Solter believes that babies can resolve a traumatic birth by doing a lot of crying. In fact, supporting and encouraging babies in crying is an important theme of The Aware Baby. Crying, is also an important aspect of primal therapy, but I must confess that I had never before considered babies deep wailing and crying as attempts to resolve past emotional pain and birth trauma. Certainly, one needs to cry to resolve such hurts, but can the infant resolve the physical effects of birth trauma without actually fully re-living the actual specific trauma? For example, is crying about the memory of being battered in the birth canal the same as crying while re-living the actual battering. Is it crying which resolves the past trauma or is it the reliving of the trauma, which is usually accompanied by crying, that actually accomplishes the goal?
To some it may seem that this distinction is academic, but it is the difference between simply crying about a trauma and a full re-living of the trauma, and in primal theory there is an important and essential distinction between the two. I doubt that only crying about a trauma resolves the trauma; the trauma should be fully experienced. Perhaps the baby, while crying, is re-living the trauma. Dr. Solter does not say whether she believes the infant is actually re-living the birth experience or simply experiencing the memory of its birth. Such an abreaction about the pain of one's birth might help, but it is doubtful as to whether it is curative. (See the author's response to my position).
I believe that the most interesting chapter of Aware Baby is Chapter 2 which deals with the benefits of crying. Dr. Solter writes that picking up crying babies neither spoils them, nor reinforces their crying. She insists that babies who cry are not trying to be manipulative, but rather are trying to get their needs met. But, sometimes, as stated above, those attempts are aimed at healing past hurts, which is a possibility all parents should consider. The expansion of this concept forms the most interesting and compelling part of her book.
So what should a mother do when her baby cries and the baby is not in physical discomfort, is not hungry, does not need its diaper changed, and the cause of its crying cannot be discovered? Solter says that in such cases, the parent should give the crying baby "loving attention," by being held and listened to. She writes that such supportive crying helps resolve earlier traumas.
Usually, it is the parent who tries to soothe the baby so it will quit crying, but sometimes, babies themselves suppress their crying by doing something which distracts them from feeling their early pain. These defenses against allowing past hurts to be felt, Solter calls, "control patterns" which is a term used in Re-Evaluation Counseling theory. These patterns are similar to those used by adults, even though the baby can't light a cigarette or get a beer from the fridge! But, for example, a baby is capable of over-nursing, and this can instill a lifetime pattern for obesity as the adult has a tendency to turn towards the same effective control pattern which was used during her infancy and early childhood.
These defenses or control patterns, as in primal therapy, can be almost any behavior which stops the infant from feeling her anguish or sorrow. Thus an infant or toddler who wants to be continually entertained is using a control pattern. Instead of acquiescing to the baby's demands, the mother should allow the baby to cry while it is being tenderly and lovingly held, but without attempting to assuage the crying. Holding the crying baby is not spoiling the infant, Solter writes, but rather is helping her to feel her past pain, which the author emphasizes can be from as early as birth.
I am sure that, at times, it is difficult to apply this new approach to crying babies, since mothers are supposed to make the hurt go away, certainly not intensify the pain! So you should do what "common sense" tells you not to do. And, temporarily, the crying will probably become deeper and more rageful, but the key to eliminating the pain is by going through it. The important element here is "loving support" so that the baby will feel in a safe, protected place which will allow her to free herself from the traumas of the past.
Dr. Solter's book answers such important questions as: "How can I tell whether my baby needs to cry or whether she needs something else?", "How much can I expect my baby to cry?", "What if I can't stand to hear my baby cry?" "What should I do if my baby has already learned to suppress her crying?" But, The Aware Baby is not just about crying. Other interesting chapters cover problems which may arise during issues of sleep, food, play, and conflicts.
There is no doubt that the author considers the psychological well-being of the baby her main concern. For a mother, meeting all of the needs of her baby can be a time consuming task, but no one has ever suggested that being a good parent is an easy job! I heartily recommend Dr. Solter's winning book.
Dr. Solter's Aware Baby has been translated into German, French, and Dutch. Her internet website is at: http://www.awareparenting.com
Dr. Solter's response:
The distinction you make between merely remembering a trauma and actually re-living it is interesting. Of course, we cannot know what babies are experiencing when they cry. What we do know is that human beings of any age (including infants), will cry immediately following a traumatic event in order to heal, if allowed and encouraged to do so. Could it be that remembering a traumatic event and re-living it are one and the same thing for recent traumas? I think that, once we are adults, the need to re-live early traumas (such as a birth trauma) is important because of the emotional distance we have acquired from the experience over time. As adults, merely remembering early traumas may not be sufficient because the memories become intellectualized. Furthermore, most people cannot remember early experiences such as birth. So we need to re-live the trauma artificially, and on an emotional level, sort of "turn the knife in the wound" in order for healing to take place.