What Is a Birth without Loving Touch?
by Naolí Vinaver

[Editor's note: This article first appeared in Midwifery Today Issue 92, Winter 2009/2010.]
Photos provided by the author

Touch is a basic need in the lives of beings. We depend on touch to survive at many levels. Humans and animals—we all crave it, need it, appreciate it and use it effectively for our benefit. At least, when we are babies and at the very beginnings of our lives, we are intimately connected to our mothers and rely on touch, smell and physical closeness for not only our survival, but also for the optimization of our health and well-being. It is later in life that some cultures have a tendency to move away from physical touch, but this is not necessarily due to the lack of a need for it, but rather as a curbing and civilizing of our animal instincts, which humans have been considering in the last centuries mostly as “lowly” or as “far away from ‘godly.’”

It is through touch that energy can be shared, uplifted, rooted, moved and used as fuel, as we give it and receive it. This is why touch and massage for pregnancy and birth can be especially important, as women in labor need to move a lot of energy through themselves, give themselves into a lot of energy, and allow a great many changes in their souls and bodies in order to open up to give birth.

Fear can be a very tricky challenge to surpass for many women, as society and the medical system have specialized in past and current decades in feeding and focusing on the fearsome aspects of birth. Feeding women their insecurities and strengthening their lack of self-esteem and power has no doubt been a strategic means of controlling women’s decision power in their everyday lives, but also, quite specifically, in pregnancy and childbearing.

When a woman is in labor she faces the need to surrender her bodily functions to the calls of nature, if labor is to go well and flow naturally. But sometimes fear is lodged in the body’s cells and it can stay there, immobilizing progress and the flow of birth, as long as the woman does not realize its presence and move the fear through and out of her system.

Most times, labor is not the time for a woman to engage in “psychotherapy” in order to rid herself of fear and its associated obstacles. Massage, however, can be a very powerful tool in helping a woman who is tense, afraid, tight and at a stand-still in her progress.

Putting one’s hands on someone else’s body and, through that, helping that person with the movement and flow of the stagnated energy can have surprising and quick results. Sometimes the technique can matter; sometimes no specific technique is needed—simply the intention and the loving and appreciation that the person perceives through that touch allows her to open up and release whatever is held in, and thus, as if by miracle, the birth process can take on a different level and the woman can dive into her experience more fully.

Of course, there are certain areas of the body that have well-known points or energy paths related to birth. If you have studied reflexology, acupressure or massage, or are a highly intuitive and sensitive person, you may take advantage of this knowledge and be able to quickly establish a direct effect—say, for example, on the womb nerves or on the sacral nerves or ligaments, or by simply relaxing the pelvic muscles in order for release to take place. If the person helping in the birth does not have any such experience, she or he can still apply her or his hands on the birthing woman’s body, trying to perceive and feel the silent words of the body and the effect or reception of this touch on the birthing woman. Some women will simply shake their heads or even push the person’s hands off if the touch is not helping; but, on the contrary, they may show evidence of gratitude and relief if the touch is helping them.

We must always try to be very sensitive and aware of the birthing woman, beyond our own egos and our need to apply our “knowledge” upon another person without regard of how this is being received. Needless to say, the woman mandates and has the final say in what she needs, wants or can use; and we can fully trust a birthing woman’s signs, as these will ordain the way, rhythm, manner, strength, consistency, insistency and kind of touch and massage that we give.

Some women need very light touch, as anything heavier can be perceived as too rough or hard, even if beforehand she might have been a great lover of deep massage. On the other hand, a birthing woman might want lower back pressure that is as hard and deep and constant as the giver can bear. This can be surprising and difficult to imagine before one has seen it for the first time.

Some women may love (and not get enough of) having their feet and calves rubbed, while they may not tolerate their lower back being touched. Likewise, any given woman may not allow anyone close to her, as any physical input above and beyond her own contractions will be perceived as an overload of sensations.

Then there is the wide and ancient use of the rebozo in Mexican midwifery. The rebozo is a cotton cloth shawl used as a tool for giving the pregnant and laboring woman a type of indirect massage with therapeutic purposes, which range from adjusting the baby’s position within the mother’s womb, to offering the right type of movement and stimulus for a stalled labor to be shaken up into progressing. The rebozo itself merits a whole issue in any birth or midwifery magazine, as it is useful in the prenatal, birth and well into the postpartum periods (not to mention its use as a pre-conception aid and, later on, for soothing the newborn in the first months of life). The rebozo is typically seen in indigenous societies, as new mothers tie them with a knot or strap them over their shoulder and use them to carry their babies against their bodies for the first two or three years of life.

Some words on intention: It is important to mention that any touch or massage applied to any person’s body, including that which is considered hands-off (using only energy or warmth), cannot be dissociated from the intention or warmth with which it is offered. In other words, a person should never attempt to give touch or massage if she is not feeling love, admiration, kindness or a good heart towards the person receiving it. It might require a few minutes to oneself to adjust one’s feelings toward the person who will receive one’s input and perhaps may call for some sort of adjustment in the original intention.

Having said that, it will be quite obvious that the massage or touch will benefit not only the person receiving it, but also the person giving it, as she or he will also usually start feeling warmth, love and kindness, which very often replace fear, judgment, impatience, frustration, and a tight chest stemming from narrow expectations.

Societies, as communities of people aiming to improve our lives and our relationships, should try to relax more and more as we advance into the 21st century. Massage should not belong or be restricted to a profession and it should not be necessary to have a “license” to touch a person with warmth and kindness. The phenomena of energy transmission cannot be fully understood nor can it be ignored, much like the phenomena of love, connectedness and passion.

Naolí Vinaver is a Mexican midwife who combines traditional birth practices with a profound interest in and respect for the physiology of natural birth. She has been attending both waterbirths and births in traditional styles and positions since 1990. Naolí has enjoyed three pregnancies and homebirths of her own in the company of her family. She is in the process of writing and illustrating a couple of children’s books about life, pregnancy and birth, while continuing her homebirth practice in both rural and urban Veracruz State, Mexico.


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