The Psychology of Birth

Reviewed Publisher: 
44 minutes. Distributed by STAR Foundation, PO Box 516, Geyserville, CA 95441, (888)857-7827, http://www. starfound.org.
Reviewed Title: 
The Psychology of Birth Produced (2001)

My first impression of this video program was "What nice music!" And there are many other features that make it worthy of attention, notably, interviews with many of the bright, early lights in the field of pre- and perinatal psychology and health. Offering tidbits throughout the film are Thomas Verny, Marshall Klaus, Stanislav Grof, Bruce Lipton, Phyllis Klaus, Susan Love, Bob Oliver and the filmmaker herself, Barbara Findeisen.

Dr. Verny tells us that the nine months in utero are the most psychologically significant in the lifespan, there is no separation between mind and body, and those people born by c-section need more body contact than others. Dr. Marshall Klaus stresses the need to humanize obstetrics, hospitals provoke fear and hypervigilance, and a mother who is nurtured during labor is different from our culture's unnatural norm in the way she treats her baby. Counselor and social worker Phyllis Klaus has seen that how a mother and father are treated has a cascading effect on how they treat baby and how the baby perceives the culture around him/her. Both Klauses discuss the importance of continuous support for mothers birthing in hospitals, to reduce complications by as much as half and the length of labor by 25%. Dr. Grof concurs that the hospital atmosphere activates fear systems, such as release of catecholamines in the body, and provokes a fury that stays in the organism.

Marriage and family therapist Findeisen notes that perceptions, attitudes, behaviors and sense of self are all profoundly affected by one's perinatal circumstances. She questions whether modern birthing methods disregard the human organisms innate needs, states that bonding ensures survival through safety and love, yet interruption of bonding can be healed later. She reports that, unfortunately, those people whose anxiety disorder has its roots in perinatal circumstances might see ten doctors before finding one to properly diagnose, let alone heal the wounds. Therapist and educator Love describes violence as an extreme effect of non-attachment, although the human infant seeks the reciprocal attachment promoted by mother and baby gazing intently in each other's eyes.

Cell biologist Lipton gives glimpses of his work and states that a mother's hormones and other organizing chemicals cross the placenta and switch the developing child's genes "on" or "off" . Thus, a mother's belief about her environment is transmitted to the fetus, offering either a growth-promoting environment, favoring visceral development, or necessitating an environment focused on protection, favoring muscular development. Additionally, an estimated 40-50% of a person's IQ is affected by his or her prenatal environment, with "growth" signals allowing forebrain development, for intelligence and a higher IQ, and "protection" signals necessitating hindbrain development, resulting in reflex behavior.

A second major aspect of the film are interviews-accompanied by childhood photos-with those who have engaged in effective work to heal their birth trauma, using guided imagery and self-hypnosis. Lisa Sterenko realized during therapy that she had felt trapped, and birth gives a first opinion of the planet. Karen Bach learned that she had had a hard time completing things due to her forceps birth because she felt, "If I get to the end, pain will come." Bob Hansen said birth therapy helped him "learn a different way of behaving instead of just being trapped by angers or fear or other things that are just ingrained reactions from the past". Ann Curtis battled depression unsuccessfully for decades before getting relief from therapy that addressed her birth. Kevin Jones had repeated many times the pattern set during his birth, that to move forward was strangulation. He discovered that some difficulties he had attributed to racism were, in fact, stemming from his birth experiences. We learn, when the credits roll, that the beautiful music heard weaving through the film is his classical guitar composition "First Journey."

The third major aspect of The Psychology of Birth are shining examples of healthy birth. The parents-to-be of triplets knew their children's health-mental and physical-was directly related to health of the mother. Cheryl Seaman knew she must remain calm and happy in order to carry the babies as long as possible. Fritz Seaman knew to provide a buffer between his wife and the hospital and to facilitate togetherness for mother and newborns. Amazingly, the babies never left her room, never spent time in an incubator, and went home when three days old. Seeing them play together happily, calmly and intelligently is a real joy. Dorothy Griffith appears with her toddler, who was born with a one-hour labor after being assured she was welcome and turning from breech.

Coherence throughout the program is provided by narrator Barbara Findeisen, writer Frances W. Causey, and marvelous photography (of Suzanne Arms, Karen Strange, and others), facilitating with much beauty the flow among statements, observations, and descriptions.

There are multiple audiences who could benefit greatly from viewing this program. It would be a good overview of and introduction to the preand perinatal field for beginning (mainstream) psychology students. Similarly, it would give fledgling medical students a basic understanding of the way their actions have the potential to cause scars or facilitate strengths. For people working with therapists with whom they feel comfortable but who are unaware of the role of perinatal experiences, when shared with those therapists it could spark an investigation into the information and healing modalities presented. Similarly, it could spark further investigation for anyone who has not considered the possibility of lasting effects from his/her birth. For those seeking resolution of known perinatal trauma, it gives some insight into the process of, and shows positive results from, catharsis during regression. Any enthusiast for healing of perinatal wounds might enjoy this well-crafted program and want to share it with their local library, school, community cable television station, or policymaker.

Publication Date: 
10/2003