The Art of Primal Midwifery

by Hal Geddes, M.S. W.


The group was tired. Members stretched out around the room sinking their bodies into the deep brown pile of an ever-new looking rug-emotionally and physically open and receptive. Connie was a newly acquired friend resting her head against my chest. Other bodies caringly shared our space. The group energy was healing and permissive.

I began to sense the increasing pressure of her head against my side. The top of her head. A pressure subtle but definite. I slipped the palm of my hand against the top of her head and felt her head slipping under my palm and almost imperceptably maneuvering my hand over her forehead. The skin of her temples asking in some indescribable manner for pressure against itself. I slip silently onto my knees as I move the heel of my left hand sideways over her left temple and add the heel of my right hand to her right temple. My fingers extend along the side of her head and over her cheeks. The energy in her body escalates and centers in her face and shoulders.

She has now assumed a prone position on her back and her chin begins to lift as the pressure of her face against my hands increases in mounting but slow-motion tempo. The slowness is intrinsic. The centering quality of her body's moves are beginning to feel awe-inspiring to me, as they always do. My role of primal midwife seems assigned and mutually agreed upon though not a word has been spoken. Other members of our group have cleared a space tailored to Connie's need.

Her face asks my hands. My hands attempt to validate the asking. A silent complementary dance begins. At times my hands start to initiate but their error is quickly pointed out in her responses. They fall back to listening for her cues. The motion is almost imperceptible as my hands slide slowly down over her eyes, her nose and her cheeks. The pressure of her face against my hands is clear, needy and self-healing. Not too fast. Not too slow. It must be just right. My hands move over the rise of her chin, over her jaw bones and gradually down the sides of her neck. Our connection remains intact. The speed is right. The energy is centered and cooperative to the task. My hands reach the base of her neck.

Stop. Integrate. Regroup. Her input-inviting movement stops. My hands remain less forcefully against her throat. Time passes. Time passes.

No. This time we won't repeat what has just occurred. Her body says go on. Her shoulders beckon my hands to start moving again. My hands remain tight to her throat as they slip gently but firmly out along her shoulders. These shoulders push upward, wanting pressure. They need resistance. Strong resistance. Not too strong pressure that defeats them, but pressure that offers the resistance that re-creates the trauma of an earlier time and place. They hold. How long they hold. Hands against her shoulders. Locked in. Holding. Their need is to hold, not to move. My hands tire.

Her strength is centered and powerful. How can I rest? I shift my body to get more behind my hands and gain renewed strength. Finally her shoulders cue my hands that it is enough. It's O.K. to go on.

My hands slide slowly over the corners of her shoulders and down the outside of her arms. The energy here lessens. The need tapers off. Somehow her body cues me to shift to her waist. Once done, the energy regains its earlier power. Her body arches as my hands respond to the need for pressure down her sides and over her hips. Once again slow-motion recaptures her process My hands ache as her need for unbroken pressure continues. Finally it ends. Release. Her body slips through. Slips through and out, A baby is born. Her body basks in total relaxation. A primal has completed itself.


Connie's primaled birth occurred in the mid eighties. Ten years earlier I had just begun my own primal process and had yet to experience birth primals myself or in work with my clients. As I became aware of birth primals I was awed by the totality of the body's memory of every facet of the experience. As I observed other therapists' methods of working with their birthing primalees I accepted the apparent, rather simple, techniques as the way to do it.

If the head was focal the mat was turned up so the client's head could push against it. If the feet seemed focal the bottom end of the mat was turned up so the client's feet could push against it. Sometimes one end. Sometimes the other end. Sometimes both ends. Undifferentiated resistance was offered for the client to struggle against which usually seemed sufficient and helped the person to deepen their primal experience.

Through experiencing my own primal needs I gradually increased my sensitivity to the nuances of body needs experienced by my clients. I carefully and tentatively, at first, began having the client place my hands exactly where the pressure was needed and take the time to get it just right. The subtleties of what was just right varied with every primal. For example, in January, 1976, I experienced my own first birth primal. I quote from my journal:

I tell D about my need to have my head touched and rubbed. She sits behind me and rubs my head as I direct her to. I seem to sense the details of something that is about to happen and that it will need to go on for a long time. Tender stroking of my head that seems to have never occurred. Then I need pressure on the sides of my temples as if by the thumb (on one temple) and forefinger (on opposite temple) of a hand. Suddenly I feel cold and squished. It comes in waves. My face screws up in distorted pressure. Not pain. Just pressure, The pull on my temple and under my chin becomes more and more intolerable.

As my work continued with self and others it became clear that births were always very different in small detail while often much the same as far as traumatic foci were concerned. While it seemed a given for birth primalers to be facilitated by appropriate props such as light, cold, touch, and pressure, it seemed to me that the value of facilitating props increased significantly and often critically when they were just right. Just right was assumed to be approximating the original traumatizing input as exactly as possible.

In addition to the full birth primal, as illustrated by Connie's experience, I found that two other birth traumas occurred frequently and with a particularly high degree of charge or intensity. These were what seems rather clearly to be the primaling of forceps delivery and the primaling of post birth inversion (being held upside down).


By 1588 "childbirth had become so wretched and tortuous for birthing women and labor had become so lengthy and difficult that even the patience and constant support of the midwife was not enough to support woman through her travail." An opportunist named Peter Chamberlen designed the first forceps that year to save women from the throes of childbirth and get rich in the process. The forceps secret design was used by and kept in the Chamberlen family for three generations before leaking out into the medical world (Arms, 1975, pp. 19-20).

Today, forceps are said to be used in 60% to 90% of all deliveries. Thus the vast majority of babies are suddenly, as they near the end of their birth process, surprised by a set of forceps. "When the child finally nears the vaginal opening his still fragile skull may suddenly be seized by two steel forceps tongs and his six- , seven- , or eight- pound body pulled forward at a force equal to forty pounds on the neck. . ." (Verny, 1981, pp. 99) ". . even the slighest slip of the metal tong or a bit too much pressure can leave the baby's brain permanently damaged." (Verny, 1981, pp. 110).

Sean was in his late thirties in 1979 when the following session took place. By that time he had a number of years of primal process behind him. The session begins with Sean lying on his back on a mat in a large primal therapy room. He protectively guards his own feeling space and I respect this protectiveness. He centers inward and then asks me to press on his temples. I kneel at his head. I ask him to take my hands and place them where he wants them. He does this and, as so often seems to be the case, settles for less than getting it just right. I ask him if it is right. He pauses and says that my fingers are a little too low. I move them up, listening with my finger tips for the signs that the touch is right.

Sean drops into the feeling experience and tension surfaces quickly. The usual scream of painful agony explodes forth into the room and repeats itself over and over. His body and temples let me know that greater pressure is wanted and that pulling is what the need is. His body begins moving toward me off the mat and onto the rug. I don't have the strength in my fingers to pull and move a 180 pound body but it is moving. Slowly, but without relief Sean's screaming "little" body continues across the floor as my hands tire and I begin to look for ways to stay with the process.

I switch to using the heels of my hands and then the knuckles of my index fingers pushed forward from my fists as I try to hang in there with the pressure he needs. It isn't just right but allows my fingers some rest before returning to their task. Finally, eight feet later across the primal room floor the screams subside and Sean's body curls up into wracking sobbing as his here and now self is flooded with empathy for the baby part of him experiencing such pain. My hands ache as I sit quietly while Sean lives through this phase of his experience.


"Birth is completed when the baby has been separated from the umbilical cord. connecting the newborn infant to the placenta remaining within the uterus. In order to perform this separation a clamp is attached to the umbilical cord and the cord is cut. At this point the baby is usually held by its feet and patted lightly to stimulate it." (Demarest, 1969, p. 82). The picture accompanying this statement shows the newborn suspended upside down, his two feet clasped tightly in the doctor's left hand.

Another obstetrician, Dr. Frederick Leboyer, describes another inverted newborn baby as follows:

"The child?
Oh, dear God, it can't be true.
This mask of agony, of horror. These hands-above all, these hands clasping the head . . .
This is a gesture of someone struck by lightning. The gesture you see in the mortally wounded, the moment before they die.
Can birth hold so much suffering, so much pain? While the parents look on in ecstasy, oblivious.
No, we can't accept it.
And yet ... it's true (Leboyer, 1978, p. 12)."

Leboyer advises that if the baby breathes spontaneously, leave him alone. Don't slap him into life. Don't hang him by his heels and shake him. He doesn't have to cry to show he's alive. (Brook, 1976, p. 99).

The onset of inversion primals may be triggered in its own right within a classical primal sequence as the primal moves down from third line to second line to first line. Arthur Janov in Imprints (1983), describes such a primal experience in detail on page 79. The patient begins his primal with a feeling of aloneness. He then slips back to remembering his alone and crazy feelings when left in a mental hospital at age 20.

The patient then experienced himself as regressing to being a terrified baby, crying and screaming and feeling he was falling backwards. He reported dizziness and disorientation . His legs went up on to the wall until he was nearly upsidedown. This man reports his certainty that the primal had to do with his being held upside down right after he was born.

In my practise the primal level need to elevate the feet and clamber to get into an inverted position is impressive, Repeatedly this need begins at the end point of a full body primal with pressure around the primalee's ankles as the therapist's hands encircle the ankles and move down and off the feet. The primal pain reaction, usually expressed by screaming may be minimal but noteworthy the first time through, increasing in intensity with succeeding full body primaling and often centering into the ankles only as the center of primal pain expression moves gradually down from the top of the head to the feet.

Bob's session about a year ago illustrates this sequence. Bob had already had a session a week earlier when a full body primal left him inexplicably (from his point of view) raising his legs in the air. This session begins with Bob talking about panic and dreams of never being able to reach his destination by plane, train, or rocket. He then stretches out on the mat. He brings his hand up to the top of his head and down over his face absentmindedly. I take this as a cue and place my hands tentatively, heels of my hands together, across the crown of his head, He pushes in to the pressure. I increase my pressure responsively, matching his and letting my hands intuitively begin a communication with his energy and need.

His face ever so slowly moves under my hands and my hands slide responsively with varying pressure down his face, chin, and throat. My hands slide over his shoulders and stop on his chest. His body tension holds them in place as screams release the pain of old trauma. Finally his muscles relax under my hands, inviting them to continue down the abdomen and thighs. Another hold occurs on the calves of his legs as more screaming discharges more pain. My hands reach his ankles and his feet rise up into the air as if pulled by some invisible force. The energy is strong and he asks get into the inversion exerciser.1

He asks for and goes into a free hanging inverted position. Screams wail out as his back arches and his hands come up protectively to the sides of his head. After fifteen seconds he and I bring him back to horizontal where he rests and then opts to go into the space again. He raises his arms slowly over his head and the shifting balance swings his body into inversion. "No, No, No" he screams. His body twists in apparent agony.

Following his return to the mat he reports that the No, No, No expressed his feeling about entering the world. He goes on to say that by the end of the inversion experience the feelings had shifted to "Oh, yes" to the world.


This paper is an attempt to describe the art of facilitating a client's birth primaling needs. Alert sensitivity to the client's cues and body signals before any laying-on of hands is done, is a must. The client's careful assistance in positioning the therapist's input is critical for deepest access to body pain. A giving-over to the intuitive potential of the therapist's hands to "read" the nonverbal signals of the client's birthing body has usually allowed me to nonverbally validate and accommodate the primal need to repeat the traumatizing pressure of birth itself. This kind of facilitation of primal birth is what I am calling primal midwifery.


Arms, Suzanne (1975). Immaculate Deception, Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Brook, Danae (1 976). Naturbirth, You, Your Body and Your Baby. Now York:Pantheon.
Demarest, Robert (1969). Conception, Birth and Contraception. New York: McGraw-Hill
Janov, Arthur (1983). Imprints: The Lifelong Effects of the Birth Experience. New York: Coward McCann.
Leboyer, Frederick (1975). Birth Without Violence. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

1I use a Sears Roebuck Inversion Exerciser, Scandia No. 7500. This piece of exercise equipment allows the primalee to have total control of his or her position in space. He or she can be anywhere from horizontal to free hanging in a vertical position. It allows the client to ease into the space at a speed that allows maximum access to feeling and avoids shut-down by too much to fast. The ankle supports represent the physician's hands. Three to six sessions is typical for this space.

Biographical Note

Hal Geddes, M.S.W., is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker in Massachusetts. He received his B.A. from Cornell University and his M.S.W. from Simmons College Graduate School of Social Work. His early experience in working in mental hospitals and clinics was based upon a traditional psychoanalytic view. He shifted to a humanistic philosophy in the early seventies adopting a Rogerian Client Centered approach in working with clients, and then extended this practice to primal therapy. He is currently on the staff of the Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, MA. The school is a gradeless, test free mini-democracy which Hal's two youngest children attend. He has a private practice in Framingham, MA and does personal growth workshops in the Boston area.