Memory and Birth - An Exchange of Letters

"Hell is not at the end of life...
It is here, at the beginning."

Dr. Frederick Leboyer is a French obstetrician who has developed a radical method of child delivery. He is an advocate of a "painless birth."

While in Paris last year, I contacted Dr. Leboyer. I was fascinated by the apparent connections between his emphasis on the importance ofa painless birth process and the painful birth experiences recounted by primal patients. Dr. Leboyer's book, Birth Without Violence, which will be available in English soon, is a beautifully written account of what Dr. Leboyer understands the birth experience to be like. He vividly describes the horror and pain that he believes accompanies most births. He also recounts, along with photographs of babies apparently smiling at birth, the beauty of a "painless birth." Dr. Leboyer has delivered over a thousand babies by his process and according to his pilot follow-up studies, the children grew to be significantly less anxious than those born by traditional methods.

I sent Dr. Leboyer a copy of the first issue of Primal Community and a copy of Jeremy Robinson's study, which follows in this issue. I also asked about his understanding of the memory process at infancy.

On the following pages we have published Dr. Leboyer's response as well as a translation of a letter he had received that he thought would be of interest to us all.

Armand F. DiMele

Oct. 22, 1974

Dear Mr. DiMele,

I am sorry I missed you in Paris.

I was very interested by the little publication you sent me and by the paper of Jeremy Robinson.

Whether there is a memory in the new born or not while brain is not yet matured and myelinisation is not complete ... No, this is definitely not the way to look at things.

Here is a letter which I am sure will interest all of you. I am rather short with time and cannot translate it for you. But I am sure you will have no difficulty in finding someone to interpret it for you.

When I come to the States, I shall not fail to let you know.

With best regards,

F. Leboyer

* * *


Dr. F. Leboyer
98 Rue Lepic
Paris 18, France

Dear Doctor,

I have just read, in the weekly Catholic Life, under the title "Does A Baby Feel Pain Before Born?" some excerpts from your book, Birth Without Violence. I read that "This book is provocative, forceful, and will shock many people. Nor will it convince all its readers, for it is merely based on the observations and reflections of a practitioner."

Allow me to share the following story with you. I can attest to its authenticity, for it is about me.

I was born in 1915, on June 22. One month later I became a Ward of the State. I will pass over my childhood and adolescence, which were exceptionally happy. Nonetheless, I often had bad dreams at night, and one in particular, which was particularly vivid, woke me up every time. The admirable foster-mother who raised me would then take me into her bed and comfort me. This ghostly vision was always the same: a middle-aged woman, wearing an old-fashioned bonnet, would.reach for my throat with such obvious intentions that I would scream ... and wake up. This nightmare is still very vivid in my memory for the following reason: it haunted my nights, about a dozen times a year, until I was about forty (my husband was the one who would comfort me then).

Well, when I was thirty-nine, without having looked for her, I found my mother again. She explained the reason why she had abandoned me. She was unmarried, and as soon as she confessed her "sin" to her mother, the latter flew into a horrible rage. At the moment of my birth, in a little village near here, she threw her daughter down off the bed and leaped onto me, trying to strangle me. Some good neighbors, who were present, called the nuns from the little hospital nearby, and they took us both away. Faced with repeated threats from that irrascible grandmother, my mother took me herself to the Public Assistance office in Privas as soon as she was strong enough to make the trip, which was a long one in those days. When I asked her what that woman looked like, I had the (totally unexpected) surprise of recognizing, in her description, the woman who had caused me so many nightmares.

I, of course, have told this story to all of my children, waiting for the time when I could speak of it to a specialist. Now it has come! I hope that this will corroborate your thesis on the ability to feel: the already conscious state, of a new-born baby. If it is possible for you, I would like you to give me your feelings about my story, which is totally truthful.

Thank you in advance, Doctor.

I remain yours faithfully.

Madame BANNIER, Marie-Louise
Retired Schoolteacher
Ucel, 07200, AUBENAS

For a book review of LeBoyer's birthing techniques see The Gentle Birth Book

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