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The Secret Life of Babies Part 1 & 2

by Bernard George, Director
Icarus Films, Brooklyn, NY, 2005
Video, 2 x 43 mins. col.

Sales: Video-DVD, US $440; rental: video, US $125
Distributor’s website: http://www.frif.com.

Reviewed by Kathryn Adams


Does learning start before we are born? Will the newborn remember his time in the womb? Does the foetus hear sounds from the outside world and will he remember them as familiar sounds outside the womb? Is there a psychological link between the foetus and the mother? This fascinating two-part documentary by Bernard George answers these questions and gives scientific credence to any mother who has intuitively felt a connection with her unborn child.

"The foetal sensorial experience is a starry night in midsummer. Everything is sparkling".

The Secret Life of Babies, filmed in France, Canada, and the U.S, has leading cognitive and developmental psychologists revealing what they have learned about the human foetus through contemporary research. Their findings about the unborn child’s innate capacity to learn and memorise are monumental. Information about how the human brain is ‘wired’ at birth is intriguing and gives clues on how we learn language and organise our perceptions. The passionate researchers are clearly in awe of the power of the unborn child, who can recognise subtle changes in the amniotic fluid around them, distinguish between familiar and unfamiliar sounds and voices, and can use all five senses well before birth.

An important implication from the research presented in the film is that the way in which a newborn child is nurtured is crucial to its ongoing development.

"When a baby is born it has all neurons...but they are not connected to each other...wisdom and intelligence and humour and all that arises from how the cells are connected to each other which happens over the course of life, well into the teenage years...and beyond...the new information they pick up helps organise the brain that is being built."

Informative rather than visually stimulating, this documentary does include some incredible intrauterine footage. Seeing images of these unborn babies float around in their amniotic world, where all their needs are met in a nanosecond, reminds us of what a jolt it is for the newborn to leave it’s familiar safe haven and be thrust into this new world of light, gravity, and air.

"...nothing is missing in the womb, all needs are fulfilled...the passage of time does not exist. The foetus is in a world that is unchanging. The best word to express it is ‘eternity’"

No wonder we cry when we are born!

The documentary follows parents and their babies taking part in a wide range of studies and tests in the months leading up to and the months immediately following birth. Dads, Mums, bellies and babies give this documentary heart and emotion amidst all the monitoring, testing, assessments, and fact-finding. The birth scene at the end of Part 1 is particularly moving;

"After birth the newborn human stops crying within a minute...he lifts up his eyes and gazes at you with incredible intensity... If the mother meets that gaze...and if the father meets that gaze, it touches them to the very core. You immediately become a parent forever. You’ll never fail that child".

It’s a pity that such an important film couldn’t have been more visually engaging. A more contemporary art direction and editing style would have turned this into superb viewing. The film has a ‘dated’ look about it. The ‘scripty’ font chosen for the subtitles gives it an outmoded feel. Another minor distraction in this English subtitled version of the film is the inconsistent positioning of those subtitles. Their movement from the bottom to the top of the screen interrupted communication flow at certain moments during the film.

However, despite these aesthetic considerations, parents, medical professionals, and students involved in neo-natal care will benefit greatly from seeing this documentary. It quashes old theories about the human foetus being ‘an indifferent organism’ and provides us with valuable knowledge about nurturing our young before and after birth. The questions it poses will require further research but the information it arms us with before we plunge headlong into parenthood will lead to a better understanding of how to nurture our children, and that can only be good for our society.




Updated 1st March 2007

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