According to Stanislav Grof (1976), perinatal experiences refer to the fetus’ experiences while in its mother’s womb and during the clinical stages of labor and delivery. Clinical observations that Grof made during his extensive LSD sessions provide insight into the structure and experience of the perinatal experiences. In particular, Grof had a lot to say about the traumas that often occur as a result of physical, chemical, or emotional assaults on the fetus during its time in womb or it's passage and emergence (i.e., birth) through the mother's birth canal.
What is most remarkable about Grof's work is the evidence it provides for the presence of consciousness even in the early stages of gestation, and in the evidence it provides for the extreme sensitivity of the fetus. Interestingly enough, Grof (1976) found that the fetus is so sensitive to environmental and physiological stimulation that it is even aware of electrical activity associated with the muscular contraction that occurs during the birth process! (p. 135). As remarkable as this appears to be, I am unaware of any significant commentary or research on this phenomenon in psychological literature despite the fact that the hypersensitivity of the fetus is obviously (for any individual involved in any aspect of the perinatal, birth, and post natal experience) the central consideration.
In an ideal developmental situation, the fetus experiences minimum trauma and assault in the womb. However, in many cases significant perinatal trauma is experienced by the sensitive fetus. There are several types of trauma which, as demonstrated quite clearly by Grof's extensive case study record, can be experience by the fetus in the nine months in utero or during the actual labor deliver process. Anything from chemical assaults (pharmaceuticals and other drugs in the blood stream) through emotional assaults (a depressed mother or father, a difficult family situation, lack of social or economic supports, etc.) to traumatic sensations (extremely loud and agitating sounds, etc.) can cause the highly sensitive physical unit stress or, if the assault is severe and/or long term, ongoing trauma. Significant trauma will lead to the formation of a Coex Root experience.
After collecting case studies on the re-experience and re-consolidation of perinatal traumas (often organized around COEX roots), Grof proposed four separate perinatal matrices corresponding roughly to the stages of development and birth recognized by the medical industry. These are Basic Perinatal Matrix I, Basic Perinatal Matrix II, Basic Perinatal Matrix III, and Basic Perinatal Matrix IV. These matrices correspond roughly to the different stages of the child’s development in the uterus, and its birth through the birth canal. The first Basic Perinatal Matrix corresponds from the time of conception up until the first intrauterine contraction. The second Basic Perinatal Matrix lasts during the time of intrauterine contractions to the entering into the birth canal. The third Basic Perinatal Matrix is completed at the time of passage of the fetus through the birth canal. Finally, the forth Basic Perinatal Matrix is represented from the beginning of birth as an independent body.
The perinatal matrices, as defined by Grof, and the trauma associated with each stage, where the subject of intense research by Grof who found that, following the ingestion of LSD during the process of psycholytic or psychedelic, root experiences could be invoked (i.e., the adult remembered perinatal trauma) and psychological dysfunction healed as a result. Grof's work may be considered an early example of the process of invoking repressed memories and [[Clearing Experience|"clearing"] them (i.e., [[Reconsolidation|reconsolidating] them) in order to reinstate "normal" or (preferably) healthy psychological and physical functioning of the physical unit.
Despite it's brilliant nature, not much has been made of Grof's work by the psychological profession. This is a remarkable statement considering the explanatory potential of Grof's work in the area of psychology. Presumably, research on perinatal matrices dropped off because of the loss of the primary method of research (i.e., the ingestion of LSD during the process of [[Psycholytic Therapy|psycholytic] or psychedelic therapy. There may have also been considerable resistance from the medical establishment which must have, by now, trillions of dollars invested in "current" medical practices. The implications of a complete revision of medical practice based on an awareness of the hypersensitive developing fetus are staggering.
The concept of perinatal matrices, and the brilliant case study research of Grof, is an exemplary contribution for those interested in either the healthy development of the physical unit, or in therapeutic interventions designed to heal psychological trauma. In the therapeutic context an understanding of COEX Systems, and an understanding of the mechanics of formation of COEX Roots is essential.
It is important to note that some of Grof's commentaries on perinatal matrices are often sexist, bordering on misogynist. In his work he blames the aggression of the mother for trauma to the fetus. In particular his commentary on the "violence" of the birth and his presentation of the mother as an enemy of the fetus is, by today's standards, unacceptable (1976, pp. 104-105, 108, & 115). No doubt in some cases (dysfunctional mother, dysfunctional family situation) the mother may be superficial cause of perinatal trauma. However it is important to look to the social situation, political, economic, and even medical history to look for the actual roots of perinatal trauma. For example, raising a child in conditions of poverty would, without a doubt, cause significant perinatal trauma. In the case when society and the political structures fail to provide adequate supports for a parent (or parents) to raise a child in a stress free environment, it is the social and/or political structure that should be faulted and not the parent.
Grof, Stanislav (1976). Realms of the Unconscious: Observations from LSD Research. New York: Viking Press
Grof, Stanislav (1985). Beyond the brain: Birth, death, and transcendence in psychotherapy. Albany, NY: State University of New York.