If conversations I have had in various airports, while waiting for a plane to arrive, are taken as an informal indicator, the impact of the pre- and perinatal experience on human development may be finally reaching a "critical mass" among the public. Previously if I (very circumspectly) introduced the subject to an expectant mother (or couple) or the parents of a young child, I often met with a certain degree of skepticism or even disinterest Lately I find that not only are parents interested in pre- and perinatal psychology they are frequently already extremely knowledgeable.
I met Mark and Julie Patrick in the Memphis, Tennessee airport because their little daughter, Angela Grace, decided to entertain me by dancing. The Patricks, I later found out, because of Angela's birth experience, were on their way to New York to be filmed for the television program Twenty I Twenty. Observing Angela, I said to Julie, "She is adorable but she had a very premature, traumatic birth." "Yes, that's true but how in the world did you know?" was the response. I identified some of the affects which are often common to children after such a birth. I explained that various contributors to this Journal, including William Emerson and Barbara Findeisen, originally helped to classify these behaviors. As I watched Angela pirouette, I ended my comments by quoting my friend Margot Heiniger who, in my opinion, does work with clients at Pocket Ranch Institute bordering on the miraculous. "Premature and traumatized babies," I said, "can generally be recognized by the way they utilize the 'tip of the fingers, tip of the toes, and tip of the tongue.'"
Julie told me that in her eighth week of pregnancy she developed dangerously high blood pressure. Ultrasound indicated that the embryo had what appeared to be a cluster of tumors pressing on the heart. Further tests revealed a fluid filled cyst in one lung. Julie Patrick was eventually transferred to the hospital at the University of California at San Francisco. A team led by Dr. Brian Mercer used an amnio-needle to drain fluid from the embryonic cyst in an attempt to relieve pressure on the heart. This tactic was performed four or five days in a row. After the initial experience, the fetus, by now approximately twenty weeks old, learned to protect her side by turning away from the direction of the needle. Her parents commented that they recognized and felt anguish over her suffering. I subsequently saw the ultra sound tapes on a video which the Patricks sent to me. Angela, in characteristic responses that the public are now beginning to understand, clearly discovered self preservation in the womb, arching her back and trying to move away from the source of pain.
Ultimately the attempt to permanently drain the cyst proved futile. Dr. Scott Adzick and Dr. Michael Harrison then executed a cesarean section on Julie. Angela was pulled out by her arm on the side where the cyst was located. The doctors performed fetal surgery and replaced her in the womb. Julie was put on drugs to try to prevent premature delivery but eleven days after the surgery, at about twenty-four weeks gestation, the baby was born. Mark described Angela immediately after her delivery, as being "about as long as your hand with a face that looked no larger than a silver dollar."
Her parents and two older brothers developed "deep bonding" with the baby even before her birth and clearly understood its importance. Julie said that, during Angela's struggle to survive her prematurity, her daughter did "much worse" when she wasn't around to comfort her. Julie remarked on the similarity of Angela's behavior in arching her back during various procedures both in utero and after her birth. Angela quickly learned, as she had in the womb, to try to move away from hospital personnel who inflicted pain. Three days after Angela was born she was "having a bad day and the oxygen levels in her blood were very low." The elder of her two brothers was allowed to see her for the first time. "The minute she heard Daniel speak," Julie said, "she recognized his voice from her experience in the womb, reached out her foot to him and her oxygen levels skyrocketed."
Less dramatic, but equally revealing as an exemplar of many similar experiences, was my meeting in the Atlanta airport with Ken and Jen Eagle, who are expecting their first baby this summer. I began my conversation with Jen because she was holding a well worn copy of Thomas Verny"s classic-The Secret Life of the Unborn Child. When I explained that I was the editor of this Journal and had the privilege of knowing not only Thomas R Verny but many of the other pioneers in pre- and perinatal psychology, we talked as old friends. The Eagle's have intelligently and lovingly absorbed all of the information that is available to them and are eager for more. I'll certainly suggest that they add the book Pregnant Fathers by Jack Heinowitz (which I reviewed for this issue) to their list. This wonderful young couple intend to have a midwife attended, home birth and I look forward to the birth announcement.
The articles in this issue include the second part, Mentation and Communication in the Unborn, of Dr. John Sonne's well received paper on The Relevance of the Dread of Being Aborted to Models of Therapy and Models of the Mind and a carefully researched study entitled Behavioral Reactions of Preterm and Low-Birthweight Infants to a Program of Tactile Stimulation by several of our international contributors, Dr. Aine de Roiste from Athlone Regional Technical College, Ireland and Ian Bushnell and Joan Burns from the Department of Psychology, the University of Glasgow, U.K.
Only a short time remains before the APPPAH Conference on Birth and Violence. Your participation is vital for the continued expansion of the organization and it's crucial work. Please, if you haven't already registered, utilize the form included in this issue and join us in San Francisco in September.
Ruth J. Carter, Ph.D.