Infant mental health begins during pregnancy, or even before. Just as the womb protects and nourishes baby, the pregnant woman’s relationships need to provide similar protection and nourishment to her. This support can come in many forms – first and optimal is a supportive immediate family as well as an extended family. Secondly is a supportive community of friends and other families, and finally an embracing ring of support from the community – meetups, play parks, day care, schools and healthcare, etc.
Many of us in ORIMHA are professionals serving in various ways to help provide or shore up necessary support during this all important time of pregnancy and the first year or three of a child and family’s life. Helping mothers, children and families recover from problems or manage challenges is one arm of support and another arm is the prevention of problems before hand.
As a medical doctor practicing cranial osteopathy (the doctor origins of craniosacral therapy), I provide support services during pregnancy and to the growing family. This specialty is a hands-on approach to medicine that gently encourages a physical, emotional and spiritual return to ease and health by accessing the body’s own innate healing forces. First a story of a birth trauma eased and then a story of support during pregnancy that calmed stresses and averted difficulties with a happy ending/beginning for all.
Story: Trauma Recovery
I first met mom, dad and toddler when their daughter was 18 months old. It had been a traumatic birth for them all ending in a very forceful vacuum extraction (the doctor had fallen backwards when baby finally popped out.) The parents had planned on more children but after this experience mom had her tubes tied.
As a newborn, baby had a frightening amount of swelling and bruising on her head…a large hematoma. As a growing baby, she had recurrent ear infections and tubes placed. On the side of the vacuum placement she had hearing loss and a ‘lazy eye.’ What finally brought them in to see me was that the toddler still had very little language or even babbling; and she had been irritable and surly her whole life…colicky, crying inconsolably, not sleeping. Mom was having a hard time bonding with this daughter.
The little girl understandably hated doctors and doctors’ offices – mom had warned me. As soon as the toddler figured out this was another doctor, she predictably started screaming, and clinging to her mother inseparably. So I treated her through the screams while mother held her. While I had my hands on her head searching for a center of calm, ease and stillness, an unbelievable amount of heat and sweat poured off. Suddenly she stopped crying, relaxed so completely and dramatically into her mother’s body that mom got scared, stepped backwards and called out, ‘What was that?’ I reassured the parents that all was well and they left with a calm, quiet, sleeping baby.
Mom called the next day to report that immediately on arriving home, as she went to change the diaper, for the first time her daughter started repeating words after her. Later, both grandma and the daycare asked mom, ‘what happened to our cranky kid?’ The toddler had transformed into a happy, chatty girl and remains so…a remarkable and fast outcome.
Story: Pregnancy Problem Prevented
Laura was newly pregnant with her third child, who was an unexpected surprise to both parents. After the initial adjustment, much joy surrounded the coming of this new little one into the family circle. Early on we had a blessing ceremony with songs and prayers that helped mama and baby move forward happily. The pregnancy proceeded smoothly, although barely noticed much of the time, in the midst of an active young family which included a nursing two year old along with mom having started back into building a professional career. Toward the end of the pregnancy, Laura was having difficulty making the transition and space to include another baby. She found herself grieving the loss of her expectations for how she would mother her toddler and the sweet closeness they had. She felt herself pulled away from him too soon, in order to birth and mother a new baby. To complicate matters the little toddler broke his arm and needed surgery just at this critical juncture. He needed mom’s attention and babying even more during this crisis.
And it was at this point that the womb baby turned transverse (lying sideways in the womb). This dramatically got mama’s attention turned inward toward the new baby. Laura was planning for a third home birth and now went into a frantic scramble to arrange for a possible hospital surgical birth with the OBs and with multiple ultrasounds to check on baby. This was what brought her in for her first osteopathic treatment.
We couldn’t find a time to meet except when Laura had both boys with her. This turned out to be fortuitous. My fatherly receptionist and the older boy were in the waiting area and the younger toddler could come and go into the treatment room; enacting the shift that would take place for him with this baby’s birth.
In this session I held the womb baby belly and helped mama and baby orient more fully to each other. At one point the toddler snuggled in with mama baby on the treatment table including his little arm cast and I treated the three of them together.
My work consists of physically placing my hands on my patient to gently and firmly hold tensions, diverse ‘pullings.’ My hands and presence acknowledge and include them all until they can find a common balance point together, a center of ease and harmony – a breathing in synchrony.
Mama was able to connect more completely to being present for this womb baby and to simultaneously shift her relationship to her toddler; letting go of her desires for the way she had envisioned her mothering and then reconnecting, reorienting in a new way to include both him and baby together. Laura felt reassured that even though she would not be mothering her son in the way she had thought she would, he would continue to be loved and nurtured by her and her husband, brother, and their large extended family in other ways that were very good. This enabled her to make space to joyfully embrace this new child’s arrival.
Mom called the next day to say that baby was head down and all was well. Mom came by herself for a final appointment to focus even more fully, without distraction, on this new baby and the imminent birth. We rejoiced together with hands-on treatment, blessings of gratitude and expectation, and songs of birth and welcome. Two weeks later mom gave birth at home to a healthy daughter – her miracle of a ‘barely dared to hope for’ daughter – born in the caul…a welcome blessing to the whole family…
Mom was able to give her baby and herself and her family a healthy beginning that will last a lifetime, providing a solid foundation for lifelong mental health.
As an organization, ORIMHA, is here to support professionals in their many roles and approaches as they support babies and families to be happy and healthy. We invite your joining us and sharing your stories in our circle of support for infant mental health.
Contact the author at doctor@MiriamRoseMD.com.
For more information see http://www.cranialacademy.org/