Kitty Hagenbach MA Dip Psych, has worked in private practice for 26 years as a Parent Child Psychotherapist. She has a deep understanding of the life long effect of early disturbance on an individual’s life. She co-founded Babies Know and ran psychologically based parenting education programme for 11 years. She is passionate about raising awareness for parents about the amazing gift they can give their children through conscious conception and the willingness to explore and heal their own early childhood issues. “The best outcome for children is when parents have made sense of their own life” Dr. Dan Siegel, Child Psychiatrist and Neuroscientist.
THE VITAL NEUROBIOLOGY OF FEELING SAFE
I would like to challenge our understanding of ‘safety’ in relation to babies and young children, and propose that the greatest gift we can give our children is to offer them the opportunity to develop ‘a bodily feeling of safety’ from which to grow and develop to their full potential.
Creating safety is not merely the removal of threat it necessitates providing children with an environment that is consistent, nurturing, warm and safe.
Dr Porges’s Polyvagal Theory explains our early experience, including the prenatal period is registered in our nervous system, and informs whether we can trust the other or need to defend ourselves in social situations. “The Central Nervous System, through the processing of sensory information from the environment and from the viscera, continuously evaluates risk. Since the evaluation of risk is so important to survival, much of the evaluation is going on in areas of our brain that are outside of consciousness.” (Porges 2015).
Babies and young children who have not established a bodily feeling of safety often lash out in an effort to protect themselves from their perceived experience of danger. This trigger comes from their unconscious memory of earlier experiences of feeling unsafe and is activated by a perceived threat in their environment even when none may exist. They may be difficult to settle, find it hard to share, be hyperactive and easily over stimulated and be labelled HSC.
Unfortunately many parents and carers suffer from their own early life disturbances, and are easily triggered by their children’s behaviour, unable to remain calm and support the feeling of safety in their children.
WHAT GOVERNMENTS CAN DO:
Raise awareness of the importance of the first 1000 days from conception.
Set up support groups for parents to include emotional support.
WHAT PARENTS CAN DO:
Prior to becoming a parent, prepare well physically, mentally and emotionally.
Become informed about the critical brain development during the first 1000 days from conception.
Make peace with your own childhood; speak to your parents about your pregnancy, birth and early life. Heal any wounds.
Parenting – be willing to slow down and be present for your baby, learn to listen deeply, allowing and acknowledging their feelings and your own.
Offer consistent caring experiences; remember your baby’s brain needs calm and consistency to develop the bodily feeling of safety.
Create a support network – it takes a village to raise a child.
Keep it simple, be patient and enjoy.
DEEPEST IMPRINTS (paired with artist Valeriya N-Georg)
“Emotion-based mother-infant attachment communications are essential because they directly affect the development of the brain” Dr Allan Schore.1
Valeriya’s artworks depict mother and baby in the womb – our introduction to the world. They highlight the powerful impact of a pregnant mother’s psychological, emotional and physical state on her child’s development during the first 1001 days.
The emerging science of epigenetics reveals that genes can be switched on and off by the environment, therefore the experience in utero exerts a significant influence on a baby’s life-long mental and physical development; our health at every level is determined by our experience in the womb.2
‘Perfect Harmony’ shows mother and baby attuned to each other; baby feeling safe, secure, trusting and loved. Successful prenatal bonding fosters secure attachment, a crucial foundation for all subsequent development. A contented baby is a joy to care for and likely to meet their developmental milestones and reach their full potential.3
“Meeting these emotional needs fosters secure attachment. Secure attachment leads to a background state of emotional wellbeing, and emotional wellbeing is critical to physical wellbeing.’1
‘Anxious Touch’ offers a contrasting reality; mother and baby looking away from one another as though appealing to the outside world for help. This mother appears unsupported, stressed, perhaps frightened. Her baby seems equally disturbed, anxiously kicking out while caressing mother’s face, seeking to comfort her. We sense baby’s insecurity, isolation, confusion and fear. This reduces the likelihood of reaching full term or later being able bond or attach securely. A stressed baby is difficult to care for, and may develop behavioural or mental health problems.4
We have an opportunity and a duty to raise worldwide awareness of the crucial importance of the first 1001 days. Our goal is to make available and accessible a range of early interventions and support for pregnant women and their families. By enhancing the experience of mothers and the babies they carry we can foster a healthier, more compassionate and caring society, reducing dependence on government and world resources.
Collaborating with Valeriya has been truly inspiring; the fingers in her images reference the many ways in which we touch one another. Artist and scientist, yet we are united in our conviction that every aspect of mother’s experience during pregnancy has a formative influence upon her baby. I feel the images born out of our shared understandings convey with great clarity the importance of nurturing our life enhancing ‘Deepest Imprints’.
Kitty Hagenbach MA Dip Psych
Perinatal and Parent/Child Psychotherapist.
1 Schore A on Life Long Health http://www.letsgrowkids.org/blog/dr-allan-schore-early-relationships-lifelong-health#sthash.SHmlct1q.dpuf [accessed 16 May 2016].
2 Glover V, June 2014, Royal College of Psychiatrists The impact of prenatal depression, stress and anxiety on the emotional, behavioural and cognitive development of the child; implications for prenatal psychiatry.http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/pdf/IC14 S32 Glover Vivette.pdf [accessed18 May2016].
3 Wirth, F, Prenatal Parenting, chapter 1, page 7, Regan Books, USA, 2001.
4 Gerhardt, S, Why Love Matters, chapter 1 page 21, 2nd edition, Routeledge, UK, 2015.