Integrating Touch into Pregnancy and Postpartum Care
In my work as a midwife touch is slowly becoming the primary form of communication between myself, the mother and their baby whether in or outside of the womb. Although I feel to be at the very beginning of what feels like an extraordinary journey of discovery, I am noticing the profound influence touch can have on the felt experience of safety. In fact, it is becoming more and more apparent to me that the default mode of relating which is mostly via talking is often lacking in its' capacity to communicate concepts like mindfulness, nervous system regulation, and embodiment. I am not suggesting that touch and non-verbal communication is complete on its' own, or that conversation is not valuable, but that both are important aspects for the integration of the body-mind and the lived experience of well-being, wholeness, and connection.
When I reflect on my early training as a midwife, I can see that touch was geared (mostly) toward the gathering of information for the purposes of 'care' planning in order to mitigate perceived risks for the the mother and baby. Hands and fingers were trained to measure, assess and compare and rather than being extensions of the heart, they felt more like appendages of a techno-medicalized robotic system with its' many checks and balances. Looking back I can see how this paradigm confers a kind of power to the practitioner because the information gathered will likely impact and influence decisions and future outcomes. The inherent power differential is there regardless, but when it is not named, brought into consciousness and accounted for, then touch has the great potential to do harm and even cause distress for the recipient.
As I go about my work learning the art and practice of what it is to function holistically as a midwife I am learning the profound healing capacity available in the simple gestures of loving and attuned touch. Just as a pebble dropped in a still lake affects the whole lake, when we touch another body, we are touching wholeness, the entirety of that human being. I have experienced both as the giver and the receiver of touch how disorganized states can reorganize into coherent patterns of well being and give rise to a renewed sense of vitality and connection.
Over the past couple of years I have been experimenting with innovative and creative ways of using both dialogue and touch to support a greater sense of connection, flow and ease within and between myself and the families I am working with. I am finding that the use of attuned touch allows the attention (that may otherwise be directed upward towards thinking), to settle in to deeper states of relaxation that have a profound impact on the relational field between a mother and baby.
One of my teachers Dr Aline LaPierre, founder of Neuro Affective Touch refers to touch as the 'mother of the senses', she writes:
"We mistakenly think that touch occurs on the periphery of our selves. In fact, each surface stimulus travels far into the interior landscapes of our body-mind. Long nerve cells receiving input at the surface of the body travel up the spinal cord to reach into the deep folds of the brain. There are dimensions to touch that lead us into internal and visceral sensory experiences, out of which affective and cognitive meaning-making unfold. In the embryo, the skin, the central nervous system, and the brain develop from the same ectodermic layer, cascading outwards and inwards as we develop in the womb. Skin, nervous system, and brain are so closely related that one could describe the skin as the outer surface of the brain and the brain as the deepest layer of the skin".