Sunday, April 23, 2006

Boulder Daily Camera

Mum's the word for mom
Scientologists promote 'silent births'

By Aimee Heckel
April 22, 2006

When Morgan Kemmerlin entered the world, it was quiet.

Her mother was not screaming in pain. She wasn't firing profanities at the doctors or her husband, like in the movies. No one so much as announced, "It's a girl."

Morgan, now 10, experienced a "silent birth," a Scientology practice that has recently come under the spotlight with the birth of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes' baby. The baby, a girl named Suri, was born this week.

Like the Kemmerlins, of Louisville, the Hollywood couple believes a silent birth limits the negative subconscious reactions people have during painful experiences.

By eliminating spoken words, you eliminate subconscious and illogical triggers that may pop up later in life, Scientologists say.

But people unfamiliar with the concept call it mysterious or weird. Others call it unnecessary. The Web site,, says a silent birth is not recommended by medical experts because, if taken too far, it can hinder family bonding and intimacy.

The Web site defines it as giving birth with no sounds, including music or expressions of pain. Some people don't speak to their child for a week, the site says.

Scientologist Rev. Patty Allread, of Englewood, says those are some of the biggest misconceptions. Allread says a silent birth only refers to spoken words.

"Believe me, the mother's going to moan, but maybe they try not to scream really loud and startle the baby," she said. "It's been long known babies have awareness inside the womb, and that's not strictly a Scientology idea. You just try to have as calm and as peaceful of an environment as possible."

She cites the "Dianetics" book, by L. Ron Hubbard, the foundation of Scientology: "Maintain silence in the presence of birth to save both the sanity of the mother and the child and safeguard the home to which they will go."

Scientology, which bills itself as a "practical religion," has five Colorado branches, including one on Pearl Street in Boulder. Allread said 13,000 people are on the state's mailing list and about 1,000 statewide are active members.

She said Scientology topics, such as silent birth, hit the mainstream media, churches are flooded with curious calls. The religion is young, founded in the 1950s.

Allread has three children, all who experienced natural, but not silent, births. She said she didn't know about it then or she would have chosen silence.

Doctors find ways to accommodate a silent birth. Instead of talking, they write or sign. And in an emergency, she said, no one would expect a doctor to risk the patients' welfare.

"It's a very personal and individual thing, giving birth, and a big tradition of mothers choosing what kind of birth they want to have," Allread said. "A peaceful and calm environment benefits the mother and child."

Cathy Kemmerlin, Morgan's mother, agrees. She compared her first traditional birth with her second two, which were silent with minimal drugs.

Scientology has no stance on whether a mother should use pain relievers.

Instead of speaking, Kemmerlin wrote and made gestures. She said she felt more aware, and her midwives seemed "in tune" with each other.

"I could relax in childbirth," Kemmerlin said. "It's a very different thing than having people coming in, they're chit-chatting and you're sitting there in pain."

Still, Mallory Mensah, a Louisville doula, frowns upon a totally silent labor and delivery. She said deep moaning helps the woman cope and helps her body open up.

"You'd be surprised how many noises you hear from women they'd never even think would come from them," Mensah said. "I encourage that, because it's important to get into an instinctual, primal state to really surrender to what your body needs to do."

And words can be encouraging and comforting, she said.

"I don't think it's very realistic to not talk," Mensah said. "When you're really at a birth, and you can see a woman is needing some help, words tend to be a way to help."

A smooth birth comes down to whatever the mother needs to keep her relaxed and feeling safe, Mensah said. A woman shouldn't feel restricted or guilty if she needs to talk, she said.

When she gave birth, Mensah said she wanted the lights dimmed and minimal talking. The first words her son heard were her Islamic husband whispering a prayer in his ear.

But she said she's attended other births with "hooting and hollering and cheering, and that's beautiful, too."

"If a woman feels safe and comfortable and supported, it's amazing what she can do," Mensah said.