Waking the Spirit

Waking the Spirit, Andrew Schulman

“Music is the universal language of mankind.”  ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Andrew Schulman was born so ugly that his grandmother refused to believe he belonged to their family. She insisted the hospital investigate to make sure there wasn’t a baby mix-up.  Many years later, his cousin Miriam told him the nurses felt sorry for that disputed lone baby in the nursery, so they held him and sang to him all day. “Show tunes,” she said. “I heard them when I was there. It was so lovely.”

He writes in his new book, Waking the Spirit, “I like to think that my brain was wired in the nursery by the healing power of music.”

Andrew grew up to become a successful musician. He plays Carnegie Hall, the White House, and throughout Europe. He has three CD’s, an active performance schedule, and an enjoyable life with his wife in NYC.  His life, however, changed when he went in for surgery.

The operation was a success but on the way to recovery he suffered a rare reaction and was clinically dead by the time they rushed his gurney out of the elevator. Although they managed to resuscitate him in surgical intensive care, they couldn’t stabilize him. Doctors put him in a medically induced coma for several days, but his organs began to fail. He was not expected to live. His wife, desperate, asked permission to play music for him. His favorite piece, Bach’s “St. Matthew’s Passion” popped up on his iPod. After a half hour, still apparently unresponsive, his vital signs began to stabilize. Confounding doctors, he recovered quickly over the next few days.

As Oliver Sacks once said, “Nothing activates the brain so extensively as music.” Andrew explains in his book, “Music reaches neural networks, including some of the most primary…. such as the brain stem, the cerebellum, and the amygdala. Music then initiates brain stem responses that, in turn, regulate heart rate, pulse, blood pressure, body temperature, and muscle tension…. ”

We know that music chosen by parents and performed for premature babies for a few minutes at a time helps to calm them, resulting in longer quiet-alert states and easing pain.  Music sung by parents has a beneficial effect throughout infancy. Babies respond to music, even regular drumbeats, with increased smiling. In fact research shows that babies correlate their movements with the tempo and rhythm. They dance! And music gets a much greater response than spoken words. No wonder adults all over the world naturally engage babies in a sort of singsong-like call and response. We’re translating our language into one that is more evocative to mind and body.

Music makes a difference at the other end of life too. Studies of music in hospice care show  it can reduce anxiety, pain, and fatigue while enhancing mood, energy, and sense of spiritual comfort.

After Andrew fully recovered he made his way back to the same surgical intensive care ward at the same hospital. This time as a musician. Three times a week, every week, he enters the SICU, walks through the ward guided by intuition as much as beeping monitors, then sits at a bedside and begins to play.

People on this ward are very ill. They’re likely in pain and afraid. They may be in and out of consciousness, even comatose as he was. He plays all sorts of music for them, happy to honor requests by patients, family members, and staff. But he’s found music by certain composers has the greatest healing effect — Bach, Gershwin, the Beatles, along with Franz Schubert’s “Ständchen” and, strangely enough, “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Freddy Mercury.

In his experience, Bach’s music is the gold standard.  It almost magically seems to increase alertness, reduce pain, and stabilize vital signs. Neuromusicologist Arthur W. Harvey agrees. Andrew quotes Dr. Harvey, “Of all the music we tested in medical school with patients, colleagues, and others, Bach’s music consistently made the brain work in a balanced way better than any other genre.”

Dr. Harvey and students studied the effect of music on the body using brain scans, focusing on seven genres: chant, Baroque, classical, gospel, new age, jazz, and folk. After two years they concluded Baroque era music most effectively “…stabilized the different rhythms of the body and mind — mental, physical, and emotional — which allowed for greater concentration and focus. Bach’s music consistently showed the best results in this regard.”

Andrew tries to unlock what it is about Bach.  “…Bach’s music utilizes both chordal music (music characterized by harmony) and contrapuntal textures (the interweaving melodies) somewhat equally, which provides for music processing in both left and right hemispheres of the human brain. A descriptive characteristic of his music and music of his time is the significance of balance… You hear sounds that are soft and loud, high and low, short and long. Rhythms that are slow and fast, simple and complex. Melodies and harmonies that have enormous stylistic variety.”  Such music stimulates brain functions without overload.

Andrew goes on to note that healing music often comes from composers who themselves suffered from depression and other forms of mental illness. Perhaps despair transmuted into beauty more profoundly eases other people’s suffering.

I can’t help but consider all that troubles our beautiful world. When music helps to lift the individual mind from unconsciousness to consciousness, surely music helps to lift our collective awareness as well.

After all, music is used to lull small ones to sleep, rouse teams to victory, woo lovers, deepen worship, commemorate solemn occasions, and celebrate joy. Throughout history, music has been a traditional way  to bring peace and justice. Through music we more fully grasp that all of us feel grief, love, fear, injustice, delight, and moments of transcendence. Let’s play one another into a more loving world.

“This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” ~Leonard Bernstein

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Born to Love Music

music in uteroAll around the world, mothers gently murmur some version of “hush, hush,” or “shhhh, shhhh” to crying newborns. It’s said this calms babies because it mimics the sound they heard in utero — her heartbeat.

Babies actually hear a whole symphony of sound before they’re born.  Physicist Robert Chuckrow describes what makes up this orchestra in a paper he wrote back in the 1960’s, titled “Music: A Synthesis of Prenatal Stimuli.

Walking: As a pregnant woman walks or climbs stairs, Dr. Chuckrow writes, her steps send “a thud-like vibration through her body, similar in sound and periodicity to that of the beat of a drum. ”

Breathing: Each inhale and exhale, according to Dr. Chuckrow, makes a “…recurring sound rich in high frequencies and is similar to the sound of cymbals in music. In popular music especially, the sound of cymbals ‘crashing’ is very suggestive of the sound of the pregnant mother breathing.”

Heartbeat.  Complex patterns are formed by varying rates of two heartbeats. A mother’s heart rate changes depending on her activity level and emotions, usually ranging somewhere between 60 and 100 beats per minute. In contrast, her baby’s heart rate fluctuates between 120 to 160 beats per minute, making for an ongoing jazz-like improvisation.

Speech: A mother’s conversations are another acoustic pattern. Research shows newborns not only recognize their mother’s voices, they also show a preference for sounds from the language their mother speaks.

Other input: A fetus is surrounded by the internal hubbub of its mother chewing, swallowing, and the rest of the digestive processes. Her laughing, crying, coughing, yawning, sneezing, and scratching are also part of its moment-to-moment soundtrack. Add to that sounds heard from outside her body — whoosh of a shower, vibration from riding on a bus, clatter in a restaurant, drama of a movie she’s watching.

These aren’t just sounds. They come into the baby’s awareness accompanied by fluctuations in movement, pressure, and chemical signals. Sound pairs with sensation, over and over, throughout the pregnancy.  It is the earliest form of meaning, long before words make sense.

Take, for example, the effect when a mother experiences stress (even positive emotion). Her heart rate goes up while her baby’s heart rate doesn’t immediately increase. Instead, the uptick of her heartbeat would  “…produce in the fetus a state that is the prenatal analog of emotional tension.”  Dr. Chuckrow likens this to the way music creates emotional tension, especially when an “…increase in tempo or changes in rhythm produce such tension in the listener, and the rhythmic effect is increased by an increase in dynamic intensity.”

Or another example; the unborn baby’s experience of its mother’s laughter. As she laughs, her abdominal muscles contract around the uterus. Her larynx closes somewhat, making air intake irregular. And the noises she makes range from low giggles to shrieking cries.  Dr. Chuckrow writes, “For the mother, laughter would be accompanied by an exultant state and changes in her heart rate, breathing, and blood concentrations of oxygen and hormones. These changes would be expected to affect the fetus. The associated patterns involve a climactic change of acoustic, tactile, and chemical stimuli associated with a state of maternal well-being.”

Maybe these truly formative responses help to explain why music enters a place in us that’s deeper than words, beyond the limitations of thought. We’re shaped by an essential mother-specific melody.

“Many say that life entered the human body by the help of music, but the truth is that life itself is music.”  ~Hafiz

 

 

Baby Choreography

infant choreography, imitate your baby

This is hard to admit because it sounds entirely weird, but it was such a powerful experience that I now look back at it as a sort of ceremony.  Give baby choreography a try if you too want to step into an infant’s world.

Let me explain.

First time motherhood confounded me in a way I could not, still cannot, put into words. The new life in my arms astonished me. I’d never before looked so many hours at one face, day after day. I’d certainly never been simultaneously exhausted, enthralled, and overwrought for weeks on end. All the ways I knew to understand another human being were muddled, beyond what the heart knows and the eyes show. So I asked my body to teach me how brand new Benjamin perceived his world.

When just the two of us were alone, I set him on the carpet and lay down next to him. Then I imitated every single movement and sound my seven-week-old baby made.

  • Pursed lips.
  • Open lips.
  • Wrinkled brow.
  • Wide-eyed gaze.
  • Arms sweeping across the air.
  • Arms held tight to the body.
  • Feet and toes turning, flexing, flailing.
  • Arms and legs jerking.
  • Coos and bubbles.
  • Hands in fists.
  • Hands open, waving,
  • Side-to-side wiggles.
  • Long pauses of full-body stillness, with a wondrously calm facial expression.

I thought I’d indulge in this for only a minute or two, but I kept it up longer. Something about it transported me to my own bodily memory of infancy. I felt, from the inside, a sort of freedom from the physical template created by years of upright posture and acceptable facial expressions. I felt helpless, yes, but also expansively connected — as if my being didn’t end at the boundaries of my skin.

I got a message clear as spoken words that our bodies, mine older and his brand new, were temporal gifts. Our souls were the same size.

I got up from the floor humbled.

 

Originally published by Mothering.com. 

Flee To An Inner Playground

staying sane with baby won't stop crying

Image: CC by 2.0 Ben_Kerckx

I cannot bear to hear a baby cry. I feel it right to my core. But in the first year of my daughter’s life she suffered from a chronic illness that caused a lot of crying. And I mean a lot. Her wails were heartrending, made all the worse by how little I could do to ease her misery. We got through the days with kangaroo parenting and lots of nursing, but, because it was so hard for her to sleep, our nights were unspeakably long.

For hours each evening she could stay asleep only if I walked while holding her against my shoulder. I’d circle the dining room table, looking out the dark windows hoping for the momentary distraction of a passing car. The minutes went by in slow motion. My arms were cramped and my body beyond weary. Finally, in the early hours of the morning, she usually calmed enough that I could slump into bed against a pile of pillows where she slept on my chest and I slept too.

During those hours of walking I couldn’t watch TV, even dim light kept her awake much longer. (Science now tells us that as little as a light shining on the back of our knees is enough to change our circadian clocks.) So I resorted to the only distractions available: the ones I could play inside my head.

Now that my daughter is grown (and healthy!) I’d nearly forgotten those mental games until I listened to my friend Bernie DeKoven’s marvelous new recording,  Recess for the Soul, which is packed with ideas for playing on what Bernie calls the Inner Playground.

Bernie describes undergoing a procedure at the dentist, saying,

Under certifiably physical duress, my mighty mind can take me away from the all too personal now. I can, instead, should I so choose, talk to myself, joke with myself, fool myself into some semblance of squirmlessness, even when the world wherein I found myself proves so profoundly squirmworthy.

I wish I’d heard of Bernie’s tactics back then…

I’ll share a few of the games I played on my own inner playground. These weren’t clever by any means, simply last-resort mechanisms to keep a desperately tired and worried parent going. If you’re at the end of your rope for whatever reason, head on in to your inner playground.  (For a much wider range of mental games, refer to Bernie’s recording.)

Betting On Myself

I’d tell myself that I could make it another 15 minutes without looking at the clock. Then I’d try to gauge how long that time period might be before checking the time. If I gave in and looked too soon, losing the bet, I’d lengthen the next time period, not letting myself look for another 20 minutes. And so on.

Reconstructing

As I walked back and forth in my dark home in the wee hours, I’d challenge myself to reconstruct something in detail. One night it might be a book plot. Another night a childhood memory and another night a good time I’d had with friends. It wasn’t easy, but good mental exercise. It also, I’m sure, was a relief to so fully visit another realm in my mind.

Absurd Movie Screenplays

I’d mentally write screenplays, the more absurd the better. If I found myself with anything resembling a normal plot line I’d joggle it up by adding a talking giraffe, a time travel bathtub, or something equally implausible. The exhausted mind is actually pretty creative, maybe because logic is for people who get enough sleep.

Hidden Camera

When I was totally at the end of my rope and could find no way to ease my baby’s misery, I got to the point where I longed to set her down gently and fling myself out the window. So I’d pretend there was some omnipresent camera watching me. Somehow that made it easier to keep going, as if I were acting in a play about a very patient mother. When I was really tired, I pretended the film being made that moment was the only evidence that God might see of my life. I know, dire.

It wasn’t as if I didn’t want to be fully present with my daughter, I did. But there’s only so much mindfulness one can bear after hours of walking a sick child. Don’t wait until you’re ready to toss yourself out the window. Play as wildly as you’d like on your own inner playground.

(And if you’ve got techniques to help any of us through miseries like sitting on a plane with take-off delayed, waiting for the jury to come to a verdict, or pacing the floor of a surgical ward please share them with us!)

Big Events for Little Kids? Um, No

small kids prefer calm to festivals, parties, and fairs

When my firstborn was 10 months old I went to hear a speaker at the evening meeting of a local mother’s organization. Except for nursing babies, children weren’t allowed. Sleeping baby on my shoulder, I sat happily among other women who were going through the same experience that had changed my life so completely at the age of 22. I was acquainted with Le Leche meetings, but women here ramped up the game: hair done, make-up on, reasonably trendy clothes worn. I was wearing the equivalent of a sack, feet stuffed into pre-baby boots, hair an artless mess.

A business meeting was conducted before the speaker was introduced. These were serious women. They ran a tight group with weekly programs and seasonal parties for kids, plus monthly speakers, all made possible by active committees and subcommittees. At the close of the program, two welcoming committee members greeted me, extolling the virtues of the organization and inviting me to a kids’ party in the community rec center the next weekend. My son wasn’t remotely old enough to care but, easily pressured, I agreed to show up.

The party was held in one of those stark recreation center gyms. Even an overload of decorations didn’t make that cavernous space seem welcoming.  Large and surprisingly fancy games were set up. These weren’t rented games, they were constructed from plywood and artistically painted, surely the result of much parental labor. Costumed figures roamed at a slow pace. Their progress could be tracked by children’s horrified shrieks and mothers’ eager exclamations. Tiny children were strapped in strollers, slightly older children were expected to do things like stand between taped lines to throw a ball at a brightly painted hole or sit at a table where pre-cut shapes were meant to be glued onto paper. There was a lot of noise. I was more overwhelmed than my son by all these frantic attempts to manufacture fun. We escaped after a few minutes.

The next morning a committee chair called, sweetly informing me the group allowed attendance at two events before I was expected to join. Serving on a committee was a condition of membership. She outlined the group’s structure at length while her baby daughter screamed unrelentingly in the background. I awkwardly explained that membership wasn’t for me,  blaming it on my baby’s need for calm and structure. (Pretty much what most other babies in my acquaintance needed as well.)

I didn’t learn quickly. Over the next year or two I checked out a number of weekend events for families. I took my little one to fairs, children’s concerts, and open air arts programs. These were flustering events with more chaos than either one of us could tolerate, punctuated by the wails of tiny children who clearly preferred to toddle or run around rather than be strapped in for an afternoon of overstimulation. End-of-their-rope parents walked grimly by with balloons tied to strollers. I overheard one parent hiss between tightly stretched lips, “We’re here so you can have FUN.”

My little boy seemed smaller at these events, constrained and passive, while at home he was a mighty explorer and intrepid experimenter. Being stuck in a car seat, then a stroller, forced into the observer role —- this wasn’t the way he thrived.

I’ll readily admit my firstborn was an experimental child.  Trial and error proved many of my choices for him to be poorly considered, or, more often, far too over considered. (I have apologized to him, even thought he laughs it off as experimental offspring learn to do.) But thanks to those early experiences I spared his younger siblings crowded and contrived events meant to entertain children. The public events we did attend were quieter and more enticing for kids: a yearly peace fair with non-competitive games, an arts festival held at a junkyard, an outdoor international fair where one could wander along while watching music and dance, a nature area’s pioneer program with stations along the trails to teach traditional hands-on skills.

I’d venture to guess there are very few loud, overdone events that really appeal to the youngest kids. When we see this through our children’s eyes we see that exhausting ourselves in pursuit of purported fun isn’t fun at all. Rather than all the fuss getting there, the expense, the promises of merriment, and what always seems like a longer trip back I’m pretty sure kids are happier with an unexpected pleasure like using the garden hose to make mud pies or having mom bring home a big cardboard box to make into a fort or  filming some silly home movies with dad’s phone. Invite a kid friend over and it’s even more fun.

Meanwhile, adults can relax a bit. Read a book, sit in the sun, chat with a fellow adult, drink a glass of wine, or heck, make some mud pies too. This isn’t just slacker parenting at its best. It’s also a prescription for peace.

More thoughts on parenting groups:

Collaborate with others to create your own more relaxed parents’ group, meeting up for kid-friendly gatherings at nature areas,  playspaces, and back yards.

Find an existing group that meets your needs. If you are nursing a child, try your local Le Leche League chapter.  Consider joining the Holistic Moms Network, your local Mothers & More group, Mom’s Club, or check out Meetup.com for groups in your area.

Set up a playgroup that meets in a senior center or assisted living facility. Here’s how.

 

 

 

I Want You To Meet Vimala McClure

Vimala McClure, developed infant massage techniques for healing and bonding

Chances are you or someone you know has been touched by Vimala McClure’s work.  I’m honored to let you know more about this extraordinary woman through our recent interview.   

Please tell us about your introduction to infant massage at an orphanage in India.

In 1973, I was 21 years old. I had been practicing yoga and meditation for a few years, and I wanted to be a yoga instructor. The only way to do that, at the time, was to travel to a training center in Northwest India. The training center was also an orphanage; I was expected to work in the orphanage by day, and a yoga monk would come in at night to train us.

During the time I was there, I made a discovery that was to substantially redirect my life. I loved the children, who always came rushing to me, wanting to hug me, to sit on my lap, and for me to sing with them. I noticed that all the children I saw, both in and out of the orphanage, were delightful. They were open and relaxed and always smiling. In spite of their extreme poverty, they were happy. They had a relaxed way of being in the world, and I often saw both boys and girls walking around with a baby on their hip.

One night after class, I was walking around the compound. I approached the sleeping quarters of the children and peeked in. A girl, about 12 years old, was massaging a baby. I waited until she was finished, and went in to talk to her. She told me that massage, especially for babies, was traditional. An Indian mother regularly massages everyone in her family and passes these techniques on to her daughters. At the orphanage, the eldest massaged the little ones nearly every day. I asked her if she could show me how to do it. She happily agreed, and allowed me to massage the baby, who was so relaxed and sleepy. I learned how to use oil, warm my hands, and do each stroke. The baby connected with me immediately. She gazed into my eyes, smiled, and drifted off to sleep.

I was profoundly touched by this experience. I thought about it a lot. I began to think that maybe the children in India were so relaxed in the way they carried themselves because they had been massaged every day in their infancy. It was a type of nurturing I hadn’t seen in the United States. Though I noticed how cuddly, relaxed and friendly the Indian children appeared to be, it remained for me to become pregnant a few years later before I started seriously thinking about the advantages of infant massage. During my pregnancy, I became interested in all aspects of childbirth and infant development, and began studying everything I could find. I read the book Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin by Ashley Montagu, and I was determined to massage my baby as part of our everyday life. I read through the bibliography and decided to find the research upon which Montagu’s claims were based. I had a feeling that this information could be translated to humans. Montagu had made this connection throughout his book, and thinking about massaging my baby was suddenly very exciting.

To make a very long story a bit shorter, after I had massaged my baby for several months, I decided to share this wonderful art with other parents. I put together massage strokes from the Indian massage that I knew, from yoga, from reflexology, and Swedish massage. I designed a curriculum for a five-session course and began to teach. After a couple of years, I wrote a manuscript which, through many magical moments, was published by Bantam/Random House in 1979 (I revised and updated the book
six times, including a new edition coming out next year). I founded a nonprofit organization, the International Association of Infant Massage, trained instructors all over the U.S., then trained seasoned instructors to be Instructor Trainers. We now have chapters in over 70 countries, and a Circle of Trainers with over 50 Instructor Trainers from around the world.

What are some of the benefits of massage in pregnancy?

In nearly every bird and mammal studied, close physical contact has been found to be essential both to the infant’s healthy survival and to the parent’s ability to nurture. In studies with rats, if pregnant females were restrained from licking themselves (a form of self-massage), their mothering activities were substantially diminished. Additionally, when pregnant female animals were gently stroked every day, their offspring showed greater weight gain and reduced excitability, and the mothers showed greater interest in their offspring, with a more abundant and richer milk supply. Evidence supports the same conclusions for humans.

According to the latest research, women who experience stress, worry or panic attacks before and/or during pregnancy are more than twice as likely to report that their babies cry excessively. Experts suggest an infant’s excessive crying, if not from gastrointestinal colic or other physiological problems, may be due to the mother’s production of stress hormones during pregnancy, which cross the placenta and affect the development of a baby’s brain. A parenting specialist, Dr. Clare Bailey, said: “Mothers can easily get into a traumatic negative cycle when worrying about a newborn. The more they worry, the less they sleep and calm themselves, and the more they worry. Anxiety can make them hyper-vigilant, distressed by crying, and they can feel rejected by their babies. It intuitively sounds likely that a calm mother who feels relaxed, comfortable, and confident will be more likely to help a baby to self-settle. Babies can pick up emotional cues very early on.”

The research, published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, looked at nearly 300 women who were in the early stages of pregnancy. They were asked about their history of anxiety and depression, and were interviewed during their pregnancy and until their children were 16 months old. A large percentage of women with anxiety disorders reported excessive crying following the birth. Further analysis found that babies born to women with an anxiety disorder were significantly more likely to cry for longer periods. It is possible for stress hormones to cross the placenta and contribute to an infant’s crying spells.

Mothers who have meaningful skin contact during pregnancy and labor tend to have easier labors and are more responsive to their infants. In addition, research has shown that mothers whose pregnancies are filled with chronic stress often have babies who cry more and for longer periods than those whose pregnancies were peaceful and supported.

What are some of the benefits of infant massage?

I think about the benefits in this way:

  1. Interaction: Massaging your baby promotes bonding; it contains every element of the bonding process. Infant massage promotes a secure attachment with your child over time. It promotes verbal and nonverbal communication between the two of you. Your baby receives undivided attention from you, he feels respected and loved. It is one of the only times that all of his senses are nourished.
  1. Stimulation: Infant massage aids in the development of your baby’s circulatory, respiratory, and gastrointestinal systems. It aids in sensory integration, helping your baby learn how her body feels and what its limits are. Massaging your baby helps make connections between neurons in the brain, which helps develop her nervous system; it also aids the generation of muscular development and tone, and contributes to her mind/body awareness.
  1. Relaxation:  Regular infant massage improves sleep, increases flexibility, and regulates behavioral states. It reduces stress and stress hormones and hypersensitivity. Massaging your baby creates higher levels of anti-stress hormones and promotes an improved ability to self-calm. It teaches your infant to relax in the face of stress. The “Touch Relaxation” which I developed is used throughout the massage; it is a particular way to teach your baby to relax upon your cue.
  1. Relief: Infant massage helps with gas and “colic,” constipation and elimination, muscular tension, and teething discomfort. It also helps with “growing pains,” organizes the nervous system, relieves physical and psychological tension, and softens skin. It helps release physical and emotional tension, balances oxygen levels, and provides a sense of security.

Is massage helpful for preemies and babies who are in poor health?

The premature baby’s first contact with human touch may bring pain; needles, probes, tubes, rough handling, bright lights—all sudden, after the warm protection of the womb. One of the first things parents can do to help and to begin bonding is to touch and hold their baby. This wonderful expression of caring contributes to both physical and psychological healing, not only for babies but for parents, too. Much of the anguish of those first days and weeks can be minimized if parents can feel some sense of control.

My book, and particularly the new edition (to be released next year) has a large chapter on this subject. The International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM) is the world leader in nurturing touch, primarily due to our focus on observing cues that are in alignment with a baby’s ability to receive touch. We have pioneered and refined touch concepts over decades through working with various people, including professionals in many cultures globally.

Through their cues, preemies tell you what kind of touch they are able to receive at any given moment. While the research conducted by Tiffany Field at the Touch Research Institute in Miami, U.S.A. showed good outcomes from massaging babies in the NICU. I have come to believe that actual massage techniques are better when used after the baby is home, and that holding techniques—communication through touch—are better for premature babies. The same goes for medically fragile babies.

Some of our senior instructors began to notice that premature babies were giving “disengagement” or stress cues when being massaged. Cherry Bond, a Neonatal Nurse and IAIM Certified Infant Massage Instructor, developed a “5-Step Dialogue” that helps parents to do something with their babies rather than to their babies. She says, “Every cue is like a single word in a sentence, which is part of a whole story that parents can use to participate in a unique dialogue with their baby.” Certified Infant Massage Instructors with IAIM can help parents through this 5-Step Dialogue, which includes how to observe babies’ cues, how to understand the concept of permission, and various ways to touch and hold the baby. In most cases, we recommend that parents do not massage the baby until they are home and the baby can be considered a “newborn.”

“Kangaroo Care” is now being used in NICUs everywhere. The idea is for parents to hold their infants on their chest—ideally, skin-to-skin. With infants that need a lot of medical intervention, this can be difficult, but not impossible. Nurses can help you place your baby on your chest, with whatever tubes and wires are connected to her. Research shows that stable parent-infant bonds are fundamental to healthy child development. For parents of babies born prematurely or with special medical needs, this early bonding can be interrupted by the complex medical care required in a NICU. An ongoing study conducted at a large metropolitan NICU, presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference & Exhibition in 2015 shows that a little skin-to-skin snuggling between mothers and babies can go a long way toward reducing maternal stress levels. The study examined mothers’ stress levels before and after they held their babies “kangaroo style” (skin-to-skin inside the pouch of the parent’s shirt) for at least one hour, and the results were remarkably positive.

Can you tell us about a few mothers and babies you’ve worked with over the years?

This is a bit difficult! With years of teaching and magical moments happening in just about every class, it’s hard to choose! I worked for several years with a pediatric practice in Denver, Colorado. When parents brought in a colicky baby, the doctors would refer them to me. I would go to their homes and work with them, first teaching them the Colic Relief Routine I developed, then, after the colic was resolved, I taught them how to massage their babies. One mother was very distressed about her crying baby. “He just doesn’t like me!” she said. I could tell she was disengaging — withdrawing from her baby.

After talking with her about colic and reassuring her that she was doing fine as a mom and her baby was simply in pain, I showed her the Colic Relief Routine, and asked her to do it at least once a day (preferably twice) for two weeks, and I would return in two weeks. When I returned, I saw a beaming mother, wearing her baby on her chest. She told me that at first her baby fussed and cried through the routine, but after a couple of days, he began to pass gas and fecal matter toward the end of the routine. Then her baby began “working” with her, bearing down when she massaged him, followed by yoga postures that are part of the routine. She said that afterward, he would pass gas and his crying diminished. At the two week mark, he was a happy baby, no longer crying for hours every day.

She learned how to do the full massage, and no longer had to do the Colic Relief Routine. Both mom and baby loved the massage, and I could see the bonding happening before my eyes, whereas before there was withdrawal. What would have happened if she hadn’t learned these techniques? This question made me more committed to making infant massage a part of everyone’s baby care repertoire.

Please talk about how you incorporate principles of yoga, meditation, and the ancient wisom of the Tao Te Ching into parenthood.

I had been practicing and teaching yoga and meditation since I was 20 years old. After my children were grown (actually, when they were teenagers), I studied Taoism and the Tao Te Ching— a book of aphorisms by the ancient Chinese warrior-philosopher Lao Tzu. I was very inspired by this book and what it had to say about how a warrior should conduct himself. Halfway through, I saw that much of the advice in this little book would be timely for mothers as well. Being a good mother is being a warrior in many ways.

Our family went on a vacation to Kauai, and I brought the book with me. We drove up to the top of the highest waterfall in the world. There was an open space with a couple of tables and chairs, overlooking the incredible mountains and ocean on Kauai’s south side. My family went hiking, and I stationed myself in this space. The beauty was astounding, with a foggy mist hanging overhead, and views out over the ocean as far as I could see. I went through the Tao te Ching and transliterated every aphorism into something that would relate to motherhood. I finished the book in one day.

The publisher New World Library — whose authors have included Deepak Chopra, Eckhart Tolle, and Shakti Gawain — published The Tao of Motherhood in 1991, 1994, 1997, and a 20th anniversary edition in 2011.

Can you share a bit about your own journey, transmuting significant difficulties into deeply loving and useful work?

I worked very hard to bring my vision — of infant massage being an integral part of our culture — to fruition. I also traveled to India many times during those years — from 1976 through 1988. In 1989, I had a Traumatic Brain Injury from a bad fall in my art studio, which was followed by a severe case of Fibromyalgia (which was, then, practically unheard-of). I was unable to teach for the next 24 years; the illness — chronic, widespread pain that never ceased —  was exacerbated by complications and completely disabled me. I stayed in touch with my growing organization, advising, writing, and attending conferences when it was possible. Having practiced meditation and yoga since my early 20s, my spiritual life got me through this fiery test of my body, mind, and soul. In 2014 I had a miraculous recovery; one day I woke up pain-free and totally healthy in every way. My doctors were, and continue to be, astounded.

I was able to step back into my organization, continue writing and working to bring awareness of infant mental health and infant massage to the world. Today I am healthy, energetic, fit, and deeply happy with my life. I live alone now, and my adult children and three grandchildren live fairly close. I am delighted to be able to be “me” again for my kids. They, too, are amazed and happy to “have mom back.”

How can we learn more?

I write a blog for our international newsletter, which readers can find at our international website and for our U.S. site.

To find a Certified Infant Massage Instructor go to  iaim.net  or infantmassageusa.org

Readers can find my books at Amazon. com:

Infant Massage–Revised Edition: A Handbook for Loving Parents

The Tao of Motherhood

The Path of Parenting: Twelve Principles to Guide Your Journey

how infant massage can help babies heal, bond, and sleep well

 

Toes Making A Fist

Toddler shoes so classic they're now on eBay. (image: JuneeMoonVintage)

Toddler shoes so classic they’re now on eBay. (image: JuneeMoonVintage)

There was an era when stiff white baby shoes were de rigur. Parents were assured their children’s feet wouldn’t develop properly without them. This was before the Internet, so it wasn’t easy to disprove industry lobbyists’ advertising campaigns, women’s magazine articles, and mainstream doctors repeating all the same falsehoods.

But my husband and I, being freethinkers, believed barefoot must surely be nature’s perfect design, so we didn’t get our first child shoes until he was nearly two. Grandparents on both sides muttered about our poor unshod child wearing hand-knit socks in the winter. When we finally broke down, we broke down completely, and ended up buying those same little white shoes.  (Freethinkers? Not so much.)

We knew we’d made a mistake. The shoes cost approximately the same as our weekly grocery budget. They seemed to cause our child to fall more often and made his gait somewhat awkward, so we put them on him infrequently.  The sound of those shoes clumping on the floor brought back memories, I swear, of wearing similar shoes when I was small except that mine had maddening little bells attached. <shakes fist on behalf of toddler selfhood>

We were determined to get more flexible footwear when we took our child to get his second pair a few months later. We eased his little feet out of the white baby shoes and the shoe salesman checked sizing on one of those metal measurers unique to shoe stores. (The term is Brannock Device, I looked it up.)

This time, we insisted on a soft pair of sneakers. The salesman knelt, put the shoes on, laced them up, and asked our little boy to walk in them. Our sweetie did as he was told. I don’t know if he he’d been wearing shoes he’d outgrown or if the new shoes finally fit his wide feet, but he took a few tentative steps and a big smile slid across his face. He said clearly, with the wonder of the newly liberated, “My toes don’t have to make a fist any more!”

The phrase has remained a family joke even though that toddler is now a young man (still with feet so wide they’re hard to fit). Each time I hear it I cringe to think of the pain his poor crunched up toes must have been in. And it continues to remind me that children, especially young children, can’t always tell us something is wrong. They accommodate as best they can to a tight fit, to falls, to an awkward gait, even to !#*! bells that jingle at every step.

Children accommodate to all sorts of things. That’s why we’re not aware they’re suffering from chronic headaches (as my daughter did) or meekly compliant around a babysitter who hits (as my friend’s son was) or have to battle rats that get in their bedrooms at night (as a child in our neighborhood did). We have no idea why it seems they’ve become clingy, whiny, or unreasonable.  Sometimes we can’t see any change in their behavior at all.

It’s a blessed relief when we’re finally able to figure out what’s wrong. Only then can we make it better.

Let’s remember to be on the lookout out for anything in our children’s lives that forces them to accommodate  to misery.  Let’s keep a look out for constriction and pain in our own lives too.

kids can't tell us what's wrong

I’d love to hear your own “toes making a fist” stories.

 

Pregnancy Loss to Newborn Wonder

pregnancy loss, ectopic pregnancy, birth story,

“Do you know what day this is?” Dr. Hasan asked me as I held my newborn son. He stood by my hospital bed looking at both of us with an odd expression. My doctor and I had been through a lot together, but I’d never seen that expression before. I wasn’t sure what he was asking.

“My son’s birthday,” I answered cheerfully, then turned back to gaze in fierce adoration at the baby in my arms.

He looked again at the chart in his hand and said, “Exactly one year ago to the day I performed the surgery on you. Exactly.” Then my face, I’m sure, reflected back a similarly odd expression, the sort of look that can’t fully convey how odd  synchronicity can be.

A year and a few weeks before my son’s birth something painful began to happen to my body, something I didn’t understand nor did the doctors I consulted until it was almost too late. That night I nursed my toddler to sleep, tucked my other two little ones in bed, and settled down to relax with a big bowl of popcorn and a new library book. I stayed up much later than usual and when I climbed into bed next to my husband I began to think I shouldn’t have eaten so much popcorn. The discomfort got worse. I told myself that I was dealing with indigestion, maybe even a gall bladder attack, although I’d never felt such shooting pain. I spent much of the night on the floor next to the bed in various yoga positions trying to find a way to rest. But each time my husband woke up to ask if I was okay I told him I’d just eaten too much popcorn and I’d be fine. He threatened, at some point near dawn, to call an ambulance. By then the stabbing pain had ebbed to a tolerable dullness and my toddler was up, so I started another busy day.

I made it though that day and the next before I realized the pain, although it came and went, wasn’t improving. I was barely able to get through preparations for a Memorial Day picnic. So I got visiting family members to babysit and drove myself to the ER. I almost didn’t stay. Hospitals bulge with extra patients on holiday weekends and no one took a young person with abdominal pain very seriously. I kept thinking of my children and how soon I could get back to them. When I was finally seen by a doctor, he couldn’t find any signs of appendicitis or infection. I was sent for an x-ray. In the hallway waiting for the test I had to sign a form attesting that I wasn’t pregnant. I figured there was always a chance. So they jabbed me for a quick pregnancy test. That caused another delay and again I wondered if I should just get up and go home. I found out in that crowded hallway that I was indeed pregnant.

Suddenly they took the pain more seriously and admitted me for overnight observation. I was preoccupied with worried about the separation from my nursing toddler and my two older children. A friend of ours, an internist, came by and told me I was a “pregnant blooming rose.” I didn’t feel like one. The doctors were taking every precaution to protect the new pregnancy. I was examined by several doctors. Each one wanted to know exactly how much pain I was in. I tried to explain that most of the time it was tolerable, like walking around with a headache, except in my belly.

The resident, a man with beautiful brown eyes and long dreads, told me that women with small children are the most difficult to diagnose. He said they diminish their symptoms, without even realizing it, in order to be present for their children. He asked me to close my eyes and try thinking only of my body as I described what I was feeling. I tried to be fully aware of my abdomen and when I did, I saw a horrible darkness. I was suddenly afraid that the baby was there to warn me that I was dying of some terrible disease. I opened my eyes, looked at this kind man, and couldn’t think of a way to explain that fearful darkness to him.

I was sent home with instructions to come back every three days for a blood test to determine pregnancy hormone levels, which would insure that the pregnancy was proceeding. For nearly a week the levels were within normal limits. Although I feigned good spirits for the sake of my kids, I was barely hanging on. Normally I research everything but I couldn’t muster the energy to read let alone explore the possible reason for my symptoms. In fact, I could no longer eat. Whatever I’d eaten days before felt stuck in my body like a boulder. The pains came and went with sharp intensity. While pushing a cart through the grocery store the pain bent me double. I pretended I was picking something off the floor so my children didn’t worry. One afternoon, as a friend and I sat in her backyard watching our kids play together I curled up on a lawn chair in the blazing summer sun shivering and asked for a blanket. My mind kept drifting to the darkness I’d seen. The next blood test found my levels were dropping. I was told the pregnancy was no longer viable. I would need exploratory surgery.

I had no idea what Dr. Hasan was concerned about until I went to pre-admission testing the day before my surgery. I was examined by the first female doctor I’d seen throughout this crisis. She was outraged on my behalf. She told me it was possible I had an ectopic pregnancy which could burst and threaten my life with internal bleeding. I hadn’t considered that nearly two weeks of pain could be related to something so acute. I still remembered when a friend’s mother went through an ectopic pregnancy years before. She’d felt unbearable pain, nearly died in the ambulance, and her blood loss was so severe that one of the paramedics lay on a gurney next to her at the hospital to provide a direct transfusion. She survived but was never able to have children again. This doctor told me the shoulder pain I was also experiencing was an ominous sign, signaling that I may already be hemorrhaging. She didn’t want to let me stand and walk out of her office, literally to move at all. She made a few phone calls and then angrily told me that it had been decided I would be fine until I came back for surgery the following morning. It was the only time a doctor ever walked me to the elevator and watched me until the doors closed.

Dr. Hasan came out to talk to my husband during the surgery the next day. He said I was so packed with old blood that he had to “unload” the contents of my abdominal cavity and pick apart clots that were strangling my intestines and compressing my organs. He explained that he’d sent several masses to the lab for tests and prepared my husband for a possible diagnosis of cancer. The surgery dragged on most of the day. By the time I was wheeled to recovery the doctor had determined that I’d suffered an ovarian pregnancy that had burst some time ago. The blood had limited the function of my pancreas and several other organs and I already had a serious infection. He wasn’t going to rule out cancer until all possible lab tests were in by the next day. My husband wisely kept these details and his fears from my parents, only giving them the good news when the lab tests came back clear.

I wasn’t aware of any of this. My health insurance company wanted me discharged after three days even though I couldn’t sit up or remain conscious for long. My doctor battled for an extension and lost, so they discharged me in paperwork only and readmitted me. I was aware of none of this. Going home after six days was still extremely difficult. Despite all I’d been through, I recovered quickly in the next few weeks. When I walked in Dr. Hasan’s office for a one month post-surgical check up he couldn’t believe how fit and energetic I looked. He cautioned me when I asked about trying for another baby. He said my chances were very slim. I had only one ovary left and he wasn’t sure how much function it had due to damage from internal bleeding.

Amazingly I was pregnant only three months after my surgery. Science tells us the cells of babies we’ve carried even for a short time, will be with their mothers into old age, and I thought of the child I lost. That baby taught me so much about healing and hope and giving voice to my pain.

My labor with this fourth child was unlike my first three. For hours my hands radiated so much heat that I was given ice packs to hold. They melted quickly, so nurses kept giving me new ice packs. One nurse in the birthing room said she could see waves of heat around my hands. It felt too strange for words. I wondered what energy I’d contained that was now manifesting.

Finally our son Samuel arrived. His birth came exactly a year after my husband sat all day in the waiting room afraid I might die, the day the darkness was taken out of me so life could flourish again.

ectopic pregnancy, birth story,

Start a Playgroup in a Retirement Home

seniors and kids, retirement home preschool,

Image: bjwebbiz

I started a playgroup, years ago, that met in a nursing home. Later, when I wrote an article offering six ways we can bypass today’s age-segregation to more fully involve children in their communities, I started the article with the tale of that playgroup. Readers keep asking for more details so they can organize something similar. Here’s my tale again, this time with some helpful hints. 

Surely my baby was as good as a dog.

I’d read that nursing home residents benefited enormously from contact with therapy dogs. During and after dog visits these elders were more alert and happier. So I figured, why not bring my baby to a nursing home?

Initially I’d thought about going room to room with my baby for one-on-one visits. But as I sat at a LeLeche meeting, it occurred to me that more babies might offer a bigger boost.

So I contacted a nursing home around the corner to ask. The administrator had never heard of such an idea but she was wildly enthusiastic. She referred me to the home’s activity director to start planning. That was the easiest part.

Then I starting talking friends with babies into forming a nursing home-based playgroup for our infants and toddlers. It took a LOT of convincing on my part to get them to agree. They were afraid of germs, smells, and their baby’s reactions to people with obvious disabilities.

I wondered about those problems too, particularly the germs. I know that some pretty virulent infections can get passed around in such facilities. So I talked a local store into donating a large carpet remnant for our little ones to crawl and play on. Between visits, the nursing home could roll it up for storage. It was a sort of “safe zone’ so parents felt their kids wouldn’t be exposed to germs or unwanted touching by the seniors.

I also told the staff that I’d call each day before a scheduled playgroup to ensure there weren’t any colds, flu, or other infections going around. And of course, asked that any individual residents who seemed ill would not attend. Parents also agreed to skip a session if they or their little ones seemed at all ill.

The first few playgroup sessions tested us. Not the nursing home residents, but the parents. There were, quite honestly, some seniors whose disabilities seemed a bit scary to us at first. But the babies didn’t care. Safely in a mom’s arms or in her lap they smiled, cooed, and waved to the residents with complete acceptance.

Parents brought a few toys each time and we all sat on the carpet with our babies. At first we felt a little like a zoo exhibit with a ring of wheelchairs around us, but that feeling went away. The elders were clearly delighted simply to see and hear babies.

There were certainly problems getting our group established. We started off with three mothers, one grandmother, and four babies. That’s actually a good number, although to keep the playgroup going we’d need enough people so that absences by one or two members wouldn’t whittle the session down too far.

Quite a few of the parents who initially said they’d attend just couldn’t bring themselves to show up. Only after they heard some glowing reports did a few of them give it a try. Honestly, such a playgroup isn’t for everyone. There’s a distinct pleasure in a playgroup itself, but parents who stayed committed also looked at our sessions as volunteer work.

We met regularly at that nursing home for several years. We held up picture books and read aloud to an audience old and young. We sang songs, played clapping games, and built block towers. Our babies grew into toddlers, elders and staff became our friends. Residents’ families and staff members often told us that our visits stimulated memories, generated activity, even inspired people who were mostly mute to say a few words. One woman who had refused to eat, doing little more than cry since her stroke, started eating again after spending the morning with our playgroup.

We were awed that the simple presence of babies made a difference. Just sitting on the carpet playing with our children helped people whose once full lives were now constricted. We benefited too. We learned the value of advice given by people older than our grandparents. We noticed how completely our toddlers accepted the physical and mental differences around them with natural grace. And we gained a sense of connection across the generations, a sense that’s far too rare in a a disengaged culture.

Tips

I had a ready pool of potential parents in my Le Leche group, but you can post information about the idea to all sorts of places, from your food co-op to house of worship. Try a local parent group, start a playgroup Meetup, find a chapter of the Holistic Moms Network or Moms Club.

Don’t be afraid to start a playgroup with only a friend or two. It’ll grow. Once you’re comfortable and have established a routine, start sharing your experiences on social media. And don’t forget traditional media. Our local paper wrote a short piece about our nursing home-based playgroup and ran a great picture of a profoundly wrinkled lady smiling at a baby. After that ran we had up to 12 parents who came to our sessions (the carpet piece was barely big enough).

You may prefer to organize a playgroup at an assisted living facility or senior center rather than a nursing home. These elders are healthier and much more able to engage in conversation with the kids.

Don’t limit yourself to the concept of a baby/toddler playgroup. A nearby senior center or assisted living facility may agree to set up any number of programs. Here are a few ideas.

  • I write in Free Range Learning about several initiatives such as a skills clinic where seniors offer workshops to kids, and Girlfriend Circle where a girls attend a monthly tea party with seniors.
  • Set up co-learning events, where kids and seniors together learn something new to them like whittling, cartooning, or pot throwing.
  • You might also start a program for preteens and teens to teach their elders tech skills, from downloading music to mastering a new smart phone.
  • Right now a documentary about a preschool housed in a retirement home is in the works. Present Perfect is still raising funds on Kickstarter for post production.
  • A senior retirement community not far from me offers a free apartment to music students who agree to offer concerts. It’s working beautifully.
start nursing home playgroup, preschool in retirement home,

Image: bjwebbiz

Carter, Mason, Hunter: Vocation Names for Boys

vocation names for boys, baby boy name trends,

I’m fascinated by connections between disparate things. It’s the curse of a strange mind and has gotten me into many improbable discussions. So I may not be on to anything here. But it strikes me that increasingly popular names for baby boys are vocation names. Nearly all these occupations are obscure or long gone, so we don’t associate them with the work they once described.

Names have a powerful effect on a child’s future. I wonder about our current naming trend. Maybe we’re unconsciously hearkening back to a time when a man was identified by the work he did—often the occupation passed down from grandfather to father to son—when a man was known for his expertise and good reputation. In a time of warp speed change and uncertainty, these are indeed strong names to send our boys into manhood.

Here’s a partial list of the names I’ve noticed, along with definition and popularity rank. (Keep in mind, even names without current rankings may be trending.)

How many names are becoming more common among kids you know?

Archer: huntsman

Banner: flag bearer
Bard or Baird: poet
Barker: lumberjack, carnival announcer
Baxter: bread baker
Booker: book binder
Brenner: distiller, charcoal burner
Brewster: brewer

Carter: transporter of goods (32)
Carver: one who carves
Chandler: candle maker (429)
Cooper: barrel maker (84)
Currier: leather worker

Deacon: church official (441)

Ferris: iron worker
Fletcher: arrow maker, arrowsmith (790)
Fisher: angler
Foster: woodsman (937)

Gardener: gardener
Granger: farmer, overseer of farm laborers

Harper: harp musician (660)
Hunter: huntsman (36)

Jagger: wheel maker (698)

Marshall: groomsman, farrier, high military rank (328)
Mason: brick layer, stone worker (4)
Mercer: merchant
Miller: miller, mill owner (943)
Major: military rank, mayor (366)

Palmer: palm bearer, pilgrim
Parker: park guard, gamekeeper (74)
Porter: carrier of loads, gatekeeper (385)
Prentice: apprentice to tradesman
Proctor: official
Pryor: a prior, leader of monastery

Reeve: bailiff, senior official, manager
Rex: king (632)

Sadler: saddle maker
Sawyer: wood cutter (120)
Sayer: woodcutter
Shepherd: folk tender
Spencer: steward, shop keeper (251)
Stewart/Stuart: steward, estate manager
Sumner: officer who summons people to court

Taylor: tailor (371)
Tanner: leather worker (197)
Thatcher: roof builder (992)
Tinker: traveling repair person
Tucker: clothing maker (180)
Turner: wood turner, wood worker (886)
Tyler: tile maker (63)

Vance: thresher (866)

Warner: warden, guard
Webster: weaver
Weaver: weaver
Wheeler: wheel maker
Wilder: woodsman