Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles If you were asked, what happened to you before you took your very first breath, would you know? Did you know that learning about the time from just before you were conceived until after you were born, could improve the quality of your life? What do you know about your earliest experiences? Were you very wanted and planned? An unwelcome surprise? Or did you come into being during an act of violence? Imagine for a moment what it must feel like for a baby to spend 9 months in the womb of a mother who hated the man who raped her? Luckily, the vast majority of us were not conceived this way. But even if our conception was welcome, all of us were marinated in amniotic fluid filled with the flavors of our mother's emotional life and state of mind. What do you know about your time in the womb? Was it filled with happiness, peace, joy, stress, anxiety, depression? Was your mother mourning the loss of a loved one? Was she the victim of domestic violence? Was it toxic perhaps? Because the umbilical cord not only fed you nutrients, but also nicotine, alcohol or drugs. Whatever those flavors are, they become the blueprints of our lives. It is not only what a pregnant woman eats and drinks, but everything she feels and experiences in her environment that has an impact on her baby's future health, intelligence and well-being. How a woman perceives her life during those 9 months is what helps shape babies to get ready for the environment they will be born into. This is nature's way of ensuring our survival, by helping us get ready for what is yet to come. Once we are born, our lives often become a repetition of those early experiences. This is why we so often attract in life to what we have come to know so well in the womb. More than 30 years of research in the field of pre and perinatal psychology, has revealed a profound impact and effect conception, pregnancy and birth have on our lives. Most people go about their lives without realizing how these early verbal, emotional and somatic imprints play a role. The latest research in epigenetic science suggests that they most critical and formative period goes back even earlier than birth. Findings point to the time shortly before conception to after birth as the most critical and sensitive period in establishing patterns in all areas of our lives: physical, mental, emotional and relational. The fact that these findings have only been made in the last few decades, explains why it is not mainstream knowledge yet, that the journey from womb to world shapes our lives. And, remember, it wasn't even that long ago we were told newborn babies felt no pain, let alone remember what happened around the time of their birth. Many years of photographing and working with babies during and after childbirth, have shown me that this is profoundly untrue. Many, many years ago I met a little boy who would have a profound effect on my life. I remember how deeply moved I was when little Sultan, born two and a half months early stopped me from what I was doing when he reached out with his tiny hand to hold on to my finger. Abandoned by his parents, I realized that the only way that he'd receive touch was during the many medical procedures we have to perform on him to keep him alive. After that, I would pause in between doing all the unpleasant things to gently stroke his little hairy arms and back. During those moments I often wondered, if Sultan is this aware when he should have been inside his mother for at least another 2 months, could it be that babies inside the womb are just as aware of what goes on around them? After becoming a member of the Association for Pre and Perinatal Psychology, I discovered that everything I had begun to wonder was true. Everything that happens to us around the time of our birth causes long term patterns, and these patterns often remain into adulthood. Adults that were born prematurely and spent several weeks in incubators, often continue to feel deeply isolated from the outside world, as if the plastic walls that once surrounded them had never really been removed. They are also very sensitive to bright lights, sounds and touch. Most of the time a nurse or doctor touches them it is to do something painful, unpleasant or scary. And not only do they hear their own alarms go off when their heart or respiration rate drops, but also every time another baby requires immediate urgent care. When you come to think of it, it is not that strange that these patterns remain with them throughout adulthood. What I found really interesting is when I talk to people about how the way we come into the world affects us, most people say, "It makes so much sense!" or, that they wished they would have known, because then they would have done things differently. During my life, I discovered that nothing ever goes away, until it teaches us what it is we need to know. It felt like the garments in my mother's closet had become the wardrobe of my life. When I understood that her outfits didn't belong to me, I could begin to take them off, and finally start to dress myself in my own unique fashion. A few years ago, I showed the lead singer of a popular rock band, who suffered from voice issues, this photo of an intubated baby. I wanted to help him understand that when he was born, and they needed to put a tube down his throat to help him breathe, it had also prevented him from making any sounds, even when he was crying. He had tears in his eyes when he looked at me and said, "I finally understand why had it been so difficult for me to find my voice and to express myself, unless I scream into a microphone on stage." I also found it heartbreaking when I learned that the tragic characteristics that Saddam Hussein and Hitler shared with almost 75% of death row inmates here in the United States, are an unwanted conception and an extremely difficult pre-natal period and early start in life. The majority of them also suffered multiple abandonments, mostly by their fathers. It made me wonder, how might their lives have been different if they would've been welcomed into the world with acceptance, love and kindness when they were little baby boys. Regardless of what happened to us at the beginning of our lives, there is an expiration date to blaming our parents. Realizing on a personal level how these early experiences have affected us, can help us change our belief system and greatly improve the quality of our life and that of others. Although babies are very vulnerable when it comes to being imprinted, they are also incredibly equipped to physically and mentally cope and survive. However, there's a big difference between surviving or thriving in life. Since it is so much easier to build a healthy child than to repair a broken adult, shouldn't the information we know now about how to give babies an optimal start in life not become more mainstream also? I have noticed that our awareness around this has began to shift, because I'm getting more and more calls from people seeking help dealing with their early imprints, and from couples who want to learn how to consciously prepare, so that their future babies are not born with an inheritance of their parents' unresolved issues, fears and trauma. Conception, the time we spend in the womb, and they way we are born is truly meant to be the gift of a lifetime for every child. If we want to make this world a more conscious, connected and caring place for us all, we have to start with how we treat women during pregnancy. We also have to create the necessary changes in our current childbirth practices, that will allow for more gentle birth to take place. This is important. Why? Because around 135 million women give birth each year, that is 5 to 6 babies that will be born every second of every day. How these babies are welcomed creates their sense of safety, self-worth and belonging, and their capacity to have healthy relationships that are based on love, empathy and trust.