The Earliest Trauma: The Unspoken Impact of Medical Trauma
Thousands of children every year are brought into the world in traumatic ways that often times are seldom discussed or processed following the event. These traumatic experiences may vary from a child being born with the umbilical cord around his neck with vital oxygen withheld for seconds to minutes, or a labor that is prolonged, stressful, and unusually painful, to pre-mature birth, separation from the primary care giver for medical purposes, or even surgery.
Children who experience traumatic events as their first events of life are typically traumatized in two ways if not more. The first being the experience itself: Whether it’s trauma before the child is born, during the birth process, or following birth, it can be stored at the earliest level of the child’s memory, the state level. This level of memory is actively triggered throughout the rest of an individual’s life. Brain research informs us that as early as the fourth week after conception, the fetus is capable of auditory processing, and as early as the second trimester, the fetus is capable of psychological processing, which translates to mean that unborn babies can hear and think.
Stress during pregnancy can create trauma for the developing fetus. Divorce during pregnancy, domestic violence, loss of significant figure, automobile accidents, moving, or illness are a few examples of stress that may create such trauma in utero. It is important to note that stress is different for each person. What one mother may experience as stress, may not impact a different mother in the same manner, and thereby, the impact on the fetus is also unique.
Secondly, because the medical profession does little to acknowledge and validate the early life of the fetus/infant, sufficient understanding of the impact of such events on the child is lacking. In fact, personal experience with a child who had two brain surgeries within three months following birth verifies that the word trauma was not even mentioned. It was not mentioned that the child may have reactions to things being placed on her head, to loud noises, sudden actions, and separations among other things.
Early traumatic experiences for infants before, during, or following birth may set the child up to be much more sensitive to stress, fear, and stimulation than other children. Because of this, creating difficulty for the child in active settings such as family time, shopping, and school is not unusual. Your child will require a deeper understanding of his innate sensitivities that can not always be seen with the human eye. He will require that you look beyond what you can see and sense deeply where he may be challenged. This will require slowing down as a parent to see where your child may struggle and thinking about how some of his existing struggles may be connected to his earliest trauma.
To learn more about how your child's early trauma can impact his/her behavior and the family dynamic, visit www.postforparents.com and www.postfamilysystem.com . B. Bryan Post, PhD, LCSW, is an internationally recognized expert in the treatment of children and families struggling with issues related to trauma, attachment and bonding. A free copy of Dr. Post’s parenting book, For All Things A Season, and past articles can be downloaded at www.postinstitute.com .