Publication Date:May 2005
Reviewed Title:Prenatal Parenting 2001
Reviewed Publisher:New York: HarperCollins. 254 pages. ISBN 0-06-039422-6.
Birthing a baby is obviously a quest of epic proportions for a family. You will face transformational challenges that will call upon all of your internal resources and powers. Your external prize will be a wondrous baby. Your internal treasure will be a new commitment to protecting and nourishing this miracle. - Frederick Wirth
While Prenatal Parenting was published in 2001, its message is relevant today, as it will be in the future. Pregnancy and birthing in the USA present us with a conundrum. Even as the skills of science and medicine focus on birth, large is the number of premature babies thresholding in life-threatening circumstances. After decades of the mission of prenatal psychology to bring healthier babies into the world, the science of medicine should increase its credence in the psychological side of human development. Dr. Wirth makes a considerable contribution to the recognition of brain development in the fetus and its impact on the emotional and mental functioning of the child after birth.
Half a century ago, inspired by the research of molecular biologist Rosalind Elsie Franklin, James Watson and Francis Crick cracked the DNA code. Since then, many in science have taken the position that our actions and reactions to life are based solely on "the nature of our genes." A battle ensued with those who declared that how we respond to life is based on our life experiences, specifically as we are "nurtured"-or in some cases not nurtured-in our families and in societies.
Cell biologist Bruce Lipton, integrating quantum physics with cell biology, clarified the connection between "nature" and "nurture." He has shown that as human beings, we are, even down to the cellular level, the result of both, but has given us the gift of his proof that we are not victims of our "nature." In his work using cloned human muscle cell membranes, Lipton discovered that the expression of a cell's genes-which are turned on and which turned off, along with the behavior and health of the cell, are ultimately controlled by the cell's perception or discernment of the environment surrounding its "skin," its membrane. Lipton's more-recent research reveals that there are biochemical pathways connecting the mind and body and helps us to understand the molecular basis of consciousness. Once we enter the realm of consciousness, we are inevitably led to the question of human evolution.
This is where our author, Frederick Wirth, MD, Neonatologist, comes center stage. In his moving breakfast presentation at the 2003 APPPAH Congress, Wirth shared his personal response to the increasing numbers of tiny patients struggling for survival in his Neonatal Intensive Care Units. In his book, Prenatal Parenting, Wirth gives readers the opportunity to understand the anguish he experienced during more than a quarter of a century while rescuing premature infants. He eventually realized that in spite of increasing medical support in birthing, there was something desperately wrong during pregnancy, and premature birth was inflicting lifelong pain and suffering on babies, mothers and fathers, and society. Based on his knowledge of brain development, Wirth realized that the emotions mother experiences during her pregnancy directly affect the emotional tone and brain architecture of her developing baby. For example, a depressive mother bears a depressive baby.
In his years of efforts to save premature infants, Wirth came to understand-to know-that fear of childbirth, risky behaviors, and inability to communicate are major causes of disastrous pregnancies. Realizing that "There is no greater gift you can give your child than a safe pregnancy," he has developed a series of exercises that offer pregnant parents the ability to "gain self-confidence and knowledge to greatly enhance your own health, and that of your unborn baby."
While giving a summary of both brain and emotional development, Wirth gives us ample evidence and research to support his theory of how mother's emotions actually form baby's brain architecture. He is absolutely clear about the consequences of parental attitudes and communications with their child. Love and respect are essential elements in this construct.
The child who experiences love and security develops a brain with biochemistry and architecture that "welcomes new information. ... is highly curious and constantly explores his enchanted environment." His/Her early experiences set him/her on the road to developing confidence, high self-esteem, and a relaxed approach to new situations, which greatly enhance his/her ability to learn.
The consequences of hostility, neglect or even indifference toward a child are brain responses that tend to repeat themselves and are reinforced until s/he is conditioned to be hyperalert to danger. All other information irrelevant to the perceived danger is filtered by the brain as unimportant. Over time, these early responses can grow into impulsive, violent ones that typically lead the young adolescent into criminal activity.
The behavioral dynamic that results from indifference, neglect or hostility is classified in the DSMIV as Reactive Attachment Disorder of Infancy and Early Childhood. John Sonne's treatise in this journal on the Columbine High School tragedy is illustrative of this behavior.
One of the most important foundations for the relationship between baby and parents is the parents' reaction to discovering they are pregnant. Wirth uses this first reaction in an exercise designed to heal possible compromising reactions that may have affected the new relationship. He gives parents a sentence-completion process (a Ia Sandra Ray's I Deserve Lovel) to aid them in exploring their feelings on learning they are pregnant:
When I first learned about my pregnancy, I felt ...
When my life partner learned about the pregnancy, she/he felt ...
A child in my life will ... to my relationship with my life partner.
What I can do now to nurture and love my child ...
The responses to these sentences ideally arise from the nonconscious mind of mother and father. Such an exercise facilitates bringing to their conscious minds beliefs about which they were not previously aware but which control their behaviors. Wirth gives his readers a format by which to identify and change a plethora of negative or diminishing thought patterns and feelings emergent during pregnancy (and birth) which could harmfully impact baby's brain development.
On the theme of love, Wirth identifies physical, emotional and spiritual aspects, the latter expressed with Christian identification, in vogue in the USA at this time.
Packed with personal stories, case histories, self-exploratory interactive exercises, and and built upon an extensive foundation of references, Prenatal Parenting is informative, functional and readable. Wirth believes that, "conscious prenatal parenting is a gift that lasts a lifetime. What a blessing for your child ... and what a privilege for you!" Possibly this book will renew the empathy and compassion that inspired us at that APPPAH breakfast that morning in December 2003. Certainly, Prenatal Parenting can be another tool for transformation and human evolution.