Academic journal article Pre- and Peri-natal Psychology Journal

The Significance of Birth Memories

Academic journal article Pre- and Peri-natal Psychology Journal

The Significance of Birth Memories

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: Increasing numbers of people, from age two and upward, are remembering their own birth. They are doing this with a variety of methods and sometimes no method at all. Although controversial for a century, these memories can now be set in a broad empirical framework for the first time. Narrative memories of birth are minidocumentaries of potentially great significance. Four dimensions are cited: 1) Clinical. A growing literature indicates the importance of birth in the creation of many psychological problems. In birth memories we can see the onset of pathology and devise appropriate methods of treatment; 2) Humanistic. Birth reports are first-person accounts of human feelings, values, virtues, and shortcomings. They reveal how babies are affected by parents, doctors, and nurses; 3) Wholistic. Memories indicate a fully sentient, cognitive newborn, capable of communication and intimacy; 4) Transpersonal. Because birth memories contain so much wisdom and caring, analytical thinking and perspective, and other manifestations of higher consciousness, they raise fundamental questions about the nature of persons. Many examples are given in each area, from birth memories obtained in hypnosis by the author in his psychology practice.

The idea that people can remember their own birth has been controversial for almost 100 years. cases, such as those reported by a hypnotist in 1893 (Rochas, 1911), were both rare and mysterious; cases are now very common and may be set in a large context of empirical research.

Today, two-year-old children are blurting out their birth memories, invited or uninvited; they present verifiable facts and ask disturbing questions (Mathison, 1981; Laibow, 1986). My granddaughter wanted to know why they poked her with a pencil (an apparent reference to the heel stick). She said, "They hurted me." Another girl spoke about the yucky white mud on her when she came out of her mother's tummy. She wanted to know why she was put in a plastic box with a lid on it. Such stories constitute an important line of evidence validating birth memory. But children are not the only ones remembering birth. Youth and adults remember birth also, by one method or another, or no method at all. Some report that they have always had these memories. Two men of my acquaintance, one a neuroscientist and the other a school principal, have clear recollections of their own circumcisions.

In the early 1900s, psychoanalysts encountered images, themes, and flashbacks related to birth (Freud, 1933; Rank, 1929). At mid-century, Winnecott (1949), Fodor (1949), and Kelsey (1953) wrote about patients who acted out aspects of their birth. Reports of birth-related adult problems came from Mott and Fries in England, Graber and Kruse in Germany, Peerbolte in Holland, and Rascovsky in Argentina (see review by DeMause, 1982, chap. 7). Over the years, therapists have discovered that recollection of traumatic moments, including birth, can be facilitated by breathing methods (Reich, 1949; Orr & Ray, 1977), administration of LSD (Grof, 1975), gestalt and fantasy procedures (Hubbard, 1950; Janov, 1970; Fehr, 1980), dreams (Fodor, 1949), free association, and isolation in water tanks (Laing, 1976, 1982). Frank Lake first used LSD, then breathing, and finally guided fantasy to awaken birth and prebirth memories in group workshops (Moss, 1986, 1987). Grof (1985) followed a similar course, beginning with LSD, and moving on to combinations of evocative music, breathing, and physical movement in deep experiential psychotherapy. Massage therapists report the breakthrough of birth memories in response to touch or movement of limbs. Terence Dowling (1986) has developed an indirect approach to birth memory using placental images in a guided fantasy. Finally, reports of birth memory obtained in hypnosis span the century (Rochas, 1911; Kelsey, 1953; LeCron, 1954; Cheek, 1975; Chamberlain, 1981, 1988; Scott & Scott, 1984).

The validity of birth memories (obtained by whatever means) has always been a source of concern. …

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