The Secret Life of Babies
Publication Date:October 2012
Reviewed Title:The Secret Life of Babies: How Decoding the Cultures of Birth, Love, and Violence Begins with Recovering the People We Once Were (2008)
Reviewed Publisher:Vancouver, B.C.: Emerging Families (www.emergingfamilies.com). 299 pp. ISBN: 978-0-557-00793-6.
Here's the deal: The public's reaction to The Secret Life Of Babies will depend on the needs and intentions of individual readers.
Dr. Kalef s book is a work of art. It is full of tales that ring true, that make sense, that are full of heart, and that smack of authenticity. It will support ideas about early experience - fledgling or well-formed - that already resonate in the reader.
What this marvelous piece of storytelling and testimony is not is a scientific treatise. It will not convince the doubting. And it could have used a good copy editor, who might have eliminated the distracting errors in spelling, punctuation, grammar, and syntax.
This is a letdown only to those of us with one leg in science and one leg in clinical practice, who have been waiting for a book in pre- and perinatal psychology that can change minds, that can capture the attention (and respect, perhaps) of the medical/scientific/left brain world that wields such power over the lives of babies and their mothers and fathers.
If the reader has different expectations from this book, it sings. The author writes, on her website, "This fascinating collection of scientific data and case studies reflects the very real need for culture to revamp how it views infant intelligence." There is no bait-and-switch here, for this is exactly what Dr. Kalef delivers, in sweet, literary, delightful, and compelling forms.
Indeed, the author anticipates the issue by spending the first several pages in a clever tale about a time when The Scientific and The Experience were great lovers. Alas, they were separated, each huddling in its own world, temporarily forgetting - or defensively resisting - the other. She suggests that the time has come for a reunion; only then will each notice The Knowledge between them.
It will dawn on the reader, part-way through, that this book is about grownups, not babies - or, more precisely, about grownups who were once babies, which pretty much takes care of all of us. The author does not hide the fact: "In truth, this book is not just about Babies... It's about me and you, and how our earliest experiences not only shape our health, but also collectively shape this powerful and delicate world we inhabit. If we can get the 'secret' out of the lives of babies, I suspect we will live in a world we've all been waiting for."
Kalef masterfully mixes personal and clinical experience with current literature throughout, saturating the reader with a sense of the continuity of our lives and the meaningfulness of our adult behavior. Consciousness, imprinting, memory, birth practices, neurology, body chemistry, anthropology (the discussion of the "Dominance Culture," with implications for our relationship with each other, and with nature, is worth the price of admission, all by itself) and even ethology are brought into conversations about suicide, war, pain, attachment, and healing. Not content to let us simply sit around the fire with her, considering these matters of soul and development, the author brings it home with a careful and systematic description of What To Do. Her Intuitive Recovery Project - an avenue into understanding and trusting ourselves, so we can understand and support babies - is rolled out in forms both logical and lyrical, and always convincing. No one will be left wondering about what the necessary courses of healing look like: from recapitulation to owning one's own life; from an infant's display of an imprint to release from it (with gentle story-telling, play, and other loving support from a parent); from unconsciousness of one's early experience through awareness, full-bodied grief, reconciliation, and relief.
Kalef s final lines make clear the point of the book: "Let's start at the beginning when we go to foster what we want to see in the world. And if it was missed, let's go back to the beginning to where it happened and love that place in ourselves until the last drops of tears are soaked in love." She guides us well.