Article: Life Before Birth: The Impact of Prenatal Experience – Milton Waldman (Is.8)

by Milton Waldman, M.A.

In this article, the author presents his views on the nature of life within the womb and its psychological impact upon the preborn infant. Two case studies are offered in illustration, one of them showing how the energies of a past-life death experience can affect an individual’s birth experience and subsequent emotional development.

The entrance into the prenatal period constitutes a remarkable transition. The soul moves from a nonphysical condition and infuses itself into a body, which then becomes a vehicle for the soul’s growth in the physical realm. The experiences that follow are generated by the life purpose of the reincarnating soul and extend the learning developed in other lives. The conditions encountered within the womb resonate with, and often evoke, the previously developed emotional constitution and karmic predisposition of that soul. Moreover, experiences in the womb are significant, if not critical, in shaping the individual’s primary emotional orientations, subconscious motivations, and attitudes about life.

The mother is the world in which the developing human being lives. The preborn infant is contained not only within the mother’s body but within her emotional sphere as well. Characteristically, he is extremely aware of, and vulnerable to, the emotional atmosphere of the mother. Indeed, its susceptibility to emotional, mental, and even physical influences is often more pronounced at this time than at any later period in life. Lacking an effective system of defense against the stressful influences that may surround it in utero, it often feels at the mercy of the environment.

The ability to repel stressful emotions requires a sense of self, an identity—often expressed as a subtle body presence in the solar plexus, heart, or mind. This quality is usually undeveloped in the fetal stage, and the inability to deflect or modify uncongenial emotions may have profound consequences upon the infant’s psychological and physical development.

The human being’s first significant life adaptation is made at this time, and it sets the direction that the person will take in life—the expectations and emotional tone of that individual. Under emotional stress, the infant in utero is often pressured into a “survival” adaptation that becomes embedded as a primary response to life.

The preborn responds to the environmental influences on a cellular, rather than on a mental level. The responsiveness to emotional currents coming from the mother is largely unqualified by mental discrimination. There is no standard for evaluation, no differentiation between desirable and undesirable or between good and bad. The infant, on the beginning steps of a life journey, has a very limited body of immediate experience from which to make choices. He responds kinesthetically to the emotions and energies received, as readily affected by what feels oppressive as by what feels nurturing.

The adjustments that are made in the transition into the physical dimension, and the experiences that take place within the womb and at birth, have a special relevance for therapists in their work with clients. The following two case studies are presented to illustrate some important psychological aspects of the prenatal infant and some significant effects of the prenatal experience upon personality development.

Case Study of Arnold

An overriding sense of darkness at the core, an encompassing anxiety and fear that escalated into panic, a sense of invalidation, a phobia of health problems and of death—these were Arnold’s presenting complaints when be began therapy with me.

I brought him into hypnotic trance and instructed him to go back to the origin of his fear, wherever that might be. Arnold immediately returned to his experiences in the womb. He reported that he had been in a free and harmonious dimension before reincarnating, but that now there was a shift, a pressing in.

Therapist:    What are you feeling?

Arnold:        Tension, crying, stress.

Therapist:    Who’s tense?

Arnold:        The surrounding. Whatever I’m in. The (amniotic) sac.

I asked Arnold if his mother had been happy to discover that she was pregnant. He told me that she had responded with “shock, fear, crying—it’s like a trauma.”

Arnold:        My mother feels a lot of guilt. Her mother got angry at her. She told her that she should be helping them (her parents) in their store, that it’s wrong for her to be pregnant, that she has no right to do this to them. Right now I’m experiencing her tenseness. I’m feeling physically what she’s going through. I’m feeling her stress and all her mind chatter, saying “I’m guilty. It’s wrong. No, it’s right.” I can feel her emotional roller coaster shunting back and forth.

At first all this was outside of me, it was happening to the sac I was in. But now it’s becoming part of me. I’m accepting it now as mine—as my feelings.

Arnold said that when he was new in the womb there was upheaval and tension, but that it felt outside and apart from him. During the second month, he reported, he began to absorb the emotional conditions, “as if that’s the way it is here.” And he wondered whether he had made a mistake by coming into this inhospitable environment. He was absorbing his mother’s feelings of insecurity, indecision, and emotional overload.

Arnold:        Those feelings she has are me. That’s who I am. I’ve gone from OK to doubting and questioning. The feelings that were there before I came into a body—of being connected, of warmth—all those feelings have been forced out of me. What’s taking their place is darkness and emptiness.

In the third month, Arnold said that his mother had morning sickness, and that he was “feeling like she does.”

In the fifth month, he reported, “Everything feels dark and empty. There’s no light or joy or anything. I’m just alone, feeling isolated.” And in response to my question, “Is it getting to be too much for you,” he replied, “It’s just always there. I don’t know what to fight. It’s like its part of me. It is me. The darkness is continuing to grow.”

In the seventh month, Arnold remarked that a change had come about.

Arnold:        She’s decided she’s having the baby regardless of what anyone else thinks. She’s finally gotten OK with it, which doesn’t do me a whole lot of good.

Therapist:    Why don’t you get OK also?

Arnold:        Because I’m stuck out here in black nothingness. I’ve already given up. I can tell that she’s becoming happy and light. But that doesn’t penetrate to me. I can see her change, but I can’t get it. I’ve been left alone with my hurt. There’s light out there, but I’m trapped in darkness. I’m still feeling guilt and doubt and aloneness.

Arnold had come to a point of no return. He had reached the limits of his emotional absorption. He had given up and could accommodate no additional input. The emotions he had previously experienced were now crystallized within him. His mother greeted Arnold’s birth with love, but it was too late for him to feel welcome.

Arnold did not have the psychological sophistication to separate from his mother’s stressful emotions. His connection with her was broken, but he had already incorporated her uncertainty, confusion, and fear. He was living out emotions that were, strictly speaking, not his own.

His psychological response to the difficult conditions in the womb and during birth was to withdraw into an inner isolation and meet the requirements of life with extreme effort. He now struggled alone to survive in a world he perceived as dangerous. He became a child who took responsibility for making his own way in life, without any sense of support.

His survival response to the prenatal and birth experiences became established as a generalized reaction to life situations. Although he was outwardly a sociable enough person, inwardly he was a loner with a desperate need to survive and succeed in a threatening world. He related to others, but did not connect with them or empathize with their experience.

The origin of Arnold’s presenting symptoms could now be more readily understood. His mother’s emotions and mental patterning during the pregnancy had filtered into his psyche. They became the foundation of his personality. He absorbed them and assumed them as his own; as he grew and developed he elaborated on them.

The darkness at the core, the feeling of being unwanted and invalid, the panic, the anxiety, the fear, these had been his complex of primal experiences in the womb. These unreleased emotional energies were still alive within him, deeply affecting his feelings and behaviors.

In a review of his regression, Arnold provided insights into the prenatal genesis of specific symptoms. He recognized that his mother had felt an extreme fright and nervousness upon discovering that she was pregnant, and he described her condition vividly.

Arnold:        It’s like her blood was draining from her head and the fear was just running up and down her body, She didn’t know what to do. She had the feeling in the pit of her stomach that she’d done something wrong, that she would now have to face her mother. She dreaded doing that.

Arnold absorbed his mother’s emotions. He stated, “I was living in her fear. I grew up in fear.” He said that fear had followed him into adulthood; that he would sometimes panic without knowing the reason. He had an irrational fear of illness. His fear of not succeeding caused him to make extreme efforts to excel in schoolwork and sports.

We investigated the experiences of invalidation and the inner darkness and emptiness that Arnold found so distressing. He was now able to understand the prenatal origin of those feelings.

Arnold:        From her standpoint, my mother was thinking, “I’m pregnant, but I don’t want to be pregnant. I don’t want to face my mother over this.” I took it personally, like she was saying to me, “I don’t want you. It’s like her rejection of me was blaring over the loud speaker.”

At that moment I had nothing—no connection. It was completely cut off. There was just a total sinking into darkness. That started the feeling of being alone, and it just grew from there. At my core was a terrible blackness that nothing could change.

I felt so dark, empty, and unwanted during the prenatal period. That experience produced the central feeling of emptiness that I experience now.

Certainly Arnold’s mother had not directed her attention and energy toward the infant in her womb during much of the pregnancy. And in a way characteristic of prenatal infants, Arnold took her emotions very personally, without discrimination. Darkness and a feeling of invalidation enveloped him in response to her inattention and emotional distress. He commented, “That seemed to be the key, the decision of my life, my decision that my mother didn’t want me. That has been the guiding feeling of my life.”

In our work together, Arnold was able to release the debilitating feelings associated with his prenatal journey. In one process, Arnold the adult developed a relationship with the preborn infant within him, giving him nurturing, support, and a sense of protection. The infant came to understand that his mother’s fear was not a rejection of him, and to recognize her love and deep concern for all the members of her family.

In another process, Arnold experienced his own soul identity as he had known it in the dimension prior to reincarnating. He brought the light of his soul and the harmony of the prior dimension into the womb to create a benign environment in which he could relive his prenatal journey. (It is not unusual for preborns upon entering the womb to describe it as suffused with light).

By connecting on a body level with the underlying love his mother felt for him, and then rescripting his experience in alignment with those feelings, Arnold changed his core of darkness to a core of light. He experienced what the interaction would have been if both mother and preborn had possessed the ability at that time to express their deepest feelings. He reviewed his life as both child and adult and re-experienced the critical events as a person who understood his mother’s bond of love with him. The love that had joined them as mother and child was now manifest.

As Arnold integrated the positive feelings toward both his mother and his experience in the womb, his symptoms atrophied and he acquired, through the use of actualizing visualizations, a more grounded feeling, and a sense of expectation about the opportunities life had to offer.

Months after our work together he told me that what had made the greatest difference to him was the realization that his mother loved him and that life could be seen as safe. The outer manifestations of his inner change were a shift in career from teaching physically competent youngsters to working with handicapped children, and a deeper, more expressive relationship with his own children and his wife.

When Arnold re-experienced his birth during the regression, he became greatly distressed. At the point of leaving the birth canal he indicated that he couldn’t get any air; that he was suffocating. Yet he did not struggle or flail his arms, but remained strangely passive.

Arnold:        As I came out, there was light but no breath. I tried to breathe with all my might, but there was nothing coming in. I had the thought that I was going to die. I tried to suck in air, and I’m panicking. I’m feeling trapped—suffocating.

Arnold had been unable to breathe at birth because of mucous in his nose and throat. The attending doctor suctioned off the mucous immediately. But the shock of the birth experience and the inability to breathe, apparently affected Arnold’s infancy. He suffered from a severe case of asthma for several years and required frequent medical attention. (This accords with Dr. David Cheek’s research indicating that asthma sometimes results from near-suffocation at birth). During his adolescence he had a minor case of emphysema. As an adult, even mild physical discomfort evoked panic, helplessness, and an exaggerated fear of serious illness and death. In his fright he went to doctors often, but they found no medical problem.

Arnold’s fear of death as he was being born, and his asthma in infancy, both matched the extremity of his prenatal experience, during which he had felt intense emotions of helplessness, distress, and panic. But beyond that, the birth trauma was consistent with the energies of an emotional death that he experienced in a past-life regression. His presenting symptoms could be explained by both regressions.

We investigated a past life in the Middle Ages that seemed relevant to the birth experience. In this regression Arnold saw himself as a squire eager to advance to knighthood. His aspiration was thwarted when he died in a barn fire at the age of 16, the most promising apprentice of a renowned knight.

Arnold:        The wall crashed down on me. There was nothing I could do. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t breathe. It was so overwhelming. I was covered with this tremendous weight. I wasn’t able to breathe and I was totally helpless. I was crushed along the back and neck and chest. You can’t fight against that.

Arnold sensed that the emotional charge of his death had carried over and influenced his birth. In both, he had been unable to breathe, incapable of struggling and in fear of death. His helplessness under the pressure of the uterine contractions matched his inability to struggle under the burning wall that crushed him to death. Despite his panic, he had been passive on both occasions.

Also resonant with his past-life experience was his presenting symptom of anxiety.

Arnold:        I felt some relief when I left the squire’s body, but what affected me most was the feeling that I hadn’t fulfilled what I wanted to do. That carries over to this life. I worry about dying before reaching whatever goal it is that I want to reach.

All during his present life, Arnold’s feelings of anxiety and urgency had caused him to make extreme efforts, whether at work, in sports or at home, to be an overachiever.

Case Study of Diana

Diana’s poor sense of self-esteem was created not by particular life interactions, but as a direct consequence of the absorptive quality of her psyche in the womb, where she was attuned to her mother’s core feeling.

Diana:         My mother has real doubts about life, wondering if it’s worth being alive, and a tremendous lack of self-worth. And yet she strongly wants to have this baby. She sends love to me, but she can’t love herself. I pick up on it. I don’t differentiate between the love that’s being sent and the self-hatred. The messages are intertwined. It’s really hard to separate them.

Therapist:    You find it difficult to separate those messages?

Diana:        Yeah. I’m taking it all in. That message—it’s direct. “I don’t like myself.” The tension, all the negativity, its all being absorbed by me, as me, directly. My mom is saying, “I am not OK” to herself. Because I’m inside her, I pick this up. She is me, and I am her, and I am not OK. I have no barrier. It’s my message. It’s me. I am not OK.

I’m just absorbing everything from my mother on the physical level and on the emotional level. Her self-hatred is just one more thing I’m absorbing. I don’t even know it’s bad. I have no ability to perceive if it’s good or bad. It’s just one more thing I’m picking up as I go along.

Therapist:    How does that affect you?

Diana:         It permeated everything! I have throughout my life lived by this deep feeling of not being OK. It’s base-level—the knowledge is almost irrefutable. It’s from my earliest consciousness I am not OK.

After the regression, Diana recognized the significance of her prenatal experience. “Her message,” she said, “created in me an inability to fully accept love from others, because I’m not feeling acceptable. It made it hard for me to trust or to love myself.” The cells of her body had retained the emotional energy—the cellular memory—of her early experiences, and she had replayed and expanded those emotions in later circumstances.

Diana’s adaptation differed from Arnold’s. He moved into isolation, whereas she moved into connectedness. She felt responsible for her mother’s emotional burden—a rather common response in prenatal infants. Her preverbal decision was to take responsibility for her parents. After birth she constantly strove to make her mother’s life happier. It was she who mediated the conflicts between her parents. She took on their social values and goals and developed a high degree of empathy in her personality.

The regression touched a fundamental level that allowed Diana to change. She went through the process of releasing responsibility for her mother’s life. She let go of the prenatal bond that had enforced her self-abnegation. She gave recognition to herself as the quite admirable person that she is.

Summary of the Prenatal Experience

I would like to offer some generalizations about the nature of the prenatal infant that I have drawn from my hypnotic regression work with clients. These generalizations are not intended to describe the experiences of all infants. Some prenatal infants are more expressive in their personality than the norm; they manifest a highly developed individuality or are able to draw upon spiritual sources not available to most preborns.

  1. The prenatal infant experiences life through a receptive or reactive mode, rather than by initiating action through mental determination and effort of will.
  1. The prenatal infant tends to absorb empathically the maternal—or, occasionally, the paternal—emotions without much ability to discriminate or evaluate them, or to separate from them.
  1. The parents emotions are identified by the prenatal infant as his own, just as their identity is taken as his own.
  1. The prenatal infant is not able to distance himself to escape the parents’ emotions. In the confines of the womb, his sense of space is based on what can be touched.
  1. There is no anticipation that the emotions will change, end, or be replaced. The emphasis is on the experiences of the moment. There is no pronounced sense of time sequence.
  1. There is no control over the emotions that are being felt. There is no psychological process for deflecting, containing, or modifying the negative emotions being received. They are “larger” than the infant, encompassing him, rendering him vulnerable.
  1. The prenatal infant cannot readily release assumed emotions.
  1. The preborn’s adaptation to prenatal conditions is based upon the emotions, attitudes, and self-esteem developed in the womb experience. The prenatal experience propels life in a particular direction.


The two significant factors that define the prenatal experience are the nature of the preborn infant’s psyche and the environment of the preborn. The infant is contained physically and psychically within the confines of the mother.

The preborn does not ordinarily have an identity structure that objectively distinguishes external influences, especially maternal emotions; the preborn assumes these influences are his own. Infants are profoundly affected by their experience in utero, and often establish a fundamental life adaptation at this time. Prenatal therapy with adults makes explicit the core of the preverbal, deeply affecting emotional energies and allows the limiting adaptations that were made to be restructured.


Useful information for this article