ABSTRACT: In the 20th century, probably more people have had the experience of birth than in all previous centuries combined. The current rate is almost 10,000 births per hour. In any given nine-month period, there are about 180 million expectant parents going through a unique life-changing experience. Research and therapy focused on the prenatal and perinatal period confirms that pregnancy and birth are formative experiences for both babies and parents. Yet, in the century of maximum birthing, psychological principles and interactions have been radically altered. Indeed, large-scale experiments-unplanned and unmeasured-have upset human feelings and relationships, and may be playing a destructive role in modern society.
Meanwhile, our studies of babies have brought us to a new understanding of human consciousness, learning and memory. This paper draws on the latest scientific findings to show how specific changes in 1) parenthood, 2) birthing practices, and 3) how we view ourselves (psychology) could transform the world.
The population of the world is growing by almost three babies per second. There are about 10,000 births every hour. Probably more babies have been born in this century than in all previous centuries combined: most of the people who have ever lived are alive today.1
These statistics translate into about 180 million expectant parents for every nine-month time span. These parents may be feeling jubilant, ambivalent, angry, or hopeless during this period; meanwhile, their babies may be feeling welcome or rejected. The actual arrival ceremony may be peaceful and comfortable, or violent and terrifying, depending on cultural norms, the birth place, and birth attendants. We believe that both prenatal and perinatal experiences are formative for parents and babies. The "games" played in the first house-the wombwill automatically become the "games people play" in the larger house-the world. This view explains the theme of the 6th International Congress on Pre- & Perinatal Psychology: Womb Ecology/World Ecology.
If babies in the womb do not have a psyche, there would be no basis for prenatal psychology and no reason to worry about prenatal suffering and learning. But they do. If newborns do not have a psyche, there would be no basis for perinatal psychology and no reason for concern about trauma at birth. But they do. However, while we know better now, most of us were trained by teachers who thought all babies were mindless: therefore, prenatal or perinatal psychology did not exist until recently.
Indeed, in earlier years there was no infant psychology, because even infants were not considered to have a psyche. The beginning point for child psychology was uncertain, because the beginning of the self or psyche was uncertain. In retrospect, such ideas about babies were tragic miscalculations, since babies are fully conscious before their births, during their births, and in each moment following.
Mistaken beliefs about babies led to painful birth practices-a matter of potential importance in an age when violence seems pervasive. Are 20th-century citizens born into violence? For so many of us, violence fascinates: it becomes entertainment. We saturate ourselves and our children with it. Buying and playing with lethal weapons, we shoot each other in streets and bedrooms. As a group, we reproduce recklessly and birth unnaturally. The circle of violence includes not only us, but the environment around us. Some in prenatal psychology see a truth being revealed: As we live, we give birth; as we give birth, we live.
I believe it is possible to break the cycle of violence and save a suffering planet. To do so we must break the cycle of "domestic" violence, which may be the root of all violence. For your consideration, here are three ways I believe pre- & perinatal psychology can help to reshape the world.
BY CHANGING PARENTHOOD
If parents knew what we know in prenatal psychology, it would surely change parenthood; if parenthood changed, the world would change. …