By Gayle Peterson, Ph.D.
The birth of a baby is the birth of a new family constellation.
Women become mothers, men give birth to a new identity as fathers, daughters
become sisters, and sons brothers. The family is the container, or the
cradle, not just for the baby but also for the mother who will give and
receive the one irreplaceable human needloving nurturance. And a
mother needs replenishment herself in order to give daily nourishment
to her young.
Yet our cultural definition of family is undergoing a
tremendous upheaval which impacts the biology of pregnancy and birth.
Sociologists declare the family to be in a state of crisis, with about
50% of all families in the U.S. being blended or single-parent families.
The definition of family is in transition and the family is no longer
biologically intact in many cases. This transition is a period in which
women struggle with their fulfillment in work and family life, and are
more often than not carrying some responsibility for the economic resources
of the family as well. Despite changes in women's roles and the positions
women are taking on in the world, the wife/mother is still the coordinator
if not the direct provider of most of the emotional caretakingregardless
of her other responsibilities.
There has been significant research in the past decade
to support the fact that socio-emotional factors affect pregnancy and
birthing outcome and that addressing social conditions such as isolation
and resulting emotional stress decreases the potential for obstetrical
complications. Emotional support in the form of hypnotic relaxation, for
example, has proven effective in preventing premature births. In cases
in which pregnancy has reached a state of risk, counseling and supportive
relationship therapy are effective means of stabilizing and reversing
physical distress such as high blood pressure, pre-term labor, and a variety
of other presenting symptoms which signal risk for labor.
But why do we wait until physical risk develops in the
body of the pregnant woman? And why do we not offer the emotional support
within the context of standard prenatal care? The answer in part is that
we live in a society that is high in technological strength and low in
emotional sensitivity. Therefore as women's roles in the family become
more complex, and the biology of pregnancy and birth reflects this stress
in transitional times, the natural and organic form of support that our
society offers is that of greater and more complicated technologycesareans,
pharmacology, and other surgical procedures. This technological support
is what I call a "hard" technology in contrast to the use of
the "soft" technology of hypnotic relaxation, family therapy,
supportive counseling and body-work therapies, such as massage, acupressure
Unfortunately, the increasing use of a "hard"
technology in the natural process of birth leads to diminishing returnsnot
only physically, but emotionally as well. Emotional trauma resulting from
high technology, particularly when emotional sensitivity is lacking, may
leave the mother with a sense of loss and lack of confidence in herself
to mother the new babe that finally arrives in her arms.
It is time we stop ignoring the research indicating that
emotional factors are important in a healthy pregnancy and birth. Although
the "hard" technology with which we are so enamored in our society
can be used compassionately and respectfully when needed to support a
woman across the bridge to motherhood, all too often it has been used
abusively. This abuse comes about through fear and ignorance. We are no
longer ignorant of the emotional needs of women who are bringing forth
the life needed to sustain us as a human race. It is our job as childbirth
professionals to incorporate that knowledge as a part of our practice
in standard prenatal care.
As a psychotherapist and researcher, it is my experience
that use of the "soft" technologies as part of the course of
prenatal care serves to assist women in preparing realistically and emotionally
for the rewarding work of motherhood. When women are given the tool of
a supportive relationship with a professional, trained to help them explore
their needs in the family as well as their fears of childbirth and parenting,
more often than not a deep healing ensues. Past traumas and fears can
become resources for traveling through labor and into the unknown land
of motherhood. In our times women need and deserve their standard prenatal
care to include an opportunity for processing the enormous changes that
are going on in their bodies, minds, and hearts as they carry forth life.
Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist
specializing in prenatal and family development. She
trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model
and is the author of An
Easier Childbirth, Birthing
Normally and her latest book, Making
Healthy Families. Her articles on family
relationships appear in professional journals and
she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such
as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting.
. She also serves on the
advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.
Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.
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