An interview with the writer, director and producer of the award winning documentary, What Babies Want, featuring Noah Wyle from the successful TV show ER as narrator. The film makes a social statement about the importance of early development in children and its effect on both individual well being and that of society at large.
Debby began her career in the 1970s as a massage therapist and chiropractor. After experiencing spontaneous healing from a threatening pre-cancerous condition, she found herself drawn to working with mothers and infants and studied with internationally known pioneer, teacher, consultant and practitioner in the field of early trauma resolution, Ray Castellino. She eventually opened her own clinic in California, Beginnings Inc. – ; A Resource Center for Children and Families. Her clinic offers counselling for families with infants and young children, (under three years old) who feel they are struggling with bonding and attachment, or relationship development.
In 2001 she set out on a project to make a short educational video to help families understand the issues involved with infant relationship development. Four years later she has produced and directed, not a short educational video, but rather a film of great power and consequence. Debby says, “I started out on an innocent little walk and ended up in a spellbinding flight into the human psyche.” (www.whatbabieswant.com)
So Debby how did you journey from chiropractic practice to film making?
“What happened was I started seeing more and more families, especially small children in my chiropractic practice. People started coming to me with crying problems and breastfeeding problems and it just sort of came to my doorstep. I had always been interested in children and I had always felt like what happened at the beginning of life was profound in the way that we set up our belief systems. I started seeing it first hand how the family was relating and what the traumas or the challenges were that were interfering in the development of the relationship.”
I would love to talk about Dr David Chamberlains description of the twins in utero, playing in the curtains like they had been observed doing through the membranes in their mothers uterus. ;I dont, myself, have any clear birth memories, not that I have explored it so deeply. My children have never expressed any particular birth memories to me, despite my asking about it. But I have encountered a lot of other peoples birth memories and I just wanted to share that his description of the twins playing in the curtains left me craving more. Were there more stories like the twins story?
“Oh, there are thousands of stories that we have from the therapy that weve done with children remembering. What happens with babies right from the very beginning is that they are just as interested in talking about and being heard by other people about their birth as the mother is! ; And you know how many times the mother wants to tell her birth story!”
“But the interesting thing is that babies will actually show us their birth story by their movement patterns. And especially if we start listening to them they will show us more and more. If we just keep attending to even a very young baby and reflecting what we see in their movements they will show us the movement patterns and make the sounds that the mother was making during the birth. Its always amazing when that happens! ; I dont know why I continue to be amazed. It happens very commonly. Even I, who have worked all these years with babies, am still surprised when an infant will actually tell me something!”
“A lot of the memories that babies show us are physical memories. In the film, What Babies Want we show a toddler about 16 months old who is burrowing through his fathers arms and then he pulls back out. That baby was born by cesarean section. So hes going part way through the birth canal by pushing through his fathers arms and then he pulls back out. Usually if a baby is not born by cesarean section he will push all the way through.”
Debby described the nature of the therapy and how the child in the film eventually resolved his birth pattern through spontaneous repetition of a series of meaningful motions, burrowing, somersaulting, startling and crying.
“It took him about sixteen tries before he could go all the way around and come up. He did it on his own and I never said, OK, lets do it again! or anything like that. And then I would back my intention away and wait and see what he wanted to do next. And what he wanted to do next was the same thing again, over and over until he had accomplished his goal to go all the way around and come up the other side and crawl up into his mothers lap himself.”
What do you think is the future impact of the cesarean epidemic?
“Well, the first thing that I want to say about cesarean section or any birth that has physical or other kinds of challenges is that, with a mother and father who are present and loving with the child, any of those birth experiences can be healed or utilised to the best. Every challenge has a good side, you know. Every hurt has a benefit. So if you can acknowledge what happened and acknowledge the impact that it has on a person then they can utilise parts of it (in their development).”
So do you mean like emotional growth?
“Emotional growth! ; One of the greatest things about being injured and then healed is that you know healing is possible. The other thing that is great about it is that you know that you can come to another person and find resolution. I mean theres all kinds of things you learn from having a healing experience: ; That other people care for you – that can be a big lesson for somebody whos been hurt: ; That its worthwhile to make contact: ; That its worth it to ask for help. All those lessons are inherent in healing a trauma or overcoming a challenge. Some people dont like to acknowledge that cesarean section has inherent trauma – it does in my opinion. The childs personal journey of birth is interrupted and a great number of proprioceptive functions are delayed because of the loss of compression in the birth canal during birth. So there are a lot of physiological losses there. Theres also the psychological loss in that most cesarean-born babies are not allowed to connect immediately with their mother. That probably is the biggest impact of cesarean section.” ;
“Dr Marsden Wagner believes that the biggest mistake that Western medicine has ever made is the separation of mother and baby at birth and I completely concur with him. I think that it has an enormous impact on who we are and what we do and how we feel in the world when we are separated from our mother at birth. I cant emphasize that enough. It just really mucks up the works.”
Is the impact greater for the infant or for the mother, do you think?
“Its equal. Its a relational impact. You might go, Oh, its just the relationship! but what happens is the brain is a relational organ and every way that the brain develops is in relationship. If we take out relationship, in the extreme cases we see what happens in these terrible orphanages where the babies arent touched or picked up or held. They die, a lot of them. And if they dont die, theyre horribly damaged for life. Its a very difficult healing path for a baby that hasnt been touched.”
“So we see the end result. Of course, two hours, or two days, or two weeks even, of separation is not going to have the same impact as two years of no contact. But there are challenges that happen (even in short periods of separation). For example theres Jean Leidloffs work which is the idea that the baby has an expectation for certain things that are ingrained in the fabric of our existence. Like the eyes have an expectation to see light – I think the most profound thing that she said to me was that its obvious that the eyes have an expectation to see light and they require light in order to develop and grow. You cant have vision without light.”
Right, so were required to have … what was Joe Clifton Pearces quote in your film?
“Eye contact, body molding and sweet sounds – right! ; So all of our systems at birth are at the peak of their potential for being activated. So everything in our systems that has a sensory or an emotional or an interactive potential is, at the moment of birth, ready to go on line and expecting to be stimulated.”
“And the hormones and the body chemistry, the whole thing, is carefully orchestrated by nature to be completely THERE and ready at the moment of birth. The same goes for the mother. And if the father is present for the labor, the same goes for the father. Its far harder for him to get biochemically ready to receive his child if he isnt there at the birth.”
Oh, I totally know what you mean and in your film I very much related to Noah Wyles description of his visceral experience at his sons birth and my husband related to that too!
“For me that is one of the best parts of the film. I just absolutely adore that story because he had a hormonal, biochemical, mediated bonding experience with his child. And it goes all the way deep into his unconscious and he knew that when it happened!”
“So on the mother and fathers side of it, theyve gone through what basically boils down to a vision quest. They have been pushed beyond their endurance. Historically, mankind has always placed themselves in a situation where they can be pushed beyond their endurance so that they can have an opening into the deepest part of their being and what happens is that they have a re-patterning of those deep, early programs to be more healthy and strong and more connected with the reality of their present life.”
“So what happens with any birth where theres a separation (like in surgical birth), because its extremely rare that they allow the mother and baby to stay together, is that the mother and the father, if present, and the infant all have a huge let down; ; a complete sense of what happened?; ; a sense of death or deep loss. And so even if its not conscious, its in their unconscious, and when they come together its in their relationship. So they have a harder time connecting. Many, many times mothers have come to me saying, I just dont feel like I can connect in that deep way that the books say that we do, I just cant get there. ; And invariably when a mother has that complaint its because she was separated from her baby at birth. Where she stayed in contact theres almost no incidence of those mothers having post partum depression.”
“So theres a huge thing that happens with separation. Its not just, Oh theres an alert one hour where its a nice time for mother and baby to get together. ; For me this is a critical time because it actually sets them up to enter into a new part of their brain that they havent been in, either one of them, since the mother and father were born. It gives them a chance to access that part of their brain and to make connections with each other from that deep, unconscious part of their being. Its a deep, unconscious, animal, primal place where they connect at birth. Its not easy to recreate that later on.”
Yes, I think I understand. My mother-in-law was separated from my husband for 10 days after his birth. She suffered from post partum depression and it was always a mystery to her as to why that happened. Weve had many conversations about it. I still dont know whether she really understands or believes my reasoning as to why she experienced it that way. I guess theres more there to explore for my own family. It triggers a lot of emotions and thats the thing about your film: ; Viewers will experience a lot of their own personal stories and be driven to explore that further. Thats the enormous, ecological benefit of what youve brought into the world, Debby, so thank you.
“Oh thank you so much. One of the most critical things that accompanies that moment of birth is also the support of the birthing community, of whoever is in the room, whoever is in the surround. For some reason some doctors think that those first few moments after the baby is born are the best time to stitch up the mother! ; Its absolutely nuts because it completely blows the mothers biochemical response!”
My personal interest in your film is, how can we use it to promote the idea that babies need to be humanised and how can we get the policy makers to sit up and take notice? ; Have you used your film to such ends?
“Absolutely. I do everything that I can to get it into the public sector in terms of caregivers. So for example just recently we were adopted by the Infant Mental Health program for the entire state of Texas. Now in Texas all the Infant Mental Health workers that are employed in the state will be watching and showing the video.”
“The truth is that most people in politics who are dedicated to the wellbeing of children really like this work. They understand what the problems are. As long as a government organisation or a professional organisation are not motivated by making money through medicalising birth, they want what babies want.”
Before I let you go Debby, could you tell us about the next project that youre working on?
“Yes! ; Tracy Wyle (partner of Noah Wyle) is really the power behind this. Were going to do a film about whats next after babies, What Toddlers Want. ; What does the age one to age five year old set want; what are they after? ; So well be doing that and its a very exciting film. Ive got some wonderful people talking about it and a very interesting perspective of how the role of the community really starts to come into play once your baby is born. Not that it wasnt there before, but its critical to be able to work with a toddler and make it really fun instead of a struggle, you know?”
I couldnt agree more. I look forward to interviewing you for that one too!
Interviewed by Jodie Miller