A young child, who knows enough words to communicate, can describe their prenatal memories and their birth from their own unique perspective, not as an observer. Most of my nine children were able to verbalize their womb and birth experiences if my husband and I posed questions before they were three and a half or four years old because most children can no longer remember after that age.
Although my claims about prenatal memories might strike many modern readers as fanciful stories exaggerated by a proud mother, the truth is even the ancient Hebrews understood that prenatal infants were capable of interacting, not only with people but with God Himself. Jeremiah 1:5 tells us, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,/ before you were born I dedicated you.” The preverbal, prenatal Jeremiah sensed the voice of God and was capable of receiving a call and appointment to be a prophet. Psalm 139 also describes a relationship between the Holy Spirit and an unborn baby. “You formed my inmost being;/ you knit me in my mother’s womb.”
The day my second child turned two, her godmother dropped by to celebrate her birthday. Since Jean was very articulate for her age, her godmother wanted to try an experiment she had about read in a hospital newsletter. The article stated that if you asked a young child when they knew enough words to communicate but before they were too old, they could tell you about their life in the womb. So we decided to test this premise.
Jean was tiny but smart, so she startled people with her clear diction and a large vocabulary. This particular day she was standing on a chair behind the kitchen table, playing with a new doll. During the conversation, she answered mainly with one-word sentences because most of her attention was on her toy.
I felt a bit foolish as I asked my daughter, “Jean, do you remember when you were in mummy’s tummy?”
She answered, “Yaa."
So then I wondered if she remembered any details. “What was it like?”
Again Jean could only spare a one-word answer: “Warm.”
“What else was it like?” I questioned.
To which she answered quite succinctly, “Dark.”
“What could you see?” I probed.
Jean was frustrated by my dumb question. “Nothin’; it was dark!”
So I scrambled, “What did you do in my tummy?”
Jean said nonchalantly, “Dwimming.”
I checked to make sure I understood her. “Swimming?”
“Did you like living in my tummy?” I wondered.
She nodded again.
Then I thought of a really good question. “Do you remember coming out, being born?”
Jean scrunched up her nose and sighed, “Yaa.”
“What was it like?”
My toddler stopped playing, looked up and said in disgust, “Like a B.M. [bowel movement]!”
That answer shocked me into silence. I looked over at my sister-in-law.
She raised her eyebrows and said one word. “Wow.”
The Teaching of the Church
The Catechism of Catholic Church has always proclaimed the value of the unborn:
Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being. …
From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person — among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life. (CCC 2258, 2270; emphasis added)
An unborn child hears and reacts emotionally not only to his mother but also to the people and activity around him.
Prenatal babies have personalities before they are born. As any mother can tell you some babies move around energetically both in and out of the womb, while other infants are physically passive. Some infants are night owls both in and out of the womb and others actually sleep well at night.
An unborn child hears what is happening and remembers what he has heard while he was still in the womb. These memories are conscious for the first couple of years of a young child’s life but later they lay deep within their subconscious. For example, some musicians, when first introduced to a piece of music, already know how to play it without even rehearsing. Later they discover that their mother had practised that very same piece of music while she was pregnant with him.
Understanding the implications of these tidbits of trivia, I convinced my son to try this experiment with his pregnant wife a couple of months before the birth of their first child. Actually, this is something I did during all my pregnancies. Often my kids laugh and dismiss some of my beliefs but this time Daniel took my suggestion and put it into action.
Daniel gently placed his hand on one side of his wife, Erin’s, stomach and then talked loud to his unborn child, welcoming her into their family. He told unborn Mary that both of her parents loved her already and that they would protect her and supply all her needs, physically, emotionally and spiritually. He concentrated on pouring love into his unborn baby’s spirit. As Daniel loved his baby by talking and placing his hand on Erin’s right side, unborn Mary kicked and pushed on that side of the womb! When Daniel placed his hand on the other side of Erin’s stomach and repeated the “prayers”, their unborn daughter placed a few good kicks on that side instead.
Obviously, pre-natal Mary heard everything and she was happy and excited by what she heard.
As a result of Mary’s parents consciously soaking her with nurturing love while she was still in the womb, she is a peaceful, content baby who is a joy and a delight to everyone she meets. None of their friends can quite understand how Mary can be such a good baby. Basically, the answer to their question is that my son and his wife connected with Mary’s heart, mind and spirit before she was born. After birth, they knew how to respond to Mary’s nonverbal communication. Daniel and Erin were, in fact, Baby Whisperers
It was amazing to watch another granddaughter when she was just six-hour-old. She also turned towards her mum and dad’s voices in recognition but ignored the loud voices of the nurses and visitors surrounding her. My granddaughter’s reaction to her parents meant she remembered their voices from her time in the womb; she was aware and receptive while still in the womb.
This brings to mind the reaction of John the Baptist, leaping with joy in the womb of his mother, Elizabeth, as she greeted a pregnant Mary. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. And she cried out with a loud voice and said, ”Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:41-42)
It was an unborn baby who was the first to recognize and respond to Christ. Elizabeth blessed Jesus while He was still in Mary’s womb. This is why modern parents should feel comfortable blessing unborn children with the Mercy of God. Perhaps those expectant mothers of old were more spiritually aware than modern women because they often choose to stay in quiet, peaceful seclusion praying Psalms and soaking their unborn children with the Spirit of God while they waited for labour to begin.
The scientific community is beginning to research the phenomenon of preverbal memories. For example, see the study, Evidence of Learning and Memory in Fetuses Six Weeks Prior to Birth. The implications of similar scientific research for the pro-life movement is obvious; scientists are discovering that an unborn baby is not a blob of cells but an intelligent, perceptive human being capable of interacting not only with the Spirit of God but with those around them and remembering theses interactions, It becomes much more difficult to justify ending the life of a verified person. Perhaps science is beginning to catch up with the wisdom of the early Church.