The Mother's Fear of Harming Her Baby, Maternal Destructiveness and Maternal Inutero Rejection

by John A. Speyrer

". . . (T)he embryo already feels whether its mother loves it or not, whether she gives it much love,
little love, or none at all, in many instances in fact in place of love, sheer hate"
-- [quoted from Dr. J. Sadger, Preliminary Study of the Psychic Life
of the Fetus and Primary Germ
, 1941, p. 306]

In 1986 I attended one of psychiatrist Graham Farrant's cellular consciousness workshops in Detroit. Although I wasn't able to regress to my life as a ovum or sperm, I did have a number of very early infantile primals.

One was about my aunt bathing me when I was an infant in a lavatory at home. Before she married, Aunt Tut, a school teacher, lived with our family. I don't remember what the primal feeling was about besides her bathing me, but when I next visited her, I asked why she was bathing me rather than my mother. She replied that my mother was scared that she might drop me, so sometimes she asked her sister to bathe me. Was it unconsciously done to protect me from her? What a horrible thought! I'm sorry Mom.

Looking for more information about this primal I checked my journal, but found no mention of it, although I remember in detail other primals which had connected during that session and even the part of the primal room where the primal feeling had occurred. But, I had blocked out this primal.

In The Mother, Anxiety, and Death: The Catastrophic Death Complex (1967), psychiatrist Joseph C. Rheingold noted

. . . (t)hat unconscious maternal attitude, apart from overt anxiety, may produce a "neurotic" neonatal state (and) is strongly suggested by the work of Ferreira, who set out to answer the question whether certain attitudes of the pregnant woman may be conveyed to the unborn child and be reflected in the behavior of the infant. A group of mothers was studied during the period of gestation by means of a questionnaire including a scale on "Fear of Harming the Baby." It was found that the mothers of deviant infants scored significantly higher on this scale than did the mothers of nondeviant infants.

Deviancy [ from the developmental norm? - author ] in the newborn correlates statistically only with negative maternal attitude; no relationship exists between the neonatal syndrome and race, age of the mother, parity, length of labor, type of anesthesia, type of delivery, type of feeding, and whether or not the pregnancy had been planned. As Ferreira points out, the conscious fear of harming the baby springs from unconscious hostility toward it. We have then a correlation between an unconscious reaction in the mother and a disturbance of fetal development. How an attitude alone is transmitted to the fetus and induces disjunctive effects is beyond our grasp at present, but the fact of the association of what is in the mother's mind and the fate of her child must be accepted empirically if further research bears it out. op cit, p. 70.

Rheingold contacted Dr. A. J. Ferreira and explains in a footnote on page 70: "(He) . . . informs me that no attempt has been made to replicate his findings, and, so far as I know, there is no report of a similar study in the literature. This apparent lack of interest in a phenomenon that bears importantly on the mother-child relationship and the origin of anxiety may possibly be interpreted as a manifestation of the general reluctance to acknowledge maternal destructiveness." Ferreira's work, The pregnant woman's emotional attitude and its reflection on the newborn , appeared in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 30:553, 1960.

In The Mother, Anxiety, and Death, Rhinegold devotes an entire chapter to Maternal Destructiveness. The author writes that world literature on the subject is "enormous." He defines maternal destructiveness as "any influence exerted by the mothering person that jeopardizes the life, health, or ego development of the child." (p. 151). The author writes that René Spitz believes that communication between the mother and child is possible from the day of birth and that it is significantly affected by the mother's 'psychotoxic attitude.' This transmission of information, he believes, does not require consciousness. It is transmitted in the manner in which it was received "a generation removed."

Other theoreticians have surmised that the infant "knows" the contents of its mother's mind. Indeed, in regressive therapies even as fetuses some have relived their mother's rejection. Rhinegold writes, "I have previously suggested that if we could make all mothers nurturant (or just eliminated the unconscious aggressive impulses) and observed the result after a generation or two, not much mental (and social) disorganization would remain. In this I was anticipated by St. Augustine; he said: "Give me other mothers, and I will give you another world."' Another telling quotation from the bishop of Hippo asks, "Who would not shudder if he were given the choice of eternal death or life again as a child? Who would not choose to die?"

I was interested in locating other references favoring Ferreira's hypothesis in therapies other than psychoanalysis. I found compelling ones. In clinical psychologist, Robert W. Godwin's One Cosmos under God: The Unification of Matter, Life, Mind and Spirit. The author, on page 112 quotes Allan Schore: "Strange as it may sound, immature babies interact with mothers in such a way as to use them as an auxiliary cortex for the purpose of 'downloading programs from her brain into the infant's brain."'

In an interview with Dr. Godwin, I asked if he thought Allan Schore was referring to the infant interpreting body language of the mother. He replied , "That's a good question. I'm sure he is referring to reading body language, but I personally would not be surprised if the mother/infant dyad constituted a nonlocal field in which information is conveyed instantaneously."

In his book, Godwin explains,

. . . (O)ur capacity to navigate around and enlarge our own mental space will very much depend upon whether or not we were cared for by parents who themselves had the ability to read and respond to our mental states, to emphatically enter our mental world by being able to understand their own. Our ineffable experience of "I" is actually not an independent discovery, located through some kind of applied introspection or intuition (as in "I think, therefore I am."). If anything, we probably first discover the "I" of the (m)other, by trying to read the minds and intentions of our early caretakers (who simultaneously treat us as a subjective center with an "I" of our own, before we even know we have one). Often--very often--the true self is never discovered at all and an authentic person does not come into being, only the hardwired reactions to a psychologically toxic childhood environment.

Dr. Godwin believes that neither the psychology of infancy nor of parenthood is understood by science. He quotes John Bowlby: "(W)hen a baby is born, it evokes feelings in the parents that are as profound as those of a young child for its mother or as the passions of new lovers." p. 117 He believes that these feelings are not all positive, but consist of primitive feelings from their parent's own babyhood, feelings they had ". . . first experienced in their own distant infantile past."

This interaction between the mother and her newborn infant could actually trigger regressive primal feelings in the parents, as I am sure it has in some. If the parent would use these feelings they could begin the work of resolving repressed traumas from their own infancy. But those buried feelings can also result in a deepening of a mother's pending post-partum depression. The more intimate the relationship between the parent and the baby, the higher the probability the parent will begin to chip away at its defenses erected during its own babyhood. Lowering one's defenses at least opens the possiblity of doing so. It allows the parent

. . . to become reacquainted with oneself as a baby, to reexperience the pain of being totally dependent and desperately in love and yet being shut out and feeling unwanted. People construct their defenses in order to prevent being reengulfed by such feelings. But when one becomes a parent, the buried, unresolved pain is shaken loose, the defensive wall is breached, and new defensive efforts are required, which in the case of the dismissing parent, means keeping the baby and its needs at some distance.
-- R. Karen, 2004, p. 374 in Becoming Attached: First Relationships, and How They Shape Our Capacity To Love, Quoted in Godwin, op. cit. p. 117.

David Winnicott believes that newborn's first mirror is from a reading of his mother's eyes and face. These infantile experiences, - the transitional space which will later be used for the later projection of personal images to God for the rest of his life. To paraphrase Charlotte Kasl: Indifferent mother, indifferent God.

Psychiatrist Ana-Marie Rizutto, in The Birth of the Living God, writes: "(T)he mirroring experience of the maternal face, which begins with eye contact, expands during the first month of life to encompass sequentially the mother's face, the total handling of the child, the mother's fantasies and wishes, her mythological elaboration of the child's identity, her overt or covert wishes, and her demands that the child in turn mirror her wishes. All this happens in the wider context of family romances and myths between parents, grandparents, other children, the religious and political background of the family -- in a word, with the entire familial mythologization of everyday life. . . .(T)o create a God that is not oneself, the child has to pass through the glass of the mirror to where the real mother dwells." [p. 186-7]

In this way the relationship of the mother with her own mother is perpetuated in her own children; she can only parent her child the way she was parented.

Another who wrote of the negative emotions of the mother affecting the fetus as well as the newborn was British psychiatrist and theologian, Frank Lake. Although in the beginning (1953), his work was with LSD to initiate regressive episodes in his patients, he later changed to using primal therapy. Dr. Lake's emphasis was on the first three months of fetal life. It was during this period, he believed, that the growing fetus experienced, more elation and downs, more bliss and more misery, than at any other stage of its development.

Lake was convinced that the fetus knew whether it was loved or detested, or treated with indifference, which knowledge is received by the fetus through its umbilical cord. The cord carried not only nutrients but also by way of "umbilical affect" there was a two-way street involving the feelings of the mother and fetus. The fetus knew if its mother was happy or not, whether she was abused or loved by her spouse. He believed that It is during the first trimester of pregnancy when the fetus' future emotional illness is established. He insisted that birth and early childhood traumas are only reinforcers of the trauma of the first trimester.

Lake wrote that all humans were either neurotic or psychotic and divided the neuroses into the Anxiety-Depressive; the Hysterical; the Schzoid; the Depressive and the Psychosomatic. His magnum opus was his 1966, 1200 page edition of Clinical Theology. Subtitled, A Theological and Psychiatric Basis to Clinical Pastoral Care, the book has a chapter of over 400 pages devoted entirely to a discussion of the schzoid condition - a category to which the author acknowledged belonging. Me too.

While I did not find any claims by Dr. Lake which specifically stressed that the source of the mother's psychotoxins were from her own development and infancy, this is strongly implied in all of his writings. His emphasis is placed on the present life situation of the pregnant mother and in her feelings about "her pregnancy and the reaction of the fetus within her to her response to life events. These events are along a continuum of possible responses ranging from absolute and joyous acceptance to horrendous and cataclysmic rejection." (Stephen M. Maret, Dissertation, Frank Lake's Maternal-Fetal Distress Syndrome, p. 67.)

It may be due to her marriage, to her husband's withdrawal rather than more intimate supporting when he is asked urgently for more than his personality can easily give. It may be due to the family's economic or social distress in a distressed neighborhood. . . . If she is grieving the loss of, or nursing a still dying parent, the sorrow overwhelms her and overwhelms her fetus. Quoted by Maret, op. cit., p. 69) from Frank Lake, Studies in Constricted Confusion", C41.

In any event, "the pain of the world, picked up by the family, is funnelled by the mother into the fetus." (Quoted in Maret, op. cit., p. 69 from Frank Lake. Theology and Personality. In this way the fetus typically becomes "marinated in his mother's miseries." (Quoted in Maret, op. cit., p. 70, from Lake, Tight Corners in Pastoral Counseling, p 141.

The family often pays an emotional and economic price for having another child, and even though the mother's feelings may be only temporary, for the fetus the feeling may be permanent. Even though she may have wish to avoid imprinting the baby with unwantedness, "evidence is strong that the mother's feelings about herself become, for the one in the womb, the whole basis of its own sense of being and worth." Frank Lake, Studies in Constricted Confusion: Exploration of a Pre- and Peri-Natal Paradigm, p. T-10.

This may, of course, undergo energetic repression. Even by the time of the middle trimester, when the mother's shock has settled down and her adaptation mechanisms and personal resources have begun to cope with the consequences of another pregnancy, the terrible distress of the first trimester has often been 'forgotten.' The growing baby, moving freely in a capacious sea of supporting fluids and loosely containing structures lives a day at a time and finds life here, not at all bad. Frank Lake, op.cit., page T-10.

". . . (W)e have had lots of already-born babies live with us, [editor's note - at a primal center in Ireland] and the most important thing of all is that the mother (or father) has sessions about how she wants to kill the child, because every mother who has herself been ill-fed (and that's all of us) wants at some time - and often - to kill her baby. If she doesn't get into it in the context of a session and face all her own emptiness, she'll be passing on the killing in other ways - through her 'cuddles' perhaps? - to cover it over." (Interview With Jenny James from The Primal Issue of Self and Society, Volume 5, Nr. 6, June, 1977.)

You Always Hurt The One You Love
Lyrics -Michael Buble

You always hurt the one you love
The one you shouldn't hurt at all
You always take the sweetest rose
And crush it till the petals fall
You always break the kindest heart
With a hasty word you can't recall
So If I broke your heart last night
It's because I love you most of all

In, Feeling People, Psychologist Paul J. Hannig, Ph.D. presents a detailed case study of a woman who traced her mother's rejection to before her birth. Part of one of her Total Feeling Process sessions follows:

Therapist: Just let that horrendous fright come over you. . . . the most horrifying fright you can think of . . . choking fear life stifling fear . . . Life threatening fear. . . .

Sarah: (crying) . . . She doesn't want me .

Therapist: Who doesn't want you, Sarah . . . Who doesn't want you, your mother?. . . And yet she told you she planned for you, she wanted you .

Sarah: She didn't know that she didn't want me . . . She thinks she wants me. . . .

Therapist: What is it doing to you?

Sarah: Ohh . . . . I'm floating . . . I'm floating . . . (crying) . . Like I would go away if I could, but I'm already floating! (crying) . . . I almost did what she always knew it, but I'm floating already! . . . .I' m floating already! I don't want to feel this (crying)

Therapist: Say it again, "I don't want to feel this."

Sarah: I don't want to feel this . . . . (moaning) . . No, No I feel I knew that she didn't want me to live; it's like she changed her mind. . .I almost did what she wanted. . . There's a part of me that wanted to die, just because she wanted me to. . .I was going to do it! . . . (crying) . . . I was going to do it!!! . .(crying) I'm not flowing with this . . it's too terrible.

Therapist: Say it, . . ." It's too terrible." How could you flow with dying? How could it be anything but terrible?

Sarah: I'm pulling back . . .

Therapist: Pull back and notice what you do with your breathing. That breathing is what is happening in that womb.

Sarah: NOT breathing!! . . . . You know what else? If I lay next to you, momma . . . . for every two or three breaths you take, I'll only take one . . . little ones . . . . little, little ones . . . . (crying)

Therapist: Hold your breath.

Sarah: I'm scared to take what I need . . . happy just to be alive . . . just to be . . . just to be alive.

Therapist: (Role Playing) . . . You're lucky to be alive, and I don't ever want you to forget it . . . You are lucky I let you live. Be thankful that I let you live. . . I really didn't want you; I changed my mind afterwards. I wasn't sure. I had a lot of doubts whether I wanted you or not.

Sarah: You know I was going to die. . . I was going to do it I was going to do it . . . I was going to go along with what you wanted. I was going to do it . . . I like floating I like floating. . . I like being a girl!!! . . . I like it (crying) . . . I won't be a bother to you. . . Oh, God, she changed her mind . . . She said how good I was . . . She always said, "You were so good when I brought you home from the hospital . . . I didn't even know I had a baby. You were so good."

Therapist: She didn't even know she had a baby.

Sarah: I did it myself.

Therapist: When you came in here today, you had been floating all afternoon long. You were in that blissful state of being inside mommy. . . very afraid of it changing into that horrible truth. That is why you are so afraid to lose that blissful state, why you are so afraid to lose that "feeling good." You don't want to slip into that agony, that terrible truth, that she wasn't sure she wanted you . . . she changed her mind. Imagine having your life in the hands of a woman who's bouncing back and forth, trying to make a decision as to whether she's going to have you or not. Imagine being in that kind of dependent situation. Totally dependent on her, whether she gives you life or death.

Sarah: I do that with my husband, Steve. Sometimes I give him total power over my life and happiness.

Therapist: Absolutely, there you've got it! You are really set up. You are set up to suffer. You were set up to struggle to get acceptance, to get love . . . remember all the times you said, "Steve, I only want you to want me" . . . You were saying the same thing to your mother, "I only want you to want me. . . all the way, only me. I want you to fully want me. Because I really want you. I need you!"

Sarah: I know how early she must have changed her mind the spine is the first thing, the first thing that develops and mine is all fucked up. But you know what? Later I got the message that she changed her mind. My spine is fucked up and I always did what she wanted. But I liked floating too much . . . I didn't want to stop floating. You know, nothing else is the matter with me. I'm fucking perfect! I always did what she wanted . . . . just didn't want to stop floating! . . . The only problem was I just got so big! That's why I'm so big. Both my parents are very little. I had to be big!!. . . had to be big and healthy. . . (crying) . . . I did it myself! . . . . I did it myself!!! . . . Don't change your mind! . . . (crying) . . . Please, Mom, don't change your mind. . . (Patient cries heavier and experiences a lot of body sensation . . . originating during gestation . . . also a great deal of pain in her lower back)
(Hannig, op. cit., p-147-149.)

Hannig also recounts the experience of a client, who in a therapy session, began a feeling of intense suffering because he experienced an early gestational environment of hate. This early immersion into maternally directed hatred towards him colored his perception of women and of life's environment. His intrauterine environment allowed him to clearly perceive the origins of his lifetime anxiety of being automatically rejected by all women. Dr. Hannig writes that the client's personality had been imprinted by an unconscious communication from his mother; one which caused him to continuously be triggered by "female rage, anger and hatred." He explained to a female therapist who had triggered in him needful feelings of love. He began crying:

"My mother hated me as soon as I was born. . . . As soon as I came out, I was despised and loathed . . . . I was a boy . . . a cardinal sin, a crime against humanity and my mother . . . the third son. My life has been full of attempts to get acceptance and love from females yet I always turn them into unfulfilling mothers."

"I was always looking for another female who will be the one to fulfill me, but I'm always disillusioned because she never comes. That one woman, that perfect female, the mother that I never had. Sandy (the therapist) is like that, which is why I'm so attracted to her. She's so warm and open and accepting; she could give me everything that none of the other females could. . . . Every woman is just like my mother . . . . never giving enough. All I want is a female who will take care of me . . . . My mother always resented taking care of me. . . . Hannig, op.cit., p. 151.

Psychohistorian Lloyd deMause, in The Emotional Life of Nations, writes that there is much evidence about how different types of maternal stress are echoed in the body and mind of the fetus. These include physical traumas, various types of drugs as well as positive and negative emotions. The author discusses the results of various studies which found that being unwanted at birth can cause a multiplicity of behavioral and health problems. Quoting the results of over a dozen research projects deMause concludes that,

Maternal emotional stress, hostility toward the fetus and fetal distress have also been statistically correlated in various studies with more premature, lower birth weights, more neonate neurotransmitter imbalances, more clinging infant patterns, more childhood psychopathology, more physical illness, higher rates of schizophrenia, lower IQ in early childhood, greater school failure, high delinquency, and greater propensity as an adult to use drugs, commit violent crimes, and commit suicide. p. 70.

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