Personal Reflections on the History of Our Association

This is an adaptation of an address delivered in response to receiving the Thomas R. Verny Award for Outstanding Contributions to Pre- and Perinatal Psychology and Health at the 1999 Congress. For additional important perspectives on APPPAH’s history, please see Dr. Verny's tribute to Dr. Chamberlain in the Spring 2011 issue of this newsletter. Our Association was born in the mind of Thomas R. Verny. Before this, Thomas had earned doctorates in medicine and psychology and had distinguished himself as a teacher and author. He explains what we might call our conception, in the Foreword to The Secret Life of the Unborn Child (1981, p. 11).
This book really began in the winter of 1975 during a weekend I spent with some friends at their cottage in the country. Helen, my hostess, was seven months pregnant and radiant. Often in the evenings I would find her sitting alone in front of the fireplace, softly singing a beautiful lullaby to her unborn child. This touching scene left a deep impression on me, so when Helen told me later, after the birth of her son, that a lullaby had a magical effect on him, I was intrigued. It seemed that no matter how hard the baby was crying, when Helen began singing that song he quieted down. Was her experience unique, I wondered, or did a woman’s actions, perhaps even her thoughts and feelings, influence her unborn child?
The Secret Life of the Unborn Child opened doors and proved to be the forerunner of the activities to follow. Thomas was the visionary who could see the emergence of an important new discipline that would require the attention of professionals from many different branches of study. He was the weaver who recognized the value of the separate strands of many contributors and was the first to weave them into one fabric. Communicator that he was, Thomas reached out to everyone he could find who had similar interests and brought us together one by one. Founding board members were Dr. Verny, Sandra Collier, Marcia Penner, and attorney Paul Dineen. The objectives of the Association were to further understand the psychology of pregnancy and birth and the ways in which pregnant mothers influence the unborn; to study the effects of medical intervention on mothers and babies; to explore remedial techniques to counteract pre- and perinatal traumas; to enhance the mental and physical health of mothers and fathers and their babies; to publish and distribute information; and to organize educational meetings for the purpose of exploring the above issues. Professionals and non-professionals were invited to meet in an atmosphere of openness free of dogma. The 1st International Congress on Pre- and Perinatal Psychology had a distinctly international flavor with Alfred Tomatis, Michel Odent and Anne-Marie Saurel from France, Sheila Kitzinger and W. Ernest Freud from London, Arnoldo Rascovsky from Argentina, Peter Fedor-Freyberg from Sweden, Hans Rausch and Ivan Milakovic from West Germany, and Averil Earnshaw from Australia. Sir William Liley, pioneering fetologist from New Zealand was on the program but died shortly before the Congress. The meeting was inspirational, egalitarian, interdisciplinary and life-changing—a character which would be preserved in all succeeding congresses. (Interestingly, seven speakers from the first congress were also on the program for the 9th biennial congress in 1999: Barbara Findeisen, Lewis Mehl, Stanislav Grof, Bob Mandel, Carista Luminare-Rosen, Thomas Verny and myself.) That all the speakers were well prepared for the opportunity to speak on prenatal and perinatal psychology in 1983 confirmed the accuracy of Dr.Verny’s vision and the reality of a new discipline whose time had come. Members of this readership know better than most that mothers themselves need nourishment if they are going to nourish their children. Your dues, financial gifts, and volunteer services are the life blood that keeps the Association in vigorous health and assures that it can serve both you and the world. I appeal for your steady support and diligent work on behalf of the Association as it continues beyond this silver anniversary, to reach out to professionals, parents and babies everywhere.