Communicating with the unborn child

This article about haptonomy in France was written by journalist Fiona Campbell for Junior Pregnancy and Baby Magazine and is transcribed below. She is a writer and photographer and you can view her latest work on www.fionacampbelllondon.com


Bonding the French Way

Haptonomy may sound like a nebulous way of getting in touch with your unborn child, but in France it’s subsidised by the state. 

By happy coincidence, I became pregnant at the same time as a friend who lives in Paris. As we compared notes by email, I began to feel that in some respects I had a lesser deal. Marianne was off every other day to baby singing classes, aqua-natal and something called haptonomy, which was involved communicating with the baby and was subsidised by the state health service. ‘It’s wonderful!’ she raved, ‘The midwife showed me how the baby can tell the difference between my hand and hers, and it’s so sweet to see him swim and nestle in my hand.’ Marianne also described how she was learning to go through labour with her baby, rather than just focusing on herself.

Fascinated and envious, I decided to go to Paris to experience haptonomy first hand. I made an appointment with a haptonomist called Corinne. She warned me that, coming only once, I would not expeirence haptonomy, “only glimpse what it is”. I was also, at 32 weeks, coming too late on in the pregnancy. ‘Normally we start as early as five months,’ And worse, I was not bringing my husband – haptonomy enables the father to take his place in the family. ‘Haptonomy is about getting in touch with your unborn child. It is a tactile and emotional meeting.’

I worried that I’d come to Paris for some strange hippy treatment. But when I arrived in Corinne’s smart private clinic, it became clear that she was a professional woman with great clarity. And, as an obstetrician, she had undergone a rigorous medical training.
‘Haptonomy is the science of affectivity,’ she said, ‘the science of emotions.’ It’s about ‘le rencontre’ – ‘the meeting’ – an interaction with another. Haptonomists believe that for a person to become whole they must benefit from such interaction even while in the womb.

As I lay on her couch, Corinne helped me to feel where the baby was lying. We put our hands where we sensed the baby’s head to be, and she rocked me gently to help me to relax.
As she did so, I opened up and explained my circumstances. Shortly after I’d become pregnant my partner left, and although we were friends he was so determinedly hands off that he had never even felt the baby kick. As I related all this, close to tears, Corinne said the baby was tensing up. It was true: I could feel it. It shocked me to realise how much he was affect by my state of mind. Corinne invited me to explain to the baby that although I felt anguish at the situation, I loved him and that it was in no way his fault. Perhaps this is my imagination, but I do feel that the baby was happier after that. It seemed to reassure him.

Corinne taught me that the relationship between mother and child is so intimate that I did not have to say anything aloud. ‘Now say to the baby in your heart, “viens dans mon coeur, mon cheri” (“come into my heart”) she suggested. I did: and the baby moved right up until he was touching my diaphragm. He seemed to be urgently seeking my affection. It was an incredibly beautiful moment.

Corinne then taught me to guide the baby so that he was cradled comfortably in my pelvis, and she gave me some techniques for reducing pain during labour. Finally, she showed me ways of holding myself and moving that allowed the baby enough space, and of guiding the baby with my hands during labour so as to make his passage easier.

The experience convinced me that haptonomy really works. It brought home to me the fact that I don’t just have a “bump” but a living, feeling person inside me who needs my affection now. It was the first time I realised what a heavy sense of responsibility goes with being a parent.

I asked Corinne for ways to communicate haptonomy to others, especially my baby’s father. “You can’t explain it,” she replied, “but tell him to approach the baby with all the love in his heart. Men, especially English men,” she said with a smile, “can be very slow to show their emotions – which shows how our experiences are imprinted upon us.

In a way, haptonomy is simple emotional intelligence, and I thought it would be easy enough to emulate at home. But it is surprisingly difficult. Corinne had a remarkable talent for enabling me to express love and make contact with my unborn child. She summed up haptonomy: “It is about waking up to all that is at stake in a child’s heart, and the reality of what it is to be a parent.”

Fiona Campbell is a writer and photographer and you can view her latest work on www.fionacampbelllondon.com