Touch From Within: Birthing From Within and Bodywork

I am a bodyworker/massage therapist and educator. While I think I’m pretty good at the practical aspects of a bodywork session — do anything for a few decades and you probably get pretty good at it! — there’s something more to the work I do, something that comes from my Birthing From Within training.

It adds something extraordinary and often unexpected to my work with clients, something that they sometimes can’t quite put their finger on.

This extraordinary element is mentorship.

My clients feel held and guided and seen and heard beyond what they might normally expect from a massage session because, in addition to touch, I offer mentorship. This is the magic and power of how Birthing From Within has not only influenced, but has also been integrated into my bodywork practice.

Whether it’s using touch to help someone meet their fears about birth with courage and self-compassion, telling a Great Story while moving portion by portion through their body like the gates of descent in an ordeal, or touching a cesarean scar while listening to a birth story, touch and Birthing From Within naturally and easily braid and blend together.

While mentoring, we often use validation and solution-focused dialog to help parents sort their genuine beliefs and motivations and clarify small steps to carry new insights into their lives. Asking clients body-based questions like how they got through those challenging moments of intense nausea in the first trimester or the twinges of pubic bone pain in the third are helping build their coping resources for the intensity of the birth process. This kind of solution-focused communication also happens on a physical level. Our loving, listening, and present hands can validate a person just with their soft weight. Our hands can ask a body, “How do you know to be tight here?” or, “How does your body feel like it wants to move right now?”

Thus, we find the body’s positive intention.

Even just guiding a client through Breath Awareness during a bodywork session is incredibly powerful. We can convey non-judgement, curiosity, and a sense of letting the body lead just by inviting them to focus on their next outward breath. And at the same time, they are gaining a skill that they may use in labor or another part of their birth process!

And like Birthing From Within’s Birth Art processes, sometimes I feel like I’m painting or sculpting an image with the medium of their skin and tissue, intuition guiding me and “technique” emerging from the edge of the unknown.

Truly, one of the most beautiful ways that Birthing From Within has supported my work as a touch practitioner has been with the self-compassion and forgiveness I’ve been able to show myself.

Parents can feel my self-acceptance deeply in their bodies when I stumble awkwardly through an intake, have a moment of feeling insecure about my abilities, or boldly take a risk by trying something new with a client. I believe some of our clients’ deepest learning comes from what we are modeling for them moment to moment in our practice.

Birthing From Within has even helped me stay connected and alive with the story of bodywork itself. How do I know this to be true about the body? About physiology? Asking these courageous, solution-focused questions regularly helps me work in integrity, and ensures that I’m not just omitting a technique because it’s written in a book somewhere as contraindicated. Conversely, if my intuition tells me that an indicated technique or position is actually potentially harmful for this particular client, I’ll listen to and honor that kind of knowing as well. I find it particularly helpful to regularly question anatomy references. Is this anatomy drawn with the young white male body as the standard, or is the full human diversity of bodies and anatomy taken into consideration? When do I trust my hands, and when do I trust what I have been taught? These are the same hunting questions of the heart that we support our clients in exploring around their birth processes.

In Birthing From Within, we support parents in showing up to their births with loving presence and in connection with their baby, each other, and themselves, regardless of the outcome or events of the birth.

This non-outcome-focused approach to birth has influenced how I work with bodywork clients. Earlier in my practice I would feel extremely invested in the outcome of our sessions. If someone came in with SI joint pain or heartburn or a breech-positioned baby, I wanted to fix it for them, and felt this tense expectation that I wasn’t a good therapist unless they felt better after the session and their problem was resolved. This is a lot of pressure to put on a practitioner, just like it’s a lot of pressure to put on birth attendants: we do NOT have control over what will happen at a birth. We can influence, of course, but ultimately it is out of our hands.  Bringing this same quality of being focused on the process, on the experience, on supporting people in connecting with their bodies and their babies, even if we don’t “fix” the problem, has allowed so much more freedom in this work. Usually people do end up feeling better, but sometimes not in the way I expect!  Bringing curiosity and playfulness and “not knowing” to a bodywork session I think helps cultivate those same qualities in birth. And it makes the work so much more interesting and alive, rather than a rote, if-this-then-that, mechanical session.

And now Birthing From Within also permeates all of the education and mentoring I do for body and birth workers. From helping practitioners move through moments of self doubt to expanding possibilities about how we know something to be true, I find great joy in sharing what I’ve learned so far about the power of touch to connect with our clients and ourselves.

I am thrilled to invite you to join me on this journey in my new Touch From Within training, for experienced and aspiring birth workers and body workers.

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