Since actor Tom Cruise, a Scientologist, announced that he and actress Katie Holmes would follow the Scientology practice of "silent birth" when their baby was born, there has been widespread speculation about what's behind this idea and what it involves. On April 18, 2006--the day Cruise and Holmes' baby, Suri, was born--the Rev. John Carmichael, president of the Church of Scientology in New York, spoke with Beliefnet senior editor Alice Chasan to explain Scientology's views on childbirth, the parent-child relationship, and child development

What is "silent birth"?

Silent Birth
Silent birth is having a quiet or gentle birth, and it’s all about providing the best environment for the birthing mother and her new baby. It’s labor and delivery done in a calm and loving environment with no spoken words by everyone present as much as possible. Obviously, there will be times that that’s not completely practical, but that’s the intention and the general plan. Chatty doctors and nurses’ shouts to “Push! Push!” and loud and laughing remarks, even if they’re meant as “encouragement,” those are things we’re trying to avoid.

Why do Scientologists practice silent birth?

It’s based on L. Ron Hubbard’s research into the mind and spirit. He found that words spoken during pain and unconsciousness can have effects on an individual later in life. It’s called the reactive mind. Anyone can read about this in the book Dianetics The Modern Science of Mental Health, but mothers who are familiar with this and have seen the effects more generally, naturally want to give their baby the best possible start in life, so they want to keep birth as quiet as possible.

How are medical emergencies handled when the parents opt for silent birth?

Scientology has no policy at all against the use of medicines that have a purpose for a specific situation, if it’s a medical problem, its up to the doctor and the patient so that means that if a C-section is necessary, then a C-section it is. If the mother desires painkillers, then she can opt for an epidural or whatever.

So some conversation, then, is allowed in the delivery room?

Absolutely. You should understand more basically about Scientology. Scientology’s not a set of rituals that have to be followed. It’s methods that can be used; it’s principles that can be understood by people. So, Scientology and its application in everyday life helps people solve problems, it provides answers to questions like, “how do we solve study problems?” and “how do we improve our relationships?” “How do we make our businesses and families flourish?” All those things are principles that Scientology can aid people with. Similarly, in a silent birth, it’s a principle that as few words as possible during is desirable because those words can have an unfortunate effect. But if you need to- if words need to be said, instructions from the doctor, especially if the mother herself wants to say something, or if she feels like screaming, there’s no intention to keep what needs to be done from being done.

Can you explain more fully what the negative effects of speech on the neo-nate—the newborn baby—might be, or, conversely, what the benefits of silence are for both the mother and the baby?

Benefits of Silent Birth
If you read Dianetics, you’ll see a lot of examples here, it gives a lot of examples. If you have experience with the method of Dianetics, you’ll see that for instance an example that a mother gave me one time was, if someone is screaming loudly, "Push! Push!" while the child is being born and is under some pressure and so forth, it may not be obvious right away but maybe years later the child is in a situation and someone is yelling “Push! Push!” about a bicycle, “Push harder on the bicycle!” the kid all of a sudden really doesn’t like the situation--maybe he has a headache and feels tired--the child doesn’t know, and the parent doesn’t know that there’s anything in particular going on except all of a sudden the child feels tired, and what could the problem be.

It stems back, it turns out, to something that the child experienced during birth. The principle that you’ll read in Dianetics is that words entered into a time of pain and unconsciousness do not enter as data that an individual can use to think with. Instead, these words are entered as commands into the reactive mind not possible to easily access but able to affect the individual. So, comments about what a difficult time the mother’s having, some concern about the child, there are all sorts of things that go on in the course of birth and all these things, when they are entered as words, into the child’s reactive mind, can produce bad effects later on.