Foundations of Sex, Love and Relationships: From Conception to Birth*

By Chamberlain, David B. PhD | Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health, Fall 1999 | Go to article overview

Foundations of Sex, Love and Relationships: From Conception to Birth*


Chamberlain, David B. PhD, Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health


ABSTRACT: The nine-month period from conception to birth, previously hidden and mysterious, is increasingly illuminated by the technology of science. Signs of intelligent behavior early in gestation cast new light on traditional ideas about the brain, learning, memory, self, and the primal origins of relationships. In the womb, relationships are everything; mother and child are progressively linked by physical senses, the aura of emotion, and their mutual perceptions of outside events. Their relationship is carried forward to birth, when babies learn much more about people and life. Machine age birth with its painful routines, intrusive manipulation, chemical agents, and nurseries teaches powerful lessons which can have lasting impact. The faculty of unconscious memory, increasingly breached and probed in psychotherapy, is particularly revealing of the primal foundations of sex, love, and relationships.

INTRODUCTION

The foundations of sex, love, and relationships are under construction before birth, a period once veiled in darkness but now accessible to science through many windows of observation. Discoveries made in the last twenty years have given us a new encyclopedia of knowledge about the unborn and newborn; most of our previous beliefs about them have been proven false.1-3

Intrauterine photography has taken us down the Fallopian tube to watch with amazement the union of sperm and egg.4 With real time ultrasound we can eavesdrop on the fetus at any time and see what is going on. The science of embryology has charted the development of all parts of the body by the week and the day; you can see it all displayed in a full color atlas.5 Extensive studies of the sense of touch, equilibrium, taste, hearing, smell, and sight tell us when senses are present and working. As neuroscience leaps forward, much of what we thought we knew about the infant brain turns out to be misleading. An array of psychological studies of learning, perception, and memory both before and after birth make it appropriate to use the term cognitive newborn for the first time.6

As a psychologist (and grandparent) I am particularly interested in the foundations of mind and personality and what parents and doctors are doing to help or hinder development. In my book Babies Remember Birth, I focused public attention on the validity of birth memories and the unexpected maturity of thought they contain.7 I do not repeat those arguments here. According modern research, the newborn is a competent learner, engaging personality, and gifted communicator. These surprising abilities do not spring suddenly to life like a Jack-in-the-Box at birth. They begin in the womb. Here we can look for the beginnings of sex, love, and relationships, a prime interest in prenatal and perinatal psychology, as it is in sex therapy, sex education, and marriage counseling.

SIGNS OF INTELLIGENCE BEFORE BIRTH

My first task is to note briefly some of the evidence for intelligent behavior before birth, intelligence being the kind of mental self-management used in adapting to conditions, selecting among conditions, and purposefully shaping new conditions.8 Being able to benefit from experience is another important feature of intelligence, and implies learning and memory. I begin here because without this it is difficult to appreciate how experiences in the womb can matter. Intelligence before birth was not supposed to be possible.

Old views of the brain held that the first parts of the brain to develop were primitive and not capable of complex activity; they were thought to depend on higher structures which would not be developed until after birth. Learning and memory before birth were not anticipated, hence experiences in the womb and at birth could not be educational. Without a properly functioning brain, there could be no real person. If there were no person, there would be no immediate need for parenting, no psyche, no need for a prenatal psychology or even a birth psychology. …

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