This paper explores the question of mentation and communication in the unborn using data from neurology, pediatrics, obstetrics, biochemistry, embryology, animal research, ultrasound studies, infant development, studies of autism, linguistics, kinesics, patient reports, family system theory, and studies of primitive mental states. It also includes a discussion on the pertinence of polysema and semiosis, non-verbal knowing, time sense, and the ambient prenatal psychological family to an understanding of prenatal experience. Countertransference resistances to studying mentation and communication in the unborn are examined, particularly relative to the issue of considering a psychological component in prenatal trauma. A review of these many areas of study provides documentation of the fact that there is more mentation and communication in the unborn than is generally believed to be the case. This lends credence to the idea that the dread of being aborted has its genesis in an intrauterine trauma involving the threat of being aborted, which is registered, remembered, and transferentially acted out symbolically in post natal life until analysis connects the presenting symptomatology to the underlying dread of being aborted, as has been demonstrated in the two cases presented in part I of this paper. A hypothesis is advanced whereby a threat of being aborted could be communicated to and registered in the unborn. The combined data from both part I and part II suggest that new models of therapy and of the mind are needed that include a consideration of prenatal mentation and communication.
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John C. Sonne, M.D.
John C. Sonne, M.D., a psychoanalyst and a family therapist, has had a long standing interest in models of mentation and communication, with a particular focus on how these models operate in the family, in prenatal and neonatal stages of life, and in therapy. He is also a musician, has done isotopic tracer research on purine synthesis in biochemistry, and has a particular interest in physics. In addition to being in private practice, he is currently Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Robert Wood Johnson School of Medicine, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, and Senior Attending, The Institute of the Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Address correspondence to 443 Shady Lane, Moorestown, NJ 08057.
The masculine gender is used for convenience, but with the understanding that statements apply to both genders.
A paper on one of the patients discussed here, George, titled "The Analysis of an Unconscious Wish to Abort in a Male" was presented to the Philadelphia Psychoanalytic Society February 18, 1976 (Sonne, 1976). A preliminary version of Parts I and II of this paper, titled "The Relevance of the Dread of Being Aborted to Models of Therapy and Models of the Mind" was presented to the etaff of the Institute of the Pennsylvania Hospital April 14, 1992 (Sonne, 1992).
Part I of this paper appeared in Volume 9, Number 3, Spring 1995.
JOURNAL OF PRENATAL AND PERINATAL PSYCHOLOGY AND HEALTH publishes research and clinical articles from the cutting edge of the science of prenatal and perinatal psychology and health. The journal, published quarterly since 1986, is dedicated to the in-depth exploration human reproduction and pregnancy and the mental and emotional development of the unborn and newborn child.