Списание Осем

Communicate with your unborn child; it can feel your love

An interview with the psychologist Krasimira Kostadinova

Krasimira Kostadinova is an assistant professor at the National Center of Public Health and Analyses. She specializes in clinical child psychology and early child development and she is as well the chairwoman of the Bulgarian prenatal education association.

Mrs. Kostadinova, how can one confirm that a human being has memories from their inter-uterine life? What is the proof that those memories were formed exactly at that point?
KK: Prenatal and the perinatal psychology are relatively new areas of knowledge. They are the result of long years of clinical observations therapists have made on their patients' problems, while seeking the cause of those problems even in the period before the birth. Some of those therapists are inclined to use the methods of psychoanalysis and transpersonal psychology.

Techniques similar to hypnosis are being used to bring back a person's memories from the stages of conception, inter-uterine life and birth.Inter-uterine life memories are being manifested mostly as experiences, particular reactions to life events, attitudes (pessimism, optimism), predisposition to pathological reactions to psychological traumas, peculiarities in the behaviour and attitude towards relatives (namely mothers and siblings) and strangers.

A causal relationship has been established between the baby's behaviour in the womb and some particularities in the emotions, attitude, the subsequent relationship with the twin or the mother.

How can prenatal memories be "retrieved"?

KK: There is a technique called "prenatal rebirthing" which is based on the methods of psychiatrist Stanislav Grof. Through breathing in a specific way a person can reach a state of the mind, in which they can reproduce prenatal matrixes encompassing the period of inter-uterine life and birth. During a session with a therapist which I observed, there was happiness written all over the person's face.

The patient shared that in the womb he had felt free as if he was blissfully swimming in a space without boundaries. Another one shared memories of the unpleasant taste of the food the mother had been consuming during the pregnancy, food he did not like. That is how he accounted for some negative or conflicting aspects of his relationship with her nowadays – they did not get along well, they quarrelled for no particular reason. Through free associations (a specific technique in psychoanalysis) memories from a very early age (up to the age of three) can also be actualised.

In my practice as a consultant there have been cases of patients whose prenatal life was identified to be the reason for relationship issues with the mother – ranging from difficulties in communication to inexplicable hatred and acts of aggression, even statements such as "I wish you were dead." Although these mothers love their children and take good care of them, they all confessed that while they were pregnant with their babies they were too preoccupied with themselves and did not acknowledge the pregnancy; for them it passed unnoticed, it was something 'by the way'.

There was no contact and no communication between the mother and the child in her womb, it was neglected.This unfulfilled relationship and the alienation between mother and child was the reason for their difficult communication later in life; mutual understanding is sometimes impossible, it is as if they did not speak the same language. That is why the contact with the baby in the womb and the little acts of maternal love and acknowledgement are crucial as a prevention of subsequent alienation, aggression and violence.

What kind of mechanism is responsible for the formation of inter-uterine memories?

KK: They are formed in a neurohormonal and biochemical way. For instance, the mother's memory of something she experienced, such as stress, sorrow or bereavement, can be imprinted on the foetus as imbalance in the nervous system. That balance is upset by the overflow of hormones (adrenalin, noradrenalin, cortisol, progesterone and oestrogen) which are then transmitted to the baby through the blood stream.

The physical sensations which those hormones cause, such as tachycardia, quickened pulse and high blood pressure, also have their physiological impact on the nervous system of the foetus. If the mother is subjected to acute or chronic stress, that can lead to destruction of the neurons and their links or to a drop in serotonin levels. These changes in the nervous system of the foetus can be the reason for subsequent mood changes, episodes of depression, aggression, and a dysfunctional relationship with the mother.

Recreation of inter-uterine memories of the mother's stress is now used by some psychotherapists to normalize the patient's mental state. Usually the memories are actualised in memories of events and emotions similar in nature and intensity.

How do the mother's feelings and thoughts reflect on her unborn child?

KK: In his philosophical treatise Politics Aristotle states that the pregnant woman's mind should be at rest, because during the pregnancy the children "suck life out of the mother exactly like the plants do out of the Earth". It is not only biochemistry; the mother's thoughts and feelings directly reflect on the psyche of the child in her womb. The foetus, like any other human being, contains around 70 % water. Japanese researcher Masaru Emoto, after photographing the crystal structure of water, discovered that verbal and mental acts of hatred or indifference had a destructive effect on that structure. Analogously, when the mother is radiating love, the body and mentality of the baby are encouraged to develop in a harmonious and beautiful way.

As mental functions, thoughts and imagination are the product of high neural activity. They are not simply a chain of biochemical reactions; they possess energy. Thought as energy have the power to shape reality. The most obvious proof for this is iatrogenesis – a disease caused by the words of the doctor; it refers to the aggravation of a disease caused by pessimistic thoughts or to healing through strong will power and faith.
The embryo is not a passive object, but an active person who feels and reacts to the feelings and expectations of its future parents.

Communication with the child even in the womb is important, because it can feel the emotional involvement of the parents or its lack. The baby is an actual human being who should not be neglected.
Recent scientific research has proven that if the baby was not wanted later in life that person could lapse into hopelessness, helplessness or apathy. Failure to acknowledge the baby in the womb, attempts at abortion and even the mother's intentions to have an abortion are being perceived as an act of aggression on her part and can cause the child to feel aggression or an inclination towards violence later in life.

Research shows that when the pregnancy was not wanted or even when the significance of the period of pregnancy was being neglected, the children who are born weigh less, suffer from digestive and neurological disorders and experience difficulties adapting to changes such as  new food, regime or surroundings. They cry frequently and inconsolably. The process of personality development could also be affected– at a later stage in life they could develop guilt or an inferiority complex. 45 % of the patients of psychiatrist Thomas Werny report that their mothers had had a negative attitude towards pregnancy and motherhood.
Another fact supporting the claim that the baby in the womb needs to be loved and reacts adequately to these feelings is the behaviour of kids born before the sixth month.

They respond differently to tender and indifferent attitude. When they are being cuddled, cradled, caressed and softly spoken to, they relax, sleep calmly, feed well and handle physical discomfort more easily; they grow and gain weight faster. When they are being neglected or spoken to rudely, authoritatively or angrily, they cry, they do not sleep well, fall behind in their physical development and are more prone to health problems.
A happy pregnancy stimulates the child's overall development. When the child is anticipated with joy, there are strong positive feelings.

Those emotions are associated with certain brain functions which control the secretion of the so called happiness hormone –endorphin. Through the blood stream, that happiness hormone reaches the foetus, helping its nervous system to relax and the baby to calm down. A prolonged period of peace instils a feeling of security in the future human being, who feels loved, wanted and valued. That is how a person can become inherently predisposed to happiness and optimism.

Can parents "instil" qualities into their children?

KK: Research has shown that the emotions of the mother and her attitude towards the child can reflect on its personality. The mother's emotions – love, peace and optimism or when she is in awe of nature, art and beauty – all these empower the embryo with positive life forces.Stress, anger, anxiety, fear and doubt reflect not only her physical state, but can directly affect the foetus as well by means of neurohormonal signals.

That is why effective control over the feelings of the mother-to-be is an important element of the child's upbringing.
A mother's love and her dreams about the future offspring have a great positive influence on the development of its character. Integrity, emotional balance, ability to handle difficulties, positive responses to life situations, resistance to adverse influences, flexibility, preferences and a sense of love and affection, of wonder, of  trust in the world, of security, empathy – these are all virtues that are being formed even while still in the womb.

Maternal love can protect the unborn and vulnerable child from congenital defects, anomalies, imbalances of the nervous system and mood disorders. Dr. Werny views maternal love as a "shield" against unfavourable influences caused by strong negative emotions (stress, sorrow, despair, and helplessness) , negative life events (divorce, separation, and abandonment) and other adverse circumstances in the life of the mother.

Can the negative prenatal experience be overcome, or does it irreversibly predetermine the course of one's life?

KK: In the sense that we inherit the genes of our parents, we are programmed to an extent, but there is also the factor of individual experience which predetermines personality. The essence of a person is a combination of inherited, inborn and acquired traits and it is constantly evolving.

The experience acquired during the inter-uterine period is not a destiny for life as it can be changed, expanded and altered in the course of all the subsequent stages of development. Early experiences and traumas can be overcome and compensated for after birth through positive influences.