Saturday, October 30, 2010

What soothes you?

What soothes you? What nutures you ? I often ask my adoptive parents this question and encourage them to seek out relaxing time alone and time with other people. What helps you to stay regulated emotionally and physically ? On Sunday, I taught a class for therapists on the topic of Traumatic Stress.

When other people - as with clients, my child and other loved ones, rely on my clarity of thinking and calm grounded presence to help guide them through times of inner chaos and distress, it is important to really know what keeps my nervous system and brain in balance in order to respond and not react. And it is not always easy to do! However, building up a tool box of 'abilities to relax' and applying them on a daily bases helps us through the most challenging times. When I first adopted my daughter we also made a list of fun things we like to do together and put it on the wall. The days we still loved eachother but did not particularly like eachother we referred to this list!!!

As I drove home in the wind and rain from the workshop I noticed I was relaxed - and I began to think. You know how they say 5 cups of fruit and vegetables a day keep you healthy? Well the lesson for me was learning how essential, it is for my nervous system to have 5 cups of kindness and compassion each day - like 5 moments of breathing in and out in a focused way;a daily meditation; time to exercise; moments for rest or cat naps; eating lunch and just that; playing and connecting with my daughter each day in a meaningful way; laughing together, making dinner some nights and getting a take out on others; to write and create and work near to home; commute less and sing and play music more. Yes I know we have all heard these lists before. So I encourage you to make your own list as a reminder on a daily basis to be kind to yourself and give a dose of relaxation! What sooths and nurtures you? Life is too short and precious to not create your own prescription for relaxation and then follow it as best you can.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Infant massage and soothing digestive problems

Your baby's physical and emotional well being can benefit greatly from receiving Infant Massage (and then the growing child massage) regularly. Many of the parents in my classes have given me the feed back that some of the most useful techniques they learned were those for helping to relieve gas and constipation - the belly massage techniques. Every baby experiences gas and digestive discomfort during their infant and toddler life, as they develop and grow into their new environment. It is upsetting to all babies to have digestive pain and it can also be distressing to the parent to not know how to relieve that pain.

Adopted infants and children when they arrive home are adapting to big changes in their life as well as negotiating new foods and formula and water etc. Such a big transition can cause constipation (it is not unusual for some babies to go without a bowel movement for a few days at first), or diarrhea, gas and other discomfort. If the pediatrician agrees that the digestive complaints are due to the transition, then the application of these techniques can be most relieving to the baby. It is also most beneficial to you , the parent, to be able to feel that you can be effective in relieving your child's discomfort.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Making sense of common senses

Today , in the early morning, I took a long walk, on Mount Tamalpais in Marin. The rain had stopped. The world glistened with the wetness of the rain fall and babbled with the sound of gushing streams; I savoured the smell of sage brush , eucalyptus and bay trees, and the warmth of the sunshine. My body felt relaxed and energized by the movement of walking. What a delight! What a Blessing To have my senses bathed in such pleasant sensations!

And then I thought of my daughter. I wondered what it had been like for her to be wrenched away from all that was familiar in her secure sensory world when I adopted her.
I thought of her aptitude to be curious and her resilience to adapt to so much that was strange and unfamiliar. New smells, new sights, new tastes in food, new sounds, new language and new caucasian 'amma"! (she called me amma (caretaker) for 3 months until she learned what 'mother' meant). No wonder she had difficulty sleeping at first!

I remember how I would comfort and sooth her by massaging her face and head and back and lie her on my chest and whisper a few phrases I had learned in Chinese like 'go to sleep' ;'you are safe'; ' you are OK', and I would sing to her. I remember feeling grateful to have learned those few phrases and the massage techniques when she finally fell asleep at 12.00 at night! She is still a night owl and loves massage and I am a lark who particularly likes early morning walks to sooth my mind and body.

Helping our children Acknowledge and understand losses in their life

My daughter was 16 months when I adopted her. When we first met she crawled up on to my lap and took in the world around her with an immense attention and curiosity. Then, within 15 mins of meeting she fell deeply asleep in my arms. Some of this was her way of coping with the stress of the adoption and part of it was a leap of faith on her part of feeling at home and safe in my arms. When we arrived back home in California, she was able to take naps during the day, but falling asleep was not easy for her at night.

At 16 months it is normal development to not want to lose the exciting world of day time activity and companionship of a parent, to the world of sleep. For my daughter the loss went deeper. Going to sleep tapped into all the losses she had already experienced in her first 16 months before the adoption – relationships and familiar environments - birth parents/siblings/other children in the orphanage/ the caregivers at the orphanage/ the schedule of the orphanage/the sights and sounds and smells. Loss for adoptive children is multi-layered and something all adoptive children experience at an early age. Part of being an adoptive parent is being able to acknowledge and make sense of these losses for our children, so they can heal and thrive and the loss does not become an obstacle later in life.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Infant massage and developmental delays

When I worked at the foster/adopt clinic as a mental health clinician and trainer I worked with many infants and toddlers with physical and socio-emotional developmental delays. Delays often occur due to early neglect and trauma. Human beings need other human beings to develop. Our physical and emotional development can not occur in isolation I found that teaching the foster/adopt parent, infant massage was a very beneficial intervention both for the baby and the parent/caregiver.

Firstly, it provides a parent a significant tool on a daily basis, to give nurturance and engage in a positve playful way with the infant. It often instills confidence in a foster/adopt parent/or caregiver during times when he or she may feel uncertain about their skills to parent this particular child. It can also help some babies to get back on track with their physical and socio-emotional developmental milestones. For instance , after a thorough assessment, a 12 month old I began working with could not sit up by himself and was not showing signs of crawling or creeping. (which is the pre-crawling period in physical development). By showing the parent some bi-lateral playful stretches to do each day the infant was soon no longer scooting on his back but was exploring how to creep forward on hands and knees. The process took about 3 months to get his nervous system, muscles and joints trained to have him catch up to sit up and crawl. The extra movement and encouraging him and praising him to use his body to explore rather than just sit in a bouncer was also a key to activating his curiosity about the world.

When trauma or neglect has occured in a baby's life, curiosity about the world and exploration is quickly shut down for lack of safety and survival mode takes over. Foster/adopt Parents need to feel and see and sense a positive response to their efforts to engage and be a good caregiver just as much as the baby needs a parent to respond to their cues for interaction and protection.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

My child is driving me crazy when he..............!

There are times, as a parent with an older adopted child, that your child's behavior drives you absolutely crazy! (Strangely enough, the same behavior may not effect your partner in the same way) Time to calm down! This is the time to take a 'time in'. Firstly, notice the 'huge' reaction in response to the behavior of your child. This signifies a 'trigger' reaction to your child's behavior. The more we learn what these are the better to guide our children from negative patterns of behavior. Give yourself some space and time away, to be compassionate with yourself. I sometimes go and sit on my meditation cushion during these times and sit for 5 minutes (informing my daughter that I need to do this and will be back soon!). Notice the enormity of the feeling and how it is impacting your body, heart beat, pulse, breath , and the negative thinking about yourself and your child. There is a lot going on! Give yourself at least 5 in and out breaths , allowing more time on the exhalation. (as this calms the nervous system) Once calm, it is easier to think about and respond with appropriate consequences and responses to the child's behavior.

How can Infant Massage benefit me and my new baby?

Why is Infant massage a good way to enjoy and spend time with my new baby? The wonderful research of Colwyn Trevarthen a neurobioligist and pyschologist in Edinborough recognizes the importance of what he calls" the musicality of attachment" between a baby and her parent. Infant massage communication involves all the components of this 'musicality' through touch and movement and rhythm; vocalizing ; eye contact and facial expression. It is a lovely way for an adopted infant and parent to get in tune with eachother and be able to create together a mutually receptive world of meaning - to slow down to listen and respond and learn from eachother. Trevarthen calls this having a"conversation stripped of words"

Saturday, October 9, 2010


Our life is shorter than flowers
Then, shall we mourn?
No, we shall dance
Plant gardens
Dress in colours
And teach our children
To make the world more beautiful
Because our life
Is shorter than flowers
- from the Toltec culture