The idea that an unborn baby in the womb experiences feelings, absorbing and processing stimuli from the environment, is relatively new. Until the early 1950’s it was thought that babies did not experience pain and that unborn babies were unable to feel or receive sensory information. The placenta was thought to be a barrier between the mother and baby untilthe devastating effects of the anti-nausea drug Thalidomide were discovered. The sentience and vulnerability of the unborn baby began to penetrate social consciousness.
The psychologist Dr Arthur Janov, first witnessed patients regressing to what appeared to be babyhood experiences in the 1960’s and reported his observations to the neurological department of the University of California. He found it unbelievable, but continued to observe and record his patients experiences in therapy. He published his first book ‘The Primal Scream’ in 1970, describing his observations of many clients regress to experiences that occurred in infancy and even birth. While his colleagues discounted and criticized his theories, his work entered the public domain and precipitated further research and interest in prenatal life. Dr Arthur Janov has written his newest book “Life Before Birth” from the ‘primal’ perspective, that is, that the greatest trauma and damage is done when we are at our smallest and most primal state, both in the womb and as babies in infancy.
Ironically, what appears to be newly discovered scientific knowledge, has been known to the sages and wise women of antiquity and detailed descriptions can be found in ancient Tibetan Buddhist and Ayurvedic texts. Tibetan Buddhist medicine acknowledges the ‘subtle elements'(or spiritual elements) as well as the physical elements necessary for conception. The parents need to be in good shape spiritually, physically and mentally. The mother must have a regular menstrual cycle and be well connected to the vitality in her body. Women in these cultures often have dreams about their babies before conception and welcome the baby from before conception. The mother knows that she nourishes the baby via the placenta through the umbilical cord and is also encouraged to increase her spiritual practices such as her devotional prayers, daily rituals and self care. The community respects this also and cares for the pregnant woman in loving ways. This helps her to remain calm and thus infuse her unborn baby with the right hormones and neurochemicals for fetal growth and brain development.
The research of Dr Janov and others, the science of what we know about epigenetic influences and chemicals in the human body parallels the understanding of embryology held in ancient Tibetan medicine: that pregnancy is a critical window of opportunity to ensure the physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual health of the future person. This secret will eventually be understood and public policy will follow to safeguard pregnant women and their unborn babies. But what can we do in the meantime? Bonding with our unborn babies does not happen according to a formula. By the time we become pregnant we are carrying personal history and our own traumatic memories incurred during this journey of life. It is imperative to reflect on our lives before we are pregnant: do we carry an overload of old hurts? Are our partners on the same journey? Can we reflect on ourselves and own our pain without acting it out in the world through drugs, smoking, drinking alcohol, or working too hard? Discovering our old pain and hurt and seeking empathic healing sets us on a path of self discovery. This too is a gift we can impart to our children. To achieve perfection is not the aim, but to protect the healthy neural and psychological development of our unborn children prevents untold damage in their future lives.
As the old adage goes, prevention is better than cure, so here I present 9 BASIC principles to follow before and during pregnancy with some of Janov’s advice as well from the ‘Sages':
1. SLOW DOWN
Achievement driven and corporate mothers may find this difficult, as well as all women who work and come home exhausted. Sometimes our bodies will force us to slow down through being nauseaous, tired and sleepy in the early stages of the pregnancy. This response ultimately protects the mother-baby pair and helps the mother to slow down when, as the Tibetans might say, ‘the spirit-wind’ is blowing life into the baby’s body. Minimize stress in your life and this will reduce cortisol levels in the blood system that are so damaging to early fetal brain cells. Sometimes hyperactivity is a way to mask anxiety and slowing down can awaken us to the real reasons for our tension.
2. EYE CONTACT
Slowing down enough to engage in meaningful relationships with sufficient eye contact between you and others helps to release oxytocin, the love hormone, and can assist in establishing social support, sort out relationship difficulties, convey acceptance and provide comfort in the knowldege that others are there for you if needed. Mealtimes should nourish the soul as well as the body in the company of loved ones.
3. LOVING TOUCH
To be touched in loving ways also releases oxytocin both for you and the baby. If you are a single mum, a regular professional massage can help raise your sense of wellbeing. Loving touch between mother and father creates love hormones and intimacy that provides stability for the unborn baby.
4. DAILY MOVEMENT
Tibetan women were encouraged to visit a shrine daily and use the prayer wheel to recite spiritual mantras. Walking in concentrated prayer and focus on the being in the womb, these mothers combine exercise with meditation, turning spiritual devotion into daily ritual. Daily exercise provides rythm an important element in our lives, it keeps us fit and healthy for the giving birth naturally. Giving birth naturally enables breastfeeding and caring for your baby without added discomfort and pain.
5. RESPECT BIO-CYCLES
Sleep when it gets dark and rise with the sun. Eat small meals regularly. Brisk exercise alternated with periods of rest should take place several times in a normal day. Try and tailor your day to make this possible and recognize that the same is true for your unborn baby. The baby in your womb will juxtapose movement and ‘awake’ times with sleep times. Observe what they are from about the 22nd week and consciously touch your tummy (baby) during movement cycles so that he interacts with you and/or his father.
6. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
Try not to ignore signs of stress, such as tiredness, anger, weepiness, shakiness, and visit your midwife or doctor to rule out any medical illness or condition such as low iron levels. Avoid drugs if possible as everything you imbibe has a LARGE impact on the unborn baby. Prepare for a natural drug free birth as this allows your body to release hormones and chemicals that enhance bonding after birth. Attend hypnobirthing classes, prenatal preparation classes and get in touch with your feelings about your body. A woman is not a lemon as Ina May Gaskin says. A woman’s body gives birth. Babies are better prepared for life when birth is natural and a caesarian section should only be undertaken when absolutely necessary for the mother and baby’s well-being.
7. SEEK HELP
When you feel overwhelmed, call someone who will listen and help you release what is troubling you and gain some perspective. Seeking therapy during pregnancy is not taboo, but essential if we are to take responsibility for our own pain and not hand it on to our children. This applies both before and after the baby is born.
8. ALLOW TEARS TO FLOW
While it is possible to suppress our grief and feelings of loss, it is not wise to do so and wreaks havoc on our neuro-chemical and hormone systems. We then pass this on to our unborn babies and alter set-points of their own neuro-chemical systems. So even though we may worry that our crying will affect our unborn babies, it is better to release our grief than to suppress it. Find a person who will listen without judgement and allow you to release the stream of feeling inside you.
9. HEAL YOUR SOUL
In Tibetan medicine five different ‘Buddhas’ are expressed in the embodiment of a human being, namely the enlightenment body, the mind, speech, the quality of being and the action of being. When we feel as if we are falling apart, this dark night of our soul will lead us to a better place of understanding and acceptance. Women so often struggle with their own relationships with their mothers and this can hold back the feelings of love and tenderness you may have for your baby.
Each woman/man has many womb imprints in the deepest parts of her psyche, some of rejection by her own mother, some of acceptance. When a woman is able to reconnect with her deepest feelings about herself, she is able to heal and realize that new ways of being are possible. Caring for her unborn and newborn baby is then possible in a more feeling and caring way, setting more loving and compassionate imprints within her child. this applies equally to fathers and their babies. In this way bonding with your unborn baby can become a series of moments of joy and delight, expressed through loving touch, sound, tears, laughter, play and movement. A relationship filled with the elements that make life worth living.