Welcoming Consciousness: Supporting Babies' Wholeness from the Beginning of Life, An Integrated Model of Early Development
This unique work of Wendy Anne McCarty is an intellectual milestone-the first attempt to integrate theory and practice of pre- and perinatal psychology with other early developmental theories. Adept in positive appreciation of the currently separate fields and gifted in discerning both shortcomings and greater potentials, Wendy also understands the imperative to move beyond a fixed Newtonian view of reality to a comprehensive science of human consciousness. Considering these many talents, I cannot think of a better person to handle a sensitive project of this scope. Or one who could wrap it up in just 129 pages followed by 34 pages of topical bibliographies to satisfy any scholar's yearning for more.
A warm biographical thread runs through this work as McCarty shares her career path and other personal experiences leading to the proposed synthesis. The adventure begins in the 1970s with a B.S. degree in nursing and thorough initiation to high-tech labor and delivery in a University teaching hospital. She writes that this was the only type of birth she knew about and that she accepted it as the norm. After her time in L&D she headed a team of nurses and social workers in a home visitation program with high-risk mothers. Subsequently, she joined a research project focusing on maternal-infant assessments, parent-infant reciprocity and infant stimulation.
Returning to school in 1977 Wendy earned a master's degree in child development and family studies, capped by a longitudinal study of couples having first babies and making the transition to parenthood. In the 1980s this big interest in new parents continued in research for her Ph.D. in counseling psychology at the University of Southern California. After graduating in 1986, she began a private practice in marriage and family psychotherapy.
In 1988, Wendy experienced a life-changing event-the conference held by our Association at Newport Beach, California-where she was especially struck by a video of a 3-month-old baby in therapy with William Emerson. In the baby's facial expressions she saw something she had never seen before. Regarding the whole experience, she wrote, "I was reeling from this conference. None of this fit with my previous understanding of pregnancy, birth, babies, or my own understanding of me!" (p. 12). During the next five years in training with Emerson and other pioneers; Franklyn Sills, Peter Levine, and Raymond Castellino, in forty to fifty sessions, she re-lived many parts of her experience from conception to birth and infancy using a variety of methods. "Through it all," she noted, "I never experienced an interruption of my sense of self and I had an intense yearning for my parents and others to see ME and include ME" (p. 13).
For the first time, she marveled, she could see birth from the baby's point of view.
Using sand-tray therapy with toddlers and children led to further dramatic revelations of the true nature of babies. Almost every previous belief, she admitted, was challenged by what the children were showing her. Later, she was able to spell out this clinical wisdom for both parents and professionals in two booklets on Being with Babies: What Babies are Teaching Us (1996, 1997).
In 1993, Wendy and Raymond Castellino co-founded the research clinic called BEBA (Birth Evolution, Birth Awareness) devoted to infant-centered family therapy. The clinic provided the first clinical setting for professional training and supervision in the new therapy of intensive communication with babies, toddlers, and children. After four pioneering years at the BEBA Clinic, in 1997, Wendy accepted the invitation of Marty Glenn to co-create the graduate curriculum in prenatal and perinatal psychology for the emerging Santa Barbara Graduate Institute. In this position she had the opportunity to deal rigorously with the important similarities and differences in current theory and practice between developmental psychology and prenatal psychology.
A second thread readers will enjoy following in this book are the sparkling clinical examples that are included in chapters II and IV. These brief but potent vignettes from Wendy's own practice over the years and several more cases published by others, are what compelled her to propose a larger paradigm of baby mind and spirit. The following reports are abbreviated but contain the essential elements that were missed in previous work with babies and children.
For example, meet Evan, age six, who said "Sure" when his mother asked him if he remembered his birth. Putting his hands up on the sides of his head, he told how it really hurt his head and that when he came out he was handed to his dad. "Did you love me?" he asked abruptly, touching a cord of secret guilt she had been carrying for six years about not being able to face him at that time. After a truthful explanation and declarations of love for him, Evan said "Okay" and was able to move on.
Sean, a 13-month-old adopted boy, during play therapy, would repeatedly choke a baby doll against a wall. Once this was finally understood, it turned out to be an accurate womb memory of what he and his mother had endured. When she had broken the news of her pregnancy to the birth father, he was so angry he pushed her against the wall and choked her!
Working with a series of sand tray scenes and figures, four-year-old Stevie led his mother in a guessing game, which gradually revealed several emotionally charged moments of a trip they had taken together during pregnancy. Stevie was clearly upset about it, although his mother had thought she was the only one dealing with this crisis at the time. Stevie was five months in utero when they took this trip.
And then there was Terry at age six making up a game to play in therapy with his parents-riding his father across the room and charging a fort, busting the wall down, something he insisted on doing over and over. Charging one last time, he shouted triumphantly, "Ready or not, here we come!" When Wendy asked about his conception, the parents turned wide-eyed. He was conceived, they said, even though they had been using a diaphragm and had not wanted another child. When mother timidly admitted they "were a little upset," Terry interrupted loudly, "You were mad!" This, his parents had to admit, was absolutely accurate, and the rift from conception had lasted the entire pregnancy! As his parents talked over their feelings, Terry crawled away and sobbed-further evidence of his strong personal feelings and memories of this moment. After getting things out in the open and parental affirmations of love for him, Terry crawled into his mother's lap, the first time he had let her cuddle him. During the following week, he had asked his mother to tuck him into bed, something else he had never done before.
Wendy also cites similar cases that were previously published by William Emerson, Michael Gabriel, Helen Wambach, Elisabeth Hallett, Elizabeth Carman, and others.
A third major thread running through this book is, of course, the careful weaving of strands of theory and practice into a "model that begins to bring the fullness of our spiritual and human natures into early development theory, interventions, and infant psychotherapy" (p. 27). In service to this cause, McCarty draws on important trends in the past twenty years toward holistic, holographic, and dynamic systems. She notes that somatic psychology reminds us of body and mind connections; integral psychology brings mind, body, and spirit together; and transpersonal psychology and consciousness studies expand the definition of human nature and human abilities. In Ken Wilbur she finds "possibly the most comprehensive science of consciousness and spectrum of human experience to date," (p. 29) drawing from both Eastern and Western foundations and leading to a multifaceted integrated self that includes a spiritual core.
From quantum physicists like David Bohm, she finds that matter is not the fundamental unit of life with empty space surrounding it, that the universe is not a machine but a living organism holographic in nature, that is, where the whole is present in each part. She therefore welcomes the idea that all of us, including babies, have a physical existence situated within the quantum hologram, a self-organizing, learning, interactive, interconnective, evolving whole.
She appreciates the contribution of brain mapping technology to the elucidation of affective neuroscience and attachment theory; celebrates the contributions of Alien Schore, Daniel Siegel, and Edward Tronick to an expanding model of the whole self in relationship with mothers and fathers; and rejoices in the new alliance of concern about events from conception to birth that can harm or benefit the new self. She is equally appreciative of our transcendental and sentient nature and the continuity of the sense of self documented in the period before conception by Elisabeth Hallett, in children's Near-Death experiences by Melvin Morse & Paul Perry, and in children's recall of past lives by both Ian Stevenson and Carol Bowman.
For a direct comparison of characteristics of the transcendent human with the biological human, McCarty offers Table II on page 97. From this, a reader can quickly see the contrasts. For example, the transcendent perspective on communication is telepathic or mind-tomind, intentional, and not dependent on physical form; however the physical form can be used for communication as it matures. The biological human communicates through the human senses, body language, and voice. The transcendent perspective on sense of self is clearly differentiated from the human body, the physical environment, and other humans, whereas the biological human self is undifferentiated and fused with mother or environment. From the Table, a dozen characteristics are juxtaposed for differences and similarities.
In her closing chapter, McCarty shares her vision of The Integrated Self, replacing the Newtonian model, which has had such a profound effect on models of medicine, psychology, and early development and undermined connectedness and intuitive knowing. The integrated self is a holonomic being with each level a holon-both a whole in and of itself as well as a part of the next level's holon. Thus, the physical-self (or biological self) has both its own level of reality and is a part of the more encompassing level of mind-self, and they both are part of spiritself (or transcendent self) already present before and during the process of embodiment.
Acknowledging this multidimensional nature in ourselves as well as in our babies has profound advantages, allowing for richer levels of connection and communication. In gestation, the earlier these connections are established, the better for the relationship and for development. Similarly, in baby-centered therapy, there can be greater resonance with more of who the baby is as a whole person. McCarty contrasts this with earlier intervention models which were parentoriented and babies were "talked about" or "done to." Therapists did not recognize babies as exquisite physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual beings already in dialog and struggling against the impact of trauma.
The book ends with rare clinical wisdom, attributed to Peter Levine, that in trauma we lose our center, that is, the connection of our human self with the transcendental self. Therefore, the key to therapeutic resolution-with infants or adults-may well be the mobilization of the transcendent self. We had better learn to recognize and invoke this perspective!
Welcoming consciousness and supporting babies' wholeness from the beginning of life? Indeed! And congratulations to Wendy Anne McCarty for leading the parade!