a temporary stage. It helps me make the transition from being unconsciously identified with birth patterns, past the temptation to use being caesarean as a justification for staying stuck in these patterns, and on to transcending them and moving into a greatly expanded awareness of what it is to be human.
This book is an adventure story, a story about explorers and exploration. I like to think of it being, in a small way, parallel to stories about exploration of the New World or of outer space. But there is a difference. For me, the unexplored territory was not a new continent or the farther reaches of the solar system. It was within my own being, in consciousness. It was my thoughts, my emotions, my perceptions and images and my physical form. The new frontier, as many others have noted, is inner space. Many oriental and so-called primitive cultures have detailed and complex technologies of body, mind and spirit. But we in the West, until recently, have been strangely lacking in this area. Several centuries of intensive exploration of the external world have led most people in the Western world away from the vast territory within themselves. Awareness of the inner territory is often suppressed by calling it crazy, unscientific or too subjective.
In the past century, psychiatry has attempted to remedy this lack, but much of the interpretation orthodox psychiatry gives to inner experience is that of pathology. Inner states are recognized only when they are bizarre and cause enough dis-ease to be labeled as diseases. Then the medical model is applied with its symptoms, diagnoses and treatments.
It is no wonder most of us learned at an early age not to talk about inner experience. To do so was to run the risk of being called crazy or sick.
I often use a story as a metaphor for my transition from outer explorations to inner ones. My exploring as a child and through my twenties was externally focused; bushwhacking through the woods and exploring the world of sub-atomic particle physics fascinated me equally. After completing my physics Ph.D., I worked for a short while in a research group at a particle accelerator. One day as I was looking into an oscilloscope (like a small TV screen) adjusting some electronic signals, I realized I was more fascinated with the reflection of my own eyes than I was with the signals. Those big eyes looking at me out of the greenish darkness. I thought I was going crazy. And in a sense I was. I was beginning to look into the inner territory I had grown up calling "crazy." A few years later my clear decision to do what I called "going crazy" without getting caught or labeled crazy was an essential step in starting the inner explorations that led to this book.
Recently it has become less necessary to carry the negative self-judgments associated with "crazy" in order to experience the territory hidden behind that label. Many individuals and groups have taken great steps in the past few decades toward legitimizing inner exploration in the context of our western scientific culture, and I am grateful to many of them for making my journey easier.
It became increasingly apparent to me that a much expanded view of reality is necessary when one is considering the phenomenon of birth. Birth is one of the boundaries of individual physical existence. To consider it only from the perspective of personality, of ego, of being a separate individual who has already been born, creates much distortion. It is as if one were to look at the walls of a house only from the inside and assert that the knowledge gained thereby is complete. We talk about a "person" being born. But when we use the word "person," we bring along with it our own unconscious assumptions of what it is to be a person. Many of these assumptions are based on our own experience of birth, the process in which our person is given a separate physical form. It is important that we be aware of these assumptions when we are with a person born in a way different from our own birth; we may not be seeing them clearly.
During my inner journey I had to greatly expand my idea of what is real, of what experiences are possible. I found myself believing in the ability to recall birth, in past incarnation memories and in spirit-ideas which previously seemed absurd to me.
Concepts of a transpersonal or spiritual reality served not only as explanations of my experiences, but also as tools for transformation. I came to see that many of my "problems" were the result of the physical and emotional tensions created in trying to stuff my experience, my humanness, into too small a conceptual framework. Concepts of expanded reality were stepping-stones or scaffolding that helped me accept what I was experiencing without judging it wrong or crazy, thus enabling me to release the tension.
My scientific training was both a help and a hindrance. On the negative side was my deeply entrenched belief in a logical, cause/effect, separative, Newtonian physics world. Judgments and denial coming from that part of myself very much slowed down my acceptance of experiences I had in transpersonal, spiritual or higher realms of consciousness.
On the other hand, the spirit of open exploration and inquiry I had cultivated as a physicist was helpful. Perhaps even more important was my experience of the amazing world of sub-atomic particle physics where reality indeed seems strange and paradoxical to anyone whose beliefs are based on the world of Newtonian physics. It prepared me for my adventures in the even stranger and more paradoxical world of consciousness.
Concepts of a larger reality helped me understand how my dream and inner experiences of people were related to my everyday experience of them. I wondered, "What is real, the person out there, my dreams of them, my thoughts of them or what?" Along the way various concepts, such as psychological projection, were at first helpful in clarifying the situation, though later they themselves sometimes became obstacles to further expansion and clarification.
In Part II of this book I have chosen to mention some people by name as they appeared in dreams, inner work or external encounters. I let them be evolving characters in the story. Each is partially my creation, partially a real human being and partially something from a realm of oneness where such distinctions are meaningless.
It is difficult to use words to describe the vast transpersonal or spiritual realms that are beyond and within this realm of separate physical existence. This is because words are themselves part of the limited physical world. The best we can do is to continually remind ourselves of the greater reality and to be aware of experiencing our limited existence in relation to it.
Part II of this book is a journal of my birth-related experiences and ideas from 1973 to 1983. It is not neat and logical. Material often emerged in a confusing, random way. I have had to resist a temptation to create a "story line" for the reader to follow.
In presenting lecture/slide-shows on this material I have often helped people understand the apparently random order of my experiences with a little demonstration. I crumple a sheet of paper into a ball. Then I draw a line on the surface of the ball. When I unfold the paper, the "line" appears to be a random series of markings, even though it was a relatively straight line on the crumpled ball. In just such a way at each moment of my journey I did what felt like moving straight ahead. It is only in retrospect, when the convolutions and crumples of my psyche are laid out in a linear, chronological way, as in this book, that the journey looks random and chaotic.
The process was one of peeling away veils of illusion, continually going deeper. Becoming aware of thoughts, emotions, images and physical tensions and actions. Seeing as optional what had always seemed real and absolute. Clearing away obstructions to full awareness of the miracle of being human.
New understandings didn't arrive full-blown and integrated into my ordinary waking consciousness. They appeared piecemeal, sometimes as partial truths. I have chosen to leave in the book many of the partial truths. They were stepping stones that supported me until I moved beyond them.
Early in the journey, much of my experience was jagged, raw and constricted, with only a few glimmers of light and clarity. Later on there was more balance, more awareness, more expansion and light. Darkness and constriction still overwhelm me occasionally, just as intensely as before. But this state usually doesn't last as long or come as often as before. Someone once said to me that being more enlightened doesn't mean one never experiences difficult passages, but one gains the awareness and the tools to move through them faster.
While I followed various practices with names such as gestalt, mindfulness meditation, rebirthing, sensory awareness, and light-fire meditation, I found as I progressed that the essential element of all of these was a non-judgmental witnessing, a simple awareness of thoughts, emotions, images and sensations. When I encountered a "problem" or a stuck, habitual pattern, non-judgmental awareness was in itself enough to bring release. The nature of being alive is to be changing.
Throughout the journal writings in Part II I use terms like "inner exploration," "inner work," "following process," and "awareness work" to describe the state of being with myself with the intention simply to be aware of my experience.
The outward manifestation varied. Sometimes I would sit or lie down with my eyes closed, although they might remain open. Or I would move about and allow emotional expression and sounds. Sometimes I was with a facilitator and sometimes alone.
In Part II, I let the journey unfold rather than giving explanations of everything as it happened. I want to let you, the reader, share in the adventure and to come to your own ideas about what was happening. Some of your ideas will be different from mine; neither are the absolute truth.
As you read each of the journal entries, you will enter into the unknown, not knowing where you are being led, just as I did. I have included descriptions of the process as well as the final insights for two reasons. First, I want to share what I have learned about the process of inner exploration. Second, words are at best a rough translation of the knowledge I am communicating. Emotions, images and bodily sensations often are closer to the source.
In using words, I am attempting to express myself in an unfamiliar dialect. The words are rooted in the body-language of vaginal birth. I am trying to communicate the body-language of non-labor caesarean birth. That is why I describe in such detail the physical experiences I had.
As I did inner non-verbal explorations, something would emerge into my awareness, and I would translate it into words. But the words are not the essence. They are mental, the element of air. Birth is about coming into a body, about earth. The words are like feathers. Feathers are wonderful, but they have to be attached to a body before they can fly.
I ask you to read my word not just with your mind but with your body. You may have to read more slowly than usual and to be willing to feel what is happening in your body. You may run into your own conditioning, your own birth learning, things you have tried to suppress.
The inner journey began with my feeling alone, strange and
different. As I continued on, I began to discover fellow travellers.
The conversations in Part III are from the stage of my journey
where I surface from the inner depths and began to share adventure
stories with these fellow travellers, some of whom are caesarean
born and some not.
PART II - THE JOURNEY
The process of getting totally entangled in illusion and then finding a way out is perhaps the ultimate adventure.
In the titles of most of the chapters of this section I mention one of the four elements: Earth, Air, Fire and Water. In traditions ranging from Ancient Greek to Native American, these four elements are used as symbols of four aspects of human consciousness. Air is the mental, conceptual level. Water is the emotional, fluid aspect of our being. Fire is the spiritual, the divine spark. It is also the intuitive, the flash of insight. And Earth is, of course, the physical, the body.
As I organized the material for Part II, I saw that in different
periods of my inner journey, while all four were always present,
one of the elements was predominant.
(NLCB = non-labor cesarean born, LCB = labor cesarean born, VB = vaginally born)
"Wow! Being with another CB makes a difference!" - LCB
"Jane's work spoke directly to me. I knew her ideas were essential to my being." - NLCB
"Right on." - VB Midwife
"Makes good sense; came after and reinforced my prior exposure to such ideas." - VB therapist
"Very excited. I felt like I had found some insight." - NLCB
"Her perceptions made sense and verified what I had noticed in my CB daughters." - VB caesarean mom, therapist
"Excited, reinforced my observations." - VB nurse, therapist, childbirth educator
"Excited - made sense when I reflected on the clients I had worked with." -VB rebirther/therapist
"I believed it was possible to relate to the world in the manner in which I was born." - NLCB nurse
"Interesting and full of possibilities." - LCB and caesarean mom
"I felt very connected to her work. As I recently went through my notes on Different Doorway I remembered how wonderful it is!" - NLCB
"This is my life!" - caesarean mom
"Surprise and immediate connection with certain similarities."