Tribute to David Chamberlain: The Day That Altered the Course of My Life
By Anna Verwaal
Deeply moved, I listened to what others shared about David during the recorded tribute so beautifully held in his honor. If there is one person I would have wanted to honor publicly, it is David Chamberlain. But I discovered too late that I had made a mistake with the date for the call. Disappointed about not having been able to share how I met David and why he holds such a dear place in my heart, I cried listening to others tell their stories of what he meant to them.
It is a beautiful story and I remember like it was yesterday., because that day truly altered the course of my life!
It must have been 20 years ago when a dear friend brought me along on a visit to see David and Donna in San Diego. The only thing she told me during the drive down from LA was that he was “not a typical” psychologist, and how much she adored him and his wife. During the lovely meal we shared in their cozy home, I finally mustered up enough courage to hear myself ask, “As a clinical psychologist do you believe it is possible we have memories from the time before we are born?”
He looked at me with eyes that seemed to light up the entire room and said, “In fact I wrote a book about that.” Putting his fork down, he immediately got up from the dinner table and a few moments later he handed me Babies Remember Birth.“ Here for you,” he said with a smile on his face. “And you know what...the book has even been translated in your language and is now also available in Holland.”
I almost could not believe that right in front of me was a psychologist who had actually written a book about this and even dared calling it “Babies Remember Birth!” Wow! At a loss for words and with tears in my eyes I remember staring back and forth at him and the book for the longest time. After all those years wondering and searching for answers I had finally found someone who compassionately said...I believe you.
For the very first time I was able to share the memories of the turbulent time in my mother’s womb with someone who truly cared and understood. Though my body was shaking quite a bit, David and Donna’s presence made me feel so safe. We talked for hours. About the difficult circumstances surrounding my birth, but also about my experiences as a labor and delivery nurse who believed that babies were conscious little human beings, and how frustrating it was to work in an environment that often did not treat them as such.
That evening in San Diego changed my life. I could have listened to David all night. Not knowing at the time that the moments we shared would lay the foundation for my journey onwards and become the inspiration for my work.
He encouraged me to join APPPAH and said, “There are more of us out there you know.” Just the thought alone of belonging to a group of like-minded people made me sign up to be a member the very next day.
Attending my first APPPAH conference a few months later at the Kabuki hotel in San Francisco became the second highlight of that year. While trying to find David and Donna, I noticed distinguished looking men dressed in dark suits and ties mingling with a much more casually dressed crowd, and greeting each-other like long lost friends. People were hugging, sharing, openly, crying and caring for one and other. This was not like any conference I had ever attended. Walking into that big beige ballroom truly felt like coming home. Instead of being told that remembering pre-birth experiences was absurd, for the next three days it became the norm.
Even when Jeannine Parvati Baker, her young daughter, and I got stuck in the elevator between the 2nd floor and the mezzanine it became a unique opportunity for a most interesting conversation that started the moment she looked at me with her piercing blue eyes and said, “Hmmm, I wonder why this is happening, did you get stuck during your birth?”
Stepping out of that same elevator the next morning with puffy eyes after a rather sleepless night it was Bob Oliver, the longhaired biker-obstetrician wearing a ponytail and sleeveless leather Harley Davidson jacket that greeted me in the lobby and asked, ”Are you all right?” When I told him about the nightmare that had jolted me out of my uncomfortable but money- saving-roll-away-cot at 3:17 AM, he lovingly put his arms around me and said, ”That...my dear sounds like a typical conception dream, wanna talk about it some more?”
As the saying goes, when the student is ready the teacher appears ... David was that teacher for me. He introduced me to the field of pre and perinatal psychology, the first of many amazing APPPAH conferences, and to a magical and radical activist midwife and the most “open fontanelled” obstetrician I had ever met. Not only did my world just open up, I had also found the missing members of my tribe!
A few years later David and Donna came by my house in Topanga for an unexpected visit. Finding me running around frantically in an attempt to create a sacred space for an impromptu wedding, Donna immediately offered to arrange the bouquets of flowers while David climbed on a ladder to fix and decorate the broken wooden trellis under which the couple was to be wed. Later that evening I overheard the young bride say to her brand new husband, “Sweetheart lets promise each-other to be like that awesome couple when we are that age.”
On the day of David’s passing I read a beautiful quote by Rabindranath Tagore.
“Death is not extinguishing the light; it is putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.”
Although that dawn has come for David, it helps me to know that his brightness will not diminish and that through his books and all the people he ignited with his passion, compassion and loving respect for babies, his light will continue to illuminate our world...
Thank you David!