APPPAH World Congress 2015

            The Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health (APPPAH) is a hotbed for childbirth professionals, therapists, researchers, and anyone who is actively working to bring awareness of the conscious prenate and baby into the modern medical paradigm. Since nearly its inception, Calm Birth has been supported by APPPAH’s constituents, and for good reason: this method offers a simple and intuitive way to support parent-infant bonding well before birth! The bi-annual APPPAH congress always provides a vibrant touchstone to strengthen existing connections and spark new friendships.

            I (Anna Humphreys, co-director, hello!) attended the world congress two years back, as relatively green doula and Calm Birth administrative assistant, as well as a new member of APPPAH. I’d been lucky enough to spark a friendship with Sandra Bardsley, APPPAH’s president, and was attending primarily as her assistant, while still representing Calm Birth. The conference flew by in a flurry of smiling faces, knowledge expansions, and long walks on the cold Monterey beach. I had never felt so understood by a large body of people: at lunch, we would explain who we were in terms of our birth stories; everyone had new perspectives on how to face the challenges of the maternal care system; and nobody blanched at the word “placenta.” Coming out of the five-day APPPAH cocoon, I knew that I would be returning in 2015.

            This year, Betsy Smith, CNM, and I were invited to present a poster at the conference. I had performed a literature review spanning the breadth of studies that explored the impact of introducing a meditation technique during pregnancy (more on that in a future blog), and so Betsy and I combined the results from that research with information about the Calm Birth practices. Our presentation took place during lunch on Friday, the first official day of the conference. After such a stimulating morning, presenting a poster felt like a lot to wrap our heads around, but, over a lunch of sesame tofu and arugula salad, we presented our findings and method to an intimate audience that included authors, therapists, and a lovely woman named Nina who teaches Hindi mantra practices to pregnant and preconceptive partners. A lively discussion ensued from our preliminary presentation.

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            I want to pay homage to each of the speakers, and I wish that it were possible to truly express how each one expanded my thinking! Friday evening, Thomas Verny, author of The Secret Life of the Unborn Child and APPPAH’s first president, addressed the capacity of cells, bacteria, and other life forms outside of the brain to learn and remember: doesn’t this, he postulated, imply that humans and other beings are imprinted with the periods of life that we can’t consciously remember? Dr. Verny’s talk strengthened the collective understanding behind the mechanisms of cell remembrance.

            Dr. Gerlinde Metz, from the University of Lethbridge, presented her research following the epigenetic transmission of stress down through four generations of rats, concluding that, indeed, stress leaves an imprint on genetic expression that is passed down to even non-stressed progeny. I’ve been quite interested in the impacts of prenatal maternal stress on offspring (you can read my paper on it here), and was already familiar with Dr. Metz’s work, but hearing her speak deepened my understanding that not all animal testing is inherently cruel. In fact, when I spoke with her after the talk, Dr. Metz informed me that these rats are treated better than many domesticated animals: researchers have to isolate the stressor, meaning that the rats cannot have been stressed by anything beyond the brief, controlled instance of trauma. I was happy to hear this, and I do hope that we’ll be moving into a future where animal testing, when necessary, treats these creatures with love and respect. It seems that science is veering closer and closer toward compassion for the beings who cannot speak for themselves…

            In fact, compassion was the common thread I found among everyone at this conference, presenters, administrators, volunteers, and attendants alike. Whether people were from a foreign country or lived right in the Bay Area, were reserved or extroverted, or were researchers, somatic therapists, or experts in electromagnetic frequencies, the bridge that unified us all was compassion for humanity, and the hope that the prenatal and parental-infant healthcare system can be improved. This hope radiated through talks by Robbie Davis-Floyd, Ph.D., an anthropologist who lectured on the application of ceremony and ritual to modern birthing culture, and Raylene Phillips, MD, a neonatologist out of Loma Linda, California, whose post-partum skin-to-skin initiatives have resulted in outstanding breastfeeding success at her institution. Piece by piece, every one of APPPAH’s members are bringing compassion and understanding into their respective fields.  

            APPPAH’s 2015 conference seemed to bring more scientific understanding into what the founders have known for decades. Every day, it seems, another researcher publishes findings linking adverse prenatal experiences to undesirable outcomes later in life, or correlating positive prenatal care with greater health and well-being. In only two years since the last congress, I have witnessed exponential growth in both the membership and the conviction that these people and this work can truly change the modern childbirth paradigm. From many corners of the world and every walk of life, APPPAH’s members are actively seeking to help the world, and with that much intention, tenacity, and love, it working wonders. Margaret Meade said that a small collection of people, working together, is the only thing that will change the world. APPPAH started as one such small group, and its expansion is only going to further its mission. APPPAH, thank you for all that you do: we are proud to be part of your organization, and look forward to many years of collaboration to come.