“Human beings are affected by their environment as soon as they have an environment, and that means as soon as they are implanted in the womb… People are conceiving, carrying and birthing children under increasingly stressful conditions. Stress that affected one generation will be played out in the next generation. When we see dysfunction in people, we’re actually seeing the imprint.” Gabor Mate, MD, quoted in film
Listen to an interview with IN UTERO filmmaker Kathleen Gyllenhaal here. Includes transcript as well.
Representing an epic cinematic exploration of the new science behind humanity’s potential for personal and planetary healing, IN UTERO, a documentary film by Kathleen Gyllenhaal, will premier at the Seattle International Film Festival, SIFF, June 4-6, 2015. The film has been selected to participate in SIFF’s documentary competition.
On a groundbreaking and ambitious mission to investigate “How are we formed? Who are we? Why are we who we are?” IN UTERO weaves together disparate and dynamic fields of scientific research, expert interviews, insights from ancient and modern fairy tales – including Disney films, The Matrix and the superhero blockbuster film phenomenon – to clearly and shockingly reveal an emerging evolutionary and neurobiological truth: Womb Ecology Becomes World Ecology.
While scientific research into the relationship between toxic culture, social and domestic violence, disconnected communities, chronic illness and addiction is well-established with studies such as the venerable Adverse Childhood Events, or ACE report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, most studies begin with life after birth and end with individual health outcomes.
IN UTERO radically expands the accepted parameters of academic inquiry by presenting multi-disciplinary and riveting expert research that collectively indicts modern mythologies surrounding mothers and babies as directly responsible for the deteriorating state of our world. As the film’s experts share, while it was thirty years ago that the initial pioneers of prenatal psychology pronounced babies were conscious beings, it is just now, today, that a curiosity into this science is beginning to be reflected in mainstream media (see a resource list here).
In a 90 minute quest to bring consciousness to unconscious and universal birth processes, IN UTERO takes the viewer figuratively and literally – through hidden meanings in Disney’s Alice In Wonderland – down the rabbit hole and to the core issue: Maybe the scientifically recognized “Intergenerational Transmission of Trauma and Disrupted Neurobiology” begins at the beginning, IN UTERO, and maybe these transmissions shape us as individuals and a global community for life.
“Human beings are affected by their environment as soon as they have an environment, and that means as soon as they are implanted in the womb,” says Gabor Maté, MD, a psychiatrist and bestselling author featured in the film. “People are conceiving, carrying and birthing children under increasingly stressful conditions. Stress that affected one generation will be played out in the next generation. When we see dysfunction in people, we’re actually seeing the imprint.” Maté is author of When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress and In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction. His forthcoming book is entitled Toxic Culture.
Providing historical and personal context for prenatal psychology’s impact, Maté shares case histories from his work in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside with patients challenged by hard-core drug addiction, mental illness and HIV, as well as his own story of being born in Budapest, Hungary during World War II. In a segment of the film entitled, “All The Jewish Babies Are Crying,” Maté recounts his mother calling their physician because her baby – Gabor – would not stop crying.
“The doctor told her, ‘Sure, I will come, but all of my Jewish babies are crying.’ It is so clear to me that the fear I have carried all my life, in my molecules, is my mother’s terror and the terror I experience my first year of life under Nazi occupation. Those experiences have stamped my personality, my reactivity to the world, my worldview, mostly on the unconscious level… I clearly see this is not genetic, despite the so-called experts, it is from stress in the early environment,” says Maté.
“When I was in school, we used to discuss ‘was it nature versus nurture?’ Nobody says that anymore,” says Rachel Yehuda, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience and the Director of the Traumatic Stress Studies Division at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “We don’t have nature here and nurture there. We have nature and nurture working together to form a new thing.”
“World ecology has to start with womb ecology,” says birth psychology pioneer, Thomas Verny, MD, author of The Secret Life of the Unborn Child and co-founder of the Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health. “We cannot have peace and good people in the world, without raising peaceful, good children. And that has to start at conception, not at birth. It’s our responsibility to make a better job of it than we have done in the past. There are too many children who are neglected, who are born and raised unloved. And unless this changes, the world is not going to change.”
While the modern medical model of maternity care traditionally denies the IN UTERO experience for mother and child as a conscious process with life-long implications, human beings have always found ways to process their birth experiences, surprisingly, through ancient fairy tales and today, through modern fairy tales and superhero movies. “Birth is the journey of the hero,” says Ludwig Janus, MD a psychoanalysis instructor at the Psychoanalytic Training Institute and past-president of the International Society for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Medicine, ISPPM.
It is the rich and fascinating discovery of our unconscious use of the fairy tale, in book and film, that provides proof of our collective need to recognize our own birth experiences, even if our modern culture does not, says Janus. In a Herculean cinematic achievement to bridge the conscious and the unconscious, IN UTERO juxtaposes layers of presenters’ personal narratives with familiar scenes: the Neo and Mr. Smith battle in The Matrix, underwater cave explorations with The Little Mermaid, Alice falling down and then running for her life out of the rabbit hole…
Suddenly, the connections are made. We’ve been processing our prenatal and birth experiences all along. We’ve been acting them out in unconscious patterns as well. The hidden messages in plain view in the language of ancient and modern fairy tales instruct our path of integration. And now the emerging science instructs our way to move consciously forward.
IN UTERO’s experts agree, by expanding our view of how we are formed and how we become who we are to include an understanding of our prenatal life, including the epigenetic science that shows our environment can turn genes off and on, we create room for solutions that do not exist in our culture.
“It is not what genes you are carrying, it is what genes get expressed,” says Yehuda, in explaining epigenetic science. “It’s fantastic because the epigenetic idea of changes to the genes based on exposure to the environment at different intervals really provides the body with a way of continuously adapting to their environment. Bad environmental events cause change. Good environmental events cause change. And what you’ve got to do is to just make sure you have enough of the good events.”
Some of the practical social outcomes of incorporating the science presented by IN UTERO into public awareness and policy could include:
- Improved maternity care – currently the United States ranks last among all other developed countries for maternal and infant health and wellness.
- Paid family leave act – currently the United States is the only developed country not offering paid leave for families.
- A recognition of the need for supportive community – lack of support is a major factor in post-natal depression and the United States low breastfeeding rates.
- A recognition of the value of self-awareness and self-regulation skills, such as mindfulness, meditation and yoga.
- An appreciation of fairy tales in book and film! (Read more to our children!)
And perhaps most importantly, an ability to view ourselves more wholly will support our potential for laying down judgment of ourselves and others. “People whose early development sabotaged their reward/motivation circuitry will find some relief in doing drugs that elevate dopamine levels, temporarily. Or in activities that elevate dopamine relief, like gambling and compulsive shopping. If when we look at those people, we don’t see the pain that is driving their behavior, it is because we are denying our own pain,” says Maté.
IN UTERO filmmaker, Kathleen Gyllenhaal, says her new motherhood, pregnancy, and birth research inspired her to create this film, but she knew there would be resistance to its message. “Knowing what your mother went through, what her mother went through, what your father and his experiences were, have an effect on who you are, that does not jive that well with our sense of individuality, that we can make our own fate. So this new understanding can be very scary,” says Gyllenhaal.
“However, I feel that once we can really digest that information and accept it, then we would be free to discover who we really are and to forge our own paths. So on a personal level, I find this discovery very exciting, perhaps even liberating. Because if we can really take this science in and then look at ourselves deeply, perhaps we can start to chip away the transmitted patterns and find who we can fully become, our true potential as individuals and communities. That idea is what fueled me to work for years on this film while going through my own pregnancy and birth with my son. This is our way of changing the world.”
Gyllenhaal’s former cinematic explorations include Beauty Mark, a social documentary on America’s obsession with body image, perfection and success, and Sita, a Girl from Jambu, an ethnographic drama about child sex trafficking in Nepal. She taught at the University of Colorado-Boulder, then Vassar College, where she obtained tenure. From there, she transitioned to Hollywood, co-producing the feature film Grassroots, starring Jason Biggs, Cedric the Entertainer and Lauren Ambrose, released by Samuel Goldwyn Films. Recently, Kathleen wrote and directed the award-winning Lychee Thieves, an Academy Award qualifying live-action short. She is currently writing The Kennedy Detail, a feature film based on the New York Times bestseller, and developing dramatic content for television.
IN UTERO’s producers include Stephen Gyllenhaal and Matthew Brady. Gyllenhaal is a film and television director, writer and producer. His directing credits include Paris Trout, for which he received a DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Dramatic Specials, as well as the theatrical films,Waterland, A Dangerous Woman, Losing Isaiah and Homegrown. In 2012, he received a DGA nomination for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Movies for Television for Girl Fight. He recently co-wrote and directed the indie film Grassroots, which made its theatrical debut in Summer 2012. He currently directs the Peabody Award winning series series Rectify for the Sundance Channel.
Brady is an Emmy award-winning producer who founded MRB Productions in 2001. MRB produces content across all media channels and specializes in independent features, television shows, promos and commercials. MRB’s most recent feature film projects include The Truth About Emanuel, directed by Francesca Gregorini and starring Jessica Biel and Alfred Molina, released by Tribeca Film, and Grassroots, directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal and starring Jason Biggs and Lauren Ambrose, released by Samuel Goldwyn Films.
Find a full list of IN UTERO’s filmmakers here.
Find the full biographies of IN UTERO’s experts here.
Find future screenings here.