It is said to be a blessed thing to give. As Therapists we live this. We give of our energy and skills and feel blessed by the positive feedback we receive. And while this direct form of giving is good, it is said that the highest form of giving is the type where the receiver is unaware of the giver. This is in a way sacrificial as we deprive our ego the satisfaction of knowing who exactly has been made indebted to us, or what exactly they are doing with the resources we shared. We have to trust God that the use of it would bring Him glory, and the receiver, not knowing who exactly to thank, offers thanks to God. Hence our giving and receiving is really unto God. Being aware of this, I try to consciously participate both directly and indirectly in giving. The opportunities for indirect giving are many. We can send donations to charitable organization, or we can properly dispose of a banana skin that might cause someone we don’t know to skid, or we can pray for blessings upon the life of someone who least expects such of us, etc. Our personalities are different and allow for us to choose elaborate or subtle ways of performing the lowest and highest forms of giving.
Last week I sat in a classroom filled with pregnant women. Most were young, but a few were in their 40s. There were men present too. Some were spouses, and others were siblings. The first presenter enlightened us about the need for confinement to allow bonding between mother and baby during the early post-natal days. Many were unaware that in some traditions there was a 40-day period for such, during which the father would be the mediator between what transpired inside and outside the confinement space, be it a room or a house. He truly represented the best interest of his wife and child by preventing needless interactions/interruptions, and speaking on his wife’s behalf. Society would have been a very different place had such practices pervaded. In this space baby food was breast milk. There was no need for anything else, not even water, because the mother’s body intelligently formulated the milk based on the weather so that it contained the required amount of water needed on hot days. The shock could be seen on many faces when a little marble was presented to them and said to reflect the size of a newborn stomach. So small and so delicate yet we have the gall to stuff babies with a bottle of formula and act surprised when they develop digestive problems like constipation. ‘But the breast does not satisfy the baby!’ It does, for about 1½ hours. So the mother needs to be available to breast feed at least six times during waking hours and twice between midnight and 6am. If the baby is sleeping, wake it. The milk that is produced in the wee hours of the morning is different and necessary for the baby’s development. Uh-huh. Still want to be a mother?
Of particular interest were the four breastfeeding positions and the understanding that the baby has to be brought to the breast, not the prevailing sight in which the mother haunches herself to take the breast to the baby. In so doing she restricts the milk glands and by extension, the flow of milk. And, yet another point of interest was refuting the belief that the size of the breast determines the quantity of milk available. We learnt that what is necessary is for the baby’s mouth to be sufficiently opened (AAAH mode) to cover the entire areola rather than directly sucking on the nipple. Mothers who would have used a breast pump know that the pump does not entrap the nipple, but reaches up higher on the areola. Once properly stimulated, the milk squirts. Physically and psychologically a mother would be restricting the flow of milk if she cringes every time the baby pulls on the broken skin of her nipple, so it behooves her not to form habits that would result in such. There are many skills in life, and it was clearly communicated that breastfeeding is one of them. It is not one of the things we should do in our multitasking line up. It requires the use of both hands in support of the baby’s neck and the mother’s breast, with the mother giving full attention to the baby and making eye-contact as much as possible. Breastfeeding, though direct, is one of the highest forms of giving. It is the giving of oneself to sustain another. Thus despite our grievance with many of today’s mothers, because they retain the office of motherhood, they have to be honoured.
I was the second presenter, sharing on infant massage, and I sought to answer one question from various angles. The question was: Why should I massage my baby? I isolated some of the bodily systems and made the benefits of massage personal to each. Generally, having carried the baby safely through its internal journey, no mother desires flawed results at birth. Having gotten a perfect baby, infant massage serves as a means of preventative maintenance and early detection of abnormalities. Oversensitive or painful areas, lumps, bone deformations, etc. are some of the discoveries that can be made during a fun time of massage. Mothers who birthed babies with obvious abnormalities immediately know that extra care is needed, and even as they might be considering the best Doctor to perform corrective surgery, their hands and hearts can come together in caring touch. I did not specify massage techniques to be used, but rather built on the earlier message of the need for bonding. I told them that I believe that if they seriously desire to bond with and participate in the good health of their infants they would be intuitively guided through the massage treatment. But, for those who must have a method, there is always Youtube.
I stood before them with an infant doll demonstrating how to support the neck, how to gently round off the back of its head, how to massage the abdomen, and I even held it upside down by the feet showing them how to squeeze the lower legs together from ankle to knee in order to reduce the excessive curve. Overall, it was learning in a fun way and I reflected on how long it was since I have been in the same space with so many pregnant women, and it was overwhelming. I had 45 minutes to present. My time-keeper, the hostess, said she would tell me when my time was up. Eventually she raised both hands with fingers splayed and I understood I had 10 minutes more, so I wrapped up the session. After returning to my seat I realized I was way past the hour, but I presumed that was allowed because the interest and feedback were good. It was interesting that when we first started out a few Nurses peeped in and left. By the time we were halfway, we had Nurses bringing in extra chairs and sitting on the sidelines. I appreciated the verbal and visual feedback. I was thankful that we had positively impacted more lives than we had imagined we would.
Most of all, I was thankful for yet another opportunity to do that higher giving. We gave to those unborn babies through their mothers. We might never knowingly meet those children, but we trust God that at least some of those mothers will retain the zeal that was stirred in them, and they would practice some of what they have learnt for the benefit of their infants. If they do, at least one less baby will suffers the effects of an early formula diet, and one less child will have to wear a back-brace because the exaggerated curve in its spine went undetected too long. I continue to advocate caring touch. As we grow older it might not be as frequent, but we can still make it significant. Quality of touch, not quantity, is what we are trying for. And while it might be awkward to suddenly impose this on our loved ones, it can be incorporated into other activities like holding hands to pray, or goodbye hugs, etc. By now you know I have praying parents, so they are often touching us and pronouncing blessings on our lives. When they embrace me and say: I bless you from the crown of your head to the sole of your feet. I feel that. The embrace is more than an embrace. I can feel their love being channeled into me. Better still, when my mother says: I bless you from my womb. That touches something in me that my father could never reach.
Fathers are special too, and because some of them are eternally frisky, they are better able to reach children at their level than mothers who are still whining about the debauchery done to their belly ten years down the line. And, with the word ‘father’ meaning something like source, it gives fathers a chance to do sacrificial giving from the birth of their child onward. Not up to age 18. The form of giving might change from physical and emotional support, to the latter mainly, but not solely. Last week I also met a father I have not seen in years. A client from Italy. I would have mentioned him in my talks of varicose veins. He is the guy who wore tights to secure his legs from ankle all the way up. He had surgery, or special injections that ‘melted’ the veins. According to him, we have known each other for 11 years, because we met the year before he dealt with the veins. During the past five years his visits were scanty because he had to dedicate time to caring for his mother who had pancreatic cancer. Ouch! She died last year and he resumed his trips to Trinidad. When he called me last year I was on my way out of the Marriott and wanted to go home and sleep. So we just spoke. This time he insisted that we have to meet.
When I arrived at his hotel room I was promptly squeezed almost onto death by this little man with sparkling eyes. Then he intimated that there was no time for a massage as his brother was coming to pick him up shortly. I asked if he could not delay his brother as I came to do a massage. He said it was okay. He just wanted to see me again. No, no. Massage. I told him to undress. I wanted to see his legs because he said he had booked an appointment with the Doctor for next year (wow!) to refresh his treatment. He undressed and I got out the oil and started a massage. In our catching up he told me of the four women in his life, now he has three. I’ve always known of the three. They occupied his desktop background and, shuffled across as his screensaver…his wife and two daughters. I was now learning of his mother. He was also excited to say that after twenty-two to years he has once again taken up fencing. I told him that is great for his legs. Yes, but his daughters are now 22 and 19 years old, and are still his babies, and he has to fend off unsuitable suitors. Dear me! Heads will definitely roll with his intentions on the tip of a sword. Now this is the same guy who told me that he will ‘play’ with me the next time he visited. Fathers feel strongly for their daughters, but this somehow does not debar them from doing to another person’s daughter what they do not want done to theirs.
I asked why should it trouble him if someone wants to play with his daughters when he wants to play with me? He said it’s not like that. I am different. Jeez! I’m soooo tired of hearing that. He said I am a strong woman like his mother, and I am pretty, and he is a loving man who only wants to love me. Would he be loving me, or his mother? Anyway, while the massage lasted for about 15 minutes, he paid me for the hour. I told him that was not necessary. He insisted saying that I have good karma, and when he comes here and I give him a massage, he is always successful when he goes out to do business. So what, he wants to kill the goose to extract the golden egg in the name of playing with it? He said I could keep the money and buy something for my children with it. Hmmm. And just like that, because my children have never met him or know of his intentions towards them, he went from being a naughty Italian to the performer of one of the higher forms of giving. Now we have to wonder… Is it my touch that brings him luck, or has he been consciously/subconsciously creating his blessings through higher giving?
COMMENT by BB