In May, 2019, I went to take a 7 day workshop with Peter Levine, the creator of Somatic Experiencing on working with near death experiences in clients. The seminar is called The Eye of the Needle. I have been tracking the answer to the question: Do babies have near death experiences? most of my professional life. Here are notes from the days I spent with him. Many people reported they loved these reports. Enjoy!
Day One Summary, Eye of the Needle. So many curious observers of near death experiences! Here are experiences that were presented as true near death experiences: anesthesia, surgery especially c-section, high fever, resuscitations, serious injury, drowning, poisoning, fetal birth experiences of anoxia, hypoxia. heart attack. He talked a long time about anesthesia and anesthesia medicine: Versed versus propofol. He read from Versid blogs. This drug creates a lot of problem. There was discussion of when people wake during anesthesia. We discussed states of consciousness and traumas from these difficult experiences, and practiced doing and intake with people. Peter says that the skills of helping people recover from near death states are very very delicate. He stressed that. And the person who goes into the singularity between life and death (eye of the needle) needs to be calm. I will see if I can find some of the studies he quoted and put them below in the comments.
I am here because I encounter near death states when working with birth. I have been tracking my own near death at birth for 20 years and have had a lot of wonderful and meaningful adventures doing so. My experiences are being channeled into my training for professionals. In my experience, near death puts us in relationship with our consciousness, and the universal consciousness. Babies are very close to that universal consciousness. John Chitty used to say that they are Royalty of Humanity. The portal to who we really are is near for them. As we grow, we get layered on by our experiences. That is something that is meant to happen. Then we start to remember all this as we get older (or maybe we don't).
Also, our difficult experiences and adaptation patterns to them carry a lot of energy and are a portal to blueprint states (Anna Chitty). This particular imprint of near death carries a lot energy.
Today is Day 2. I will give you another report tomorrow
Day 2: Eye of the Needle. We did a lot of observation of the sequence needed to work with these particular states in people. The work is very poignant, and my take away is the skill of the practitioner is in really seeing the essence of the person who has come for help, their strengths, their will to live, how they have managed, their beauty as a living being. Then skills have to help people stabilize in their body. The practitioner tracks skills of expansion and contraction of the energy in the body, the survival energy. There are many layers to a person. The use of sound, jaw, hand and arm movements are useful in particular.And it is important to really meet the person where they are with what they need, and keenly observe and understand what their physiology is doing.
Eye of the Needle Day 3: We practice on each other and did a lot of observing Peter work. It is really wonderful to watch him, feel with him, sense into the work he has designed, feel his patience, his humor, and listen with every sense how to take someone through the feeling of dying and coming back to life fully. Today, a gem from him: "Hear the signal in the noise". There are so many ways to go in to what is happening in the body. Peter is profoundly somatic. The physiology has his attention, but he listens to what the person says, reflecting strengths, essence, then he waits for the moment to just guide, catch, collect, turn around energy. He works with presence, then content, guides you as practitioner to help a person sequence and stitch their experiences, slowing the pace. Waiting, giving opportunities to build capacity. Supporting the bigger message for people, too.
Eye of the Needle Day 4: It is not just Peter who is teaching. There are many teaching assistants and the people here are all advanced somatic experiencing trauma healers who have made this big commitment. So the energy is positive, upbeat and hardworking. We are all so still and attentive during demonstrations. There are usually 2 demos a day, and sometimes more. Yesterday's practice was good for me as I took someone through the Eye of the Needle. In a Q & A, afterwards, one question about the name was a good topic. What is the Eye of the Needle? It is an altered state that we go into connected to a life/death event. Feedback from a TA was so good about the role of the diaphragm wanting to open and breathe while the body is containing so hard in reaction to near death, resisting opening, afraid that the body will fragment, hanging on for dear life so to speak. I was mentored to say to the person, your diaphragm is opening, and your body is having a memory. The TA said that sometimes raw sobbing can be the stitch that allows the body to open and integrate the experience. We work with breath here in so many ways. Encouraging the felt sense of safety and capacity, working with diaphragms throughout the body, calming, holding presence. The course includes sections on mythopoetic or archetypal material that is often connected to near death. Images, important figures, memories. Here are few questions, sayings that I like from Peter:
"Le'ts follow that."
"Let's take a moment with that."
"If your tears could speak, what would they say?"
"Can we stay a little longer here."
"I'm alive and I'm real."
"The body is speaking in its unspoken voice."
"I can sense your strength."
"Let yourself be with that feeling."
And So Much More .
Life and death are a polarity, and life happens in between, say Jaap Van der Wal. Perhaps we are dealing more with "near life" experiences as he says. My clients who have died and come back are very much at peace. The death experience is a resource. Perhaps, and just perhaps now, near life experiences are what William Emerson calls Divine Homesickness. It is a place of longing and self doubt. The person asks, why am I here? And there are many coping and adaptation patterns to manage the feeling state.
Eye of the Needle Day 5: I had my own Eye of the Needle experience on Day 5. Of course we practice on each other and it is not about the client, it is about the practitioner's experience. We were working with diaphragms. I had picked a practitioner I had worked with before at another venue. One I knew my body trusted. She had gotten me closer to integrating this near death place in me than anyone else.In some of our demos, Peter talked about finding people who could really take you there, and how hard it is. One of the intakes was getting the therapeutic history, like how many therapists the person has seen and what was their experience. I have had people try to help me with this place and very few really got me through, and quite a few didn't know what they were doing. The ones who have helped the most are quite well practiced trauma resolution therapists who deeply understand the nervous system. In my experience yesterday (Day 5), I went to the place where I blacked out because of the pain, but of course I was awake yesterday. My intention was to experience the gap between losing consciousness and waking up fighting. We did that. It was uncomfortable at first. The procedural memory is just faint now after working so hard on this place in me, but it was there. My near death is at birth. The breech birth. The ring of pain around my sphenoid bone was pretty bad. Made me wonder more about what that was. High forceps? Opening of the vaginal canal? The doctor's hands? I have seen breech babies with those imprints. Instead of blacking out this time, I went into the clouds, disembodied and encountered Jesus there. My practitioner was quite good at guiding me to have an experience. There was no pain. It was very reassuring. Then I emerged out of the eye of the needle. The pain returned again to my head. My poor head went through a lot there. Again, an imprint. A procedural memory, and a mythopoetic experience of near death. All tied up in a neat bundle. I was sore afterwards. I got a massage last night. With every part of my body that was massaged I imagined it was a therapist with the baby, saying, this is your foot. This is your arm. You made it. Embodied. Here. Planet Earth. I love this body. Thank you body. I am sorry body for all you have gone through. To be continued . . . This is the last day of class. Then tomorrow 4 case reviews of near death, however, I think these experiences are near life really, like Jaap Van der Wal says.Thank you for reading my blow-by-blow of my experience.
Addendum to Day 5 Eye of the Needle. Most of our demonstrations with Peter Levine have had a birth element. Difficult birth experiences of different kinds, so I asked Peter, How prevalent is difficult birth a part of Eye of the Needle, and what, in your mind would help humanity improve on this? While he didn't say, well there is high prevalence of birth difficulty in the work of EON, he did go on to talk about improving birth outcomes. Over medicalization of birth is the culprit, he says, but even in home birth there has been difficulty. He mentioned a few techniques he used to help with a home birth once. Sounds doable to teach birth staff what he said. Then he went on to say, work with midwives, doulas. They do a good job. Yes! That is what I am about, in teaching trauma resolution to midwives, doulas, and lactation. I am working with a midwife to integrate trauma resolution approaches into maternity care. I think postpartum doulas can really help moms, too, and families. The techniques these days are very refined. And like finding a practitioner who can help take you to where you need to go to heal, so, too, you need practitioners who understand these states. Birth is a mythopoetic journey. It is a transformational time. We are attracted or repelled. It is very compelling. Life and death. We are drawn to the light for those of us who feel called. My training is called Prenatal and Perinatal Dynamics. I invite you to study with me and make a difference for humanity. I teach skills, awareness, presence and the baby's experience too. I am in partnership with amazing midwife, Lois Trezise. My trainings are listed at ppncenter.com. Forgive my plug for my work, but also, join us. Let's change things around for a better humanity.
Finally, Peter said, have you seen, Call the Midwife? A show on PBS. Oh, he said, you have to watch that. I cried when it was over. Luckily they are doing more. Watch that and then come back
Eye of the Needle Postscript: We had 7 days of near death (near life). There were many gems and jewels Day 6, and then day 7 we had 4 case reviews. There were so many things to that happened. so many things to say. One of them is Peter had a way of recognizing the deep health. He calls it an inner rhythm, a deep self, like a flickering candle, a flickering flame that is always there and will always be there. To evoke this he puts people on something called a bellicon, so they can feel their on internal rhythm. Often he asks people to catch their symptoms before they flame, like just blowing on a coal before it flames. He uses interventions that gently evoke symptoms and then waits for the pendulation to happen, and even guides some of that. We expand, we contract. There were many other gems, including helping people who are attached to the blissful side of near death to integrate all of it, the hellish parts, too. While near death is a resource quite often, these people will still have symptoms. He says, often people will identify with one realm, heaven or hell realms. We need to integrate, otherwise we may just push and override to live as opposed to being in touch with our rhythm, and really thriving rather than just surviving. He works with the jaw, where he says it is about blocked aggression. He uses a main tool called a "voo", and deep vibrational sound. He uses squeeze. He connects well with people, and when asked how much he engages with the personality, he says, as little as possible, but not because he does not like the person, it is because he says the persona obscures the true identity. As I said before, the work is about state change and working to first stabilize then help evoke the change the person wants for themselves. When they change, the world changes, too. It can soften.
At one point, he talked about the work of Emmanuel Swedenborg, where there are 4 kinds of wounds: The physical, of which there are many thousands; emotional of which there are 3: regret for the past, fear of the future, and not feeling present. Mental wounds that end up in one: critical self judgment, and Spiritual where the wound is the illusion of separateness. He made a gesture with his hand like turning a combination lock and said, you have to get the right amount of healing from all 4 domains.
When working with story, he will say to the person, "Take me with you," or "Walk me through what happened," and will will really go with them into the experience, especially positive experience. He normalized the difficulty, and then intervenes with pauses, touch, phrases, and tools like his voo, smooveys, bellicon. For the difficult part, he says, just touch it and return. Go back and forth and make a bridge. In my work we call this the Leading Edge (Hat tip to Ray Castellino and all my students, class A and B.) He uses tools of posture, of noticing expansion and flexion.
I also loved his description of our sense of self and how that starts in relationship to the placenta and our mother. His detailed description of the anatomy and the experience of the placenta made complete sense to me. And how birth trauma or even inutero trauma sets up a pattern of sheer effort to live and how that can manifest as authentic achievement with an overlay of pushing.
So much wisdom in 7 days. And this was just some of it. I went through 3 pens taking notes. There were many more lessons learned, mostly around the art of the relational field and knowing our natural capacity for healing. It was very good!
Understanding trauma and how to help heal it has been quite a journey. My work in this field began 20 years ago with my clients who wanted to heal their earliest traumas. I didn't even know that babies in utero could experience trauma let alone have it appear as a constant throughout life. Since this journey began, our therapeutic world has exploded with ways to work with trauma and memory, recognizing that the body remembers our earliest beginnings, and traumatic events can stamp our ancestral line so hard it will cross over into the next generations. Its has been such an amazing time to witness our therapeutic and medical world accept that babies do indeed have memory of their time in utero, during birth and the first year of life, and that children can have Adverse Early Experiences, and that families can thrive if they have support, guidance and healing from the start.
The work at Belvedere Integrated Healing Arts integrates trauma resolution approaches that include touch and verbal skills. Open inquiry and quiet presence allow the client to slowly become aware of places where they need to heal. Somatic Experiencing work also helps clients heal from overwhelming events, and the integrated bodywork that is offering is intelligent, thoughtful touch for chronic pain, and for your whole being to rest and be attended to.
Working with the Overwhelmed Nervous System
I often hear people say, “I am just overwhelmed.” For most of us, overwhelm is about stress and is a normal part of life. However, chronic stress can lead to a variety of uncomfortable signs and symptoms. Sometimes stress is from a traumatic event. There are a variety of ways you can recover your health and your life from unhealthy patterns related to life’s stresses.
The Body’s Natural Response
People respond to stress in different ways depending on character type and a dominant pattern in the body. For some people, the first response is “fight-or-flight,” or a sympathetic nervous system response when the body gears up for danger. Blood flows to the arms and legs in preparation for action, digestion slows or stops, adrenaline and other stress hormones like cortisol pump through the body. Your heart rate increases, breathing becomes more rapid. These natural physiological responses provide a quick burst of energy for survival, heighten memory, and lower sensitivity to pain. This “stress response” can help you remain alert, perform well, stay focused, and give you extra strength to perform a task. If this is your method of responding to stress, it can be described as responding with your foot on the gas pedal. Out of balance, this can mean you are in overdrive, often agitated, angry, and easily irritated when things don’t go right.
Other people respond to stress by withdrawing. For these people, energy can drain from their system or they can procrastinate, leading to delay and fear. This passive response is when the parasympathetic part of the nervous system is dominant. In the parasympathetic response, the blood flows toward the organs, relaxation takes place, people normally rest, and digestive enzymes are released. Some people just sleep. It can be a normal part of the nervous system function. In fact, activation of a healthy nervous system rolls up and down between sympathetic and parasympathetic functions (see figure). As a stress response, however, it can feel like an extreme dive in energy. For some people, this function is so common it feels normal and can be described as living with your foot on the brake. You just shut down.
A third response, called “freeze,” is a combination of the first two approaches and can be very difficult for the nervous system. You feel shut down and “frozen,” unable to complete the task at hand, but inside you feel agitated, your thoughts are reeling, and you feel like you can’t do anything. In this response, the foot is on the brake and the gas at the same time.
Causes of Stress
Stress is something that puts too much pressure or demand on you and your nervous system, and that is different for everyone. Not all stresses are negative; some are positive like a new job, getting married, changing careers, moving to a new home. The Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory ranks the top ten most stressful events as:
There are also internal stressors. These can include:
For most of us, patterned responses to stress are normal parts of a healthy nervous system. Once the stress has abated, we will go back to homeostasis or balance. Markers of a balanced nervous system are when activation is low, with these hallmarks:
If the stress is chronic and therefore the response is on all the time, the different styles can look like this:
Symptoms of Sympathetic Response (Fight or Flight)
Symptoms of Parasympathetic Response (Shut Down, Dissociate)
For the Freeze Response, it can be a combination of these two.
When Trauma Enters the Picture
I substitute “overwhelm” for the word “trauma” in my work with people. It helps them understand better what is actually happening to their nervous system. Trauma can be defined as any overwhelming event that causes physical or emotional wounding. It can be a one-time event or it can be a prolonged experience. The healthy nervous system response to life where we have times of alertness and times of relaxation is called regulation. When trauma enters the picture, the nervous system becomes dysregulated, meaning the person cannot return to their normal homeostasis. The rolling fluctuations will get bigger and bigger without resources and the person will remain with symptoms unabated and stuck “on.”
The nervous system does not distinguish between physical and emotional trauma. Nothing sends nervous function into overdrive better than pain. Sometimes an overwhelming event can happen early in life and so people grow up with one pattern stuck on, so overwhelm becomes normalized. Adults will then begin to exhibit health problems as the body cannot tolerate the pattern’s effects. Examples of early life trauma include:
Stress Warning Signs and Symptoms
From Understanding Stress: Signs, Symptoms, Causes, and Effects by Melinda Smith and Jeanne Segal (http://www.helpguide.org)
Recovery From and Treatment of Overwhelm!
There are many ways to help manage stress and its effects. The first step is to become aware of the pattern by recognizing the symptoms, and then to choose a pathway so that your life is in your hands and not managed by the pattern. Learn how to relax and connect with others. Create a support system so you can let off steam and not feel so alone. Find outlets and professionals so you can learn important techniques or get treatments. But there are some stress management techniques you can practice, and best of all, they are inexpensive or free:
Each one of these activities or techniques has excellent research or evidence that it improves stress coping mechanisms in the body. Other important approaches include:
There are many ways to help address the symptoms of stress, but the first step is awareness. The good news is that addressing your pattern will help build resilience and health, and many of the tools you need to do this are already available to you.
I recently listened to an inspiring high school valedictorian speech given by a young Hispanic woman. She began her speech by saying this will be no ordinary graduation speech. She went on to say the speech will be about expectations and realities, and in it, she talked about how unexpectedly, she ended up at this high school. She also mentioned how, unexpectedly, she became successful even though she was a girl, Mexican, undocumented and poor. I was so moved by her courage and her creativity. While she started out explaining she was going talk about expectations and realities, what she really talked about was the unexpected, and how these realities impacted her life. I thought I would make my own list.
I was a bodyworker with a very successful practice in the walk in basement of an adorable house next to a river in Bethesda, MD. I had just had my first baby and I felt amazingly happy. Unexpectedly, my life took a turn I did not expect. Here is the list.
Unexpected Reality #1: Babies have experiences in utero and during birth, and they can be overwhelming and shocking. And these experiences can last a lifetime.
I started massaging people in 1994, and spent years massaging as many people as I could, and taking every class that came my way. I studied craniosacral therapy and trauma resolution in 1998-1999. After years of holding and touching people, I saw how we come into form through the study of embryology. I learned about the impact of the birth process on the body, and how that could last a lifetime in people. I saw the impact of birth in everyone I saw. At first, it was just looking at the cranium, and asymmetries of the face. Then I got a deeper taste of what babies go through.
In 1999, a woman walked into my private that would change my life forever. When she filled out my intake form, she came to the question about her birth experience. As craniosacral therapists, we ask about birth patterns because we often feel them with our hands when we work on the head in particular, but birth affects the whole body. She told me that her difficult birth was probably the reason for her lifelong depression, and she wanted to heal this by the bodywork I was offering. Not knowing much about birth memories, I agreed to try. Our sessions were intense. She processed a difficult breech delivery where she encountered her near death, and her mother’s, and her heroic action as a baby that saved both their lives. While I was holding her in the craniosacral therapy, I began to have panic attacks. This is how I found out that my difficult breech birth was similar to hers. Somehow, as she processed her shock and fear that was embedded in her body from her earliest experiences, my own early unhealed birth process was evoked. This experience set me on a path to discover more about the baby’s experience, how these experiences could last a lifetime and how to heal them.
My journey took me to many places and teachers. At that time, we worked on adults to understand what happened when they were a baby. In prenatal and perinatal healing, we learn about patterns that start preconception. Were we a wanted baby? Was conception easy? Were our parents ready to have a baby? Did our mothers have support or were they highly stressed? Was our father present? Did our mother feel alone? What was the family like then? What was our culture like, what was happening in the world? Did we need many interventions at birth? Were we separated from our mothers after birth? Did we breastfeed? So many questions. So many patterns of ways we can come into the world as babies.
But this was with adults. I kept asking, when will I learn to help babies? The years passed. I took training after training. Finally, I started working with babies. Until about 5 years ago, only osteopaths worked with babies. Eventually more craniosacral therapists started to learn. As teachers who knew about babies began to emerge, I took their classes. I also taught my own classes and worked with babies, and their families. I worked with midwives and nurses who taught me about birth. I learned to be a birth doula. Finally, now, I know how to work on babies to help them feel better in their bodies, and to help them breastfeed. Now I have an amazing skill base to help families heal from difficult births so that babies can grow optimally. They will not be the woman who walks into a healing arts practice with lifelong depression that started at birth.
But all this work has led me to Unexpected Reality #2.
Unexpected Reality #2: The mother’s experience can be the baby’s experience.
If a mother feels stress, pain, terror, fear, self-hatred, exhaustion, grief and horror, the baby feels it too. In fact, sometimes the baby feels he or she is responsible, or even that he or she IS that experience. And sometimes, the mother’s lifelong experiences from before she got pregnant affect the baby. Even further back, sometimes the grandmother’s experiences affect the baby, because the mother was a baby once herself inside the grandmother. Experiences from two previous generations can influence our life.
After many years of learning how to help the baby, I now realize that I need to help the mother. In fact, sometimes if I treat the mother, the baby gets better. I started really caring for mothers. Part of my healing arts practice is called MotherCare. I realized if we cared for mothers better, our human race, culture, and society would be better, more peaceful, calmer, more loving.
Then I realized that I needed to help women before they get pregnant. Even deeper, I realized I needed to help girls feel better in their bodies, and to feel more empowered to trust their bodies and themselves.
There is a lot of work to do.
Unexpected Reality #3: We are more compassionate, forgiving and loving than I even imagined, and it starts in when we are babies.
I was in a class with advanced craniosacral and polarity instructor Anna Chitty, and prenatal and perinatal therapy pioneer Ray Castellino when I had a deep awakening to what was possible for humanity. It was completely unexpected. Anna was leading us in an exercise to increase the function of parasympathetic nervous system. For me, shock is coupled with deep parasympathetic experiences, in other words, deep rest. It is a pattern that I have been working on for years. As you can imagine, if I can’t deeply rest, what happens to my body? As I go deeply into rest, I tend to stop breathing. This is a great example of a prenatal and birth imprint. I feel positive I experienced cord compression in utero. If I really let go and rested, I impinged my cord. At least, that is what I have sorted out from exploring this pattern. So, while we were exploring ways to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, I felt myself going into shock. I told the student who was working with me at the time, and she called Anna over.
I’m going to have a heart attack, I told Anna.
Really, she said, what are you noticing?
I could see her feet. I was in a freeze position on the massage table. I did not dare move. My breathe was shallow and fast; my heart was beating extremely fast. And it hurt like hell.
Anna was so calm. So, I was calm. I became curious and began to notice what was happening my body in minute detail. Anna led me as I reported what I was feeling.
Ah, she said. You are not having a heart attack. Your heart tissue is releasing.
I could sense she was right. My heart tissue, a muscle, was shivering. It was releasing from a frozen state that was likely the imprint from my prenatal or birth experience. As it released, my body became flooded with endorphins. It felt ecstatic and it pulsed. As this flood of what felt like love moved through my body, I heard a message and it was, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And, I forgave them, whoever “them” was. Anna kept asking me what I was noticing, and really, I felt flooded with compassion. This part of me was more mature than expected. Where did it come from? Who was that? Was that me? The short answer is yes. That is the spirit in me that knows more than I know in my tiny fragile human self. It was awesome, in every sense of that word.
If I have that inside me, then everyone does.
Part Two of this Blog is: Unexpected Realities versus Unrealistic Expectation in Prenatal and Perinatal Experiences. Tune in next week!
A few months ago, a mom came to see me with a baby who could not breastfeed well. She had reflux and did not sleep well either. The mom was depressed and like many times, I was the last stop in a line of many practitioners. Here is her testimony:
I reached out to Kate when my second daughter, A., was four weeks old. I had consulted our pediatricians, dentist, and multiple lactation specialists for help with our breastfeeding issues, and had attempted two separate tongue tie revisions with no noticeable impact. In our first appointment, Kate pinpointed the root of our issues, which began in utero with prolonged fetal malpositioning, resulting in muscle and fascial compression and cesarean birth (and torticollis and tongue and jaw issues that made breastfeeding difficult and painful for both of us).
Originally Published May, 2017 here: http://www.agesandstages.net/blog.php?id=79
A young woman recently called me about helping her with her birth experience. Someone she knew told her about my approach to healing difficult births. Her story was familiar: the birth did not go as planned; the pain was too much; the staff at the hospital were not attentive; many interventions were used; the baby had to be resuscitated, then would not sleep for months; and the story of this difficult birth kept swirling in her head. Yes, of course, I would help her I said, and I laid out a plan for her, an integrated approach of somatic skills, touch, awareness, and working with autonomic states in the body to help her, her husband, and their baby.
There is a rising tide of practitioners trained to help families who experience birth trauma. A true definition of this kind of trauma is “when the individual (mother, father, or other witness) believes the mother’s or her baby’s life was in danger, or that a serious threat to the mother’s or her baby’s physical or emotional integrity existed” (Simkin, 2016). In addition, research into the birth experience reveals that one-in-four women exhibit symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (Kendall-Tackett, 2016). It is no wonder families seek support for babies who cry; as well as have difficulty feeding, sleeping, and other issues. As a bodyworker who specializes in helping families with birth trauma, the most frequent reasons mothers bring their babies to me are difficulty feeding and sleeping. Many also report inconsolable crying.
Assessment of the families begins with listening to the birth story. The quality of presence and listening is an important skill and can settle the mom in particular. We are trained in nervous system regulation and help families understand the range of sensations and responses to autonomic nervous system states related to overwhelming events. For example, each person has what we call a functional range, where his or her nervous system will rise and fall in energy and experience based on functional need. These needs include the energy to go out into the world to work; to get things done; and then to rest, eat, and sleep when needed. This translates easily into understanding the baby’s experience to eat, sleep, and play. When events are overwhelming, we can go out of this range into symptoms related to fight, flight, and freeze. These are all normal responses to overwhelming events, boundary breaches, pain, abandonment, and traumatic births.
Treatment protocols for the family include helping parents sort out their experiences and what they notice inside their own bodies. Working with sensation and feeling states, a trained practitioner can create enough safety and coherency (or good feelings) in the body so more difficult, dysregulated, or frozen states can be addressed and released. I also spend a lot of time normalizing difficult experiences from birth. These can range from really fast births to very long births and near death experiences. They also include severe pain and overwhelm from hospital interventions. Overall, I have found three large patterns in birth trauma for mothers: feeling unseen (“I was in so much pain, how could the staff not see?”), feeling betrayed (“Why didn’t anyone tell me?”), and feeling confusion or when two things were happening at once, (“It was right but so wrong, wrong but so right.”). I have worked with Pitocin, Cesarean section, hemorrhages, shoulder dystocia, near death experiences, as well as placenta retention and manual removal, just to name a few of the difficult births families have experienced. Treating the whole family is best. My approaches use touch, bodywork, Somatic Experiencing®, as well as prenatal and perinatal trauma healing (see castellinotraining.com).
Babies communicate very directly about their experiences with crying, autonomic signals such as skin color (flushed to pale on a continuum, including mottled), posture (floppy or rigid), eye gaze or lack of eye contact, movement (none to jerky), and specific ways they hold their bodies (in a c-curve, extension, or compression) from their in utero or birth experiences. Most often, babies who don’t recover after birth are carrying an imprint from an in utero experience or severe issues from the birth process. The somatic practitioner’s job is to relieve compression, restore full function of the body if needed, hear the story of the baby through the baby’s way of speaking (cry, gaze, movement, gesture), and teach the parents how to do this at home with their baby.
I use a large range of skills I have learned over time. These include craniosacral therapy, myofascial approaches, social engagement, recognition of autonomic nervous system states (a key to healing the mother-baby dyad), supported attachment (crawl to breast), postural approaches, timing, intensity, and presence. I teach about sequencing, or how a baby completes an action or activity, and sleep states. Frequently, I get asked to assess fascial constraints that limit breastfeeding latch and tongue function. Additionally, the mother may report an amazing birth experience, but it was not that way for the baby.
Most of the time, I relieve compression that is still in the baby’s body and experience related to pregnancy and birth. As I relieve this compression, the baby may touch back into the overwhelming feelings he or she felt during birth. Treatment is rhythmic, titrated, and we pendulate back and forth from the present (“You made it! You are safe now. That was then, this is now.”) to the experience that caused the physical state (“You were stuck then, but not now. Yes, that was overwhelming, you can go slowly now, you don’t have to speed up. You can do it differently now, but yes, that was scary back then.”) Many babies look relieved when I understand their story and can help them feel better in their bodies. Families learn how to help their babies at home by listening for key moments in their babies’ stories. Sometimes, we make repair or reflect back to the baby how sorry we are for their hurts, and how we didn’t want that to happen for them.
Human development starts before conception, not after birth. If we bring our conscious awareness to our family patterns, stress levels, and healthy habits, we can conceive, carry, and birth babies optimally. If we can provide quality care that includes stress management, levels of support for the pregnant woman and her partner, and education about the baby’s experience, we will improve birth outcomes. As a complementary therapy to traditional medical practices for families, a skilled bodyworker can make a huge difference during this early time, so families get off to the best possible start. Osteopathy, or a genre of physical medicine, provides this quote: “As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.” Let’s help our birthing families with their birth experiences, so their trees grow optimally.
Kendall-Tackett, K. (2016). Healing birth trauma: A two-day online conference for birth and behavioral health professionals. Prevention and Treatment of Traumatic Childbirth. Retrieved from: http://pattch.org/trauma-conference/
Simkin, P. (2016). Resource guide: Prevention and treatment of traumatic childbirth. Prevention and Treatment of Traumatic Childbirth. Retrieved from: http://pattch.org/resource-guide/traumatic-births-and-ptsd-definition-and-statistics/
I have received so many sweet protests from you about the end of full body, deep tissue and medical massages that I felt it best I explain to you why I am doing this, and what is next for my practice and my professional life.
I am stopping so much massage therapy because I am listening to my body.
My body has been telling me to stop doing so many massage sessions for a few years now, and I have decided to listen more deeply and take a break. I started working as a massage therapist in 1994. With 23 years of practice, I know my skills are honed. I love doing massage, so it is hard for me to give up, but I am afraid if I don’t listen to my body, I will get sick. That is often how these things unfold. Many of us don’t listen to messages we receive, so they often get louder, in the form of illnesses or what we call a “spiritual 2 x 4.” I am following this leading, and offering a bodywork session that is a combination of that intelligent touch and craniosacral therapy in its place. The Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy is a deep listening to the body, and then therapeutic presence and exact skill to help the body reorganize, and health to increase. So you can still come for bodywork, it will just be different. Here are things I am still offering:
Over the next two years I will be offering my own training for professionals wanting to learn about prenatal and perinatal trauma, and a wide variety of other experiences locally, nationally and internationally.
I also want to write, and have leadings to write blogs, articles and books.
So, I want you to know that I am still here. You can still come and receive bodywork from me. Thank you for your support and kind words. Let’s keep working together. I am taking more time this summer to be with my family and teach in different locations. Starting in September, I will have more availability Tuesday through Friday. If you are looking for a massage, I recommend any of these local places and practitioners.