How does womb life affect a fetus? Does it shape his infancy? What about the rest of his life? Can a mother affect her pregnancy adversely by her mood...moreHow does womb life affect a fetus? Does it shape his infancy? What about the rest of his life? Can a mother affect her pregnancy adversely by her mood, behavior or actions?
Arthur Janov, in his new book, Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script That Rules Our Lives, would go as far as to say that pregnancy and the first few months of life can determine whether someone will develop depression, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, or cancer. Janov, who is a leading psychologist and bestselling author, integrates neuroscience, psychotherapy, clinical observation and research in his narrative.
I was seven months pregnant when assigned to review this book, eager to begin, and hanging on every word.
Aside from his innovative gestational trauma therapy (he suggests a psychotherapy that accesses womb-life to relive early traumatic experiences), Janov tells us a lot about how a mother’s behavior during pregnancy shapes her unborn child. If a mother experiences significant anxiety during pregnancy, her child may be at risk for a higher output of the stress hormone cortisol. Maternal stress can have disastrous effects on a fetus, affecting oxygen levels, which can lead to placental failure. Janov also focuses on epigenetics, how genes are affected by intrauterine life. Apparently, genes can be changed through experiences the fetus undergoes while in the womb. The fetus may decide whether to express or repress certain genes.
I agree with Janov that stress is an anathema to pregnancy, but I have issues with some of his assertions. For instance, he cites one researcher who claims that the fetus is so incredibly vulnerable and fragile that even subtle perturbations in the mother’s mood can have measurable affects on the fetus that last for years. He also suggests that the low level of serotonin found in SIDS babies may be the result of previous traumas in the womb and at birth. What is the mother to do? Live in a bubble? How can a mother control subtle perturbations in her mood?
Continually, Janov stresses that a mother’s actions while carrying her infant have a lifelong effect. I found this to be his mission far more than spreading the message of his new therapy. Babies in the womb feel their mother’s anxiety as early as four months gestation, he states, so pregnant women should watch their stress levels, avoiding tasks or projects that could exacerbate it.
It’s hard to believe that the root of all of our problems come from what happened in the womb. I am not entirely convinced of his argument. But I do have to say that our society makes pregnancy seem like it’s not a special condition. Doctors tell pregnant women that they can do anything, run, work fulltime, travel. So I do champion Janov for elucidating that stress does affect the fetus and that a mother has a responsibility to her unborn child to avoid it.
Life Before Birth is a thought-provoking read. Janov is obviously well informed and knowledgeable, but the book itself suffers from too many generalizations, poor structural editing and organization. Chapters don’t progress from one to another. I think many writers of these types of book forget that both fiction and nonfiction books need a strong narrative to pull the reader thorough.
My upshot: It’s worth a read, but you may abandon along the way. One with a serious interest may hang on. (less)