Research finally confirms what has been observed clinically the last eighty years in prenatal and birth psychology. Historically, clients revealed their traumatic experiences while in a regressed or altered state during birth and before. Today, scientists studying the fetus have demonstrated that learning and memory can objectively be traced to early in the second trimester (Dirix, Nijhuis, Jongsma, & Hornstra, 2009; Hepper & Leader, 1996), and that sensory abilities develop earlier than once thought (Hepper, 1992). Perhaps the most amazing development for our field has come from another discipline. Epigenetic theory suggests that the environment (for our purposes, the mother's womb) can affect gene expression, toppling the view that our genes are fixed for life. These kinds of research developments have the potential to take our field to a different level if we take advantage of them.
And there are other methods of research available as well, other than strictly behavioral, that can help us examine a more comprehensive view of human experience. Evolving through the philosophical traditions, qualitative methodologies such as phenomenology study the uniquely human capacities of reflective consciousness, wisdom and intuitive knowledge, transformative change and a search for meaning. A couple of examples of this kind of research for our field are the exploration of consciousness states at conception or during the first and second trimesters before the central nervous system is fully functional, as was done by Marquis (2000) and Wade (1998).
Ultimately, if we want to, we can make use of both quantitative and qualitative research traditions, and a wealth of knowledge from many other disciplines to help us explore and explain the beliefs and assumptions of prenatal and perinatal psychology. Becoming more aware of the current empirical state-of-the-art and the scientific language used today, we can add our unique piece of the developmental puzzle that could go a long way toward meeting our goal of improving the future of babies, children, and adults.
Examining the latest research findings is the focus of APPPAH's 2010 International Congress at Asilomar, CA, November 10-14, as reflected in the theme: "Embracing the Science of Prenatal and Birth Psychology: What We Know and How We Know It." Join us, and add to the discussion.
Dirix, C. E. H., Nijhuis, J. G., Jongsma, H. W. & Hornstra, G. (2009, July/August). Aspects of fetal learning and memory. Child Development, 80(4), 1251–1258.
Hepper, P. G. (1992). Fetal psychology: An embryonic science. In J. G. Nijhuis (Ed.) Fetal behaviour: Developmental and perinatal aspects, (pp. 129–156). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hepper, P. G. & Leader, L. R. (1996). Fetal habituation. Fetal and Maternal Medicine Review, 8, 109–123.
Marquis, A. (2000). Healing through prenatal and perinatal memory recall: A phenomenological investigation. Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health, 15(2), 146-172.
Wade, J. (1998). Two voices from the womb: Evidence for physically transcendent and a cellular source of fetal consciousness. Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health, 13(2), 123-147.