Revolutionary Scottish psychiatrist R. D. Laing (1927-1989) mused speculatively in “The Facts of Life” about life before birth and how prenatal experiences might affect a person later in life. Like all of Dr. Laing’s work, his ideas, especially in the chapter entitled, “Life Before Birth,” aroused controversy. But in the years since its publication in 1976, prenatal research, which historically centered on physical development, now recognizes the importance of exploring the psychological and psychophysiological effects and implications of experiences in the womb.
For a long time, Dr. Laing disregarded claims made by thousands of people in every walk of life who professed to remember their birth and before. But, by the time he wrote “The Facts of Life,” it no longer seemed to him impossible nonsense “that prenatal patterns may be mapped onto natal and postnatal experience.”
Over two centuries before Dr. Laing speculated about prenatal experiential patterns, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) wrote:
The history of man for the nine months preceding his birth would, probably, be far more interesting and contain events of greater moment than for all the threescore and ten years that follow it.
Now it appears science has caught up with the poet. But the Biblical record of the significance of life before birth predates them all.
Scriptures and Life before Birth
Jeremiah, in the 6th century BC, wrote of his appointment to the prophetic office describing how God prepared him for the calling before he was born.
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations (Jeremiah 1:5).
God’s creative work goes far beyond the initial spark of life at conception. David praised his Maker Who, in the depths of the womb, knitted him together like a skilled artisan weaving an intricate tapestry, even ordaining the days of his life before he came into the world (Psalm 139:13-14).
The telling of the Christmas story would hardly be complete without including Mary’s visit to her relative Elizabeth to announce the good news of the child she was to bear. Elizabeth, also pregnant, confessed to her cousin, “behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy” (Luke 1:44). John the Baptist was already being prepared to herald Messiah’s arrival.
The great Apostle Paul needed no formal peer recognition of his calling, for he received his commission “before I was born” (Galatians 1:15). Christ, Himself, according to Isaiah 49:1, received a call to the Messianic office “from the womb” (Isaiah 49:1).
God in the Womb
So, we find God active throughout prenatal development. And the baby (as sonography and fetal electroencephalograms reveal) is also active, being observably sensitive and responsive to its environment. Disagreement still exists among doctors and researchers regarding memory reaching back to the prenatal period. What is incontrovertible, however, is the divine presence in the womb as a baby becomes a unique person destined to takes its place among humankind.
R. D. Laing wondered, “How can one cell generate the billions of billions of cells I now am?” His reflective answer, “We are impossible, but for the fact that we are,” fell a little short of the definitive answer given by David.
You formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalm 139:13-14)