Scientology's Silent Birth: One Mother's Story

Filed under: Celeb Parents, In The News, Delivery

silent birth scientology

Jamie Bristol with her son, Ethan. Credit: Tom Bristol

On Dec. 6, Ethan Bristol will celebrate his first birthday with a calm, low-key gathering of his parents, grandparents and family friends who have little ones, too.

But no matter how mellow it may be, the event, marking an important milestone for the tot and his parents, Jamie and Tom Bristol of Montrose, Calif., certainly won't be as chatter-free as the boy's silent birth.

Almost a year ago, Ethan entered the world two weeks late at 12:17 a.m., weighing 8 pounds, 9 ounces, through a silent birth. The practice has been making headlines recently with the birth of Benjamin Travolta on Nov. 23. Actor parents Kelly Preston and John Travolta, both Scientologists, announced that they planned to use the childbirth method practiced by the Church of Scientology.

Though not a word was uttered through the labor and delivery of Ethan, the alert and wide-eyed newborn made his debut, "looked around the room and let out a little yelp," Jamie Bristol 31, tells ParentDish.

"It was so precious, like he was saying 'Yay,' " she recalls.

Except for Ethan's whimper, there was no chatter, no commentary, no "push, push," urgings from Dr. Ronald Wu. There were only "looks of support" from husband, Tom, 29, a midwife and the medical team throughout the four-hour labor, Bristol says.

"I did make some noises because it is labor after all," she says. "And, if anything would have gone wrong, I would have spoken up. But the silence let me focus, remain calm and respectful to the significance of the moment. The only time someone said something was when it was obvious that I had to move to the hospital. The idea is that no one can talk through contractions. So the midwife was very respectful about that, and then just whispered to me about us having to move."

A lifelong Scientologist who, along with her sister, was born through a natural, silent birth, Bristol tells ParentDish she had planned to have a home birth for her first child, but, as it turned out, she had to be induced after being in pre-labor for five days (with no sleep) and her water had broken. The couple had a back-up doctor, and so Bristol, her husband and midwife moved -- silently, with no words spoken -- to nearby Glendale Adventist Medical Center where Ethan was born four hours later.

When she discovered she was pregnant, Bristol says, she interviewed four physicians and midwives in the Los Angeles area, explaining to all of them what she wanted.

"Hands down, all four doctors were familiar with silent births, I mean this is L.A., and all felt very comfortable doing this, same with the midwives," she tells ParentDish.

The idea in the "no words spoken" birthing process is that "the unborn child is feeling, remembering and aware of what is happening around him," Bristol says. "A silent birth is meant to minimize the pain and discomfort for the infant, and minimize the imprinting of stressful words spoken during the moments of birthing, words that could have an adverse effect on him in later life," she says.

The calmness and serenity are guiding principles Bristol hopes will be mainstays in her parenting, as well.

For the first six months, the couple, who owns the graphic design firm Dentist Design, worked from home so they could be with Ethan.

"I love that we can spend so much time with him," Bristol says. "He is so much fun to have around. I love waking up to his smiling face every day. I can't wait for him to start talking."

As the family prepares to celebrate Ethan's first birthday, Bristol says there's been quite a buzz about silent births among her friends, neighbors and colleagues following the Travolta baby's birth last week.

"People say, 'Is Kelly Preston doing what you did?' and 'What's that like?' " she says. "All I can say is that it's really no big deal. Except that I witnessed a friend giving birth to her baby recently and it was so noisy with so many people chatting away in the delivery room. What I loved the most was that it just helped me focus on the moment and not get caught up in having to make small talk to a bunch of strangers in a room. The quiet was calming."

Though it is not confirmed that Preston experienced a silent birth with Benjamin, the 48-year-old Scientologist announced prior to the birth that she was planning one in keeping with the Church of Scientology's guidelines, according to the Washington Post. In anticipation of the birth, the church released media alerts about silent births. The birth comes almost two years after the couple's eldest son, Jett Travolta, died in January 2009 from a seizure during a family holiday in the Bahamas.

Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard preached the idea of silent birth as a way to shield newborns from supposedly harmful words heard during the traumatic birth process, Church of Scientology spokesperson Karin Pouw tells ParentDish.

When asked if Preston and baby Benjamin experienced a silent birth, Pouw tells ParentDish: "The Church of Scientology cannot answer questions on behalf of their members."

So, are silent births medically sound?

"Babies have heard noise and responded to noise for some time before they are born," Patricia Connor Devine, MD, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist who directs the Labor and Delivery Unit at Columbia University Medical Center, tells LiveJournal.com. "There's absolutely no scientific evidence that taking that away at the time of delivery will have any effect on outcome for the baby or the mother."

Pouw tells ParentDish the Church of Scientology does not give medical advice to help a person with a physical situation.

"But Scientology founder Hubbard did recommend a natural, drug-free birth because it is best for the mother and the child," she says. "It is common knowledge that natural childbirth is best, but that doesn't always work out, and it is up to the mother and her doctor."

Pouw says a silent birth is labor and delivery done in a calm and loving environment and with no spoken words by anyone attending.

"Chatty doctors and nurses, shouts to 'push, push' and loud or laughing remarks to 'encourage' are the types of things that are meant to be avoided," she adds. "Mothers naturally want to give their baby the best start in life and thus keep the birth as quiet and peaceful as possible. That being said, a woman's choice for her delivery is completely up to her and her doctor. There is no requirement to adhere to any specific routine. Just like care is taken in all other aspects of labor and birth, a woman and her doctor or midwife and any others present work out how to communicate without words."

The Church's media release about silent births was meant to help dispel misconceptions about the process, Pouw tells ParentDish.

"Throughout the last weeks we had received several media inquiries about silent birth, showing that misconceptions about silent birth were spread and so decided to provide a concise advice on the subject broadly to the media," she says.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.