The Feminine Face of Massage Therapy
Becoming a massage therapist was not a life-long dream; becoming a mother was.
The nurturing instinct is strong for me. Leaning into a path of caregiving was natural - I loved babysitting and children. Unbeknownst to me, becoming a candy striper volunteer at 15 was the expression of that inner drive to nurture.
Going from my first career in radiologic technology to massage therapy deepened my natural abilities to nurture. Becoming a mother within 18 months of graduating from the Boulder School of Massage Therapy took nurturing to another level. Out of the magnificent journey of motherhood Nurturing the Mother® was born, along with each of my three children.
Nurturing the mother throughout every woman’s journey became a life-long passion. I love that I received this work for each of my children - I had massage through all three trimesters and all three labors, and postpartum massage was so needed. I knew, as I went through my experiences, that every mother deserves to be nurtured into motherhood.
There was so much I did not know as I began. Each mother I massaged taught me some new aspect of the process. For some, it was common discomforts, helping me to create techniques that seemed to help. For others, emotions surfaced during the massage. We often talked; probably talking more than my regular massage clients. Their long labors, short labors, emergency cesareans and triumphant vaginal births after cesarean (VBAC) were some of the topics. There were deep spiritual insights. I learned so much about hospital births, birth-centered births, home births and even learned about unassisted birth.
Then there is nursing the baby. Oh my, did my shoulders ache! Tremendously at times. How long is appropriate to nurse? Some will say, one month, one year or longer, so many challenges for others. There are so many opinions around mothering. Others’ opinions take hold. Postpartum recovery was not even discussed for most moms. As the years have gone by, the level of information and personal stories overwhelms me at times. But the magic of it all is there for every mother, child and family.
I feet a gift was given to me when I met my midwife Kate. She was grounded, spiritual, and so very knowledgeable about mothering and all its aspects. She mothered me into motherhood. My own mother was never nurtured and would not have been able to be there for me in this way. This is not a judgment on her, it was how she was raised, and her own mother had a very harsh life. We have generations of mothers enduring difficulties. For my Irish grandmother, she lived in a time and place that did not cherish mothers and babies. Children just happened and they were most likely born to exhausted mothers. Kate gave me what they never had. I have both gratitude for what I was given and grief for what my ancestors did not know or receive. For this I pass it on, to the best of my abilities. And massage is my medium.
Nurturing the Mother® came into existence in February of 1990 at Camp New Hope in Chapel Hill, NC. The creation was 10 years in the making. My own experiences had grown and shaped me in such a way, I felt I had something to offer other therapists when massaging their pregnant clients. It seemed that the magic of birth would show up as magic in the workshop.
The class would begin with the stories of each woman as she shared how her mother gave birth to her. This is the pre-class work that I request of every Nurturing the Mother® student. Hearing their stories deepens my respect for the multitude of ways that women do this thing called “birth”. It was evident that birth affected not only the mother but the child, too. When my students researched their stories, they found new insights into their relationships with their mothers. What happens at birth is carried as a deep memory.
Within ancient tribes, story-telling was the format for passing on the knowledge of how to do everything, especially birth. When we listen to mother’s stories today, they are filled with a sense of not knowing what happened to them. Today there is a higher percentage of grief and depression postpartum, as women feel that their bodies and how they work are foreign to them within their birth experience. They have not been taught to be in their bodies and to trust them. We trust the machine or the outer expert rather than the inner expert.
Many times, I will draw on the wisdom of the ancient tribes from a book called Childbirth Wisdom by Judith Goldsmith. She studied over 500 tribes from ancient to modern times to see what was consistent for the human being. It was gratifying to know that massage was an integral part of caring for pregnant women, and women in labor, as well as postpartum moms. Her words often confirmed what I knew and felt intuitively. I believe that all women have that same intuition. But are they listening?
In my language of massage I often use the words, “this is what your body is telling me”. It may be from what I feel in the muscle, swollen tissue or the reflexology on the feet (one of my favorite tools). When I find the body talking with my pregnant client or other client, I share what I am hearing, feeling, sensing, to see if the client agrees. That dialogue is important for me to be a better therapist and for the client to listen to their body. I find this especially important for my pregnant and postpartum moms.
This feminine approach is profoundly important when it comes to fertility massage. I am honored to work with women in this capacity. Exploring the pelvis, lower back and feet, there is often a story that may be preventing them from conceiving. It could be an injury, a trauma or a mindset about their own body. All of the information that surfaces I share with the client. I have had a few clients who have conceived simply by changing their perception of their body. How many negative messages do we, as women, receive about our bodies?
Within my fertility training, the anatomy and physiology of the female reproductive system is explored in every detail. As in much of our modern approach to medicine, we are taught to learn the parts, not the whole. The feminine approach is to address the whole - the whole body, the whole mind and the whole spiritual path of motherhood. I have often asked women, “Are you ready for a child? This will dramatically change your life?” The look I get back can sometimes be a deer-in-the-headlights look. I find it amazing that the drive to “get pregnant” can exist without the realization that this person will be in your life forever. Your spirit will know this spiritual being coming into form and body. That is why my courses will say “a body, mind, spirit approach”.
I often hear, “We need evidence. What are your numbers? What percentage get pregnant? Are you valid if you cannot provide the science?” No, I cannot provide the science, but I can provide the intuition - the intuitive knowing when your baby spirit is calling. Knowing the time is now. The body feels it with a strong desire to procreate. There is a deep sense of love in uniting to create a baby. Are we losing this intuitive knowing? I pray we are not.
And then there is the woman who is the Crone, the woman in her wisdom years. The menopause massage comes next. We anoint her with healing oils. We stroke her hair and make it rich and shiny. We bolster her tired and swollen legs. We calm her adrenals from a lifetime of work. The menopause massage honors and nurtures her belly. The focus is on the kidney and bladder meridians - the winter season. She is in the winter of her life.
This massage is soothing and calming using the oils of Serene Sage and Cool Woman. How many of our women, as they become elders, are forgotten and disregarded. Have you given your grandmother a massage today? That should be a bumper sticker.
Within these many styles of female massage, we hold the root of nurturing. We are one with the Mother Earth who is the great nurturer. Massage for us, the feminine, needs to be gentle, honoring, safe, nurturing and practical, too. As an elder woman and receiver of therapeutic massage, my two greatest pet peeves are working too deep and not listening. The feminine principle listens, it does not hurt, it nurtures.
Nurturing the Mother® is the feminine face of massage.