Early in my bodywork career (about eighteen years ago to be exact) I found out about a group of women – mostly home birth midwives – who met once a month in a Portland restaurant to network and discuss topics of interest to the birth community.
In those days I was the massage therapist who massaged pregnant women and who also attended births. The word “doula” had not yet been coined to describe the labor support work I did.
I loved those meetings. I loved rubbing elbows with the midwives. I had always secretly wanted to be a midwife. It was so cool just to sit at the same table with them. I was sure they had magical powers. At one of those meetings I overheard one midwife ask another, “Do you do cranial adjustments for all the babies whose births you attend?” The other midwife said, “Yes”.
That overheard conversation forever changed my life and my career. I knew that the babies whose births I attended – mostly in the hospital – needed help. I knew that as a bodyworker I had good hands and a desire to help them. I also knew that I didn’t know how to do a cranial adjustment for a newborn and I wasn’t even sure what it was. I was sure I wanted someone to teach me how to do it.
I spent the next few months asking people like my chiropractor, my colleagues, my current and former teachers if they could teach me how to do a cranial adjustment on a newborn. Nobody could help me.
A couple years later I needed a vacation. I wanted to go somewhere for a yoga retreat. I got a catalog from Esalen. They were offering, for the first time, Craniosacral Therapy classes in conjunction with the Upledger Institute. I jumped on it. I knew that surely they would teach me how to do a cranial adjustment on a newborn. Besides, I could write off the whole trip on my taxes.
Esalen is an ideal place to study bodywork – or just about anything. I had been there a few times before and was eager to go again. I loved the class, but was told that they wouldn’t teach me anything about how to treat babies until the second class. I signed up immediately for the second class. Three months later I was back at Esalen eager to learn more about CST for babies.
The baby treatment instruction in my second CST class consisted of a 30 minute lecture about clinical considerations (AKA things you can treat with CST), a demonstration treatment with an eight month old baby and some cautionary advice about not treating a baby whose Craniosacral Rhythm is hard to feel. I was on my own – ready to treat babies.
From that day forward I have been on a path of self study and classroom learning. Everything I have been taught about using CST and other osteopathic manual therapies to treat adults, I have adapted for babies. Whenever I heard the teacher say, “Don’t do this with babies.” I asked myself, “How can I do this with a baby?”
Everything I already knew about gestation, the birth process, breastfeeding, infant consciousness and infant development got rolled into my therapeutic envelope along with the CST techniques.
I have treated thousands of babies since then and have been surprised to discover that many of the things I was taught, simply weren’t true for babies. Out of necessity, I synthesized, I questioned, I experimented, I practiced and I studied. I did assessments and treated what I found without regard for what I thought I knew about the babies and with critical regard for what I had been taught.
The learning curve was steep at times. There were days when I wished I had a teacher who could open up the top of my head and pour in the information. Ultimately, the babies and their parents have been my best teachers.
I now am grateful that my teachers taught me only a certain amount of what I needed in order to grow the body of work I have developed for treating babies – and their mothers. I have questioned my formal education every step of the way – incorporating what worked, discarding what didn’t and inventing the rest. Because I couldn’t, in good conscience, teach what and how I was taught, I was freed to develop and teach the distillation of what I actually know – a very different thing.