The Impact of Prenatal Psychology on Society and Culture

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: As a result of the research conducted by prenatal psychology into psychological and emotional experiences before and during birth, a whole new dimension has been added to our life-history. We are now able to recognise that human cultural artefacts and activities have to some extent always expressed prenatal and perinatal feelings and by doing so have familiarised us with an alien world by allowing us to "rediscover" the microcosm of our prenatal life in the macrocosm of the world. This is illustrated using several examples, such as the mythical ideas about kings (prenatal feeling of power), the holy trees (placenta) and the holy chambers (uterine space), among others.

INTRODUCTION

The 19th century, as Ellen Key's famous book put it, was "the century of the child" (1902). People became aware of the needs of infants and small children in a new, more thoughtful and reflective way. At the same time, psychoanalysis and the other psychotherapies discovered the infant and small child in all of us. It became clear that the conditions and relationships we experience during the first few years of life have a decisive impact on how we see ourselves and our relationships. Literature, art and films investigated this new way of looking at ourselves and our relationships (Janus 1997). Life-histories and romantic relationships became less a question of integrating oneself into a predefined religious or social order and focused more on self-awareness, finding out who we really are, and individuation and self-realisation in our relationship with the opposite sex and with society. Childlike spontaneity was retained in the way we lived and no longer had to be one-sidedly sacrificed for the sake of obligations and buried under the hardships of life. This new model of life was the basis of the modern liberal democracies that spread throughout the world during the course of the 20th century. The old hierarchical and totalitarian systems were overcome in the western world in the course of a remarkable and difficult process and were replaced by liberal democracies.

This prominent history conceals a history of the 20th century that has received little attention, namely, how the development of the unborn child was discovered. Egg and sperm became clearly visible under the microscope for the first time, and people gradually became aware of the various stages of prenatal development. The psychological and emotional development that begins before birth also gradually became accessible. The initial topic was a recognition of the particular drama of human birth and the realisation not only that all of us experience our own birth at an affective level, but also that our prenatal experiences continue to exist within us as a kind of backdrop to later life. These experiences determine the basic outline of the way we experience life, the way we feel about ourselves and our relationship with the world.

All these issues have increasingly been studied and developed in the field of prenatal psychology during recent years. In this context, the Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health (APPPAH) and the International Society for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Medicine (ISPPM) have been important forums for discussion and reflection of the scientific and practical content and consequences of these new insights.

It has become clear in the course of this discussion that prenatal psychology is more than just another aspect of developmental psychology. Instead, it is the discovery of a new dimension of human life-histories that was hitherto concealed behind the biological "naturalness" of pregnancy and birth. It became clear that prenatal psychology has the importance of a new paradigm and has fundamentally changed and extended the way in which we see ourselves. It has also become obvious that prenatal psychology is not a specialised area of an individual discipline, whether it be developmental psychology or developmental medicine, but that it relates to all human sciences and therefore has very different dimensions, which have developed over the years in the debates that have taken place at the conferences held by our two associations. …