Journal Article — Draft
AN INTUITIVE INQUIRY INTO A HUMAN TRAGEDY
“In our way, we conform as best we can to the rest of nature. The obituary pages tell us of the news that we are dying away, while the announcements of births, in finer print, off at the side of the page, inform us of our replacements. … The vast mortality, involving something over 50 million us each year [sic], takes place in relative secrecy.” [Lewis Thomas]
“All things are in process, rising and returning. Plants come to blossom, only to return to the root. … We go down into death for refreshment.” [Lao Tse]
This study focused on infants who die unexpectedly in their first year of life, usually in the range of 2 to 4 months. They may do so for several readily recognizable reasons—accidents, poisoning, diseases or homicide—but they may also die for no apparent reason at all even though they are completely healthy. This mysterious event, so tragic for the parents, is called Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), actually a misnomer because a syndrome is a collection of symptoms whereas SIDS is characterized by a total lack of symptoms. It is also called crib death or cot death, and has more recently been included within the broader category of Sudden Unexplained Infant Death (SUID) from all known and unknown causes. But there is still the question of what is not being explained, and by whom it should be explained, and whether an explanation is called for at all.
In contrast, consider a mother in a primitive village which has a long history of high infant mortality. She has already lost two babies, regards these deaths as “normal” and accepts another one as an expected risk in her life. While her sorrow and grieving are no less, she is “used to it” and does not demand explanations and accountability as do we civilized Westerners today. Perhaps she understands something the rest of us have forgotten and would do well to remember. (Jind 2003).
Background on SIDS
Any loss of a loved one through death can be difficult but infant death is typically the most catastrophic and painful for its parents. This is obviously a sensitive subject for many persons exposed to the experience. The calamity is typically greatest for the mother, of course, who grew the child within herself, gave birth to it and provided primary care to it during its first months—only to lose it. But father, family members and siblings can also be strongly affected. (Anon2 2013)
But what is the cause of a sudden and unexplained infant death? The “cause” of a death is of greater interest to coroners, registrars, is medical researchers and sometimes physicians than to those directly and emotionally affected by it. Family members certainly wonder about the cause but are occupied mainly with dealing with the personal shock of the loss and how to support one another through the consequence. For young persons this may be the first occasion when they are forced to confront the unwelcome intrusion of the specter of death into their daily lives.
Several decades ago it was common for poorly informed police, relatives, friends, a spouse or a disturbed sibling to accuse a SIDS mother (or father or baby-sitter) of gross negligence, even murder, for which she was sometimes sent to prison. (E.g., Batt 2004) We are well beyond such harsh public action today, but even when sympathy, understanding and support are ample the resultant grief can trigger lasting depression and affect family relationships for years. (Rosof 1995, Boyle 1996, Mitchell 1992)
In the face of so many unknowns small irregularities can trigger the imagination, suspicions and fears. Misunderstandings easily lead to anger, accusations, family disruption, unrelated crises, divorce and court cases. Those affected often talk of fate, destiny, bad luck, doubts about life itself, loss of faith and the need to “just grin and bear it.” Such unfounded beliefs and the attitude of victimhood they induce are only an added burden. Factual details about the circumstances of death are often demanded as if they carry an explanation. The absence of a ready explanation for their loss often leads to self-assumed guilt, especially by the mother, who assumes, “I must have done something wrong.”
A more positive outlook can initiate a personal inquiry to try to understand what meaning the event holds. This question is not necessarily an easy one to answer, but it is a fundamental one that underlies all superficial issues. After all, the lost infant is not a responsible adult but is fully dependent and helpless. It died even before it had a reasonable chance to live; is human life really so unfair? What could possibly be the purpose of losing that which we most love?
It seems that nothing can be offered the parents beyond sympathy for their severe loss and its residues of sorrow, anger, fear, emptiness and seeming failure. Religious counsel can sometimes be reassuring but it usually comes up short: “It is God’s will,” and “Such things must be accepted as a part of life” and “The child has gone home”: not necessarily wrong but of limited help for most grieving parents. Anyway, religion is commonly regarded as society’s standard bearer for moral behavior, and its messages typically connote sin, wrongdoing and offense to God, all of which can add to the guilt usually experienced even when no wrong can be cited.
Less obvious but especially relevant, most modern persons today live with an unacknowledged fear of death, if not their own than those on whom they depend, quite apart from the actual or possible loss of their child. They are uncomfortable with the matter, do not like to think about it and choose not to discuss it openly, despite the obvious fact that death is an inherent, natural and unavoidable part of every human life, and it has major implications on how we live our daily lives.
An infant death in the family provides a fresh opportunity to reexamine our views on life and death. We will return to this examination later in these pages.
Medical Science to the Rescue
“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.… A time to be born, and a time to die.” [Ecclesiastes 3:1-2]
In today’s industrialized world it was natural and expected for science, in the form of medicine, to be the appropriate social institution to step forward and try to unravel the mystery of SIDS. After all, science is our society’s principal means for exploring the unknown and finding useful answers, and medicine is science’s trusted and responsible arm for explaining dysfunctions of the human body.
The basic phenomenological data on SIDS, before interpretation and analysis are begun, are simple indeed. The death occurs during sleep, almost always at night, with no advance warning, no signs of struggle and no immediately detectable precondition, abnormality or irregularity to which it might be attributed. After it occurs the death scene is routinely examined to try to rule out homicide, the infant’s medical history is reviewed to look for any preconditions, the parents are interviewed and the family setting is usually assessed to discover any social or cultural irregularities. Finally an autopsy of the body is performed (now a widespread practice) to try to find anything unique that might account for the unexpected death. (If a physical defect is detected, the death is not classified as SIDS, of course.)
With so little physiological data to build upon, very little strictly medical research on SIDS has been possible. The only alternative was to conduct statistical (epidemiological) studies in which large numbers of SIDS death reports were compared against a parallel collection of reports from living infants in the same time period and area. Sophisticated analyses were employed to try to detect even small differences between the two groups. More than a dozen such studies, beginning in the mid-1970s, some of them very large, sought to discover the particular environmental, societal and individual conditions under which SIDS occurs.
However, no meaningful pattern has ever emerged over the many decades in which SIDS has been observed. Every case is essentially the same.
Many small statistical differences turned up in the studies, but aside from a few variations in gender, culture and prenatal conditions, none were sufficiently strong and consistent to provide a substantive explanation for the cause of SIDS or to enable prediction, prevention or something like a “cure.” Most of the differences detected were too small even to justify further investigation with more cases. This disappointing lack of useful findings was a major setback for medical research. The resulting wave of uncertainty, confusion and speculation did little more for parents than give them more to worry over.
Since that time the public recognition of SIDS has improved greatly in the industrialized world. The phenomenon is still regarded as a mysterious tragedy. The response is now consistently sympathetic, even in the absence of understanding and with little hope for future resolution. As medical science has advanced and more childhood diseases have been found, SIDS incidence has dropped—to less than 1% of live births in the U.S., for example—though it is still the leading cause of infant death after accidents. (The announced rates for other countries vary widely and many are not known accurately.)
Sudden and unexplained child death may occur as SUID, where a physical cause is sometimes found. It may also occur at other times with different names: before birth (miscarriage), during birth (stillbirth), when the child is young, vital and healthy as well as shortly after birth (SIDS). It is interesting that the rate of sudden and essentially inexplicable death stays about the same—around 1%—throughout the human life span, from birth to death, over all ages and stages of growth. Neither adults nor infants are favored in this nearly constant risk. Are we missing something important about the seemig uniqueness of SIDS?
SIDS has surely been occurring among the entire earth’s population for millennia. The first medical reports appeared in the 1800s. SIDS was officially recognized as a definable cause of death in the Western world about 1960 and by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1979. (Beckwith 1973, Russell-Jones 1985) But even today there is ambiguity about exactly what allows an infant death to be classified as “unexplained.” Just who has the right to speak with authority on who is able or not able to explain it? This imprecision is responsible for confusion among parents, as explained above, but it also prevails among physicians and caregivers in medicine itself. We don’t even know if all cases are the same, aside from the obvious consequence that the child ultimately dies. Before proceeding further we need to define better what constitutes a so-called SIDS death.
The usual practice when an infant (or anyone) dies is to attribute the death to the most readily recognizable medical irregularity that could possibly relate to it. This is the “cause of death” recorded on the death certificate, as ascertained by the attending physician, subject to change by the pathologist who performs the autopsy. If nothing new is discovered the record is changed to “unexplained infant death” or SIDS. However, these determinations are often approximate, incomplete, barely symptomatic and subjective, therefore not trustworthy. They obviously depend upon the examiners’ skills and tend to be only loosely related to the official criteria in use at the time. (Timmermans 2007)
Autopsies of SIDS infants have long been required by law in most U.S. states and in several Western countries. While physiological data are abundant, the details vary greatly; there is no pattern to them. Also, the criteria for classifying a death as “SIDS” are not everywhere the same, and the discovery of new infant disorders continually change what must be excluded. The accuracy of the older epidemiological data is therefore very poor. (CDC 2015, Berry 1992, Bajanowski 2007)
In any case, classification as SIDS is always by exclusion; it is not a specific symptom or physical abnormality but only the absence of it. There is therefore much space for misinterpretation and guessing. Even a runny nose or upset stomach can be cited as the cause of death, thereby excluding it as SIDS. (Jones 1976) Conversely, the death could easily have arisen from an inconspicuous virus, trace-level food poisoning, a magnesium deficiency or dozens of influences beyond those readily detectable, and it should not be classified as SIDS. Epidemiological findings based upon such loose determinations cannot be trusted to be reliable.
“Causal explanations are oversimplifications. This is what makes them useful. Searching for correlations is a terrible way of dealing with the primary subject of much modern research. The causes that matter are still nowhere to be found.” [Lehrer 2012]
Most of the differences detected during the comparisons showed just a few percent difference and were not statistically significant, let alone causal or indicative. (The only major variation in SIDS frequency, though not a very useful one, was a 50% higher rate for male infants.) About ten which scored somewhat higher were further investigated with more cases and tighter protocols and over wider geographical areas. Still, none emerged that was strong enough to be cited as the cause of SIDS or to be useful for prediction. (Beckwith 1973, Naeye 1976, Valdes-DaPena 1980)
A large, comprehensive epidemiological study of 757 SIDS deaths in the U.S., conducted for the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHHD), concluded that “none of the dozens of risk factors investigated in the study was found to be strong enough to explain the syndrome, or to enable prediction or prevention of SIDS in vulnerable infants.” 
Only when the defining criteria for SIDS improved did the epidemiological data became more reliable. The small differences were confirmed in broader categories, such as age of mother, use of prenatal care, premature birth, low birth weight, lower economic level and race. In the U.S. the frequency was found to be higher among Blacks, American Indians and Hispanics, and lower among Orientals, a variation that suggested differing cultural practices in diet or child raising. SIDS deaths in the U.S., Canada and Britain showed a somewhat higher frequency among twins, those born in winter, young mothers and infants not breastfed. Most interesting, SIDS was also found to be more frequent in disadvantaged and poverty communities, families with have poor nutritional habits, uneducated, belonging to certain ethnic minority groups, receiving less than normal prenatal care and in families which habitually using drugs, drinking or smoking.
These many findings, still not strong and definitive, came to be called “risk factors,” a medical term which refers to a statistical risk indicating a candidate association meriting further study, but not an identified cause. It does not imply that a child exhibiting this factor is at greater risk of succumbing to SIDS. But this ambiguity in meaning took root in the public perception of SIDS, leading to further confusion.
The expression “risk factor” has now become a catch-all term for the entire accumulation of unproven speculations on the cause of SIDS, and little more than this. Media announcements, supported by statements from physicians and researchers, while surely intended to be informative and hopeful, were often reported enthusiastically as “breakthroughs” which would soon allow the “disease” to be prevented, even though there was no reasonable basis for such optimism. (For recent examples see Jhodie 2010, Kinney 2006.) SIDS parent organizations have been kept busy reeducating new parents and the public on the continuing state of ignorance about the cause of SIDS, and that future progress in understanding it cannot be expected.
An Attempt at Prevention
“We do not enjoy this world everlastingly, only briefly, for our life is like the warming of oneself in the sun.” [ancient Aztec prayer]
More recent studies added or refined some of the marginal candidates to the growing list of risk factors for SIDS: infant sleeping with parents, lying on its stomach, too many blankets, very young mother, too little breastfeeding and parents smoking or taking drugs nearby. (Platt 2003, Pulsus 2004, Anon1 2008, Burnett 2013, Task Force 2001, 2005, 2011, Malloy 2007, 2013) In 1984 ten of these were gathered into a set of “Safe-to-Sleep” recommendations, which were alleged to be steps concerned parents could take at home with their healthy infants to minimize the chance of SIDS during their first year. None had been shown to be causal to SIDS or even likely causes, nor had any of them been tested and proven to be effective for prevention. They were simply associations that had shown a slightly larger incidence in previous SIDS studies and would not be harmful if implemented. They were proposed as “Steps to Reduce SIDS” but most were actually only palliative actions concerned parents could take to feel they were doing something positive to protect their babies. Some made good sense for any infant, at risk for SIDS or not, and others were no more than guesses.
National SIDS prevention programs based on these recommendations were created, promoted officially and soon in wide for use by parents in the US, Canada, Britain and elsewhere, by now for more than twenty years. (NICHD 2015) Ten years after it began (2003) the rate of SIDS had dropped by about half in these countries, and by 2009 had decreased still further. Authorities were quick to claim that their program was being effective for preventing SIDS.
However, doubts soon began to arise. The criteria for classifying infant deaths as genuine SIDS (described above) had tightened over this same period, so the number of reported SIDS deaths dropped significantly while the number of explained infant deaths increased. (Malloy 2005b). Autopsies had become more thorough, so more deaths were being attributed to recognized medical conditions instead of SIDS. A medical report eventually concluded, “It is unclear which risk reduction messages have contributed towards this continued fall in rates.” (Blair 2009) The chairman of the task force of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) on SIDS said, “A lot of us are concerned that the rate (of SIDS) isn’t decreasing significantly but that a lot of it is just code shifting.” (Kattwinkel 2006)
Firm evidence that the ten recommendations were being effective has still not emerged for seven of the ten so-called risks. The other three are still valid candidates: maternal smoking, co-sleeping with mother, and belly sleeping. (The latter two are correlated with race and culture, and questionably with indicators of congenital heart conditions and arrhythmia, both of which disorders had been suggested as possibly relevant to SIDS.) In the meantime a few more uncertain risk factors were discovered though some of the new evidence was in the opposite direction. (Leach 1999, Overpeck 2002, Leduc 2004, Shapiro-Mendoza 2006, Colson 2009, Task Force 2011, Porter 2013, Ball 2013) So the hopes and the acclaimed success of the “Safe-to-Sleep” program have turned out to be much less than first appeared. The broad claims made for it are not substantiated.
The program has undoubtedly contributed to infant health generally because it incorporated several sensible childcare measures under its “Safe Sleep” heading, thereby inducing parents to pay closer attention to their infants and follow long recommended practices under the threat of losing their child to SIDS. Direct prevention of SIDS is very doubtful, however. The actual rate of SIDS deaths has not diminished over the last ten years, and there is still no evidence of a causal physical connection with the latest risk factors. Nor is one likely to be found because it cannot be measured within the mixed program. The program may also have added a little understanding of SIDS by revealing what it is not and by focusing attention on socio-cultural and race factors.
A Greater Hope
Since several of these risk factors dealt with socio-cultural differences rather than physical conditions, they brought the search a little closer to early detection, predictive screening and perhaps a non-physical cause. Unfortunately, the data were still unreliable and far from a practical means of identifying infants at risk. They received little attention from the medical community, which prefers to work with more objective and precise data. (Hoffman 1988, Kraus 1989, Leach 1999)
Some of the non-physical factors have been reported in past years by social workers who visit SIDS homes and counsel grieving parents. They have not received attention or been acknowledged within medicine itself, however, which remains the speciality to which the public turns as the primary authority on all SIDS matters.
Recognition of these non-medical possibilities could open the door wider for exploring these softer influences as part of the underlying mechanism of SIDS, thus perhaps enabling some degree of prevention. Herein may lie the greatest hope so far for progress in understanding SIDS.
Can We Go Beyond the Body
“Eventually it became clear in medicine that our emotions, attitudes, and thoughts profoundly affect our bodies, sometimes to the degree of life or death. Mind-body effects were soon recognized to have positive as well as negative impacts on the body. Physicians are getting used to mind-body medicine.” [Dossey 1999]
It must be understood that modern medicine, despite its honorable intentions and great advances in health and healing over the last hundred years, is still a materialistic sub-discipline of science. It tends to regard all human irregularities as physical pathology—an illness, a virus, a breakdown in an organ or some bodily function not working right. Its task is to “fix” the disorder by restoring what it considers to be “normal” physical health through drugs, surgery or other treatment. We can all be grateful for its fantastic successes.
At the same time, with every passing decade medicine has been confronted by more disorders whose primary cause obviously rests not in the body or brain but within the mind: destructive habits, unresolved emotions, stress, fears and poorly chosen lifestyles, diets and habits. Many of these mental irregularities work into the body by reducing its natural immunity to invading organisms. Others distort body chemistry. The causes of many other dysfunctions remain invisible to the myopic medical eye.
It is not difficult to identify the underlying limitation: the discipline and practice of medicine do not include the human mind as part of its territory, competence or responsibility. (Dossey 1999, Timmermans 2001) We are gradually learning in this century that healing from many illnesses must be achieved first in the mind that created them, rather than the body which only reacts to the mind.
Could “premature” death be one such mis-presumed pathology. We have to ask: what role is the mind playing in SIDS? Is there a mental defect to which the body is reacting by dying? Or perhaps a invisible physical defect which the mind is trying unsuccessfully to heal? How is is the mind working when an infant spontaneously dies? What kind of healing might be effective against it?
These questions have not yet been addressed or answered. Medicine’s purely physical approach to SIDS has shifted attention away from why the infant died to how it died. This serious bias has obscured attention from the mental, cultural and spiritual factors which may underlie SIDS but remain unexplored and unknown. When physicians say that “the cause of SIDS is unknown,” we must remember that this is only a medical statement, and an incomplete and presumptive statement at that. It is past time that we should look for non-medical causes. Any one of the several cultural and psychological influences cited above as risk factors could turn out to be crucial for explaining the child’s vulnerability and eventual demise, when regarded from a non-medical perspective.
Even the infant itself might be involved. Could it be playing a part in its own demise?
Intuition: Another Way of Knowing
“This term [intuition] does not denote something contrary to reason, but something outside the province of reason.” [Carl Gustav Jung, 1976]
When all available means at hand, including science, epidemiological analyses, empirical experiments, careful observation and accumulated personal experience prove to be insufficient for discovering something still not known, then another resource must be called upon.
The leading candidate for filling this gap is intuition, the human faculty by which new information is received into the mind apart from sensual perception, memory and rational thought. This capacity is not widely understood, and it is not often acknowledged and employed as a source of new knowledge. Some persons do not even know what intuition is or if it exists at all, despite abundant evidence that it is an essential constituent of ordinary thought. For many scientists and rationally inclined psychologists it is a leftover superstition of the past, long since left behind and now a “taboo” within their professions.
Because of this widespread ignorance some explanation is called for here to make clear just what intuition is, what are its salient features and properties, how it can go beyond familiar means of information access—and especially how it has already been utilized for solving a variety of human problems.
What is Intuition?
Intuition is popularly and ambiguously regarded as a flash of insight, a gut feeling, a hunch, perhaps a “psychic hit”1 or perhaps an unconscious reasoning process. A much older tradition bespeaks of it as a fundamental mental process of innate and direct knowing (nous in Greek philosophy). It was well known in most early cultures everywhere, and notably in Gnosticism, Far Eastern religions, for example. It persisted as a root belief and a common practice throughout most of the world up until the scientific revolution in the 16th and 17th centuries. It did not then totally disappear but took second place to the empirical, sense-based, materialistic and rational methods of modern science, which gradually took over in industrialized societies as the preferred means for gaining knowledge about the natural world, including its human occupants.
It is not surprising, therefore, that intuition has not been a favored topic for study or use within science, which tends to ally it with old superstitions and considers it much too unreliable for rational investigation or use. Today it is disdained by science, barely mentioned in psychology textbooks and has not been a subject of systematic study by mainstream psychiatry.
This exclusion is historically understandable, and is partially justified because the metaphysical assumptions on which all modern science is based insist on objectivity, measurability, repeatability and certain presumptions about causality, mainly reductionism. None of these properties is satisfied by familiar subjective phenomena such as imagination, creativity, perception and intuition (Barrow, 1988; Harman & Clark, 1994; Popper, 1959; Sperry, 1987). Thus, all that science can do with an acclaimed intuitive event is to verify whether it actually occurred and might be explained according to its limited physical criteria. Until the twentieth century it has been reluctant to do even this much. While it could at least utilize intuitive information in a hypothetical fashion, if it so chose, it is not qualified to investigate or explain the intuitive process because of its restrictive assumptions.
On the other hand, several decades of scientific research in parapsychology have now firmly verified that intuition exists as a real human mental capacity. (Palmer, 1998; Radin, 1997; Targ & Puthoff, 1974; Vaughan, 1979). This work has shown that various kinds of specific information, not accessible by ordinary means, not predictable in any real sense and not already known by any living person can be obtained through the direct-knowing process of intuition. (Mishlove, 1975; Radin, 1997; Targ & Puthoff, 1977). Moreover, the individuals who have demonstrated this capacity most strongly as “intuitives” are not obviously exceptional in any other way. This suggests that intuitive capacity is natural for everyone, not supernatural, and it needs only a willingness, a suitable stimulus and maybe a worthy purpose to manifest.
Recent attempts are seeking to explain intuition further within the latest models of consciousness (itself still a vague concept). An explanation within science itself is still lacking and appears to be fundamentally impossible without a change in its underlying assumptions. Freud had no use for intuition but his follower Carl Gustav Jung considered it to be one of four fundamental psychological “types,” along with thinking, sensing and feeling (Jung, 1990). The popular Myers-Briggs personality test utilizes these types (Myers, McCaulley, Quenk, & Hammer 1998). This “direct knowing” capacity has always been an integral part of Eastern philosophy, which regards it as the most significant means for gaining new knowledge. Intuition should therefore be an attractive facility for use by classical science. (Aurobindo, 1993) In the West today a few systematic explorations of intuition are taking place within humanistic and transpersonal psychologies, but the subject is greatly understudied in the light of its potential implications. (Palmer 1998, Vaughan 1979, Walsh & Vaughan 1993).
Indeed, intuition shares with other discoveries on the unconscious mind a transcendence of ordinary conceptions of time and space. It offers a more fluid and direct flow of information from the natural world as we know it. A number of speculative theories and extensions on the nature of intuition within the mind and consciousness have been proposed, though they are only suggestive metaphors at this point and none has yet won broad acceptance.
The practical importance of intuition can be recognized today through the role it plays in scientific and artistic creativity, human interactions generally and especially psychotherapy. We shall soon see that these conspicuous applications are only a beginning.
The Center for Applied Intuition
An extensive research program by this author’s organization (CAI) in the late 1970s and through the 1980s confirmed that intuition as defined above is a genuine mental faculty, it is learnable and virtually universal, and that it may be deliberately drawn upon to elicit highly specific, totally new and accurate information of the inquirer’s choosing. Again, the intuitives who did so were not exceptional in any way other than having intentionally developed this innate faculty into a refined an usable skill. These informational findings presaged a broad range of unique discoveries and potential applications.
CAI collaborated with about ten of the more “expert” intuitives to create a systematic method of consensual intuitive inquiry, and then applied it in exemplary fashion in a dozen knowledge dependent fields: ancient history, geophysics, archeology, nutritional science, linguistics, personal counseling, business consulting, nuclear technology, medical and psychiatric problems and others. (Kautz 2005, 2016). Its consensus aspect refers to the practice of obtaining parallel and agreeing information from three or more intuitives before offering it to be valid. Consensus was eventually dropped for most inquiries because it was redundant: the intuitives automatically agreed with one another unless the information was unusually complex or the topic was too undefined to allow clear and specific questioning.
The accuracy of the more factual portions of the information was verified to be very high by comparing it against independent findings by others and published in scientific journals during the following 20-30 years. Proven errors were extremely few and appeared to arise from vagueness in the questioning, not from the source of the information, whatever that is. Not all of the intuitive information could be verified in this way, of course, since some of the new intuitive findings had never been obtained by external means so that comparisons could be made. Some portions were not verifiable by their very nature. Others would have been too expensive and time consuming to be verified. Nevertheless, those portions not formally verifiable can be claimed to be believable by virtue of the confirmation of verifiable portions over a broad variety of subject matter.
We may conclude that intuition inquiry is a practical tool capable of enhancing all human endeavors that depend for their success upon new information, knowledge and understanding. This coverage ranges from science and its several branches to the social sciences, humanities and liberal arts, into practical areas such as political science and commerce, and even the attainment of private knowledge for personal purposes.
Many questions remain about the particular conditions under which intuitive perception best takes place: who can perform best, whether the skill is learnable, inherent limitations on what kinds of information can be obtained and how intuition actually works within the mind. These same questions arise with other human capabilities such as reasoning, creativity, learning, communication and speech. We have learned to utilize all of them effectively even though we do not understand the brain processes involved. Similarly, while waiting for acceptable explanations of intuition in familiar terms, we are free to make use of it—thus “applied intuition.”
An Intuitive Inquiry on Infant Death
In the late 1970s CAI recognized the mystery of SIDS as an unsolved human problem to which intuitive inquiry might be able to contribute. It applied its newly developed method of consensual intuitive inquiry to try to solve this problem. The focus was on SIDS though it soon appeared that the findings applied equally to infant death in general, and this observation turned out to correct.
The questions to be asked of the expert intuitives arose out of a series of ongoing activities with groups of parents, midwives, birth advocates and a few physicians in the San Francisco Bay Area who were trying to understand better the main outstanding problems of female conception, pregnancy, childbirth an infancy. The questions on SIDS were posed independently to twelve participating intuitives, most of them expert, in inquiry sessions in 1977-79. Agreeing responses were collected into the consensus which is summarized below.
Let it be understood at the start that in conducting this investigation we sought to explore new ideas and perspectives in the interests of greater understanding of infant death. We were not regarding the SIDS mystery as just another academic or philosophic study or a psychic experiment. We were in effect co-inquirers with the parents and families and were fully respectful of their pain, grief, confusion and helplessness. We wanted especially to learn what might be done to alleviate the suffering which so often accompanies the loss.
None of the intuitives had had prior training or experience with medical physiology or other aspects of child death, and none has lost a child to SIDS. The background information about SIDS summarized above, including its medical status, may have been partially known to some of them but was not explained in the inquiries: only the questions themselves were posed. The inquiry took a less specialized position than the medical one since we wished to be unconstrained by its purely physical approach to the problem.
The interviews generated a wealth of detailed information. The intuitives’ responses to the main questions provided a strong consensus. Individual intuitives sometimes contributed additional insights on particular matters and gave details about specific families.
When quoting the intuitives responses below we include only representative examples from the consensus, not the full and highly repetitive report. As in all intuitive inquiries, these examples should be regarded not as proven facts, medical predictions or evidence from a controlled experiment, but rather as a collection of ideas for consideration and possible hypotheses for possible testing later by independent and empirical means. The intuitive’s initials are indicated in brackets [ … ] after each excerpt.
The Cause of SIDS
“Human beings have an idea they are very fond of: that we die in old age. This is just an idea.” [Katagiri Roshi]
The intuitive consensus indicated first of all that the general cause of SIDS—in fact, any infant death—may be regarded on two levels: the physical, meaning the body, and the non-physical or mental. Both are valid views, they said, but no explanation of the cause of SIDS is possible at the physical level:
There is not one isolated cause of crib death. [BR]
Every case is different. No case is typical. [AAA]
Any body is susceptible to this peculiar set of events. It is not a virus, not a disease or an illness. The nervous system triggers this, but SIDS is not a response for it is not a nervous disease. I look through the body, at the heart, the liver, the kidneys and all the different parts. They all fade together. [LH]
It’s not coming out of a physical defect. [SR]
So we have immediately a direct contradiction with the position of medical science, which has been assuming from the start that there must be a physical cause of SIDS to be discovered. The intuitive claim is therefore consistent with medicine’s lack of success in finding a physical cause.
The intuitives go on to explain that when a SIDS infant dies, its life force, vital energy or consciousness simply withdraws from its physical body. The body then collapses from whatever essential physical function happens to be the weakest. If it already has an illness, even a minor one not normally fatal, it will succumb to it. Otherwise a small vulnerability, even a readily avoidable “accident” from which it would normally react and recover, serves in its place. An autopsy may reveal this minor weakness or other inconspicuous irregularity in normal daily health, or it may reveal nothing unusual at all. If an infant is inclined to die, it apparently finds a way to do so.
This non-physical cause of death precedes the physical failure and leads to it, not the other way around. The physiological aspect of death (such as cessation of breath) is an after-effect and has nothing to do with this cause. The withdrawal of consciousness is the more basic cause of SIDS—at least until we can learn why the infant withdrew its consciousness and initiated its death.
The intuitives went on to explain that in this early stage of consciousness development the infant simply “knows” when it is time to go, just as the elderly sometimes testify on their death beds. They also say it is easier for an infant to leave life than an adult because it has entered its body relatively recently, and is still partly attached to the pre-birth realm from which it came, whatever that might be.
A Voluntary Exit?
“There is no such thing as accidental death. All souls are self-determining and self-creating every minute of the day. They choose their own life and death.” [Rodegast/Emmanuel 1985]
A SIDS death appears to observers to be a random event. Is it also random from the infant’s “perspective”? Or is there a reason for it? Yes, the intuitives say, because the infant possesses enough of a consciousness and will to be able to make choices in response to this reason. When it “wills” to leave life, it simply does so.
There are several individual reasons why it may make this choice. For example:
Many of these children are coming into life without the background of experience with bodies that others have had. They need to learn rapidly what bodies are all about. Sometimes it’s too fast for them. [DF]
Sometimes a soul comes in just to touch base with reality, most commonly if it has [recently] undergone a violent death and is still hanging onto the physical world. [AA]
The soul is not “trying” to leave the body. It is simply … a calling back, to realize it made a wrong decision. It’s just a natural consequence. [GB]
The soul decides to leave because unfavorable conditions have happened after it has entered. [AAA] (See box.)
[The death] may be because the entity has learned in another manner what this lifetime was to provide. … Or because the parents have chosen to study death and the entity is coming in to create a body and then die so they [the parents] can examine their beliefs about death. [LB]
The infant’s withdrawal from its body is therefore “voluntary” from its own perspective. We cannot say it is making a rational decision, as an adult might do before a suicide, but neither can we assume it is reacting only to physiological or environmental stimuli like an animal. Instead, it is responding to a shift in its own consciousness, one which then triggers the separation from its body. The departure is indeed a infantile form of suicide.
Just as with adults, the young infant may be influenced in its action by external factors—the environment, the family situation, other persons or invisible influences we are not aware of, as just suggested. But these are secondary, not causal. In fact, it may have already been previously faced with this same inclination to leave, perhaps more than once, but “chose” to stay. This self-chosen mode of departure, even among non-SIDS infant deaths and adults, may be quite common and we would never become aware of it.
Can a newborn infant think?
This non-physical explanation for SIDS and other infant deaths states first of all that a newborn infant actually has an active consciousness capable of making a decision, even a life-and-death one. Can an infant really be as “conscious” as that?
To answer this question we can only go back and ask how we originally acquired the notion that a newborn’s mind is empty. This can only be an assumption or speculation, not derived from direct experience or an empirical observation. It came most likely from a widespread cultural belief that originated early in the development of modern medicine, as in the rest of science, which allowed only materialistic explanations. Namely, it had assumed that human consciousness can arise only out of a developed brain, the only organ presumed at the time to be capable of any kind of thought or awareness. (Kuhn 1962, Latour 1987).
Most of medicine today still operates under this same tacit and unproven presumption. It is therefore not qualified to claim that perinatal consciousness does not exist. It can only say that, if it does, it is not part of the body of confirmed medical knowledge already acquired. We already know that this body of medical knowledge excludes almost all mental activity and is therefore very incomplete. Infant consciousness may well exist outside of medical knowledge. There is ample evidence that it actually does, as we shall soon see.
Traditional psychology has tried to go further on this question, but it follows science too closely and operates under the same misassumption. It disallows mind-based causal hypotheses for psychological processes, including both the source and the nature of human consciousness, and it offers no verified models or explanations for perinatal consciousness. Transpersonal psychology (to be examined further below) is an exception, for it has found empirical evidence that consciousness actually exists prenatally and through early infancy, at least for some infants but probably all, and for some degree of operating consciousness.
Thus, the information provided by the intuitives does not contradict existing physiological and psychological data but only certain prevalent assumptions and beliefs about them. The intuitive statement on the nonphysical cause of SIDS must be accepted as plausible in the face of medicine’s and psychology’s present ignorance of a cause and their inability to prove right or wrong the intuitive claim.
An infant may not be able to “think” in an adult sense, but it is still credible that it has a consciousness capable of making certain kinds of choices. But the evidence is actually stronger than this.
Is Verification Possible?
Where might we find independent evidence that a newborn infant can choose to leave its body at will? Medicine and science cannot provide it, for the reasons given above. Some religious authorities may take a position on the matter, but they do not enjoy wide acceptance and do not agree with one another. No established discipline other than psychology can speak to this situation because all lie so far outside the scope of established knowledge. Psychology acknowledges the existence of the unconscious mind though it has little understanding of it, except as a presumed source or an aspect of human behavior that cannot be accounted for at a conscious level. It is almost equally limited. The only remaining possibility is the validation by separate individuals subject to the their individual criteria, just as for intuition itself.
We are forced to conclude that external verification of our intuitive discovery is not possible. Some partial corroboration may lie in the accumulation of anecdotal reports of personal experiences, and possibly through parallel phenomenological discoveries in psychology.
Memories from before birth
“Birth memories indicate that babies have an identity of their own. Their parents don’t give it to them. They act mindfully and build experience around a central core of self.” [Michael Chamberlain 1998]
We adults have long since forgotten our own perinatal state of mind. We have no reason to accept or reject outright the intuitive claim that we possessed a live, working consciousness at that time. We can imagine that if it occurred it may be similar to a reverie, dream or deep contemplation, all familiar to us. A few individuals can enter this dream-like state at will and report afterwards what they experienced.
Hundreds of examples of similar semiconscious experiences typically speak of the complete absence of fear, an unusual clarity, an ethereal quality, profound peace, ecstasy and a feeling of unity with everyone and everything. These phenomena occur at all ages, apparently independent of the health of the body and essentially unrelated to the physical event that may have induced it. They show that at least some humans possess this capacity to withdraw from waking consciousness and enter an obviously elevated state of mind. Some of them claim to remember experiences when growing in the womb, during birth or shortly after birth.
The overall similarity of these reports, over all ages and many situations, suggests a commonality with the acclaimed perinatal mind experiences. We therefore have a reasonable basis for believing that these mind states are a built-in human capacity, beginning very early in development and embracing the perinatal infant’s mind. But the case is stronger than this.
The perinatal mind is alive and well
Evidence specific to prenatal consciousness has been found in several studies reported over recent decades. Some provide convincing examples of young children who described specific experiences during gestation that were verified after birth by the mother: the mother’s emotional upsets, physical abuse, birth complications (caesarean, inverted birth, long duration, etc.), and moments of exceptional contact and pieces of music heard by both mother and infant (Tomatis 1991, Whitwell 1999, Verny 1981, 1991; Kraus 1972; Odent 1984; Chamberlain 1998; Dougherty 1990; Hallett 2002) Two recent reports provide evidence that even maternal voice quality, nursery rhymes, vowel sounds and songs heard during the third trimester were retained and recognized by the infant a few months after birth. (Partanen 2013, Moon 2013) These and similar accounts show that some children were sensitive to certain kinds of events taking place both within and without the womb and were retained and later recalled as memories. The prenatal mind apparently has the potential to be receptive and remember its uterine environment to at least this limited extent.
Serious accident victims and very old persons occasionally report a similar perceptive state as they approach closely to the doorway of death. It may like a near-death experience (NDE), which sometimes occurs when the heart stops, clinical signs vanish and the body “dies,” only to bounce back to life after a few minutes or longer (days later in a few cases). These persons typically report verifiable perceptions of their environment and nearby conversations (and much more) which they experienced while they were “out.” (Ring 1984, Greyson 1993, Moorjani 2012, Alexander 2012)
Evidence of a different sort arose in carefully gathered data collected over decades by Dr. Ian Stevenson M.D. and his successor Dr. Jim Tucker M.D. on past-life recall by young children. (Stevenson 1974, 1997, Tucker 2005) In dozens of these cases the children described the specific living conditions and experiences of another child, which they claimed to be themselves, from a nearby village who died shortly before they were born. Their stories were confirmed by Stevenson in impressive detail through actual visits to and interviews with the identified village families. He interpreted these cases as evidence for reincarnation of the child’s consciousness, and it is difficult to argue otherwise. They show again that the prenatal mind can remember (that is, place into memory) external events before it was born, retain them, and remember (recall) them later when a young child in another body. The evidence is very sound. So prenatal consciousness can extend back into a recent prior life and then be carried forward into the postnatal period of the present life.
Extensive research an non-ordinary states of consciousness has been conducted by psychiatrist Dr. Stanislav Grof with the aid of consciousness expanding techniques such as holotropic breathwork and psychedelic substances. (Grof 2010a, Grof 2010b) His sixty years of experiments provide what is undoubtedly the strongest confirmation that early memories are retained and carried into adulthood for all stages of gestational and perinatal growth, from embryonic to postnatal. While these memories normally remain unconscious unless released, they turn out to be highly formative in establishing character, personality, the sense of security and a primordial personal identity. When traumatic they can be responsible for physical and mental disorders. They include prior incarnations, precognition, moments of merged identity with others, feelings of cosmic unity, timelessness, oceanic ecstasy and verifiable and specific traumatic events such as attempted abortion, drugs, gynecological exams, sexual intercourse, forcep and inverted births, cruel treatment of mother, loud sounds, the mother’s depression, anxiety, aggression and emotional stress. Such early wounds are not ordinarily amenable to conventional psychiatric diagnosis and treatment, but Grof found that they are real and valid, sometimes healed spontaneously when the original trauma is recalled and reexperienced.
There can no longer be any doubt that the sensitive infantile mind is alive and active behind ordinary waking consciousness. The extent of its memory and reasoning capacities and its degree of awareness are not fully known, but they function in some form from well before birth until much later.
The intuitive claims on the existence and activities of perinatal consciousness are substantiated, based on evidence from a variety of sources. They are very likely a natural human attribute of every infant.
Possibilities for Prediction and Prevention
“There’s no separate, indivisible, specific point of death, … even in the case of a sudden accident. … Your consciousness may withdraw from your body slowly or quickly, according to many variables.” [Jane Roberts/Seth]
The consensus suggested (in a previous childbirth study) that if an infant’s approaching death can somehow be anticipated, either intuitively or by a physiological signal, and if the infant is facing its entry into life with uncertainty, then it may be possible to persuade it to stay around instead of leaving.
Talk to the child, make yourself a close friend of the child. Speak positively to the soul, saying, “You don’t need to leave.” [AA]
We will question in a moment if such intervention is really a good idea, but we may look first at the kinds of physiological indicators which may precede its immanent departure from its body and might be detected by a monitoring device. Such a device might provide a warning so that the parents could intervene in the dying process and give the infant an opportunity to “change its mind.” A few of these signs are:
A shortness of oxygenation to the brain tissues and complete brain death … a collapse in part of the lung tissues. [KR]
It’s as if the lungs have forgotten what they’re supposed to be doing. [AAA]
Gradual changes in body acidity could be picked up with frequent blood tests a day or two before [the death]. [LH]
Two critical collapses in the endocrine system, synonymously with each other, the pancreas and the adrenals, due to overstimulation of insulin within the system. [KR]
There would be detected art, mild neurological over-stimulation between the synapses of the right and left brain hemispheres. [KR]
It’s a thyroid imbalance. It’s not a matter of a malformed thyroid gland but thyroxin T3 and T4, instead of staying on the same level, are on a teeter-totter [changing] every five minutes. [LH]
Unfortunately, these signs tend to be unique to each individual body, and are therefore not very useful as a general means for detecting an imminent SIDS. Also, they may occur at other times when the infant is not intending to leave. Even more condemning, the sensitivity of the monitoring devices must be set low enough to provide positive indication to the parents, who will be awoken often by false alarms: “Perhaps this time your child is really dying!”
In any case it makes no sense at all to monitor all newborns for an unknown 1% risk when the likelihood of successful persuasion is so uncertain. The official recommendation is unqualified: “Home cardiorespiratory monitoring should not be prescribed to prevent SIDS.” (AAP Policy 2003, Silvestri 2009, Strehle 2012). The same precaution holds for other types of monitoring.
Is persuasion called for at all?
If parents could somehow detect a SIDS death in advance, should they respond to the warning and try to persuade the infant to stay? The answer is not immediately obvious.
The situation might be compared with trying to persuade an elderly parent not to die, or to convince a confused teenager not to leave home. Such urging can be a fitting gesture of love and care when the recipient is just waiting for a sincere invitation to stay. But it can also be driven by the mother’s clinging— “please don’t leave me!”—or a father’s sense of duty to try to “save a life” when that life is trying to end. On what basis can one decide?
Cultural pressures can make this decision difficult because Western social values hold that any sacrifice, effort and expense to keep a person alive is justified as the most caring action one can take. This forced “saving of life” commonly occurs in hospitals where the well trained staff provides dying individuals with abundant life-preserving care, drugs, treatments and other amenities—and never mind the wishes of the one who is dying. To be sure, those approaching death are often senile, confused, feeling helpless or in pain and they tend to be compliant with all offers of help. (Campbell 2013, O’Reilly 2013) (I have witnessed all of this.)
It is becoming more and more difficult these days to leave physical life when one chooses to do so. Loud voices from both science and religion take their positions on the issue, but modern man has no widely accepted principle to guide him on such occasions. Since most persons are unable to grasp the notion of prenatal will and consciousness, they steer a “safe” course by trying to preserve the physical body. This practice is not categorically wrong, of course, for it is sometimes perfectly appropriate. But in other cases it is a misinformed or even selfish act, just the opposite of what the patient has chosen.
The same error can occur for euthanasia, a controversial social issue these days without publicly accepted guidelines, (Weigel 2010, Kadampa 2012) and especially for abortion of a prenatal infant because the child is not able to convey its wishes.
Most to the point, we are reminded by the consensus that it is the consciousness of the infant, not its physical body, that is the primary “life” to be loved and nurtured. It cannot be “saved,” since it does not die, but it should be allowed to come and go as it chooses at every stage of its physical existence, including the prenatal. Its temporary caregivers are asked only to provide love and nurturance while it is present in their lives, and to try to be sensitive to its wishes. This practice is really no different than we behave with the adults we whom we most love, for we respect their freedom to choose for themselves. We make decisions for them only if they are incompetent or ask for help.
When a parent is uncertain, which is often the case, is it not wiser to withdraw external interference entirely and consciously? We then give the infant the freedom to make its own independent decision to stay or leave. All forms of persuasion and prevention are set aside and the associated ethical issue vanishes. This option also applies for euthanasia and voluntary deaths at any age, and even for abortion when the fetus can be contacted intuitively.
Parenthood as Stewardship
“First of all, think of them [your children], not of yourself, think of their lives and not yours, and don’t use the word ‘my’ when you refer to them.”
[Jiddu Krishnamurti, in Chandmal 1985, p. 20]
The intuitive explanation of infant death suggests how parents can come to a clearer appreciation of the greater possibilities of their relationship with their child.
If you are willing to visualize in advance the possibility that your child may leave at any time, by its own choice, then you will also find you can give it a fuller degree of love and care while it is still alive, and with less of a shock if it should leave earlier than you expect. This shift of perspective also makes it less likely that you will become dependent upon your child, either “possessing” it in the sense of ownership or relying upon it to satisfy your own emotional needs. Instead, you may see yourself as the child’s privileged steward, to whom it has been given “on loan” so you may learn how to love it without any sense of possession or dependence.
This change in perspective need not be driven by a fear of loss, perhaps the first thought, but rather from the broader perspective that embraces all life and death into a single whole. After all, death is a necessary part of life an they form a polarity, like male and female: neither is superior, you cannot have one without the other, and when either one is finishing its complement must begin. This obvious principal holds for the relationship between infant and parent, just as it does in adult relationships. If sadness or pain accompanies the transition from one to the other, it lies only in the mind that is attached to it and resists such a natural change. And one can always employ that mind to let go of its attachment, to drop its resistance and welcome the change that is taking place.
The option of “loving with detachment” is admittedly a difficult notion for many. It seems at first to be a direct contradiction: how can I detach from that which I most dearly love? The resolution lies in the recognition that love and need are also polarities in a relationship, both essential but complementary ingredients that are asking to be brought into balance. They are resolved in the shared boundary area where giving and receiving overlap. We cannot truly love without receiving love as well, and the need to receive love automatically generates the love we can give.
Through this dynamic (and largely unconscious) interaction both parties learn to give and receive love in a natural balance. If one’s dependence and “needs” are very strong, then to that same extent is one’s ability to love less. As one’s love grows to be more unconditional, then his needs and dependencies diminish. While still learning to establish this balance, it is easily upset by intellectual, emotional and fear-based needs. Strong attachments—“I need you” (for my well being, comfort and security) or “I really love you” (on my own limited terms)—must gradually give way by an honest and fulfilling balance. The name of the game is truly detachment versus non-attachment to personal needs. As we develop personality, character and individual identity, we also learn emotional and intellectual self-sufficiency. Attachments then lessen and gradually dissolve.
The greatest loving is totally free of attachment. A posture of stewardship toward your child is the hallmark of this ideal and a vision you may wisely adopt as a guidepost for your own personal growth an all relationships, whether they are with an infant child or not, and whether the child is at risk of SIDS or not.
Adapting after Child Death
“Coming to terms with existential questions of identity, meaning and purpose in life are crucial to mental health.” [Frances Vaughan]
When a child dies from SIDS, what specific and practical counsel can be offered to the parents to help them adjust to their loss, deal with the strong emotional reactions to it that commonly occur and perhaps discover lasting value from their experience?
There is no single response to these questions because helpful answers depend so much upon individual expectations and beliefs and especially upon what they are willing to hear, accept and act upon. Still, intuitives’ counsel is much alike for almost all SIDS parents during the first months after the infant’s departure. It is fairly obvious but worth listening to:
The parents need to understand the fairness of what has happened to them, that they are not being discriminated against. [AAA]
Help them to understand that they have fulfilled their part. When they have been released from the burden of their sorrow, they in turn must take their place to help others, even as they have been helped. [LH]
“When someone you love dies, let them go into the next step of their evolution. Give them a hearty ‘bon voyage,’ and give comfort to others like yourself. Then enjoy a grand celebration and go about the business of your own lives.” [Rodegast/Emanuael 1985]
Bring them together with other parents … [so they may] channel their psychological states into socially constructive labors. Restructure their desire for further births. [KR]
And, from other sources,
“You can reconcile yourself to feelings of loss by identifying with that which is not lost when all else is lost; namely, the consciousness that informs the body and all things.” [Joseph Campbell]
Some of the SIDS mothers encountered during this study had committed themselves to helping other SIDS parents deal with their loss, just as advised. While some did so on their own initiative, others joined organized parent groups, now in most large cities in the US and Britain, which systematically contact every new SIDS parent to offer support for information, conversation and direct service. Psychotherapists, health practitioners and ministers too provide grief and guilt counseling, which can be especially helpful when these professionals have themselves already had a direct experience of this kind of loss.
It is common for SIDS mothers to be afraid initially of becoming pregnant again, but they usually recover from this fear within a year and go on to have more children. While SIDS incidence is a little higher among subsequent siblings, the effect is small and appears to be a family effect not causally related to their first loss. (Keens 1998)
Making Peace with Death
“I can hardly believe that this tiny death, over whose head we look every day we wake, is still such a threat to us and so much trouble. I cannot take his growls seriously.” [Rainer Maria Rilke]
We already know that most fears arise from mistaken beliefs, imaginations, assumptions and expectations about what the future will bring, rather than what it will actually bring, which is usually unknown. A deeper look at this seeming threat reveals that it almost always arises from the fearful but mistaken presumption: “When I die I will no longer exist.” The death of anyone around us is an inconvenient reminder of this apparently incongruous and inescapable aspect of being alive: “I may be struck by death at any time, seemingly randomly and outside of my control, and it appears to mark the end of my personal existence.” Whether triggered by accident, illness, SIDS or some other life threatening event, our ongoing assumed attitude about our personal existence are uncomfortably threatened whenever death raises its head. But is this assumption correct? Does we really vanish from existence when we die?
Several contemporary teachers have devoted their entire careers to supporting and counseling the grieving and the dying, including parents whose children die very young. (e.g., Kubler-Ross 1969, Ram Dass 2000, Levine 1982, Musgrave 1993) They offer specific advicean in their writings and workshops as to how one may work through the experience of loss around death, and transcend the resulting confusion, grief and guilt, quell one’s fears and come to a clearer personal understanding of the central role that death plays in all human life. After all, death is as natural, universal and inevitable as is birth. It cannot possibly be man’s inherent enemy unless we choose to make it one. There is no basic reason why death need be as threatening as it usually seems. Indeed, the transition of death has the potential to be a positive contribution to one’s life, thus a friend and ally, long before it actually occurs. This is because the continual fear of death throughout life takes a subtle toll on how we look at at our lives and chose to live them. We are invited instead to see death as friend and ally and take advantage of its on-going, essential and positive presence while we still live.
Wherein lies the obstacle to make this simple shift in perspective? A closer look at infant death can provide the clue. The ever-present contingency of premature death through SIDS or by another means (and who is to say what is premature?) can be a stimulus to look for the purpose and the meaning of death as an inherent part of life. The issue of meaning is not an intellectual puzzle for philosophers but is very basic an relevant to each one of us. As creatures who have been given the gift of human life, we have a perfect right to ask why the prime object of our love has been taken from us, or may be taken sometime, which is an event we know sometimes occurs. How can it be that a child comes into life and is so soon gone? What kind of a loving God would allow such a terrible thing to happen? Is it just a random occurrence or is there a cause for it? We may demand of life itself to know the purpose of this seeming loss, both for ourselves and for others, and what it means when it does happen.
To be sure, the answers may not lie where we ordinarily look for answers. We may need to clear a fresh space in our minds to hold the answers when they arrive, since we have been inadvertently resisting them for so long. But we also know that other seekers have asked these same questions for millennia, and many claim to have found the answers. So the prospects are good that if we too turn to our natural and personal resources, as they did, we too will be able to find the information for ourselves.
How to demand information from life itself? This is basically an intuitive process but not a difficult one.
The first step is to state our questions personally, as “I,” rather than “we” or abstractly or about a child or someone else: Why am I living in the first place? What was the point in my being born? What will happen to me after I die? What am I supposed to be doing with this life I’ve been given? And, of course, why do heavy losses sometimes descend upon me? Is this loss only an impersonal act of nature, or did I somehow bring it on to myself? And just who is the person asking these hard questions?
These are ordinarily regarded as spiritual questions, whatever this vague term means to you besides something important, basic and unknown. External authorities (especially religious) stand ready to provide prepared answers from their traditions and training, and their counsel can sometimes help us in forming better beliefs. But they can go no further because their words are external to the one seeking answers. Anyway, the answers are not a matter of belief, but real knowing. The understanding which is being sought is necessarily intimate and personal. No one can do it for you or give it to you.. You have to find answers for yourself, by yourself and within yourself. This and only this is what makes the attempt “spiritual.” We are all equipped with whatever we need to find meaning in our own lives, all by ourselves.
Herein lies the principal challenge of infant death, actual or merely potential: to face and resolve these so-called “spiritual” issues which the issue of death compels into attention. If you have gone through this self-inquiry then you already know what it is trying to show you and do not need further trials. If not, then life will provide multiple opportunities to acquire this essential knowledge, one way or another and sooner or later. Watch carefully as they arise, try to respond voluntarily and without stress, and thereby avoid on the path of learning through suffering.
Learning from the Death of one’s Child
“We love, we join, we separate, we hurt. And we love again. Belonging, attachment and painful losses come and go but love survives all trauma.”
We recognized earlier that part of the suffering of SIDS arises not from the loss of a particular loved one but from the cloud of uncertainties and fears that surround death itself, apart from what may have caused it and even how close one may be to the person who died. These deeper concerns are age dependent, for our reactions are certainly stronger when the deceased is very young and “did not have a chance to live,’ as in SIDS. They are also stronger when the death appears to be random, a reminder that the specter can come to anyone and at any time without warning, also the case with SIDS. Some persons can weep easily over news of the death of someone they do not know at all. I recall the unknown crowd that showed up at the funeral of my mother in a retirement home; they were all strangers, for she was 102 and had outlived all of her friends. Their brief dance with death seemed to be a mixture of fear and fascination, a safe preparation for their own departure.
If you have already experienced the death of your infant you may approach this enigma directly, through the personal loss itself, never mind philosophic arguments about meanings and purposes. You may affirm: I must somehow accept what has happened as a natural part of my life, as something I need to experience, and from which I may learn something that is important or me to learn.
There is obviously a core issue of acceptance of the event as a natural part of human life, just as is birth and falling in love, the beginning and end of friendships and spouses, even the apparent tragedies of natural catastrophes and loss of jobs, homes and cars. We may be sorrowed or grieved by them but we do not necessarily demand external explanations from priests, scientists or our government: we accept them, we adjust and cope, and life goes on. To call them losses is simply a matter of perspective and terminology.
There is a question of presumed ownership here, is there not? Can one ever lose that which he has not already first chosen to own for himself? This notion of ownership derives directly from our values, what we take to be important, and do not often examine them, and also from personal needs that we presume to be asking for satisfaction. When this ownership is threatened, our attachment to the apparent need must always be questioned, even on small matters (hunger, entertainment, meeting a friend, playing a game, etc.).
This acceptance is not just an intellectual act or a change in belief. Rather, it arises from the recognition of deeper urges already resident in the mind—like falling in love, the awe of appreciating the heavens or being moved by a piece of music. You do not create the change of mind toward acceptance, you can only allow it to occur, just as you cannot will yourself to feel love toward someone but you can certainly allow yourself to be loved and love in return. The inner experience is true, real and valid, while your rational, thinking brain and your physical effort are temporarily out of the picture. With acceptance comes the freedom and the urge to translate this new state of mind into constructive and loving action for yourself and others.
Another part of the SIDS experience asks the parents (and all of us) to remedy a common and incorrect assumption about what constitutes human life in the first place. Whatever life is, death is an inherent part of it. To acknowledge this simple and obvious fact can be transformative and completely life changing, as many persons have testified. This issue calls for serious attention and it has profound implications for one’s entire life. It is fundamental and of the highest personal importance. It is truly a spiritual issue if anything is.
In other words, birth and death are not about gaining and losing but are parts of a vibrant whole, in which every change is purposeful and instructive and is therefore a true gain when regarded from this perspective. This simple piece of knowing is so fundamental and crucial to a full experience and appreciation of human life that it is sometimes necessary for a child to be lost to bring it home. Life just works like this. In this very basic sense, losing a child is never necessary to achieve this gain, for other voluntary and much less painful ways exist for doing so. If the loss occurs, then it is time to pause, identify the lesson and verify that it has been truly learned.
Summary and Implications
“A woman with babe said, speak to us of children. And he said: ‘Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself. They come to you, but not from you. Though they are with you, they belong not to you.’” [Kahlil Gibran 1951]
This intuitive inquiry, using twelve intuitives, generated a broad and credible consensus on the cause of sudden infant death, and provided insightful information on several related matters surrounding child loss. The explanation offered arose not from within modern medicine or SIDS, but rather in the more subjective and spiritual area of basic human experience of life and death. Indeed, SIDS is a perfectly natural occurrence, not a medical problem at all. Its tragic aspect arises from a common expectation that an infant is incapable of leaving life at any time, as an adult may do, and that its death should be any different from adult death. In fact, it possesses sufficient consciousness to “choose” to exit life when it wishes, in the fashion of a suicide, for any of a variety of reasons. Its body then dies by whatever physiological condition is weakest at the moment of choice.
This voluntary emigration from life explains why fifty years of Western medical research have found no cause of SIDS, no consistent symptoms and no means of preventing or predicting the death. Medicine missed this discovery through its root assumption that consciousness can arise only out of a developed brain, which infants seem to lack. When it took over the search for a cause, it therefore excluded non-physical possibilities—psychological, societal and psycho-spiritual—which lay outside of its own competence, and it never explored them. Nevertheless, the existence of an active perinatal mind has been well confirmed by studies outside of medicine. They show clearly that that an infant is not merely a body and brain but an active, independent and precious consciousness, sensitive to its own existence and even to portions of the adult, physical world.
Unlike some other intuitive inquiries rather few portions of this one can be confirmed or denied through comparison with accepted knowledge sources such as medicine and science, or even widely accepted religious doctrines. They can be validated only through the experiences of individual parents as they seek to comprehend the meaning of their child’s death and how best to interpret, understand and accommodate to it.
The central messages of this inquiry into early child death are first, that you can never really own your child, for it was gifted to you by life itself, with the challenge and the opportunity to love it with all your heart and learn what it can teach you through its presence. Second, this gift was not just a physical body but a precious consciousness, which is no more perceivable directly by your five senses than the love you give it and receive in return. It is this consciousness with which you can have the most effective relation. And third, that it has right to come and go from your life as it chooses, quite apart from your own preferences. The best solution for a parents lies in a posture of loving detachment, a peaceful state of mind that enables a full range of giving and receiving of love with their infant, without using it or hanging onto it to satisfy their emotional needs.
[Internet addresses are listed as they existed at the time of preparing this publication; some may have changed.]
- AAP Policy (2003). Apnea, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and Home Monitoring. American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Fetus and New born. Pediatrics 111(4):914-917 (Apr). Revision (2005). Reaffirmation (2007). [http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/111/4/914.full]
- AAP Policy (2005). The Changing Concept of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: Diagnostic Coding Shifts, Controversies Regarding the Sleeping Environment, and New Variables to Consider in Reducing Risk. Pediatrics 116(5):1245-1255. [http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/116/5/1245.full.pdf+html]
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- This author’s organization (CAI) conducted its own epidemiological study in the mid-1970s on all documented SIDS cases (917) in Alameda County, California over a 16-year period, along with a comparable group of live controls. It confirmed all of the physiological and family risk factors identified in the NICHHD and prior studies, and added one more: a weekly periodicity in the deaths, peaking on Friday and Saturday nights. (A later research study verified this weekend increase and associated it with low birth weight.) (Gould 2003, Malloy 2003) Since the natural environment contains no weekly cycles, this discovery again threw suspicion on parental habits, perhaps an absence from home, transfer of care to a babysitter or drinking alcohol while out. These and the other societal data again raised the possibility that the kind of attention parents give their infant could be a significant factor in SIDS. ↑
- The higher incidence among twins disappeared when birth weight was taken into account (Malloy 2005a, Platt 2003) ↑
- Alcohol was directly implied in a British study of SIDS (Blair 2009) and again in Australia and the US (O’Leary 2013) The association or effect could be occurring during pregnancy, at birth or later. Many of the cited studies also discovered a smoking risk, apart from or near the sleeping infant. ↑
- Quoted in Campbell 1995 p. 53. ↑
- One intuitive [AA] cited neural anomalies near the top of the spinal cord as a precursor to SIDS, and added that important work on this defect was in progress at a medical laboratory in Cleveland, Ohio. A few years later the Cleveland Clinic reported abnormal auditory evoked brainstem potentials in infants suspected (?) to be at high risk of SIDS. (Orlowsky 1979) A recent study of tissue samples of SIDS infants from San Diego, CA, revealed distinct brainstem abnormalities (40% of SIDS cases) in the body’s mechanism for regulating sleep, among other functions. (Paterson 2006, NICHHD 2006, Kinney 2009) Unfortunately, these discoveries are too premature to be generalized to the majority of SIDS cases or to indicate a physiological test that might predict SIDS vulnerability. ↑
- These parental psychological factors have long been observed by social workers and health visitors who work with pre- and post-SIDS families. The positive effects of co-sleeping, long breastfeeding, close bonding and emotional attachment, as recommended by parenting organizations, are not often reported professionally because of their subjective and anecdotal nature. (e,g., Friedlander 1975) At a psychiatric level there is solid evidence of the negative effects of a mother’s postnatal depression on children (Mitchell 1992, O’Hara 1996, Sanderson 2002). Serious disorders such as schizophrenia are also known to be related to SIDS incidence.(e.g., King-Hele 2007, Webb 2010). ↑
- The intuitives say that the soul or consciousness almost always enters the body at birth or a few moments after birth, though a loose and intermittent association with the fetus may occur for weeks or months beforehand. ↑