The etiology of most congenital anomalies are maternal impressions
, genetic and embryological developmental defects and arrest and multifactorial complex causation.
Rather than questioning such folklore as the need for complete bedrest for ten days following delivery, and the belief that maternal impressions
could mark a child, physicians used the language of science to validate them.
. Pregnancy and Childbirth in Literature and Theory.
In Maternal Impressions, Cristina Mazzoni, an academic and mother of three, brilliantly analyzes myths of maternity related to pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and breastfeeding.
Mazzoni proceeds to discuss maternal impressions in turn-of-the-century science, mainly in two male texts that are analyzed throughout the book: La donna delinquente, la prostituta e la donna normale by Cesare Lombroso and Fisiologia della donna by Paolo Mantegazza.
To understand how the wounds or marks on the body of the deceased may take the form of birthmarks on a newborn child, Stevenson has looked into three related phenomena: stigmata, telepathic impressions, and maternal impressions. Stigmata are evidence that concentration on a certain part of the body combined with a mental image can cause lesions of the skin.
Stevenson points out that maternal impressions are paranormal, insofar as current scientific concepts do not allow for transmission of a mother's mental images to her embryo or fetus.
(1) Thus sociologist Ann Oakley describes the theory of maternal impressions as a "key theory about pregnancy commonly held prior to the modern obstetric era," which "stated that the condition and viability of the fetus was profoundly influenced by the mother's mental and emotional state--a view that, of course, fitted well with the prevailing model of successful pregnancy as guaranteed only by a life-style properly balanced in accordance with natural dictate." And most fundamentally, according to Oakley, "Until well into the nineteenth century [in our case, as late as 1893], the question for most medical men who contended this matter was not whether maternal impressions could cause deformed fetuses, but how they did so" (The Captured Womb 23-24).
This once prevalent theory of maternal impressions constitutes a chapter in the history of the body as "symbolic construct" and "cultural form" (in the words, respectively, of Susan Rubin Suleiman, 2, and Susan Bordo, 16), and has been one way of accounting for the intricate relationship between the psychic and the somatic and for the passage from the former to the latter--that very relationship which during these same years (Studies on Hysteria was published in 1895) was occupying Sigmund Freud (thus the theory of hysterical conversion, for example, displays several analogies with that of maternal impressions).