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.

On what basis did Hubbard reach these conclusions?

L. Ron Hubbard's Theory
He had cases--hundreds of cases already--and since then there have been many thousands more cases and any individual can in fact read Dianetics and see that, as a general principle, people are under the effect of a great number of these recordings in their reactive minds. And the most amazing thing possibly is that when you get rid of--that is to say, a person goes back into the reactive mind and finds these times of pain and unconsciousness, and views what they were, and finds the words, and thus is able to see them in an analytical way--that is to say a way in which they can think about these things.

Thus, they no longer have the reactive influence and, as a result, people who have gone through the process of Dianetics find themselves happier, with greater respect for themselves; they can solve their own problems more easily. That’s what I think all Scientology mothers, in fact all parents, want to see for their children, that the child will grow up able to be independent, able to be ethical, be able to make decisions for themselves, and to be able to solve their own problems. All that is hindered by the reactive mind.


What is the father’s role in the birth process?

The Father's Role
The hard work is unfortunately given to the mother, and I think that’s the way it is no matter what your religion is. I have been present myself during a gentle birth--a quiet birth, that’s what we really call it--and my wife asked me to just keep things as quiet and calm as possible, and I did everything possible in that way.

So Scientologists prefer the term “gentle birth” rather than “silent birth”?

Really, I think “quiet birth” is the better term. If the mother--you should understand, the basic principle is this: that all women, that all children deserve the greatest respect and care, and that’s where silence at birth comes in. That’s what birth is about. As I say, the mother will--some mothers, whether they’re Scientologists or not, find it possible to be completely quiet or grunt during birth. Others make loud noises, and no one expects the mother to do anything but what she feels is the right thing to do at that point.

So if the mother decides to abandon being quiet partway through the labor, there would be no sense that she had failed or that she was deserving of people’s criticism?

No. You see, once again, that’s confusing Scientology with other religions. Scientology is a set of principles that people use to improve their lives, and if a person, if a parent for example, wants to have an independent child and so forth, they need to encourage that in their child, but there’s no police going around and encouraging people to be independent. Scientology’s all about freedom of thought, making your own decisions anyway, so it’s not a matter of ritual it’s a matter of principles. And the principles, as Scientologists see when they’re practically applied, and they’re well applied, lead to good results. But no one is forced, and no one would ever be forced, to follow Scientologist principles, because that wouldn’t be Scientology.

Is there only thought that the absence of words is beneficial from this perspective you’ve already described, or is there some spiritual component to the atmosphere of silence that is advocated?

A Spiritual Component?
Really, it’s a practical thing, and it’s a matter of practical results. As I’m sure you’re aware, L. Ron Hubbard isn’t the only one who’s talked about the desirability of having a quiet, calm, relaxed birth. There’s the Bradley method, and the French obstetrician Frederic Le Boyer, who both have talked about this whole manner. And these things came about in the 60s and 70s, but they’re still very much in use by people. It makes a lot of sense, if you talk to especially midwives, but many doctors as well, they will tell you it’s a natural thing to want a calm, quiet space for the mother to give birth.

Press reports cite L. Ron Hubbard as having said that the mother should not speak to the child after birth for a number of days, and a sentence which purports to be from Preventive Dianetics saying that the baby should be wrapped in a soft blanket tightly and left alone for a day or two. Does this have grounding in Scientology texts, and is that an actual quote from L. Ron Hubbard?

You know, I looked up that quote the other day, and first of all I’ll tell that you can’t believe what you read in the newspapers, because I’ve talked to the guy who made up the first story in the Daily News that was widely reported, he said he couldn’t reach anybody. I don’t know why he couldn’t call me.

In fact, I looked up that particular quote and it appears in an article written by L. Ron Hubbard in the ‘50s, and when you read the full article it’s pretty clear that the idea is that the child should be left alone in the sense that he shouldn’t be badgered, that he and the mother deserve the greatest respect. They shouldn’t be bugged, they shouldn’t be hassled, especially in the time immediately after birth.

Tom and Katie are apparently having their baby at home. Is this something they’ve chosen as a couple to do, or is there some basis in Scientology for making this choice?

I can’t comment on what Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes did or what their plans are at all. I can tell you that there are Scientologists who choose to have their children at home, and others who choose to have them in birthing rooms at hospitals- and again, it depends on the medical situation. Decisions are made between the mother and the doctor, so depending on what the birth situation is it may be better to just do it in a hospital.

To get back to this question of language and the negative effect that language can have, what if the people in the delivery room, let’s say, were chanting words of love and encouragement, or simply chanting the word “love” over and over again, would that have a favorable imprinting effect on the reactive mind, or do Scientologists not distinguish between the kinds of words and the way in which they are spoken at this moment?

The 'Reactive Mind'
Once again, you can find this all covered in Dianetics, and I would certainly advise that. But the short answer is this: that words that are entered into the reactive mind that are undergoing pain and unconsciousness, those words have a power of command over the individual instead of being something that they can think with. If you were going to separate what’s analytical and what information you have read in books, that you’ve studied, that you’ve heard from friends, that you’ve examined for yourself, information you can think with, and this stuff in the reactive mind, which has power of command over you, which makes you sad or happy or have a headache or a pain in the leg, regardless of what makes sense.

In Scientology, and in Dianetics, we are trying to restore to the individual his or her own determination, his or her own determinism, his or her own ability to think with the information they observe and then to be able to solve problems and survive better. If you enter into a person’s mind, the reactive mind, even suggestions like “love” or “it’s all going to be all right” or “don’t worry” or similar commands, those are still commands. It’s still a kind of hypnotism, if you like, and we’re very opposed to the idea of overcoming somebody else’s ability to solve their problems by instilling commands. That’s the idea that there should be a quiet birth, that it should be gentle, that there shouldn’t be shouldn’t be things entered into the whole process.

So even after the birth, then, in a delivery room, it’s important for people to refrain from speaking?

Yes. They should be relatively calm and so forth, and once again, you know, some Scientologists, some women have an arrangement with their spouse, with the doctor or the midwife, to do hand signals, for instance, for things that they think are going to come up. Others have a more informal situation, but, once again, it’s a principle being applied, and I’ve had many Scientology mothers convinced that their children are especially happy and healthy. It seems to them to be a healthy and alert- they really believe that that’s a result of the application of this principle.

Another quote that is widely circulated as the world awaits this baby of this celebrity couple to be born is a quote, again, attributed to L. Ron Hubbard that a doctor, or doctors, should not examine the baby for several days after its birth. Is that an accurate reflection of what L. Ron Hubbard actually said? Is it a quote from one of his works?

I can tell you that all these medical decisions are made between the mother and the doctor, and it’s obvious that it’s important to keep in touch with the mother just from a medical viewpoint. So if some sort of quote has been made up to that effect it’s not the same experience as Scientology and Dianetics as applied in gentle birth.

So it's not something that L. Ron Hubbard actually advocated?

No, no, no, I don't think so. And I will say that sometimes these quotes come about because someone has a confusion between Scientology and Christian Science, and probably no one who has visited Beliefnet would make that mistake. But my friends at Christian Science have a very different view of medicine and so forth. Scientologists believe in proven, actual medical techniques, and in fact you'll find Scientologists in all brands and all specialties of medicine.

Is there any sort of a birth ceremony for babies born into a Scientology family?

You know, there isn't a birth ceremony, but it's interesting, later on there's a naming ceremony if you like, and you can call it baptism, it serves a similar purpose. But it's done later, after the child and the mother have recovered from the trauma of birth.

How much later?

It really depends a lot, and I've seen it anywhere from a few days to a couple months later.

Does it take place at home or in the church?

No, it can be done informally at home, but usually it's done in a church. It's a very informal sort of affair, and it's both a matter of welcoming the child to this time, this lifetime, if you like, this world, pointing out to him his godparents if he hasn't met them yet, that sort of thing. And one of the interesting parts of this ceremony is that the minister--in this case, myself--would be reminding the parents that this child, as he grows up, will be exposed to Scientology principles and be given tools that he or she can use to make their life better, but it will be up to the child at some point to come to a decision about whether or not they want to be a Scientologist. And the minister reminds the parents during the naming ceremony that any faith, if you like, any religion chosen for oneself is the only true religion and if a religion is forced on someone, it's certainly not Scientology.

Are boys circumcised? Is that acceptable within Scientology or advocated?

Once again, I think that's a medical decision.

So there's no symbolic significance assigned to it?


Do Scientologists tend to advocate a specific kind of pediatric care? Do they go to pediatricians who are themselves Scientologists?

Once again, that really comes down to the decisions of the parents, the mother and father and who they feel comfortable with as a pediatrician. The church does not dictate that.

Are there any precepts or strictures about vaccinations within Scientology?

Not as a religious principle, no, not at all. And I heard some false report about that, too. It's simply not true. Scientologists are pretty independent people, though I will say this: they tend to do a little more research, perhaps, on the effect of various medical procedures or whatever. They make their own decisions, but those aren't decisions that the church tries to influence in any way.

So parents are not likely to consult with their minister on these questions?

L. Ron Hubbard on Raising Children
Not on child care. L. Ron Hubbard, of course, did have plenty to say on the subject of children growing up and being their own people, and he talks about the importance of children. He urges the parent to be the child's friend. I remember him saying that's one of the most important things--the eternal truth is that a child needs friends, he said, and in working with children you should try to find out what a child's problem really is without crushing their solution--you try to help solve those problems. In the Scientology family, of course, there's a great deal of love. A child just doesn't do well without love; most of them have a lot of it to return.

How soon in a child's life does he or she begin to have religious training in Scientology? Formal religious training, or even within the family?

When a Child Starts Religious Training
As I say, there are little things in a child's life where he can learn right away to be able to help themselves and others recover from minor injuries and that sort of thing, and children seem to pick this up as early as four or five. I say religious training, and I think there's at an early age, even before that, parents work with their kids and it's not training. L. Ron Hubbard said that if you want to train a kid, get rid of the kid and get a dog, because you can't really train children. Children can be educated, they can be taught that when they make a decision it's their decision, that when they have a possession they are responsible for it, but it's theirs, and they shouldn't be constantly bombarded with demands that they do this or that with the possession. So in that sense they start out very early with the idea that they should be responsible for their own decisions.

At what age, then, does a Scientologist child begin to participate in an auditing regimen?
When Does a Child Start Auditing?
Good question. Auditing, as many of your people will know, is a process. You could call it counseling, but basically it's asking a person questions that help the person find the source of whatever problems that they're having in their life and, if you like, enable them to find the blocks and solve their own problems, and that's the process of auditing. Children, normally, will begin auditing when they can speak well, because most of what's done is a process of asking questions and getting answers.

Having said that, let me mention that parents find a lot of techniques in Scientology and I should not forget to mention that there is a website, by the way, www.silentbirth.org, where you can find some more information on this whole subject. Scientologists have certain techniques to help a child who is upset, or fretful, or out of touch with their environment, to get back in touch, and to become more alert and happy again. You can often use these techniques with a child who is still an infant.

It's as simple as pointing out a particular object in communication with the infant, and you can point out particular objects--"look at that doorknob," "look at that television screen," "look at that telephone," "look at that chair," and get the child to put his attention on one thing after another in the present environment, and you find the child becoming more in touch with what is going on around them. As long as an individual, including an infant, can pay attention to what's going on around them instead of being stuck in some past trauma or stressful moment, you find that they're brighter, and more alert, and happier.

Is training by a trained auditor likely to happen in childhood? Or in adolescence?

Formal auditing usually begins at- it can begin at five, or six, or seven, and once again it depends on when the child is ready. Even at the time of naming the child, you're establishing with the child that this is a choice that they have, and some kids are not interested, and some kids definitely want to get audited early on, and then even learn how to do so. Even as teenagers, they learn how to be auditors themselves and are capable of doing a great deal for both other teenagers and for adults around them.

If a new Scientologist mother winds up having what we call postpartum depression, how is this approached in Scientology?

These labels, like postpartum depression and so forth, are labels which are foisted on people, if I may say so, by the psychiatric community, which has itself a very bad track record in terms of helping and treating people generally, and the labels of course are worked out for the diagnostic and statistical manual by a conference of psychiatrists who decide by a show of hands, literally, what will be an acceptable label this year and it might be very different from what was last year.

You'll be able to find a staphylococcus germ, a real bacterium that you can see, if you're talking about a medical illness. But if you're talking about a psychiatric illness, you can't find a germ, so you have these people who make the decisions by a show of hands. Homosexuality may be a disease one year, and then the next year homosexuality is not a disease.

Having said that, you're talking about the postpartum--there are problems sometimes, people are depressed, I wouldn't say that it's a disease by any means, but these matters are easily dealt with through Dianetics, and I would urge anyone who wanted to find out whether this worked or whether it would work for them to try it. That's a simple enough thing to do. You can buy a copy of Dianetics at any bookstore, or drop into any Church of Scientology, or if you can only get to a library you can pull out a copy of Dianetics, you can try it, see how well it works.

This is what you would recommend to a Scientologist who came to you and said she was suffering from depression after the birth of a child- you would recommend her reading Dianetics, or you would recommend additional auditing?

As Scientologists, number one, there are certain-an expecting mother, who is at the time not feeling well can find great relief and feel more certain and happier about the upcoming event by getting rid of these earlier incidents in her own reactive mind that would make pregnancy and birth difficult, and those can typically be handled by Dianetics, and typically would be. Then afterwards if there's any--if she feels there's still some trauma or even trauma connected with the birth, the Dianetics would certainly be able to deal with the trauma that she may have experienced since.

Tom Cruise has been quoted in the press as saying that the birth of Katie Holmes' baby is "going to be a blast." Is birth viewed within Scientology as an enjoyable experience? That is, giving birth, not being born.

Well, let's be honest. If you've been at a birth, you know that it's not an easy thing. I mean, that would just be silly, to say that it was an easy thing. But is the end result, in the end, joyous? I think it's got to be. To bring a child into the world, to think that they can do something about whatever situation they may be up against, to bring a child into the world at a time when I think we have huge opportunities available to all of us right now, I think that's got to be an exciting thing. Is it easy? Is it painless? Absolutely not. But you know, life just isn't. Can it be a joy? Can it be exciting? Absolutely, if you make it so.

Another Scientology couple, John Travolta and Kelly Preston, have a son who is apparently autistic. From the Scientology perspective, is there a relationship between his autism and his birth?

It would be really wrong for me to comment on the personal lives of any Scientology member or that of their children. There's nothing for me to say about that.

So autism, per se, is not something Scientologists take a position on?

No, although my understanding is that autism itself is a physical condition rather than a psychiatric one. Again, that's entirely different from any comment somebody would make about someone who they didn't know.

Tom Cruise has been reported in the press today saying he plans to eat the baby's placenta. Does this have any rooting in Scientology practice?

I think that is really the reductio ad absurdum of the preposterous comments being made in the press. I saw him talk about that on television, and come on--give this guy a break. It was a joke. Can't a person make a joke in public?

I think the important thing here is, if we're going to talk about silent birth at all, is about what is good for the mother and the child and the respect that we should be showing the mother and child even in a difficult situation like birth. What can we do to preserve the sanity, the good will, the health of the mother and the child?

These are not principles that just came on the scene yesterday. Dianetics was written in 1950 and since that time it has grown from the work of one man and some people who were helping him with the research to 2,265 church, missions, and groups in 156 countries. The reason why Scientology and Dianetics have grown so much is because it works. The subjects have real answers, real answers that they have applied, that people throughout the world have testified are workable.

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