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This paper presents the hypothesis that the woman's own experience of being born has an impact on how she will give birth. This impact is proposed to occur primarily through the birth story as symbol for a socialization process, in which the woman learns how to view her body and Nature and how to react to the sensations of labor. The more anxiously she reacts, the more likely that her body will hold "physiological expectations" of fear that will work against the process of birth. Statistical analysis of a non-randomly selected population provided confirmation in the expected direction with significance. Clinical material is presented which emphasizes the complexity of psychophysiological learning in a cultural context. Psychotherapy can help women to undo the effects of socialization through providing them with symbols upon which to draw, to remember (while in labor) a view that their bodies are quite capable of giving birth effectively.
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Lewis E. Mehl, Mjyor, USAFMC, Ph.D.
Lewis Mehl received his medical degree from Stanford University School of Medicine. His Ph.D. is in clinical psychology. He has been a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Family Practice at Stanford University and at the University of Arizona as Research Assistant Professor. He is board-certified in Behavioral Medicine and is currently completing family practice training at the University of Vermont. He is a Major in the United States Air Force Medical Corps. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the United States Air Force or the Department of Defense. Address correspondence and reprint requests to the author at the Department of Family Practice, University of Vermont College of Medicine, Given A-111, Burlington, VT 05405.