In 1979, before giving birth to the first of my five children, I was fascinated by “breaking” literature that encouraged talking and singing to your child in utero. I remember my husband’s puzzlement when I told him the “experts” said he should put his head close to my growing belly and talk to our baby!
I was reminded of how new that concept had been when Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert (who is my age) recounted his experience during that era. Gohmert is a member of the federal House Judiciary subcommittee that heard testimony on HR 1797, a bill that bans elective abortions when a baby is capable of feeling pain, which the bill recognizes as existing by 20 weeks fetal age.
During his brief comments at the hearing, Gohmert shared his experience with the premature birth of his first child, Katy. His wife asked him to do whatever he could to assist their daughter’s struggle to survive.
The neonatologist told him how important it was to caress and talk to Katy because, “Her eyes don’t work real well; she won’t recognize you. But she will know your voice, because she’s heard you in utero.”
Gohmert appeared to relive the precious memory of sitting next to the isolette, when his daughter’s “little bitty fingers grasped the end of my finger” and how her vital signs improved within the hour.
The rather novel idea that unborn children can hear their environment–even if muffled–has only been strengthened over recent decades and created (not unsurprisingly!) an industry of products designed to accelerate the child’s intellectual prowess and musical talent after birth.
But more important, science now acknowledges that the tiny unborn child possesses a unique presence that can be altered by human interaction as well as medical interventions.
This has directly affected the evolution of hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs), which commonly utilize volunteers to cuddle and coo struggling prematurely born babies (preemies) who lack family members to do so.
Notably, the field of Music Therapy has developed, with special application to preemies.
Medical News Today recently reported on the findings of a study in the May issue of the journal, Pediatrics. MNT headlined its account, “Playing Music and Lullabies Help Soothe Premature Babies.” The most important finding was captured in the sub-headline: “Music– especially lullabies–deliver health advantages to the most vulnerable babies, preemies, who are being treated in the neonatal intensive care unit, a new study suggests.”
The study involved 11 hospital NICUs with 272 preemies under 32 weeks gestation. Investigators found that preemies who heard lullabies and live music specifically paired with babies’ breathing and heart rates showed improved blood-oxygen levels and patterns of feeding and sleeping. How’d they figure that out? According to MNT:
“Certified music therapists used devices called Remo ocean discs and gato boxes, which emit ‘whoosh’ and heartbeat womb sounds while matched with babies’ heart and breath patterns, three times each week for two weeks. Therapists and parents also sang lullabies chosen by the babies’ parents, and when parents had no preference, they sang ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.’ ”
It’s not just any old sound, according to Joanne Loewy, director of Beth Israel’s Louis Armstrong Center for Music & Medicine. “Many NICUs are noisy, or people put on random lullabies that are recorded. What we’re saying is, it’s not just any old lullaby that’s recorded, it’s the power of the parent’s voice synchronized therapeutically . . . and the other two sounds that can have a therapeutic benefit.”
Exactly what the neonatologist was telling Rep. Gohmert.
We pro-lifers see that science continues to verify that the unborn child is a special and unique human being who is not only capable of experiencing pain, but has the ability to respond to the care of the human community.