- Babies are sentient - totally and fully aware - before they are born
- Babies know what’s going on for their moms/families
- Babies need emotional support
- Honest apologies and acknowledgements (delivered sincerely & succinctly) work wonders for kids who remember tough times
Growing up, I was the baby of the family. In fact, I was the youngest on both sides – all of my cousins were brought onto this earth a solid 5-20 years before I was. So the family joke is that all the good stuff happened before I was born. We went on this great trip - before you were born. We used to host a lot of parties - before you were born. Or, we had such a good dog, but - that was before you were born.
Of course, the joke usually refers to times before I was even conceived, but nonetheless it turns out quite a bit happens before any of us are born. And during that tender nine-month phase in which we are hanging out quite a bit with our mommies, we generally know much more about what’s going on for her than we can remember to tell her about (especially once we pass a certain age).
Developmental theories in the field of psychology are trying to catch up to the true capacities of babies – both before birth and into the first many months of life! And as prenatal and perinatal psychologists have been saying for many years now, your little babe is remarkably sentient (conscious, aware, responsive, & awake) and has been since well before he or she was born!
Take for example the case of Stevie, whose story was shared in Dr. Wendy McCarty’s book Welcoming Consciousness. In play therapy with Dr. McCarty, 4 year-old Stevie used the toys and little figurines in her office to tell his own perspective of a trip taken when his mom was pregnant with him:
He marched in and put the outdoor scene up high on a folded futon. He wouldn’t tell his mother and me the story, we had to guess it… I started asking his mom when they might have been at an outdoor scene like the one portrayed – as a child, as an infant? The mom paused, “I don’t think it could be it, but when I was five months pregnant with him, I had a trip to a place like that and it was a very stressful weekend.” Bingo – he smiled. Over the next thirty minutes, he brought out more objects to add to the scene. We were to guess each time what scenario he was depicting.
He essentially told several specific elements of the weekend’s events in sequence! Each piece was something that was emotionally charged and had held the mother’s intense focus during the stressful trip. He was clearly upset about it all. During the session, his mother got that he was “very there” during this intense weekend experience. She realized that she had been so stressed and focused on meeting the crises that she hadn’t considered that Stevie, 5 months in utero, could be consciously aware of the events and her stressful responses to them, or could be directly affected by them. After she told him how sorry she was and empathized with how hard it must have been, he acted proudly complete with the matter… I don’t think Stevie could have verbalized the story in sequence, but as we were in it, he rather organically came up with piece after piece.
Here’s another example. A 2 year-old child I knew began asking her mom one day about California (a place where several family members had lived), when her mother told her that she’d never been there. The little girl in her budding language said she had, she’d been there. She said, “I went in your lap in the car.” Her mom laughed, gently telling her that mommies don’t ever let kids sit in their laps while driving, that it had never happened. And after a little persistence, the conversation ended. Later as she thought about it, though, the mom realized she had driven to California while she was pregnant. She asked me, “Could it possibly be true that my daughter actually remembers this?”
Babies and young kids do remember various early-life events, particularly events that were charged with a lot of emotional content for their mothers. They often try to work through some of these memories as they grow older… sometimes they can do it on their own, and sometimes they need a little guidance or acknowledgement. Early experiences certainly can still affect adults who no longer remember anything on a conscious level about them. Perhaps that’s something for you to explore. But as for your kids, don’t let it get that far.