Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

SHARING SPACE: A Bedtime Story: Sleeping through the Night

Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

SHARING SPACE: A Bedtime Story: Sleeping through the Night

Article excerpt


I believe that patterns of behavior are based on the individual's process of primary bonding, or the way she learned to connect to her primary care giver (mother, guardian, etc), both prenatally and post birth. Healthy bonding creates a safe, functional, brave, and feeling individual. Some of these early life traumas occur not only in the first few weeks outside of the womb, but throughout the prenatal months as well. I believe that one of life's inevitable traumas is birth itself. A trauma which we will spend the rest of our lives attempting to incorporate both mentally and physically into our understanding of relating to self and other.

Healing emotional and psychic pain requires experiencing (or reexperiencing in the case of older clients) the trauma in the presence of an empathie, compassionate, and understanding support system. For prenatal and perinatal bonding, this can be achieved in part by "mirroring" the child which suggests the caregiver validate the baby's experience by meeting her nonverbal demands, given the care giver has successfully interpreted them.

Thanks to the Internet, I have been able to provide short-term therapy to distressed parents of troubled infants and toddlers such as in the case of the *Olafs, a couple in their thirties living in Arkansas, who sent me the following e-mail one year ago:

Dear Dr. Rand:

Please help. We have not slept for days because our 9-month-old daughter, Michelle, cries all night long. We hear of couples who sleep with their babies because it's the only place they will sleep, but we need our own bed for us!

I replied: "I've done therapy by e-mail before, but never prenatal and perinatal work by e-mail! All the same, I think I can help you."

In the case that follows, the speed of the Internet helped the Olafs understand their family system so they could at last sleep through the night. The Olafs are a middle-class Caucasian family living in Little Rock, Arkansas, having relocated there shortly after the birth of their first child, Jeremy, now age two. Many stressors occurred both prior to and following the time of the move, including Karen's resignation from a job she held for fifteen years, the death of her mother, and a host of complications with their first pregnancy.

Following a miscarriage in 1998, Karen was put on Clomid and conceived her son two months later. Although there were few complications other than morning and day sickness, the labor was induced, which I think is always traumatic to both mother and child. Following his birth, Jeremy developed acid reflux and delayed gastric emptying as well as frequent crying spells which precluded him from sleeping through the night until he was six months old.

Almost immediately following his first sound night's sleep, Karen discovered she was pregnant again which toppled the peaceful inner respite she thought she found with Jeremy. "I had mixed feelings about the pregnancy," Karen wrote. "I felt I couldn't handle two children so close in age. I wondered how my being pregnant would affect my care of Jeremy." These factors, combined with the inherent stress in a cross-country move, contributed to the disruption in the parentchild prenatal bonding between Karen and Michelle. A large percentage of primary bonding is non-verbal, which suggest that the Olafs aforementioned stress was undoubtedly passed on to the newborn (Jeremy) and to the fetus (Michelle).

Immediately following Michelle's birth, the infant as well as her brother, developed digestive problems and severe allergy to formula. Two months into her life, Michelle was hospitalized for a week due to poor weight gain. During her hospital stay a nasogastric tube was inserted and its use continued for two more months at home. She was also on several medications to help with the caloric intake.

In a nutshell, Michelle's first few months out of the womb amounted to many sleepless nights, repeated spitting up, and lots of crying. …

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