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Is Your Birth Experience Still Affecting You?

By Jacob Devaney

Just as a seed contains the blueprint for the life of a plant, the creation story of a human has a profound influence on their life. According to Stanislav Grof, the father of transpersonal psychology, you are probably more affected by your birth experience than you realize. Grof’s perspective is supported by leading research in the field of pre- and perinatal psychology. There is a biological matrix of emotional imprints and patterns that can often be traced all the way back to your emergence into this world. Grof refers to these as basic perinatal matrices, or BPM, and understanding them can reveal a whole lot about you, and provide a great framework for healing, releasing old patterns, and personal growth.

Healing is a lifelong journey. We undertake this personal evolution as individuals, but the patterns we are healing are often intergenerational, stretching back to before we were born. On a biological level, it is amazing to consider that the egg which became you was literally carried by your grandmother, as your mother developed her eggs while she was a fetus inside her mother’s womb. Coping mechanisms, stress patterns, and family system patterns—as well as social and economic environments through those generations— have left imprints on us that we are still sorting through. The beautiful thing about approaching healing from this perspective is that our own personal healing also brings resolution to our greater network of relations, moving forward and backward in time.

According to modern research, the most potent of these imprints occur while we are in the womb and during the first few years after we are born. The basic perinatal matrices as defined by Stanislav Grof are divided into four distinct phases of childbirth, and these specific stages of a natural delivery have lifelong influences on our emotional lives and experience of reality.

In order to understand the logic behind this research, we need to look at what Grof calls “condensed experience systems,” or COEX. An example of this concept would be how when someone brings up a funny story, everyone else in the conversation starts to laugh, which causes them to remember their own funny stories in turn. When we do this for any kind of emotionally potent memory (happy, sad, scary, traumatic etc.), we easily start recalling memories of all the other times we had experiences that elicited those same feelings. The research is based on the premise that our feelings and the stories associated with these experiences are closely bundled together in our psyche. Grof began looking for the root experience, the very first time we may have felt these feelings; identifying these experiences provides a cohesive lineage, or a “storyline,” for emotional and psychological patterns.

Our emotional brains develop long before our rational/ language brains, so many of these patterns have roots that go back to being in the womb and the experience of our birth. As Grof identified these four primary stages, he also began to notice archetypal correlations for them and patterns of how they relate to our emotional lives.

Stage One: The Amniotic Universe

BPM I is the phase of the fetus floating within the womb in a timeless state. This can be a pleasant or unpleasant experience, depending on the emotional and physical health of the mother, environment, and diet.

Positive experiences of this stage are associated with a sense of oneness, timelessness, mystery, transcendence, and samadhi.

Negative experiences of this stage are associated with a sense of ungroundedness and disengagement from life.

Stage Two: The Cosmic Oppression

BPM II is the phase where the womb begins closing in, compressing us and pushing us toward the birth canal. Since we are no longer floating, this phase is the first time we begin to notice the motion of time along with the contrast between spaciousness and compression, the beginning of duality. Hormonal changes include a reduction of oxygen and the pressure of contractions against the closed cervix.

Positive experiences of this stage are associated with excitement about a new prospect or integration of new information or wisdom.

Negative experiences of this stage are associated with a sense of impending crisis, and a fear of or resistance to new developments in your life.

Stage Three: The Struggle, Death-Rebirth

BPM III is when we actually enter the birth canal. This increased compression and stress is associated with struggle, and reaching for the light at the end of the tunnel.

A positive experience of this stage is the flowstate, or being “in the zone,” where you can handle things as they come up almost automatically. You are engaged in your tasks at peak efficiency.

A negative experience of this stage is feeling squeezed or even crushed by life’s circumstances, or being overwhelmed by the demands of your life.

Stage Four: The Experience, Death-Rebirth

BPM IV is our emergence from the birth canal into the world. The baby exists the birth canal, the birth process completes, and life outside the womb begins. This stage is associated with release, joy, ease, and, most important, freedom.

Each of these phases represent our own personal creation story, so it is no surprise how deeply they can influence us for the duration of our lives. This is not a life sentence, however, because our relationship with these memories, when made conscious, can be empowering, regardless of our positive or negative experiences.

If this information resonates with you and you are wondering what you can do to bring healing or resolution to these underlying feelings, you are not alone. It is important to welcome even the negative aspects of your story with love, non-judgement, and compassion. These are the energies that helped you form. You are not a victim; you are a powerful being here to evolve and transmute these emotions. Being able to accept and understand this from a larger perspective will allow you to “make friends” with your own process. Knowing that each phase gives way to the next and we continue to cycle through them during life’s transitions allows us to relax and “breathe through the contractions.”

This exciting journey of discovery can lead to a deepened sense of connection with one’s self, and it can also open a beautiful dialogue with your family. Conversations with parents or children about this potent phase of life can strengthen connection, compassion, and a shared sense that we are all here to heal things that have been passed down through generations. As we each do this individually, we help everyone around us evolve and heal, making our lives as transpersonal beings rich and beautiful!

We all know what it feels like to be overwhelmed with various emotional states. Recognizing these realms as biological matrices empowers us to navigate them with grace. This understanding also helps us evolve a greater sense of connection with our ancestors and compassion for everyone around us. Each of us is engaged in a dynamic process of personal and historical evolution. This is paramount to creating the life you dream of. The best thing about being caught in a perinatal matrix is consciously liberating ourselves from it!