Significant studies of the
effects of birth trauma began in the fifties, but even now after many
decades, the idea that people have lifelong psychological and physical
problems due to a traumatic birth is rejected by the overwhelming majority
of obstetricians and psychiatrists.
What does the future hold for such acceptance? It will be years and
perhaps decades before the realities that birth traumas can cause physical
and mental ills are accepted by either professionals or the general
But even if these difficult truths are recognized, the solution to the
problem -- the re-living of birth traumas in regression therapies -- will
probably continue to remain on the fringes of medicine and psychiatry for
the foreseeable future.
For me, now, looking back on my childhood after almost 30 years of
primaling, it’s so easy to see the glaring evidence of a traumatic birth.
As a young child I remember preferring to walk-up the many flights of
stairs rather than endure the panic and fear which would invariably
develop while using an elevator. By the time I was 10 years old I had
conquered this specific fear, but I retained other forms of
My father owned a country general store. Every summer blocked ice was
sold to area farmers from a very large and secure ice storage room. I can
remember a few times when I went into the ice room and was intentionally
locked inside by playmates. The darkness and the feeling that I might not
be able to get out triggered feelings of panic. Even when I worked there
in late childhood and as a young adult the fear remained. I always was
scared that someone would close the door and trap me inside.
But even before the fear of elevators and of being trapped in the ice
storage room, I can remember being terrified of being in the dark alone.
The bathroom was only a room away from the family room, but as a child, I
was always scared to enter the darkened bathroom alone. Usually a family
member had to accompany me on those frequent trips. For many years I had
been unable to sleep in the dark. It had always been necessary that the
hall light remain lit.
On page 152 of Imprints: The Lifelong Effects of the Birth
Experience, Dr Arthur Janov observes that:
Another childhood symptom that I had a traumatic birth that seems so
clear to me now is the recurring neck tic which came and went during
periods of stress in my childhood. I also had a compulsion to "crack" my neck at such times.
In numerous primals I was able to discover the source of this tic when
I relived the extreme neck torsion involved during my descent, flexion,
and internal rotation of my head during the final stages of my birth
The source of the many symptoms of claustrophobia that I experienced
as a child (and still experience to some extent to this day) was
essentially the fact that I was stuck -- and felt trapped in the birth
canal -- with the life and death fear that I would never get out.
During my youth no one would have been able to connect the
above-mentioned symptoms to trauma which occurred during birth -- that
knowledge simply didn’t exist.
But there was another symptom of having almost died in the birth canal
which had always been in evidence to some extent, but which after almost
25 years of therapy would surface with an almost unbearable amount of emotional suffering – that symptom was hypochondria.
"Children who must have the light on in order to sleep are
suffering acutely from that dark period that just before they saw their
first light of day. In a conditioning paradigm, it seems that dark
represents agony and light represents respite -- for it was in the light
that the agony stopped, it was in the light that breathing began; and it
was in light that the first contact from Mother became
"The man who dies before he
does not die when he dies."
-- Abraham á Sancta Clara, 17th century
German Augustinian monk. [Quoted in Dr. Stanislav Grof's The Cosmic
Game - In this sentence its author seemingly understands that if a person re-lives his birth trauma during his lifetime, his death and its contemplation becomes much less anxiety provoking.]
In my therapy, I had been
uncovering some pre and peri-natal traumas since 1975, but it was not
until February of 1998 that I really began to really feel the fear and
terror of death associated with my birth.
I had some problems with my vision and my opthalmologist suggested a
vision field test which revealed bilateral vision defects. He then suggested
following up with a neurological exam. He did not say
that he believed I had a brain tumor, but when he asked if I had had a
stroke in the past, his question made me realize that besides that problem there could exist another - a brain tumor.
That realization of just the possibility of having a brain tumor was all
that was needed to trigger, on a massive scale, my fetal fear of death in
the birth canal. In just a few days I was in a deep depression -- plagued
by a relentless obsession with death and dying.
Being a hypochrondriac, I had read that the three most important diagnosing symptoms for brain tumors were disturbances in balance, in sight, and in smell. I had been
having two of the symptoms when the worry of a brain tumor began -- and
the third symptom was soon to begin – manufactured by my primal fear of
Two weeks into the depression about a possible brain tumor, I began
having olfactory hallucinations. About twice each week I began having
"attacks" of smelling non-existent odors. I would spontaneously begin
smelling acetone, cake, fresh bread, etc. My worry and depression grew.
Occasionally, as I lay in bed faint full-body convulsions would occur.
My physician had ordered a cat-scanof my brain. It was negative for brain tumor. But my repressed
memories were not to be placated so easily. I consulted a neurologist. He
did not believe I had a brain tumor, but said that if I really wanted to
be certain he would order an MRI. He did. That scan was also negative.
My vision problem turned out to be advanced glaucoma -- an eye
disease. But now my primal-pain genie had escaped its bottled-up defenses -
and was not to be returned to its uncorked bottle so easily!
The emotional turmoil of fearing that I had a brain tumor triggered a
long depressive episode that included panic attacks, neurasthenic
exhaustion, and preoccupation with thoughts of death. I felt a oneness
with death and even joined the Hemlock Society.
Thoughts of death and dying continually intruded into my mind. I read many obituaries. Attending wakes and funeral services during that period made me sometimes feel that I wanted to change places with the deceased in the casket. I had become overloaded with
anxiety, but unable to feel in primals the real source of my anxiety and depression.
I called a friend in California, and eventually with his telephone help
through primal regressions, I was able to link-up the origins of my hypochondria, fear of death and depression to their ultimate sources in the birth canal.
The emotional components of the hundreds of primal death feelings I
was to have, included fear, powerlessness, pleadings for help from my
mother, and feelings of being annihilated during my process of birth. In
time the primals included begging my mother to kill me if she could not
or would not help me get out. (How can I explain this unless I acknowledge that yes, I believe that the fetus does have “knowledge” of its mother's existence.)
Months and years later these themes were still being felt as this
phase of my birth re-livings continued. While in those primal feelings of
being in the birth canal, I also experienced a deep rage at my
mother for not helping me get born.
I remember many years earlier, when during a birth primal, a therapist
suggested I ask my mother for help. I angrily replied, "How can a fetus
talk?" Obviously, at that time, the feeling was not yet ready to be felt!
One of the greatest disappointments I have had with primal-oriented
therapy is that the most severe traumas often present themselves for
resolution only after many years, during the later stages of the therapy.
Even so, it is possible that I would not have experienced the many regressive episodes of "dying in the birth canal" for many more years in the future, or perhaps never, if the feeling had not been triggered by my brain tumor scare.
Psychiatrist Stan Grof writes in The Cosmic Game, 1998 (pps.
146-147) that re-living one's birth in therapy does not necessarily have a
favorable outcome: "If the delivery was very debilitating or confounded by
heavy anesthesia, the experience of rebirth does not have the quality of
triumphant emergence into light. It is more like awakening and recovering
from a hangover with dizziness, nausea, and clouded consciousness. Much
additional psychological work might be needed to work through these
additional issues and the positive results are much less striking."
Janov also believes, "The treatment for the effects of birth trauma
involves months and years of therapy, and even then may not be totally
effective.” Arthur Janov, Ph.D., Imprints: The Lifelong Effects of the
Birth Experience, 1983, p. 248.
During the deepest primals, a feeling of fear of dying in the birth
process was sometimes immediately followed by a feeling of wanting to die
in order to stop the mental and physical suffering, and occasionally by an
unbelievably intense dread that I would not die during the birth process,
and continue to feel my birth anguish instead. Is the physical
and emotional pain of a traumatic birth the ultimate origin of our concept of the
never-ending torments of Hell?
During my birth regressions I experienced many hours of deep wailing and crying,
of spitting up mucous, and choking and coughing. Some primals were
predominately the movements involved in the birth process, as I pushed
with all my might to get "somewhere" or to “get out."
I also did a lot of pressuring my shoulders against the carpet and
door jams at home. A small percentage of those death and dying birth feelings were completed and ended with the feeling of having been born. These often were
accompanied by new-born baby wailing followed by an overwhelming need for
rest. Walking the few steps to get to bed was too much of an effort so I
rested/slept on the floor in the spot and position where the primal had ended. Some of
these primals were silent, but many included pleas for help, vocal
expressions of fear, and deep sobbing.
(I wrote this portion of the article in April of 1998, when the
death-linked birth experiences had been continuing on a daily basis for a
couple of months and were undoubtedly the most profound and deepest
regressions I had ever experienced in my twenty plus years of self-primal
"For most of us,
delving deep into the dark pits of our
earliest memories means
reexperiencing the complete and total
abject terror of death. And
wouldn't you know it
that's where the biggest payoff
-- A patient, quoted
in The Biology of Love by Dr. Arthur Janov
The birth feelings described
above continued for the next four months, although with gradually
diminishing depth and intensity.
The need to "say the feeling" -- to say "I'm Dying" and "I Want to Die" were usually followed by connected primal birth feelings during which I re-lived the birth traumas of dying and of wanting to die when I was stuck because of shoulder impingement during my birth.
But how does a fetus know what the word “death” means? The fetus does
not know. The experience I had was more akin to being close to
annihilation and hoping for death or to no longer exist because of the physical and
emotional suffering I experienced while being born. As an adult, one's mind easily
translates these feelings using the word “death.” As a child I felt resentful that I had a body. I would have rather been pure spirit instead.
The still partially repressed feelings of death and dying found other
symptoms on which to symbolize.
In late August of 1998, I noticed pain in my calf muscles while
exercising on a treadmill. I soon began worrying that I might have peripheral
Over the next four weeks I had more and more symptoms relating to my
legs and thighs. I experienced burning sensations in various parts of my
legs as well as occasional numbness and various paresthesias.
Walking over a block or so caused feelings of heaviness in both
thighs. The more symptoms I had relating to my legs, the more I was
convinced that I had severe arterial blockages affecting my legs and feet.
In spite of the six months of almost continuous primaling I still was
obsessed with thoughts of death and dying, rapidly going back and forth
from deeply wanting to die to extreme fear of dying. Sometimes I was
awakened from sleep with neuropathy-type tingling in my lower extremities.
My socks felt bothersome. It was as though they restricted the flow of
blood to my feet, as I had pain on the soles of my feet.
I had had a lifetime of high blood pressure, although, I always had
experienced large reductions of blood pressure after a primal feeling.
Decades of primaling were needed before the ratio between my LDL and HDL
cholesterol normalized. But, at that time, I had read that such
unhealthy ratios were commonly predisposing risks for those who eventually
developed peripheral vascular disease.
I again became depressed as I had during the time I
thought I had a brain tumor. I was often preoccupied with thoughts of
death and dying and with the meaninglessness of existence. I had obsessive
fantasies of death by gunshot while being robbed, by drowning, by hanging,
by being in an auto accident, and by falling off or jumping off of a tall
building. At times, I did not care whether I lived or died - only that my
death be swift and painless.
With much trepidation and anxiety in September of 1998, I made an
appointment with a cardiologist to confirm my self diagnosis! The
cardiologist expressed doubts that I had peripheral vascular disease, but
when his nurse had difficulty in finding pulses in both feet, I became
even more concerned. I was scheduled to return two weeks later to undergo
coronary medical tests, since ischemic heart disease often co-exists with
PVD, but my anxiety and worry rose to such a level that the next day I
requested that the tests be done as soon as possible.
Unlike the period earlier in the year, when I feared that I had a
brain tumor, I did not have the same anxiety and panic attacks. This was
perhaps due to the fact that since February of 1998, I had had, since my
"brain tumor" scare, many dozens of regressive primals relating to near
death feelings during my birth. Undoubtedly, those many primals had
reduced my death phobia to some extent. Some of those primal re-livings
lasted only a few minutes, while a few were up to an hour in duration.
The results of the three medical tests showed that I had no (or
minimal) coronary artery ischema. I was very happy with those results, but
since my leg symptoms were progressing in severity, my fears were not
allayed. Besides the mild pain, portions of my legs were cool instead of
warm and often felt numb.
When I experienced a regression to a "dying in the birth canal"
feeling, my anxiety and depressive symptoms were temporarily quieted, even
though anxiety and depression always eventually returned. I even had one
or two primal regressions during which feelings in my legs played a major
part. It was at this time that I suspected and fervently hoped that my
symptoms might have had an origin in early birth trauma rather than from
Needing even more reassurance, although embarrassed about my
obsession, I made still another appointment with the cardiologist. He was
patient with me, answered my many questions, and I felt hopeful as he
reiterated his belief that my leg and feet symptoms were not caused by
During a subsequent visit, when I had additional concerns, he told me
that he felt that the only test which would allay my anxieties would be an
angiogram of both my coronary and peripheral arteries. Of course, I
immediately agreed to the angiograms, and the next day entered the
hospital to undergo the tests which I again feared might confirm my worse
fears, but which also might calm my anxieties and depression.
Angiograms of both my coronary and leg arteries were taken and after
the tests and x-rays the cardiologist assured me that I had no blockages.
I then became convinced that the symptoms were indeed "birth memories" and
that the two primal regressions in which my legs were involved were no
fluke -- that I would continue to re-live the birth traumas involving my
legs -- and that they would eventually eliminate my leg symptoms. I
immediately felt better and in just a few days began having daily primal
birth regressions in which leg trauma played a predominant part.
And now the pre-primal symptoms began changing and were different from the
leg symptoms which had caused me so much concern. Instead of having pain
in my legs, the pre-primal symptoms were often feelings of wanting to die
-- and during the primal I experienced a need to forcefully thumb pressure
various parts of my legs, especially my thighs and calf muscles.
I also noticed at that time that walking short distances of a couple
of blocks triggered the birth primal feelings relating to my legs.
Invariably, an hour or so after the walk, leg symptoms arose which I was
able to eliminate or greatly reduce by "going with the feeling." Sometimes
it felt as though my legs needed to be hit. Pummeling my legs helped
recreate the original trauma and aided connection to the original birth
trauma. This pummeling often resulted in deep sobbing accompanied by
feelings that I was dying during the process of being born.
Early in the week following the angiograms, I developed a bilateral
heaviness in my lower limbs which were totally unlike any of my symptoms
of the weeks before, and I instantly realized that a primal feeling was
approaching consciousness and ready to be felt. In just a few seconds, I
was reliving massive pressure to both legs as they were being painfully
twisted and pressured during birth. After one long primal, I had total
relief from all leg symptoms for many hours.
I’m realizing, with greater and greater conviction, that the origin of
those leg symptoms was the battering my weak and thin legs received while
being forced into a folded and twisted position while I was internally
rotated in the birth process.
And the origin of my hypochondria and fear of death feelings? There is
no doubt in my mind that they are the unconscious memory of the closeness
to death I experienced while being born.
". . . I would guess that
almost 100 percent of our patients
are confronted with suicidal
feelings at one time
or another during [primal] therapy. . ."
-- Dr. Arthur Janov in Imprints: The
Lifelong Effects of the Birth Experience
T he experiences I had with
the "brain tumor" and "peripheral vascular disease" anxieties and
depressions were so painful that I knew it was something that I did not
ever want to have to go through again. The following year, at a William
Emerson birth trauma workshop, I met a primally-oriented
therapist and began attending her monthly weekend workshops in the New Orleans area for a period of about three years.
At one of the workshops, I very explicitly told her and the group of
eight patients that my specific goal in attending the workshops was to be
able to resist the lure of suicide due to depression if, in the future, I
should ever receive a medical diagnosis of a possibly terminal disease
such as cancer.
In the workshops, and on my own, at home, between workshops, I felt
the feeling of death and dying in the birth canal again and again. I was
stuck -- could not get out -- and had the feeling of being close to death
during the birth regressions. I don’t think I could have felt the birth
material as deeply, on my own, if I had not attended the workshops.
As I write this, I have recorded in my journal a total of 365 (not a typo) birth primals
solely relating to death and dying in the birth canal since my brain tumor
scare in 1998. The primal re-livings of dying while being born have been successful.
In late 2003, I saw my family physician for my annual PSA exam which
detects the possibility of prostate cancer -- and my PSA reading, although not very high, had doubled from the previous year! A biopsy was performed and a diagnosis of
prostate cancer was made! Further, it was found that I had the most
aggressive form of prostate cancer, a reading of 10 on the Gleason scale.
Numerous tests showed that there was no sign that the cancer had spread,
but the oncologist, who was planning my treatment, informed me that
because of my cancer’s aggressive nature, I only had a fifty percent chance of
During each stage of the diagnosis by my family physician, urologist,
and oncologist I was dreading and almost expecting the return of the
horrendous neurotic symptoms I had experienced during my health scares in
1998. But even with the poor prognosis I have received, my extreme
symptoms of deep depression and anxiety have not returned!
I’m currently about halfway through my radiation therapy and,
although I do have some minor anxiety and apprehension, thanks to primal therapy, my feelings about my prognosis are not unbearable. The obsessive dread and depression, I had experienced earlier, have not returned, although I continue to remain attracted to classical music dealing with death and dying and continue to pay undue attention to newspaper obituaries ! The obsession with death and dying contines although without depression.
I am awaiting the release of Mel Gibson's movie, "The Passion of the Christ" on DVD. I have always unconsciously symbolized the crucifixion with my fetal feelings of dying while in the birth process. Undoubtedly, the movie and its music will contain many triggers which will enable me to more completely resolve this early traumatic brush with death.
The real test will be if the radiation and female hormone therapies fail, and I’m confronted with the certainty of a terminal illness. Hopefully, I will continue to be spared from those old feelings from my birth which had so tortured me five years ago.