Out of Date

This website has not been updated for some years. This website has been left as it may still contain useful content.

Birth Without Violence

by Frederick Leboyer

Part Four

In the pursuit of learning
one knows more every day.
In the pursuit of the way
one does less every day.
Less and less until
one does nothing at all.
And when one does nothing
there is nothing
that's left undone.

-Tao Te Ching


Now our story draws to a close.
Now that the child has tasted the joy of being
on his own and the wonder which is stillness,
let him return to his mother.
Not in a panic, not because he's looking for someone,
anyone to save him, as one might cling to any
branch when drowning, or seek any port in a
No, it is with eyes wide open, in all awareness
and with inner peace that these two will meet.
Lying once again on his mother's body, his ear
against her heart, the child rediscovers the
familiar steady beat.
All is accomplished. All is perfect.
These two who have battled so fiercely are at
peace, at one again.

Maybe we can leave them alone together.
In fact, we should.
To remain would be an indiscretion.
Lovers should not be disturbed.
They don't want anyone to spoil the joy of
Since these two are true lovers, out of
respect and discretion, let us tiptoe from the
room, leaving them to share their new ecstasy.

As for us, we too have come a long way, and learned
so much on the journey.
We were asking: If birth could be as painful, as cruel
for the child as it used to be for most mothers,
What is it that makes the experience so dreadful
for the child?
Now we know.
Since at last, we have understood the message, understood
what the newborn is desperately trying to tell us with
his heartrending screams.
The message is very clear, and very simple indeed:
"I am in pain! I am suffering!"
But more than anything, "I AM AFRAID!"


Now we can see that fear and pain are one.
These children are echoing
what their mothers were, for so long, crying in labour.
Of course they never said it directly.
Who has the simplicity, the humility to say
"I am afraid!"?
Yet their poor bodies were nothing but a mass of
spasms, locked muscles, unbearable tensions, frantic
heavings, which bore silent witness to their panic,
their terror.
What could they have been saying but, "I am afraid, I am
By exorcising this fear, women have been freed from the
agony of childbirth and their experience transformed.

In the same way, by sparing the child this fear, this
panic, we can transform birth into an enchantment.


Those who are skeptical or simply refuse to change things,
might well say:
"All right. Quite possibly it's far from
pleasant to be born.
But what difference does it make?
It's all over in a few minutes. And afterwards
who remembers? No one.
So then what does it matter how the child is received,
how he is welcomed?"
No one remembers?
Not only is that not true, but it is the complete opposite of
the truth.
The memory of birth and the terror that accompanies it
remains in each one of us.
But since it is so loaded with fear and pain, it
lies dormant and totally repressed, like a dreadful
secret at the bottom of our unconscious, like a
ship on the ocean floor.
But it is there, although we don't always know it.
Just like a name can be in our memory, but if it is
linked with unpleasant overtones, we think we can't
remember it.
Then again you might say if it is buried so deeply,
why dig it up, why not just let it rest?
Maybe we can't.
It is constantly trying to surface, and expresses itself
in our nightmares, our myths, our most
secret irrational inhibitions.
One could almost say that the root of all anguish
is an unconscious memory of birth and its
Only those who have forgotten how it feels to wake up
at night, overwhelmed with panic, and the feeling that
lions and tigers were roaring under their bed,
ready to pounce, would deny the devastating
intensity of such fears, which are in fact nothing but
shadows of the original fear: the fear which is birth.


How few of us are aware of how
much unconscious fear there is in our lives!

All this fear linked with the horror which is

One can only imagine what it would be like to be born
without this fear
or with this fear immediately extinguished like a fire
that's caught before it
gets a hold and becomes out of control.
Yes, if this fear could be extinguished before it can take
hold, how extraordinary life would be for one
so blessed.
The point of this book, of this whole story, is not just
to make birth something nice. It is far, far more
ambitious: it amounts to nothing less than a plan to give
birth to heroes, those extraordinary beings who seem free of
fear, and so can drink fully from the cup of life.


A plaguing question was why it seemed no one
was ever concerned about the child's plight, and even
ignored his anguish and despair.
Maybe there is something there that we ourselves do not
want to look at,
possibly because it might awaken something unpleasant
deep within ourselves that we'd rather not know about:
our own fear of death.

Strange, isn't it, that there seems to be such a deep
secret link between birth and death?
It is as if the fear of death, the dark shadow that casts
its gloom over our whole lives, is nothing but the
unconscious memory of... the fear we felt when
we were born.
So that ... but then it's nearly too good to be true ...
one born free of this fear would travel
through life as free as a bird.


Is this why we cut the cord in such a senseless, untimely
Well, you might say, it's with the idea that it's going
to make the child breathe.
Why are we so anxious that he should breathe?
Of course there is the rational answer: lack of oxygen
will damage the brain - which is quite true.
But, as always, behind rationality is a deeper,
hidden reason.
Although no one is aware of it, those attending, watching
a baby being born, unconsciously, unknowingly
"hold their breath!"
As if finding themselves back at this terrible point, this
dramatic bridge between birth and death. . . .
But because we do not have an umbilical cord beating for
us, providing us with precious oxygen, the situation
very quickly becomes unbearable . . . for us, that is to
"Do something! Do something!" clamours the unhappy
voice within ... the voice of our own anxiety.
While the easiest, most sensible thing for us to
do would be to take a deep breath,
we cut the cord!
The poor victim of this dramatic confusion, this
unconscious projection, abruptly deprived of his
umbilical cord and his previous supply of oxygen,
suddenly finds himself choking to death.
In utter despair, he utters the abominable scream
everyone was so anxiously expecting, which brings
a smile to the faces of. . . the fools we are.
"Ah, he's breathing!" everyone exclaims with great
"Ah, now I can breathe. I'm so relieved," is what
we might say if we were just a little more clear and
aware of what was going on... inside.
This process of projecting will now go on endlessly.
And we proudly call it education.

But is birth really so important, one might ask.
It doesn't last long, you could say, compared with
what comes before and after it.
Maybe it's just a nasty moment to get through.
But that is perhaps somewhat glib. After all, there
is another "nasty moment" which, although equally brief'
nonetheless casts a long shadow, and that is death.
Yes, birth and the moments that follow, however few,
will leave a mark for the rest of life.
It is as if we are heading off in the wrong direction,
starting on the wrong foot.
It's like a boat leaving the harbour, with the poor captain
not knowing he has a faulty compass.
This compass, one might say, is


When we are born we enter the kingdom of breath.
We embark on this endless oscillation which will carry us
through life to deliver us dutifully
into the hands of death.
Breath is the fragile vessel on which we cross this
ocean of life.
Everyone breathes, of course.
One could almost say . . . everything.

But, for us, whether our breathing is free or impaired
makes all the difference.
How many people go through life half-strangled, incapable
of a real sigh?
Much less real laughter?
To live in freedom is to be able to breathe fully, freely.
Which requires a straight back.
That is to say, a spinal column which is free.
Free and supple, lithe, flexible.
And most people go through life with a broomstick for a
The mentally ill, for instance, are incapable of taking
a full deep breath.
If there is the least blockage along the spine, breathing -
which is the essence of life - is impaired.
The effects will be felt for a lifetime.
In the same way that no two people have the same face, no
two persons breathe in the same manner.
Everyone breathes his own way.
Usually very badly.
In fact, people say,
"I know I am not breathing well. Maybe I could learn."
Some people even try.
But maybe breathing is not something that can be learned.
The way we breathe was established, once and for all,
the moment we were born.
Far better to pay attention to it at that stage.


More dangerously, others will say: "Doubtless birth
does mark the child. But life is not a game. It's a
merciless battle. A jungle. So like it or not, you have to be
It is an error to imagine that birth without violence
produces children who are passive, weak, slow.
Quite the contrary.
Birth without violence produces children who are strong,
because they are free, without conflict.
Free and fully awake.
Aggression is not strength. It is the opposite.
Aggression and violence are the masks of weakness,
impotence and fear.
Strength is sure, sovereign and smiling.

But it would be hard to convince the advocates of violence
and aggression of this.
Because they have suffered themselves, their reaction is
to say:
"Life has been hard on me. I've been knocked around and
it's made me what I am. Let it be the same for my
Which is as mean as saying:

"I've suffered. Let them suffer as well."
An eye for an eye.
The dreadful law of reprisal.
The vicious circle of action and reaction.
Leading only to endless misery and suffering.
Surely the best way to ensure that the bitter taste
will linger in our mouths forever.

You'll find it's the same people who say:
"So, women suffer in childbirth. It probably serves them


What is it that makes these people so bitter, so angry?
They have not yet forgiven.
Unconsciously, they're still full of hatred for . . .
their own mothers.
It is this hatred which is at the root of all that
led us to the stake, the Inquisition, the Crusades.
All the abominable massacres committed in the name of
king and country, or even God.
This same hatred which is at the root of the feeling
of guilt, the feeling of sin.
Sin! There is no such thing as sin.
So-called sin is nothing but our own blindness and
Our forgetfulness of the panic that is birth for
the child.
As for pain and suffering, it satisfies no God.
If anyone doubts that there is no fatality of pain,
natural childbirth is there to prove it.


What more can be said?
Only one thing.

Everything that has been said is so simple that one
feels embarrassed at having dwelt on it at such length.
Perhaps we have lost our taste for simplicity.
Once we've understood
the point of this whole story,
why don't we try?
Well, it takes . . . a lot of courage.

We also need patience and humility.
We must keep in mind that it is the child's first experience
of life.
As any good teacher knows, there is one sacred right:
the right of the child to experiment and make his own
Yes, patience, humility and silence,
and the awareness that the newcomer is a person we meet
and greet after he has nearly drowned in a storm.

Oh, and of course ...
Without love, the delivery room can be perfect, with the
right lighting, the walls soundproofed, the bath
temperature just right - and the child will
still scream.
If there is still any trace of nervousness, any suppressed
anger within ourselves, the baby will pick it up
His judgment is frighteningly acute.
The baby knows everything. All in his own mysterious
way. He catches everything, sees right into our hearts,
knows the colour of our thoughts, and all without language.


"There's still something you haven't told us.
what becomes of these children born in silence?
Are they any different from other children?"
"It's something very subtle. You'd have to see for
"All the same, can't you try to tell me?"
"We all go through life wearing masks. The mask of
tragedy far more often than the mask of comedy. And it is
this mask of tragedy that you see on the face of most
newborn babies:
their brows knitted and the corners of their little mouths
turned down.
A mask that hides their real face and makes most of them
appear ... ugly.
Their poor mothers are downcast, since they expected
a 'lovely' baby.
Thank God, there is another mask.
A wide mouth lifted in a smile, with relaxed eyebrows, and
eyes crinkled with pleasure, not to say delight."
"But surely such a mask is never seen on a newborn
"You think not? Then why don't you look for


"Oh! This baby is really smiling. In fact he's in rapture!"
"It's hard to believe, isn't it?"
"But this picture hasn't got anything to do with what
we've been discussing. The child you're showing me must
be at least three months old.
Babies don't smile before that age."
"That's what people think. People and books.
As for the baby you see before you, he's not even twenty-
four hours old."
"I . . . can't believe it."
"I must admit it's not the image of a newborn baby one is
used to.
And yet, there is still another mask."
"I'm not sure I follow you."
"You might say joy is not better than sorrow. It cannot
last. Both are emotions which, after a while,
cannot but turn into their opposite.
Laughter and tears are very close you know.
Far better not to wear any mask. Far better to be free
of emotions, both good and bad."
"Free . . . of emotions?
Whatever do you mean? I'm not sure I would like that.
And anyway, what's left for us if we don't have our emotions?"
"Well . . ."

tears and laughter,
peace and serenity.
as they say in India,

Shanti! Shanti! Shanti!

To Part One