I have written often about the shaping power of prenatal life, and the huge influence a mother has on her child’s development during pregnancy. Mounting evidence tells us that circumstances in the womb program our health in critical, life-altering ways. The prenatal environment is equally as important as genes, perhaps even more important, in determining lifelong physical and mental health. The field of prenatal psychology has amassed decades of research to illuminate the impact of a pregnant mother’s inner life upon her child’s personality and lifelong wellbeing.
Shirley’s Mom Knew The Power of Prenatal Life
Many wisdom traditions instruct the pregnant mother to fill her mind with thoughts and images of the splendid qualities she and her partner dream of for their child. This makes pregnancy a wonderful time to read biographies of inspiring peacemakers and innovators whom you admire.
We still know so little about the how’s behind the important functions of imagination and joy in pregnancy for the lifelong qualities of the individual, who is steeped in whatever his or her mother experiences during those nine months, so why not? It seemed to work for Shirley Temple’s mother, who embraced these practices and gave birth to one of the most endearing actresses in our history, who went on to be a devoted humanitarian.
Included as a footnote in my book Parenting for Peace, here is an enchanting, eye-opening passage from Shirley Temple’s autobiography, Child Star:
One summer day in 1927, in her 34th year, [Gertrude, my mother] announced her intention to produce a baby girl… Pregnancy was only a starter for Gertrude, who believed devoutly in self-determination. The female sex and artistic interests of her own child must be established long before birth. Her scheme involved preempting the name Shirley for no particular reason, with Jane added to honor her paternal grandmother.
To endow her unborn child with a sense of self-discipline, she switched from beloved chocolates to raw carrots. Marshaling her array of feminine instincts, although unable to carry a tune herself, she kept the radio blaring out classic orchestral programs, read good literature aloud, toured local museums, purposely pausing to admire architectural beauty along the way, bathing herself in color, form, and aesthetics.
Occasionally she attended a local movie, exposing her unborn child to sounds and sensations of romantic films such as Janet Gaynor’s Seventh Heaven and Street Angel as she dabbed away her sympathetic tears. She walked down to the ocean, remarking on the natural beauty in flowers, and listened to the rhythmic thump of sea turf, the rustle of palm fronds in the Pacific wind, and the happy babble as she passed public playgrounds.
It was her mystical, Teutonic conviction that noble thoughts, beautiful sights, and pleasant sounds could somehow imprint themselves directly on her child, a prenatal blitzkrieg. On the twenty-third of April 1928, her basic plan reached a major milepost. I was indeed a baby girl…
Dance with the angels, dear Shirley.
About Marcy Axness
I’m the author of Parenting for Peace: Raising the Next Generation of Peacemakers, and also the adoption expert on Mothering’s expert panel. I write and speak on prenatal, child and parent development and I have a private practice coaching parents-in-progress. I raised two humans, earned a doctorate, and lived to report back. As a gift to Mothering readers I’m offering a unique 7-step parenting tool, a “Quick-Start Guide to Shifting Your Child’s Perplexing, Stuck Behaviors.”