The Enduring Effects of Prenatal Experience by Ludwig Janus M.D., pp. 277, Jason Aronson, Inc., Northvale, New Jersey, 1997

Reviewed by John A. Speyrer

". . . the primal therapy pioneered by Arthur Janov has shown with what intensity perinatal primal pain is present within every one of us."
-- Ludwig Janus, M.D.

"This trauma leads to feelings of fear, panic, anger, despair, and shame, and feelings of total shock and annihilation, as if one were being torn apart."
-- Ludwig Janus, M.D.

German psychoanalyst, physician, and professor Ludwig Janus' fourth book is subtitled Echos from the Womb and concerns the way in which the traumas of our birth and those surrounding our birth resonate throughout our lives. Why should human births be traumatic while other species have relatively easy entries into the world? The author lays the blame on our evolutionary development which, he believes, necessitates that we are born "earlier than otherwise would be good for. . ." us.

It is our upright posture and large brain which demand an earlier birth. So, instead of the birth experience being an exciting adventure, our "coming into the world is regularly accompanied by a mixture of uncertainty, desperate aggression, and even fear of annihilation." These feelings reveal themselves in our mythology, fairy tales, and even our expectations of a hereafter. (Heaven equates to the intrauterine experiences while hell relates to sufferings of the birth process itself.) After centuries of denial that birth is traumatic, Dr. Janus believes, recent decades of research and experiential events have revealed to us elemental truths of pre- and perinatal life.

Janus discusses how Freud, Otto Rank, and other early psychoanalysts viewed the effects of birth trauma on the human psyche. The literature of pre and peri-natal traumas stresses the biographical significance of early birth experiences. Many authors believe that our feelings of death are inevitably connected to our birth traumas. These effects, the author believes, can be compensated for by the way the child is received by its parents.

By reenacting or reliving our peri-natal traumas in psychotherapy, the author claims that their effects may be ameliorated. While not all types of experential therapies have equal access to these traumas, interesting examples of various therapies which can access these early traumas are discussed, including psychoanalysis, primal therapy, hypnosis, psychoanalytic regression therapy, psychedelic (LSD) therapy, holotropic breathwork, and rebirthing.

Much evidence that prenatal stress produces deleterious effects is presented. Many childhood phobias can be traced to the effects of intrauterine and birth trauma, including fear of the dark, of elevators, and of entering tunnels. The author believes that a large proportion of psychosomatic illnesses, including headaches, asthma, etc. can be directly traced to such traumas as can suicide, criminality, psychosis, and anorexia nervosa. Even the story of Superman, he writes, and the real origin of wars, have peri-natal roots .

Likewise, the process of mankind's cultural development has its origins in repressed pre and peri-natal traumas, Janus writes. Coming of age ritual puberty rites and the roots of mythology are also traced to these unconscious beginnings by the author, as are the movements of yoga exercises which represent states of fetal consciousness. He also believes that much poetry, literature, philosophy, and art also have such origins

Since this book was originally written in German (in 1991), it contains many references to German sources which would not ordinarily be available to English readers.

Highly recommended.