- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 23, 2009

Second of two parts

Twenty-one years ago, psychologist David B. Chamberlain wrote a book called “Babies Remember Birth.” (Now in its third edition, it has been renamed “The Mind of Your Newborn Baby.”)

The book makes the incredible statement that unborn children can sense, know, understand and remember events in the womb and at birth. Mr. Chamberlain’s hope, then and now, is that people will use this knowledge to improve the way they handle conception, pregnancy and delivery.

“Womb ecology eventually determines world ecology, as the seeds of harmony or violence are sown by parents, educators and caretakers,” says the Association for Pre- and Perinatal Psychology and Health, whose members study the inner life of unborn and newborn children.

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Let me interject the critics here.

Four-dimensional ultrasound technology and new research has shown, or at least strongly suggested, fetal emotion, pain, sight, hearing and even rudimentary, short-term “habituation” or “memory,” as recently reported in a Dutch study.

Out of respect for these ideas, hospital and birthing rooms have often become loving environments filled with warmth, soft light and music.

When it comes to the idea of a fully sentient fetus, however, the psychological community is not on board. In fact, when it comes to memory, the prevailing view is that nobody consciously remembers anything until they are out of diapers.

Now 81, Mr. Chamberlain believes research ultimately will bear out his views, which he has explored and tested with research and real people since the early 1970s.

“[B]abies are aware, whether we want them to be or not,” he told me recently. Even in the womb, babies are filled with “creative thinking, ideas, real cognition, comparing things, questioning things … coming up with suggestions, having insights.”

For instance, “If there’s great love coming from the mother and the father, this is super-terrific as a beginning for the baby. It thrives on this energy.” But if the baby is wanted by the mother but not the father, “The baby is torn,” Mr. Chamberlain said. “It will begin bonding to the mother but it will be frightened of the father. It’s as simple as that, right from the get-go.”

Mr. Chamberlain is finishing a new book, “Windows on the Womb: The First Nine Months,” which he says will “give the whole story of what we’ve learned about this being in the womb, and all the scientific evidence, A to Z.”

My interview with Mr. Chamberlain led into some mind-boggling subjects, which I look forward to writing about later. But his view on abortion cannot be left unsaid, given the current political debates.

Despite Mr. Chamberlain’s immense knowledge, respect and love for the unborn, he does not believe abortion should be outlawed.

He stands by his 1988 statement that, “For practical reasons, spirits need to be fully embodied in order to be treated as persons in our system of jurisprudence. In this light, I think the U.S. Supreme Court was wise in citing physical viability as a prerequisite in contemplating the rights of the unborn.”

In addition, he wrote, “poorly done” abortions are a threat to women’s lives and health. “I think they must have authority to decide what happens inside their own bodies.”

But Mr. Chamberlain laments “very late abortions,” which he called “extreme abuse.” He also advises women who are troubled by their pregnancies to talk about it with their unborn babies.

The woman may realize, after listening to her baby, that she can continue with the pregnancy, he told me. Or, the baby may agree with her and resolve the pregnancy with a miscarriage. “We get this feedback from therapists all the time, so we know it’s not a fluke.”

There’s a spiritual element in pregnancy that shouldn’t be forgotten, he said. “I don’t think there would be anybody there without a soul driving it.”

Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.