Tony’s Story

Carol Gill undergoing pre-natal abdominal decompression therapy at her home in Letchworth Garden City, May 1968.

During the final months of my mother’s pregnancy with me in 1968, she took part in a medical trial being conducted by her paediatrician, Dr. Faulkes.

The trial required my mother to spend about 30 minutes each day in a plastic bubble covered by an air-tight sleeping bag connected to an air pump (probably fashioned from a modified vacuum cleaner motor!). The pump sucked the air out of the enclosure, creating a mild vacuum inside the bag and lowering the atmospheric pressure on my mother’s abdomen and the unborn child, i.e. me.

The goal of this clinical trial was to establish whether abdominal decompression during pregnancy and labour could result in:

  • Easier, safer pregnancies
  • Shorter, less painful labour/labour
  • Healthier, brighter children

Unfortunately my parents never discovered the results of the trial or even whether it was completed; Dr. Faulkes never followed up after my birth to see if the decompression had achieved the desired results.

I rediscovered the photo of my mother pregnant with me in the decompression machine when I first started putting together my personal website, and became very interested in the technique of abdominal decompression during pregnancy and labour. What was the idea behind it? What was it supposed to achieve? How was it supposed to work? And were there other people like me?

After researching some of the literature, I discovered that the technique of abdominal decompression during pregancy and childbirth was pioneered in the 1960’s in South Africa by a Dr. O.S. Heyns. The technique then spread to the United Kingdom and the United States, and more than 10,000 decompression babies were born before abdominal decompression fell out of medical vogue in those countries (although I’ve since heard that it’s still widely practiced in Slovenia, where it’s offered for free by their national health service!).

So did it work in my case? First, here is what my mother had to say about my birth (which was also her first childbirth):

I knew something was happening from the beginning of the day (Sunday), just niggly little pains.  It was not until around 9pm that I first called the midwife but she didn’t come out and said it would be hours yet!  It was after midnight when we rang her again and by the time she arrived it was too late to use the decompression unit to offer relief during labour.  You were born around 3.45pm.   The doctor was called and he appeared with his trousers over his pyjamas and sat in the corner of the bedroom with a cup of tea at his elbow, a cigarette in one hand and you cradled in his other arm.  He did not come out for the birth of any of the other three [my younger siblings] – it was just because I had been using the decompression unit.

So, nothing too conclusive about the effects of decompression on the actual childbirth there — either the midwife was too late arriving or I was too early for my mother to get into the decompression machine for the birth!

But what about the “healthier, brighter children” claim?

Tony in pram, 26 October 1968

“Decompression baby” Tony Gill in pram at 5 months’ old, 26 October 1968

I was a big, healthy baby, and continue to be in good health 44 years (and counting) later, but I can’t claim to have ever been physically exceptional in any way — I never excelled at any sporting or athletic activities at school, for example. I also have slightly high blood pressure, and was diagnosed with sleep apnea some years ago.

However, I do remember being an extremely smart kid when I was young — almost to the point of precociousness, in fact — and was consistently in the top 2 or 3 students in my class at school, right up until it stopped being cool to be clever around 11 or 12 years’ old. Obviously I don’t know how much the decompression contributed to my childhood intellect, but I remember feeling quite a lot smarter than most of my peers when I was at infant school.

I don’t claim to be a genius as an adult, and have never taken an official IQ test, but I have both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, was enrolled for several years on a Ph.D research programme in the late nineties (which I abandoned in order to move to the United States in 1999), and was a part-time Adjunct Assistant Professor at NYU’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences until I became a father myself a few years ago — so I think it’s fair to assume that I am of above average intelligence.

Of course, this is purely anecdotal evidence, and cannot in itself validate the efficacy of prenatal abdominal decompression. Only a scientifically rigorous clinical trial could do that.

But personally, I do believe decompression made a difference, which is why I created this website — I believe the technique could potentially have wide-reaching benefits, and deserves to be re-evaluated, rigorously and scientifically.

Tony Gill

5 thoughts on “Tony’s Story

  1. I first read about abdominal decompression in 1966, I believe, in an article in a science magazine like Popular Science or Science and Mechanics. I felt prompted to write a letter to Dr. Heyns at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa. He was gracious enough to write me back, along with some papers containing research data, which I still have somewhere. What fascinated me was, as the magazine stated, the idea that children from the decompression group tended to be geniuses. You seem to have added strength to that claim. I just find it a shame that the practice was never continued. This world needs more intelligent people.

    • Many thanks for your comment, Robert! If you happen to come across the research papers and have access to a scanner, I’d be happy to make them available here.

  2. Hi. I found this website really helpful as my mum talks vaguely about “decompression” and “that’s why you’re so intelligent”(!) I had done searches before to see if this was actually a thing, so was very happy to finally find something to explain what it was.

    I was born in 1970 in London. My mother’s story of childbirth is pretty much exactly what my story was with my son in 2008, so I’m not sure there was much difference there. I’m not very physically sporty or strong, my health is good except I have asthma. I did quite well at school and, although I haven’t pursued an academic career, people tell me they think I’m intelligent and I have found I can take to most things academically.

    Thanks for your info.

  3. I first came across Decompression studies in South Africa in England in 1967,
    wrote for more information, and made my own Decompression Suit for my wife which she used for all 4 of my children. All were supper healthy, successful and for an example, my oldest daughter is the mother of six great children; my eldest son has his Doctorat in Thermodynamics and words at the Navel Relsearch Lab, has 4 children, all healthy and smart. I, last night gave my grand daughter my decompression suit to use on her first child. I have no doubt my great grand son will be healthy with a high DQ.

  4. I used abdominal decompression in 1968 for a painless labour of a breech 10lb baby. I wish it was available for labour now.

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