Violence in the Womb

By David Chamberlain, Editor

Jolted by the epidemic of violence today, parents, legislators, criminologists, policemen, theologians, psychologists, teachers, politicians, and health care providers are all alarmed and looking for some deeper understanding that might lead to practical steps to deal with the problem. The result of this feverish activity is a massive and multiplying literature measured in the thousands of articles, books, conferences, and media productions. Nevertheless, in all this activity the origins of violence early–very early–in life are rarely explored.

Violence in the womb and at birth has always been a concern to members of APPPAH, many of whom are psychotherapists privy to the private revelations which expose the consequences of this early violence. Other members who are on the scene in neonatal intensive care nurseries or labor and delivery rooms witness the repetition of violence and ponder what the consequences will be for these babies in the future. We have acquired the conviction that any violence which greets a baby in the womb and around the time of birth is a deep form of conditioning which acts like a template for relationships. This conditioning may well affect a person’s physical and mental health for decades to come.

Ironically, in modern hospital birth, violence and pain have become routine for babies. For most of the 20th century, neither obstetricians nor psychologists have regarded pain as a reality for newborns. Therefore, doctors have not hesitated to expose the baby to a harsh environment at birth, or to introduce painful routines, or painful instruments. Nor have they hesitated to use powerful chemicals in the form of drugs and anesthetics. All these departures from what normally happened at a home birth have profoundly altered the experience of birth for the baby. Babies protest being jabbed with needles for blood samples and vitamin K shots, don’t like to be turned upside down, rushed through space, and handled by different people. Their skin is extremely sensitive and they complain when rubbed and cleaned. We have been making them angry, afraid, defensive, sad, and confused–for the greater part of the century.

Research has followed these dramatic innovations at a great distance, warning of danger long after the damage was done. The results of this new way of birth may finally be calculated in the angry behavior of generations of men and women born in violence. We have been impregnated with drugs from the first moment of life. Are we so fascinated with drugs and the altered states they evoke because we were introduced to them at birth? Research findings point to these connections.

Evidence of this kind led us to organize the conference held at Cathedral Hill Hotel in San Francisco in the Fall of 1995. The conference brought together experts from many disciplines who regularly probe the early origins of violence and who have made the connection between trauma and violence. Below, we offer a window into this important conference, “Birth and Violence: The Societal Impact”

In the column “Perspectives on Violence” we will offer the views of persons who have made important contributions to understanding the prenatal/perinatal roots of personal and social violence. In addition to these excerpts you will find “Featured Paper” where a paper is reprinted in full. Finally, we offer the column, “In the Headlines”, where breaking news contains important revelations about the origins of violence. If you are aware of such headline stories, please contact the Editor: David Chamberlain

Editor’s Note:

Elisabeth Hallett is a college psychology major who went on to become a nurse, yoga teacher, and independent writer/researcher. She is the mother of two children, author of two books: “In the Newborn Year: Our Changing Awareness After Childbirth” (1992) and “Soul Trek: Meeting Our Children On the Way to Birth” (1995) and likes affiliating with two groups APPPAH and The Institute of Noetic Sciences. She is also an enthusiastic Webweaver and welcomes your participation in this column. Her email link is at the end of this story.

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