Swedish–Russian Research: Near-Death Experiences & other transpersonal experiences among women
Kersti Wistrand *
In 1982 the first Swedish book on NDE (Near Death Experiences) and OOBE (out-of-the-body experiences) was published by K. Wistrand & Jan Pilotti. Between 1981–1994, due to the book, I came in contact with around 100 persons with NDEs, and other altered states of consciousness. Those persons were interviewed, 38 being women having experiences during or after childbirth. In the article the background to the NDE research is presented, and ten Swedish cases given: five being NDEs at accidents, and illnesses, and five being NDEs during childbirth.
I wanted to do research at hospitals, but during those years there was resistance to doctoral research in this subject in Sweden. I came in contact with professor in psychiatry Leonid Spivak, and Ph. D. Dmitri Spivak at Human Brain Institute in St. Petersburg. In 1992 research started in some maternity hospitals, e.g. Ott Institute, conducted by L. and D Spivak. Several hundred women were interviewed on the 2nd–4th day after delivery. Several other studies later on show that these experiences exist and seem to be transpersonal rather than consequence of anaesthesia or brain damage.
There is no literature in psychology/psychiatry about near death experiences among women during their childbirth, though these experiences exist, and are often frightening to the women afterwards. This lack of investigation in the area is negative. Both the medical staff, and the women need frames of reference. They are not alone, but share their experiences with many other persons. There is a lot to be explained and understood in this field and for this reason the following article was written.
The Near Death Experience (NDE)
The History of the NDE research
One of he first persons collecting reports on NDEs in modern time was the psychoanalyst Pfister (1930). He got his inspiration from the mountaineer Heim, professor in geology in Switzerland, who fell from a high mountain in the Alps. The fall was experienced as lasting five minutes, but in reality the duration was only 15–25 seconds. Heim landed on the snow, and survived without being seriously hurt, though during the fall thinking he was to die. During his fall he had a remarkable experience, where he first saw sharp, detailed pictures from his whole life passing by as on a screen. Then he saw a scene with blue sky and small violet, and rosy clouds, all in very bright colors. During the same time grandiose organ music was played.
Pfister collected similar reports from persons with experiences during accidents like drowning, train collision, explosions, and earthquakes. He interpreted these life-reviews as defense mechanisms close to deadly threat, “denial and regression during stress”.
During the decade 1960–70 medical research advanced with rapid strides, when patients could survive heart attacks through defibrillation, a new method of electrical regularization of heart activity. Patients started talking of experiences where they could see themselves and what was going on around them, though from another place in the room, i.e. OOBE (out-of-the body experiences). In 1975 the American psychiatrist R. Moody published his book “Life after Life”, where he had collected 150 NDEs during eleven years.
Some other early American authors of classical books have also to be mentioned here: Psychology Professor Kenneth Ring (1980), The cardiologist Dr Michel Sabom (1982), and Dr M Morse (1992).
In November 1977 ameeting, initiated by John Audette, took place in Virginia, USA. Present were Dr. Moody, Dr Ken Ring, Dr Bruce Greyson, Dr Sarah Kreutziger, and many other scientists. At this meeting, the Association for the Scientific Study of Near Death phenomena (IANDS) was organized as a vehicle to assist researches, NDEers, and the interested public. In 1978 the formal organization was co-founded by Audette, Moody, Ring, Greyson, and Sabom, and the Association held its first board meeting.
NDE research in Sweden
Since my teenage years I knew about the OOBE, and the NDE, as my mother had such an experience during operation. I wanted to do research, and in 1967 I started studying comparative religions at the University in Stockholm, specializing in Greenlandic shamanism. I never got the scholarship needed to go there researching for my doctor degree, and had to abandon it.
When Dr. Raymond Moody´s book Life after Life was published in Sweden, I wanted to do an investigation of NDEs and started studies in medicine at Karolinska Institutet (KI) in Stockholm, where I also met Jan Pilotti. In 1979 we arranged a seminar about OOBE and NDEs in KI. There were twelve scientists lecturing about these phenomena from different angles: medicine, physics, philosophy psychology, and comparative religions. In 1981 John Audette, IANDS, was invited to deliver a lecture at the same place.
In 1982 “Medvetandet och doden” (“Consciousness and Death”), the first Swedish book on OOBE and NDE was published, edited by Kersti Wistrand and Jan Pilotti. It is an anthology based on writing by the twelve speakers from 1979 had presented.
Due to this book we were invited to give lectures in different parts of Sweden. We were also contacted by TV, radio, and magazines. In that way we were meeting, and interviewing many NDEers. I was also invited to several women organizations, where women after my lecture told me:”But this I recognize from being in childbirth.” From 1981–1992 I have conducted about 100 interviews with persons telling about altered states of consciousness, 38 of them told by childbearing women. In some cases I also conducted short therapies, supporting the women to integrate their experiences into daily life.
In those days I had also started my studies to become a psychologist, and then trying to do research in maternity wards. I wrote two publications at the University of Stockholm (1982, 1990). But there was resistance being accepted for doctoral research in this subject. It was too controversial.
In 1989 the Scandinavian IANDS was founded, and I was elected research coordinator. I contacted individuals in some countries in East Europeto tell about the NDE research. In St PetersburgI came in contact with the psychiatry professor Leonid Spivak, and his son PhD. Dmitri Spivak, Human Brain Institute in 1991. They got interested, and research supported by the Russian Academy of Sciences, was started at some maternity wards, conducted by professor Leonid Spivak, and PhD Dmitri Spivak (1993 and 1998). In December 1992 I gave a lecture at the Ott Institute, and I also visited a maternity ward, where I had the possibility to talk to the staff and interview women. Ph.D. Dmitri Spivak speaking Swedish fluently, kindly served as my interpreter. Several scientific studies were accomplished from 1992 up to the present time.
The stages of the NDE
Moody (1975, p 21) found that there is a striking similarity among the accounts of experiences themselves. He could pick out separate elements which recur again and again in the mass of narratives collected. Ring (1980) and Sabom (1982) found the same. In the following figure (Figure I) I have made a visual structure of the elements in the NDE:
As comparison and verification I would like to give five examples of typical NDE cases from our Swedish material, before presenting the experiences of five women in childbirth
NDE Cases (from Wistrand & Pilotti files)
Looking at the figure, element 1-2 show the OOBE. Here is a case, where a school boy fell on the ground during a football match:
This happened to me when I were twelve years old playing football in the school-yard. All of a sudden I was slipping on the ground when running to get the ball. I fell on my head, and didn’t feel anything. The next moment I was high up in the air looking down on the ground. I saw the school building and its roof , the school-yard, and a lot of children assembled around something on the ground. I lowered myself and recognized my classmates. They looked upset, and soon I found that they were looking at a boy lying on the ground. He seemed to be hurt because he had blood all over his head. Suddenly I recognized myself lying there. I was that boy, but I was looking down at my own body. I felt no pains, no emotions, only registration. A teacher came running. The ambulance came, and I suffered a blackout. One day later I woke up at home. I got a bad concussion of the brain and was sewn with four stitches.
(Interview 1982, school boy, 13 years old)
Commentary: OOBE occur in many other experiences, e. g. meditation, hypnagogic state of consciousness, fall, allergic chock accidents without near death.
In the following case another boy, six years old, almost got drowned. He has an OOBE and a life panorama, which is common at rapid accidents.
This happened when I was learning swimming. I was six years old, and swimming after a row-boat, which my mother was rowing. Suddenly I forgot how to swim, started sinking, and felt panic. My only thought was:` I’ll die!´ In the same moment I experienced a life review, seeing all my life passing by like on a film screen. There were very rapid pictures, everything which had happened to me. And so, suddenly, I was up in the air, some meters above the surface of the water. I could see myself on the bottom. I also saw how my sister panicked, trying to turn the boat. Everything was very peaceful to me. I was calm, just observing what happened.
I was awake in the boat, being helped by my mother. I never told them what happened to me.
Looking again at the figure, only about 10 % experience element 4: entering the darkness (tunnel). 5–8 is called The Transcendence. Here a woman with serious kidney disease, experienced a transcendence, seeing beautiful nature and meeting dead relatives:
When I was 25 years old, I got very serious nephritis. My temperature was very high, and I had dreadful pains. Both the kidneys were attacked, and I also got blood-poisoning. The doctors told my family to come, because I was near death. During that time I was many times in a wonderful, green landscape with green hills and blue sky. There were intensive beautiful colours, and I saw a brilliant warm yellow-white light. I could hear very beautiful music, like some sorts of bells. It was as if colour and music was the same. I wanted to stay there, but so I saw my father, who died six months earlier, coming towards me, together with some other persons I recognized. He smiled and told me to return: “You must go back to life, there is much left for you to do in life!” The communication was by telepathy.
I woke up, slowly recovering. I got to know that the doctors had told my family to come, because I was near death.
In the following case a woman got an allergic chock, during which she had a transcendence, an universal experience. She enters the Light filled with unconditional love and gets knowledge about the meaning of life:
I got an allergic chock due to a sulpha medicine, and was carried to the emergency ward, where I was near death. There I had a fantastic experience. A brilliant light and a feeling of deepest harmony and love suddenly surrounded me. It was like a presence in the light, but I couldn’t see it. It was like communication by telepathy from that being, and in an essential, concise and certain way I got to understand everything about our existence and life, and how life was meant to be. There is no evil, only a lack of knowledge. I was forgiven for what I had thought or done in a wrong way in my earlier life, and I understood that the same forgiveness also was given to those who hurt me. That understanding made me feel harmonious. There was an enormous love through the whole experience. I felt that I must first give the love to myself in order to give love to other persons.
I also got the knowledge that I would learn as much as possible, but I shouldn’t use it in a way which is the most common in our society, e g by taking competition with others. Instead I would understand more and more and give the wisdom to other people, so they would be happier.
In fact it’s impossible to find the words telling of this experience. It was the most intensive, and meaningful experience I ever had.
In the last case a man got a heart attack. He experienced stages 1–2–3–4–5B–6B–8:
It was late in the evening during a very hot summer period, and I couldn’t sleep, but went to the basement of our house to sleep there. Then it was around twelve o’clock.
I woke exactly ten past four, and as soon as I had looked at the clock there was like a very loud explosion in my chest. I felt an intensive pain, and so everything was black around me.
But soon it got brightened, and then I noticed that I was above the house where I lived. I could see through the house, and saw my body lying in the bed in the basement.
Then I was pulled towards a light, being more and more bright, and I heard beautiful choir-singing. It was so fantastically inspiring. My thought was that I was on my way to paradise.
But when my experience was at its peak, it was like somebody or something grasped me, and turned me back to my body again. I must say that the feeling I had when leaving my body, that feeling can’t be described in words. In a little way it’s like you are sitting in an aeroplane, and it’s flying up in the sky, but I didn’t want to return. It was so wonderful up there. Earlier I could sometimes think of my own death with agony, but this experience made it disappear forever. Now I know: when I’ll die one day, it will be beautiful experiencing the relief from life upon Earth.
My wife found me, and I was taken to the hospital. They said that I got a heart attack, and had thrombosis passing my heart, and I had to rest for many weeks.
I didn’t tell my wife about this wonderful experience. I wanted to keep it to myself, and I was also afraid that no one would believe me. But then, when Moody’s book was more known, I dared to tell my wife.
(Interview 1985, 60 years old, Christian man)
Due to the publishing of Medvetandet och döden (Consciousness and Death, an Anthology on NDE and OBBE), red K. Wistrand & Jan Pilotti, Stockholm 1982, I was invited to several women organizations, where I came in contact with women experiencing NDE during complicated childbirth. But I also found transpersonal experiences during normal childbirth, e.g. OOBEs, visions, and seeing colours.
Every woman was interviewed, first telling her story in an unstructured way: her experience, reactions, and feelings afterwards, how her story was received by hospital staff and relatives, and how she actually wanted to be received, after-effects and how she managed to integrate her experience in ordinary life. The woman then answered a questionnaire used by professor Kenneth Ring (Ring 1980), when interviewing American NDEers.
Before presenting the cases, I want to express what many women experienced afterwards:
A summary of what many women told:
“It was terrible that no one wanted to listen to my experience, neither the medical staff, nor my husband. I didn’t know if I was brain injured or what else had occurred to me. I only wish anyone had listened and told me if the same experience had happened earlier to any other women in childbed. It had been enough if anybody just had been sitting down beside me for a little while, listening and then said: `Yes, it was a remarkable feeling!´ But now they only waved aside my trial telling them, and said: `Pooh, you can have such strange dreams when you have narcoses´, and then rapidly disappeared.”
(Quotation by a woman after childbirth, 1984).
NDEs told by Swedish childbearing women
The reports of five women are going to be introduced as representatives for the women studied, in order to explain the results found out:
When pregnant with my first child in 1952, I had a very prolonged and difficult childbirth. It started six weeks too early, and I came in on a Tuesday morning, and my daughter was delivered Friday evening. This happened on Friday:
I was so tired, and believed I was going to die. All of a sudden I was up in the ceiling at the lamp, looking down at myself, and what was going on. I was surrounded by light, and there was a powerful pulsating beam of light connecting myself with the body down on the bed. So I heard the nurses say: ’Oh, so calm she became!’ And then four nurses came running with the oxygen apparatus. It was higher than the bed, and they connected it to the wall, and lowered the head of the bed. I was just a neutral observer, without any feelings of fear or astonishment. The experiences seemed timeless, but I think it lasted a couple of minutes. Then I was back in my body again.
At half past three my pains in labour intensively started, and once again I was up there in the ceiling. I had no pains. I saw my body working down there, and my little girl being born. She looked like a thermos flask, and had red hair. The midwife ran away with her to an incubator. I got scared, and at once I returned to my body.
Commentary: This woman was 21 years old, when she was delivered. Her experience was neutral when going on, but afterwards she was scared, and had lots of questions. What happened to her? Was she going to die? Was her brain injured? She had no one to speak to. The priest shook his head. She became a spiritual seeker and after many years she found the spiritistical movement, where her experiences were accepted.
Case I shows an out-of the –body experience redeemed by exhaustion and pains.
This woman was delivered with Caesarean section in 1984. She didn’t get enough anaesthesia but was awake all the time without possibility to move or talk. The pains made her leave her body, and she saw the whole procedure, also from the ceiling. She gave a detailed description of what happened. She heard how the medical staff was joking and how they cut her and took out her baby. She also saw that the girl got a superficial wound on her forehead from the surgical instrument, and how they wiped the blood. She floated higher up and saw a white light and in the light she saw her grandmother, who had died ten years earlier. This grandmother gave her love and support, and said that she must go back to her daughter. The woman felt how they sewed her with 48 stitches before she lost her consciousness. When she later woke, her first question was: ‘Why did you do this to my daughter?’ The staff was amazed, but she felt like they left her alone. She had no one to talk to. Her daughter really had that scratch on her forehead.
Commentary: The mother felt alone, had existential problems during many years. No one listened to her, and she had a hard time, thinking she was brain damaged. She became a spiritual seeker, and refused avoided further pregnancy.
This woman experienced a NDE, including an OOBE, and a transcendence, where she met her grandmother in the light, and was told to return to her new-born daughter.
In the following case a woman had a complicated delivery lasting 35 hours, where she lost consciousness now and then. She tells:
The medical staff didn’t hear any heart sounds from the foetus, I was told later, and myself… I wasn’t there. All of a sudden I was in a light of beauty and unconditional love. It was like it communicated and gave me advices, but first of all it gave me new energy and power, and I felt the presence of our Creator in the light. I was carried back to my body and the midwives were very astonished that I seemed to have new energy to give birth to my son.
Commentary: This woman experienced a transcendence, meeting a being in the light, giving her energy to give birth to her child. This is a new element in the NDE, not mentioned by Moody, Ring or Sabom. I have also interviewed another woman experiencing getting help from a light entity.
Maria was a hardworking and stressed journalist working at one of the bigger newspapers in Sweden. She was a materialist never minding about existential questions or spirituality, but lived a glamorous life in her leisure time, drinking wine, and talking to intellectual friends. However, her life totally changed after her experience:
“It was my first child, and I had no problems during the pregnancy, but I got a prolonged delivery lasting for forty hours. Having no strength left, I felt embedded as in a shelter, from where I could hear the doctors and nurses talking, but I couldn’t talk myself. Suddenly all sounds disappeared, and I experienced total silence. It was very peaceful, only “I am”. All pains were gone.
In the next moment I was walking around on the floor among the nurses, and doctors, seeing them working with a woman on the table. But suddenly I was up in the ceiling, looking down at what was going on, and now I could follow the whole procedure of the caesarean. The doctors opened my abdomen, and I could see tubes, and clamps. I was very interested, thinking: `What a scoop it will be!´ - So I looked at the woman’s face, and recognized myself!
Somewhere in the procedure I was looking up, then noticing a black opening in the corner of the ceiling, and was drawn there, gliding away through a dark tunnel. In the end of it I could see a bright white-yellow light. I reached the light, and there was total stillness, total harmony, happiness, love, and wisdom. I had no fear, I recognized the situation, being like `home again´ .
There was a being in the light, neither male nor female, only a being, sending out all the unconditional love and wisdom of the universe, and I wanted to express with tears my feeling of blessedness. I was one with the light.“
Then Maria gets a life review. Every detail of her life was shown to her in pictures, and to every picture bad or good feelings were connected, those feelings she herself had created in connection with the persons in interaction. She felt their feelings as a reaction to her words or actions, and got the insight how everything is connecting and affecting.
New pictures emerged, and she telepathically got information from the entity:
“I got the information directly into my brain. I got total knowledge, and the pictures I saw were from my future life, but I was also told that I wouldn’t remember when coming back to life until I was mature enough, and could bear the experience: ‘That’s a protection for you, otherwise you will be mad!’ In fact I had the first real memory three years later, when sitting in a cave, seeking shelter from a thunder-storm.
The being in the light told me I had to return to life, taking care of my son. ‘No,’ I said, ‘it’s a mistake, I was supposed to get a daughter.’ But the entity insisted: ‘No, you have given life to a son!’ I also got the information that I must stay calm, when returning, because `the doctors will tell you that your son is very ill depending on lack of oxygen to his brain, and will most probably die. But don’t worry, your son will live; he will only sleep for five months, and then wake up and grow to a very intelligent young man. Don’t forget, your son is well, and he will stay with you. You need this knowledge, but you will not remember all the information you get here, only parts of it. That’s a protection for you. Otherwise people would judge you being mad, and also you yourself would think the same.’
I also asked about religions, and about my own life, and I got total knowledge. I was told about the secrets with our lives, and our place in the universe. Everything that I thought was important in my earlier life was not here. It is my attitude, and love for other beings which has meaning. Somewhere within myself I had always known this, but forgotten it. I was thinking that I must remember telling my experience when coming back. That was my special task.’
Waking up, I was told that I had got a son who was very ill, lying in an incubator. I was also told I was near death, but survived due to my good physical condition. On the third day the doctors told my husband and me, that our son was very ill, and was to die because of lack of oxygen in his brain during the childbirth. But I said: ’No, he will only sleep for five months, and then wake up. He’ll be well!’ They all looked terrified at me, and the doctor just explained that it is common that mothers can’t bear information like this, and it could take some time for me to accept. But now, I know I was right. And after a little more than five months my child one day looked at me with alert eyes. To-day, four years later, he can do things normal to a 5-6 years old child.”
Commentary: Case IV shows a NDE with all elements: Silence – OOBE – tunnel – being in the light – universal experience – being sent back – returning.
Many other experiences told by women with complicated deliveries were heard to and their reports were of the same kind as NDE’ers. But there was one woman who had an OOBE during a normal delivery without complications. From above she saw how her son was born and heard the midwife say: ´He has all ten little fingers, and all ten little toes.´ This mother said that her experience of looking at the delivery was the most wonderful she had ever had in her life, and she even tried to get an out-of the-body experience again, but failed. She later got another child but without that experience.
Carefully analyzing the five cases we can establish the existence of NDE phenomena among women in childbirth, both at complications and normal deliveries.
Besides, looking carefully at my interviews in the sample, it can be seen that the states of consciousness described are characteristic of clear understanding of reality with increased hearing and increased sight impressions. Clear understanding of the localization of the body and clear localization of the body, clear mind, no loss of identity, and no regression. No loss of understanding of reality. Not paranoiac and no agony.
All these signs show an expanded state of mind. Therefore these women in childbirth are not mad or brain injured as some medical doctors, relatives or friends told them. In contrast, they have experienced an expanded consciousness with transpersonal content.
Most of the women agreed that the feeling was neutral or positive during the experience, but afterwards, when they “had returned to their bodies”, and started thinking it over, they were often scared. Their experiences were so extraordinary, and they had never heard of anything like that earlier. They had no frame of reference in which to put the experience. When, and if, they tried to communicate about it, it was difficult to find the words. And when they tried to tell, they were ignored both by the medical staff and their close family. Some of the women thought that they were brain damaged or mad. Some became spiritual seekers to search for an answer. Some of them were afraid to bear another child. Anyhow, for all of them it took many years to integrate their experiences into daily life.
At the same time several women told they were now not afraid to die due to their NDE, some of them getting a new belief in life after death. Personal values changed among several women: they felt more humility, increased appreciation of life, more tolerance, desire to help other persons (refugees, sick persons, taking a foster-child), self-realization as studying or changing work.
Three of the 38 women interviewed, met their grandmothers, dead since long ago, in the light. Those grandmothers gave them support and encouraged them to return and bear the babies.
60 % of the interviewed women experienced a special bright light. Similar to the NDE’ers some of the women entered the light and felt being a part of that light with “unconditional love and all knowledge in the world”. Time and space didn’t exist. Within the NDE research it’s called a universal experience.
At very complicated deliveries several women sometimes experienced that this light communicated with them telepathically giving them both psychical and physical strength and energy to deliver their children.
A few of the women with the deepest experiences also experienced transpersonal after-effects like feeling streams of energy in their bodies, having spontaneous out-of-the-body experiences, getting refined and reinforced intuition, seeing auras around people, seeing dead persons. Some of them didn’t understand this new situation and got scared of it.
Further research in Russia
How often do these transpersonal experiences occur at normal deliveries? And why was so little written about it? Studying the traditional psychiatric and psychological literature I had found one kind of consciousness analogous to that of the childbearing women: Winnicott´s “primary maternal preoccupation”, a special state of consciousness, into which the pregnant woman gradually enters during her pregnancy. He means that the childbearing woman gets a kind of split, where certain parts of the consciousness take over for the moment. He tells about the necessity of the following: the increased sensibility and the emotional readiness of the pregnant mother towards her foetus, and later it increases her ability to identify with the child, to take care of and to help it to develop when she has just become a mother. Winnicott says:
“The state of mind gradually develops and involves an increased sensibility during the pregnancy, especially in the end of it. It lasts during some weeks after the birth of the child. The mothers usually don´t remember this state of consciousness when it has ceased. I would like to say that the memory they have of this state becomes repressed.” (Winnicott, 1958)
Winnicott mentions this kind of forgetfulness as “fugues”, like a mental fog.
Could OOBE etc. be a “part of primary maternal preoccupation”, mentioned by Winnicott? How many women have these transpersonal experience during, or/and after delivery? And do they forget them after some days- weeks, as nothing was written about it in literature? It was a pioneer research, too early to be done in Sweden. But as earlier told, I found support for my research in St Petersburg, where professor Leonid Spivak, and his son PhD Dmitri Spivak at Human Brain Institute, got interested. Research supported by the Russian Academy of Sciences, was started at several maternity wards, conducted by professor Leonid Spivak, and PhD Dmitri Spivak (1993 and 1998).
I very well remember the day, on Christmas Eve1992, when I gave a lecture in the Ott Institute, telling the medical staff about my research in Sweden. Leonid Spivak introduced me, and Dmitri Spivak was my good interpreter. I also gave a lecture in another maternity ward. In Ott institute I met the first mother some time later. She had got a daughter one day earlier, and was still very tired, but told that she was seeing the birth going on from a place in the ceiling. She didn’t seem astonished, when telling it, but was more thinking of her baby, and asking for her. Probably she would forget her OOBE after some days.
Several scientific studies were accomplished since 1992 up to today. Here are some:
The first study took place at two typical maternity hospitals, Maternity hospital Number 3, Sjtjorsa 13, and Ott institute. 202 mentally and physically healthy pregnant women, 17–30 years old, were studied. In each case her pregnancy history was previously studied, and a brief general psychiatric observation was carried out. All deliveries were normal without physiological complications. In those years there was an economical crisis in Russia, and anaesthesia was given only to the women in big need. Consequently most of them had natural deliveries.
During the 2nd to the 4th day after childbirth an interview took place. It was structured following a special questionnaire. The questions were carefully worded to resemble typical observations made by Russian women when speaking of childbirth. The questionnaire consisted of two parts A: During childbirth, and B: Postpartum period. The women were also asked to comment briefly on their “yes” answers.
Here are three cases, where women, interviewed by a gynaecologist, told their experiences:
B.E. is 21 years old, was graduated from college, working in a factory. Harmonic, industrious, a little shy. Married for two years. First child. Obstetric status: without pathology.
Delivery on the 17th of March, 1994. Duration of delivery, which was rather difficult: 8 hours. After five hours the doctors wanted to give her a pause, but as she couldn’t relax. Then she was given Dimedrol and Relanium. Blood lost: 250, 0 ml. Baby without pathology.
The woman was interviewed on the third day after childbirth. Discovered phenomena: OOBE, unusual happiness, altered state of consciousness during the 4thhour of delivery, where she saw the obstetric doctor together with the medical students assisting him. She was looking at what was going on, above and a little from aside. It was like looking at herself in a mirror, but very distinct and realistic. She had no pains meanwhile, but after some minutes she returned to her body. She also had an OOBE after the delivery. She had never heard about such experiences.
Some minutes after childbirth she experiences deep happiness, earlier never felt but there was also sorrow at the same time. She wanted to tell more about it but told she had no words to describe it.
38 years old woman, passed college, now working in a textile factory. Calm, harmonic. First child. Pregnancy and delivery on the 30th of March 1994, without pathology. Foetus water left too early. Duration of delivery: 4, 5 hours. Blood loss: 300, 0 ml. Child: 3, 5 kg, no pathology.
The mother being interviewed on the 3rd day after delivery told about a rapid playback of her own life during her childbirth, and an OOBE on the third day after, when nursing her child at her breast:
“Suddenly I very clearly saw myself looking down from the ceiling of the room. I also saw the other three women laying on their beds down there in the room. I saw all the details, what they were doing, lasting for several minutes. It was very interesting, and positive. Then I returned to my body, still nursing my baby. I never heard of anything like this before!”
S is 19 years old and married to “little perestroika businessman”. S had passed college. She is calm and self-confident, but isn’t very interested in or talking to the other women lying in her room. She was married one year ago, and this is her first child.
Obstetric state: normal. In the beginning of the delivery, the child had hypoxia, e g lack of oxygen, but was born in the right time, on the 3rd of April, 1994. The baby is well and weighs three kilos.
S was interviewed on the third day. She had experienced an unusual state of consciousness including an OOBE, and felt telepathic contact with her child during childbirth. During the following three days she had the same kind of experiences several times. She told that she was calmly resting in her bed, when she suddenly being lifted upwards and towards the ceiling, and from there looking down at the two other mothers in their bed. She also saw herself there in the room. She wasn’t scared but interested. Everything was peaceful, and she was interested in it, thinking a lot of it, as she had never heard about such an experience.
She didn’t want to tell any details, but told she was tired, and it was enough. Therefore the interviewer thanked her and left her for the time being.
The psychic phenomena in the childbirth of 202 healthy Russian women without complications (1992–94) can be studied in table I:
In childbirth 34, 7% of the group reported having experiences in an unusual state of mind. The correspondent data for postpartum was 41,6 %. ”Unusual state of mind” tended to be regarded by the subjects as inability to concentrate on outer tasks, and overwhelming preoccupation with childbirth/ child care issues.
“Unusual happiness” is commented as “arising uncontrollably, spontaneously, and frequently in waves”. It was profoundly different from ordinary happiness. Fairly often it was compatible with polar feelings like grief. 16 % of the women felt an almost `telepathic´ contact with the child during delivery and 16% felt it also afterwards. Women frequently claimed to have a mental feedback from the child.
Many women also experienced phenomena such as `playback of one’s life´, e.g. a life review, during delivery (10%). 9% `switch off and seeing oneself from without´ e g they got an OOBE, where they described themselves as being up in the ceiling and looking down at what was `happening down there´. 9% had an OOBE during delivery, and 5, 5 % during the 2nd – 4th day.
The period of the OOBE was normally considered as several minutes although subjects reported “losing the sense of time”. The major background emotion was neutral. The women had only vague interest in this unusual sensation”. Although unique, this period did not leave a strong trace in the memory, and the women had a tendency to forget this experience after some days.
Several women also experienced light.
In another study with 18 delivering women with caesareans, 33% had a life review during the caesarean, 33% also had an OOBE during the caesarean. (table II.):
A third project investigated the experiences in relation to complications, anaesthesia, and loss of blood, and found statistical significance only between experiences and big loss of blood. Brain activity of women during childbirth was also measured and the researchers asserted that there could be a predicted state of consciousness bound to the childbirth.
In a later study the Russian researchers found that EEG and infra slow electrical processes demonstrate the existence of definite bioelectrical correlates of these alterations (Spivak, L; Bechtereva N P; Danko S G (1997).
The Russian research indicates that there exists a gender-specific altered state of consciousness related to giving birth, provided by a special brain mechanism. Winnicott´s hypothesis of `primary maternal preoccupation´ has therewith been supported by experimental data for the first time. For economical reasons it was impossible to interview most of the women one month later to see if ”the mental fog”, the fugues, was there, and if they had forgotten their transpersonal experiences.
This research is still going on, and further contributions from other countries are also welcome and needed.
With deepest gratitude to the professors Leonid Spivak, and Dmitri Spivak in St. Petersburg, who made this pioneer research possible. Also many thanks to Director E, Ajlamazian, professor V. Abramtchenko, Dr I Kaplun, professor N,P, Bechtereva, Dr S.G Danko, professor N. Savitsky, and Dr. Galina Sjamajeva.
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* Kersti Wistrand is a retired psychologist (psychodynamic and transpersonal psychology) with studies also in comparative religions, specializing in shamanism in Greenland. She was co-editor of the first Swedish book on NDEs (Near-Death Experiences) and OOBEs (Out-of-the-body Experiences) together with Dr. Jan Pilotti in 1982, which led to more than one hundred interviews and sometimes also short time therapies with persons who told their experiences near death. When invited to have lectures in women organizations she discovered women telling their transpersonal experiences in giving birth, and started research. As a research coordinator of Scandinavian IANDS (International Association of Near-Death Studies), she brought the project to St Petersburg in Russia, where research started at maternity wards 1992, conducted by the professors Leonid, and Dmitri Spivak, Human Brain Institute. The research there is still going on.