Points of View
Prebirth Memory Therapy
Including Prematurely Delivered Patients
Jon R. G. Turner and Troya Turner
Editor’s Note: Jon and Troya Turner are Co-Founders of the Whole-Self Discovery and Development Institute, Inc., International. For more than a quarter century they have been leading workshops around the world on a unique way of approaching pre- and perinatal trauma. Jon has served as Vice-President of the International Society of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Medicine (ISPPM) and Troya has served as a specialized nurse, a psychiatric nurse, and a social nurse. This article is republished, with permission, from the Pre- and Perinatal Psychology Journal, 7(4), Summer 1993. Questions and comments to the authors can be sent via email. The Turners live in Grootebroek, The Netherlands. More Information about their work is available on their website.
Abstract: This paper focuses on the psychological aspects of prebirth and perinatal memories encoded for full term and premature infants and activated as possible pathology during adult life. It presents a brief recapitulation of the basic hypothesis that not only do human beings inherit the genetic coding of their mother and father, but also the mental and emotional states of their parents in the form of non-conscious emotional reaction patterns from the nine months of gestation including birth and post birth circumstances. The anxiety and stress of full-term delivery or premature labor for the mother, and the heightened emotional levels of the midwife or delivery team, contribute to an emotional reservoir from which the baby draws as it grows and develops in life. By recognizing the source of this reservoir, persons can stop blaming themselves, parents, governments, and/or God, and assume responsibility for their own lives.
The Whole-Self method discussed in this paper”the means by which data are elicited from the client–incorporates the Prebirth Analysis Matrix (PAM) used to help people re-experience twenty-two specific moments during the prenatal and perinatal period, including time in the crib or incubator. Each point in what we call the emotional DNA is related to specific mental, emotional and physical reactions synthesized from the parents. We will each begin with a comment, and then jointly discuss the method.
I am terribly lonely and most of all feel fear! My hands are wet and I can hardly breathe. There is fear I will die if the incubator is not there. I think I cannot live alone. The fear of living! My breathing goes faster and faster high in the chest. I am seized with panic! I will die! I am imprisoned!
Pat used these words to describe her feelings as a premature infant lying in her incubator. When she retrieved and re-experienced these feelings, she realized that these words were not just those of a little baby. She also was describing feelings that had followed her throughout life.
In my practice, I started getting referrals from therapists who had given up on certain patients. The inspiration came to me that these patients might heal rapidly if I were to regress them back to experience the emotional patterns of their father and mother during the nine months of gestation. By focusing on the 22 specific moments in the gestation, these patients discovered that they were not guilty; they had done nothing wrong. They were able to recognize that the unresolved, nonproductive and diminishing emotional patterns they were experiencing were actually synthesized from the patterns of their parents during the period of gestation. In other words, they discovered that not only do we synthesize the genetic coding of our parents but their emotional DNA as well.
Trying to project back to my birth, I suddenly saw my mother sitting in her doctor’s office. And I heard the doctor saying: “Because of this problem with your tipped uterus, expect that this first baby could be born dead!” At that moment, I realized that my expectation was that I would be born dead. I experienced my mother’s reaction to his words. Her feelings of fear, panic and disaster became a very familiar reaction in my own life. Most startling of all, in this recollection was the realization of the cause of my tendency to sabotage good things about to happen in my life. For 12 years, anorexia and bulimia eating disorders were my nonconscious way of fulfilling the expectation that I should be dead.
Fifteen years later, when I told this story to Jon, he asked me if I had ever discussed my vision with my mother. I admitted that I had not. So, the next time we went to visit my parents, I told them what I had seen in my imagination. My father immediately denied it. But my mother calmly asked: “How did you find out what the doctor told me? I never even told your father what the doctor said.” So it was confirmed. The thought that created my pathology and my mother’s reaction to those words had been generated before I was born. Seven years ago I was attending a psychology conference in England when I heard Jon Turner lecturing. He was teaching the same ideas that I had used to heal myself! Two years later we started working together.
The basis of our whole-self therapy is that each child is the synthesis not only of the genetic DNA coding of parents but also of their mental and emotional states during the nine months of gestation. In other words, whatever the mother and father experienced at that time becomes part of the emotional repertoire of the baby. As the child’s body is gestating, so too, are emotions being developed and practiced so that by the time of birth there is a range of emotions that the baby can feel. These feelings may not be expressed in words by the newborn, but that does not mean they are not there.
In 1990, we attended a meeting of the Forum on Maternity and the New Born at the Royal Society of Medicine in London (Zander 1990). We saw videotapes of three-day-old infants expressing obvious emotions in interactions with their mothers. These emotional reactions not only are experienced by very young infants, but can also be experienced and remembered from the nine months of gestation, using various methods.
The whole-self format is called the Prebirth Analysis Matrix (PAM). The PAM helps any person to discover specific emotional patterns synthesized from their parents. In effect, through the twenty-two PAM questions, each person is able to decode and (when they wish to) change their emotional DNA.
There is an obvious question to ask at the outset: Is it possible that most infants are aware of the intra-psychic and interpersonal activities taking place during their gestation? Mr. David Boadella (1986) of the London Centre for Biosynthesis has acknowledged that in the field of prenatal and perinatal work, there is a significant problem because of our inability to elicit verbal testimony from babies. Nevertheless, he believes that there is a nonverbal language in the body that can be recovered and expressed. This is what we have been doing with the Prebirth Analysis Matrix with thousands of people since 1970. They have meaningfully re-experienced and verbalized information from the prenatal period and have been able to use this information as a significant source of life-long feelings and emotional and reactive patterns.
Psychologist David Chamberlain, Ph.D., in his landmark book, The Mind of Your Newborn Baby (1998), offers a clarion apologia for newborns as real persons:
Now science confirms that infants are social beings who can form close relationships, express themselves forcefully, exhibit preferences, and begin influencing people from the start. They are capable of integrating complex information from many sources and with a little help from their friends, begin regulating themselves and their environment.
Do these capacities for a “warm start” suddenly turn on like a computer when we take our first breath? Obviously not! Just as gestation is the period for my little body to develop and grow, this nine months is for my emotional capacities to develop, grow, and be practiced. In other words, my body and my emotions were in parallel development to work in synchrony at birth.
Premature Deliveries and Children
In their 1991 paper, Bleton and Sednaoui-Mirza offer an overview of the literature on emotional psychic influences of the mother and father that might influence delivery, specifically premature delivery. They hypothesize that the unresolved psychic positions of both the mother and the father toward their parents and toward each other may be factors resulting in a shortened pregnancy.
Our studies suggest that prematurity and its subsequent pathology can be the result of the intrapsychic and interpersonal activities of the parents during the pregnancy. The whole-self hypothesis holds that all of the parent’s feelings during pregnancy, pathology-generating or benign, could be the source of the child’s recurrent feelings.
Whole-self work is basically an holistic, transpersonal therapy, recognizing there are aspects of each person that cannot be explained by empirical evidence alone. We believe this approach is often effective and meaningful because it explores not just the mind but the interconnectedness of all parts of the person: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual; that is, the whole self.
We mentioned the ease of recovering data from this nonverbal pre- and perinatal period. Perhaps you would like to try an experiment yourself in working through what we call your whole-self. We define the Whole-Self as that part of each person which knows everything that the individual’s consciousness has ever experienced either consciously or unconsciously. In this experiment, the Whole-Self is asked to let you experience the answer to the questions. The answer may be experienced through words that describe the feelings (some people see written words, as if they were on a page of paper or television screen). Most adults actually feel the answer in their own body, as in their days as an infant, and then use words to describe those feelings. Others will just “know” the answer. It can be productive to write down the answers you are given for later exploration.
After each of the following questions is read, close your eyes and pause to let yourself experience the answer. The first intuitive reaction is the answer, so please just allow an answer to come to you, without thinking. Sometimes no feeling is the answer. If you get an answer that feels uncomfortable, please do not change it until you have explored it. Before you begin, please close your eyes for a moment and become aware of how you feel. This can be accomplished most easily through watching how you gently breathe in and out several times.
Now I would like your Whole-Self to take you back to the time after your birth when you are in a crib or, if premature, in an incubator. I would like your Whole-Self to let you experience the emotional feelings you are feeling as this newborn infant in the crib or incubator. Question: Are these familiar feelings in your life? Yes or no?
As this newborn infant, I would like your Whole-Self to let you experience what are your emotional needs-not your physical needs, but your emotional needs. Question: Are those still your emotional needs today? Yes or no?
Thank your Whole-Self for giving you these answers. If it feels comfortable to do so, briefly share your experiences with another person.
When we ask people to focus on the feelings experienced in the crib or incubator, there are several words that almost everyone mentions: cold, alone, isolated, abandoned, rejected, shock, helpless, hopeless and powerless. People who are very mental at the expense of the emotions make conclusions such as, “I am out of control!”; “No one loves me!”; “Mother abandoned me!”
We find that when people have feelings they do not like, they naturally tend to oppose, resist, deny or suppress those feelings. We say that this creates the Law of Opposition: “Whatever I am opposed to, I have to experience!”
When people are opposed to what they are feeling, at a non-conscious level they make judgments against themselves. The most frequently mentioned self-judgment words are: unlovable, unworthy, worthless, unacceptable, insupportable, not good enough, inferior, inappropriate, bad, wicked, terrible, horrible, despicable, disgusting, dumb, stupid, inept, incapable, incompetent, incomplete, insecure, helpless, hopeless, or powerless. These self-judgments trigger the Law of Confirmation: “Whatever I really believe about myself I will keep proving to myself!”
Case History I
John-Raphael Staude, transpersonal psychologist and Director of Proteus Institute in California, reports a case in which he used the Prebirth Analysis Matrix (PAM). With his permission, here is a brief synopsis of his case, which he called The man who could not stop running.
R. was in his mid-50s and presenting an array of definable pathologies including depression and paranoia. He had a sense of never having a home, even when he was married and had children, and of not being able to be in a partnership. In addition, he always felt compelled to run when he was successful in his career. He had an obsession about his mother and all the women he had pursued in his life.
R’s reported history described how his mother, an artist from New Orleans, became pregnant during a passionate affair with a musician. Abortion being illegal and otherwise not possible because of her Roman Catholic religion, she fled to New York City in shame, unable to tell her parents about the pregnancy. This move apparently encoded into R. the pattern of running away. When her shame became unbearable, she got an unethical doctor to deliver the baby two months early.
R., in his PAM session, was able to describe and relate very specific moments and feelings of his mother during the passion of the affair; the devastation of learning that she was pregnant; the feelings that precipitated her running away; the shame, humiliation and fear of people seeing her pregnant and knowing that she was unmarried; the fear, terror, and panic over having this unbearable thing growing in her belly (R, slightly overweight, has a belly which makes him look pregnant when emotional pressures build); the terrible conflict of having the baby removed from her to erase her shame. R was in an incubator for almost two months. He experienced the feeling that he could never connect with any woman, including his mother, who had never connected with him before or after the birth.
When R. was two, the mother married and legally adopted R. but delegated his upbringing to others just as she had done before the marriage. It was not until R. was an adolescent that his mother told him the truth about his parentage.
R’s mother once took an extended trip to Europe and left him with his stepfather. At that time, the stepfather began to rape and sexually abuse R. This went on until R.. was eighteen and felt strong enough to forbid it. After that he attempted several gay relationships, but found them unsatisfactory. He then started to pursue women but found this to be an equally unfulfilling behavior. R. was simply incapable of transcending the patterns in relationships and sexuality first experienced by his mother during his gestation.
Even though he was brilliant in college, R. was never able to feel self-worth and self-esteem. He did not feel connected to his marriage, children and lovely home. He started running away. Like his mother, he was attracted to Europe.
A long history of prematurely terminated therapies left R. ever more deeply depressed and despondent. However, after meeting John-Raphael at a breathing workshop, he expressed a desire to explore more deeply his birth. Therapy began, using the Prebirth Analysis Matrix.
After seven months of a mix of gestalt and psychosynthesis therapy in which progress was being made, R. suddenly terminated the sessions and ran to another country. Two years later, John-Raphael received a letter from R. with photos enclosed, showing R’s house and the woman with whom he had been sharing his life. Although confessing that he still occasionally experienced some bouts of depression, R. stated that he was not running away as before. The key to his stabilization had been discovering that the source of his
behavior patterns lay in his mother’s and father’s emotions and behavior during the time of his mother’s pregnancy. He was able to recognize that he had been living out the behavior patterns of his mother. Having recognized this, he was able to begin disassociating from them and to start controlling his own life.
Case History II
A 49-year-old woman, S., had medical problems in nearly every part of her body except her spleen. She survived a cancer of the pancreas 25 years ago and is overcoming a recurrence. This woman had been conceived following a seven-year, very sexually charged and passionate relationship between her father and his mistress. At the moment the pregnancy was discovered her mother was “enormously happy”; her father was very proud of what he had done. Later his wife forced him to close off emotional support to his mistress during the pregnancy. This trauma created a deep depression that triggered three suicide attempts during the pregnancy. Not only that. The wife actually tried to murder the mistress. During the PAM session, the daughter of the mistress got in touch with deeper levels of her origins:
My father is feeling “enormously intoxicated” when he makes love with my mother. [Note: S. was an alcoholic between age 20 and 35]. Father is desperate to be one with her. Mother is feeling a lot of anxiety and a lot of manic, desperate joy. She has also a deep, deep sadness and fear of abandonment.
During the pregnancy a meeting of the wife and the mistress has the tension and drama of a Verdi opera. S. continues:
The wife comes in and accuses mother of nasty things. Mother can’t breathe. She feels seared. She is confused as to whether to feel guilty about the accusations. She is tossed in confusion but is determined to have the baby. She judges herself unworthy, worthless, unacceptable, insupportable, bad, terrible, horrible, despicable and helpless, hopeless and powerless. She wants to die but she wants the baby.
Next, S. discovers why the wife hates her mother so: the whole country knows of the notorious affair which produced this illegitimate baby! Not only is shame and humiliation locked into S., but also the fear that women are dangerous, that they can kill. The trauma narrative intensifies: Mother is being hit on the head! She is completely taken aback! Her heart stops! She is falling to the floor in shock!
Father is visiting her one night and apologizes to mother for his wife’s behavior. His wife threatens him: “If you see her [S’s mother] or the baby you will never be able to see our children again!” Everything stops for mother! She is not afraid but she does not want to breathe! Nothing matters! It is a very familiar feeling for me! Specifically, everything stops! Like being dead! What is alive is in such pain that mother wants to kill it because it hurts so much! She is swallowing a lot of pills to kill herself. It is a very strange feeling!
I want to be killed too! I am very disappointed that we are saved! I feel very egotistical not about mother but about my own feelings! Now, I feel nausea! [As the first contraction strikes] Mother screams in fear and panic, I won’t be able to make it!” She feels helpless, hopeless and powerless! Extreme pain for her! She is suffocating and cannot breathe! She is writhing and screaming!
Then he came to this astounding insight!: Just before I draw in the first breath my whole life flashes in front of me like an instant replay! I am not going in there! [S. screams.] I get very, very stubborn! I do not want to be born! The pain is mother’s! All the fear, terror, panic, abandonment, etc. are hers! I resist for two days! I refuse to be born! After two days mother is dead! I remember looking down at her! I feel that this will go on forever–that she will just keep on dying over and over! It is so horrible, I do not want to see!
The adrenaline shots work! Mother starts breathing. The delivery starts again! I see her there on the table! Everyone is rushing around mother! No one is paying any attention to me! I’m afraid! Mother is not paying attention to me!
I ask S.: What does a person get when they are in medical crisis? S. responds: “A lot of attention!” Now S. has understood her prenatal and perinatal inheritance (“In the crib I feel alone–so very alone! I feel very wrong! I should be with my mother!”). Her constant medical crises were not just on a mental level but on all levels of her body, mind, emotions, and spirit. She was, at last, ready to begin the healing process.
Neonatal Intensive Care Unit
There is another area I would like to touch on briefly-the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and the treatment of premature babies. The research of W. Ernest Freud (1988) and Helen Bender (1988) presented at the 8th ISPPM Congress in Badgastein, Austria is pivotal on this subject. Attention also should be given to studies conducted by Dr. Ruth Rice (1989). At the 9th ISPPM Congress in Jerusalem, Israel, Dr. Rice reported on studies of teenagers who had been in incubators after they were born. Over 50 % had marked to severe emotional psychological pathology due, in her view, to the inordinate abuse inflicted on premature infants in NICUs. Studies show that infants in such circumstances experience invasions of needle pricks, intrusions into body openings, generally intense pain, interruptions of rest and sleep about 100 times every 24 hours”all caused by intrusions of medical staff. High levels of continuous noise from equipment and intense light creates additional abuse. Just being touched often triggered a medical crisis. Dr. Rice proved that it was not the touching causing the crisis but the infant’s associations with human hands associated with pain. Such pervasive, unrelenting pain induces a helpless, hopeless and powerless state in which the infant gives up. When incubation lasts for many months, bonding with parents becomes difficult and sometimes impossible. Fortunately, we are seeing an increasing awareness of the benefits of the “kangaroo” method of breast feeding by mothers of infants in NICUs.
These two cases support the hypotheses that not only is there a synthesis of the genetic coding of the parents but that there is a merging of their emotional/mental patterns which in some way constitutes the emotional base of the newborn. Dr. Alessandra Piontelli (1992), in her pioneering ultrasound research, has proven that as early as 13 weeks the fetus is showing individual behavior and personality traits that continue on after birth. Prebirth Memory Therapy with its Prebirth Analysis Matrix provides a practical and powerful means of tracing unhealthy reactions and behaviors to their origins before birth.
The great importance of birth conditions in shaping the life of individuals and of society was eloquently stated by Peter Fedor-Freybergh (1992) in his Presidential Address at the 10th ISPPM Congress:
A woman does not get pregnant because she has a womb, but the womb mediates the primary urge of reproductive function. In a philosophical sense, consciousness precedes being and not the other way around as Marxist theorists believe. Consequently, if you want to create a healthy, non-violent, creative human being, or society…one has to guarantee the most optimal conditions possible at the very primary stages of development. Only then can we achieve a true primary prevention of illness, mental, emotional and physical disturbances, hate, intolerance, violence and war in the individual and society.
Although there is much that needs to be changed in the medical treatment of infants in NICUs, we would like to conclude with words from Pat, noted earlier in this paper, who was born two months premature. After Prebirth Memory Therapy, Pat sent us a letter entitled Back to the Incubator.
During the course of my PAM the negative circle got broken. First of all I was advised by you to breathe slowly and bring my breath down low into my belly and to realize that I am here -alive! I completely realized that I did it! I am alive so I am strong enough! I knew and I know that I can make it alone, on my own legs!
I also see that it comes out of this prebirth period why I have not been able to stand glaring light and much noise. The loneliness, the sorrow, the fear to live, the fear to die, the lack of interest in life and other people that I was born with was underlined by the incubator and during my life it seems to have become stronger. In PMT, when I recognized the reasons and purpose for my life and took responsibility for it, my life became interesting and full of sense and friendship. I experience now the joy of living.
I believe now that it was this very loneliness out of which grew my desire. This desire makes me a seeker. I long to find the deepest meanings of life where there is no fear, no loneliness, no death. There is where we are one in love!
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