April 24, 2010

My Voice Will Go With You

My Voice Will Go With You: The Teaching Tales of Milton H. Erickson, edited & with commentary by Sidney Rosen.

Very useful, helpful book for me!

Here is a quote I loved:

"Too many therapists think that they must direct the change and help the patient to change. Therapy is like starting a snowball rolling at the top of a mountain. As it rolls down, it grows larger and larger and becomes an avalanche that fits the shape of the mountain." (p. 56)

And another one: "I think it's very important to take the patient seriously and meet his wishes. Not to exercise cold, hard judgment. And recognize that people need to learn things, that you really aren't competent to teach them all the things they need. That they can learn a lot on their own." (p. 122)

"You also ought to learn that it's not what you do, it's not what you say, but what the patient does, what the patient understands." (p. 154)

"Erickson's attitude indicated his belief that he could deal incisively with whatever situation arose. If the situation called for confrontation, he knew that he could do that. If it called for kindness, he could be kind . . . he had confidence in his ability to handle situations. We are free to identify with this feeling ourselves and to be more assertive." (p. 233)

There are a few stories in there I love either personally or because I know already that I will use them with parents or others. One is called '"Auto"-Hypnosis' - it describes a woman who pays Erickson to sit in his driveway in her car and think through her problem while imagining that he's in the car with her. She's her own therapist - but needs the outside catalyst of sitting in his driveway. Another is called 'Glare Ice' - Erickson teaches a man with an artificial leg how to walk on treacherous ice by confusing his senses and then leading him over the ice (while he doesn't know he's on the ice.)

The idea of initiating a small change to deal with a big problem is powerfully illustrated in a number of stories ('Claustrophobia' for one.)

Joining the patient is an interesting theme, too (well rendered in 'Ruth').

Probably my favorite story is 'Pearson's Brick'. A doctor experiences an accidental skull injury. If only Dr. Erickson were here, he thinks, but since he is not the doctor pulls himself together and gets himself to medical help on his own. Then he dictates the course of his own treatment, and recovers far more quickly than others expect. I know I will use this story with families who are struggling (or whom I think may need to struggle) with who is in charge of their birth: them, or their medical care providers?

There are also a couple of stories that I find offensive. My perspective on sexuality is very liberal and open-minded - but also based in firm values, including mutuality and respect. There are a couple of stories relating to sexual dysfunction in which the (apparently "successful") therapeutic approach does not create mutuality or respectful relationships, and it bothers me. However, I recognize that like everything else, attitudes and values about sexuality are products of the time and place they arise in, and I don't think that Erickson's contemporaries would have had the same reaction to these stories I did.

I had two experiences while or shortly after reading this book that I'd like to share.

I was lying on my bed reading and my middle child (almost 4 years old) came into the room yelling at his brother and swinging a large, heavy bat (don't ask - this sort of thing just happens at our house). More or less unintentionally, but not accidentally, he whacked me on the foot with it. I got up, grabbed the bat & put it away, and told him he was going to be sorry in a "big mama" kind of voice. He ran away and curled up on the couch, hiding his head under his arms. I went after him and sat down across from him. "When is it a good idea to hit someone?" I demanded. "Never," he said in a small, angry voice. "Are you a smart kid?" I demanded, several times, before a despairing, whimpered, "No," came from my child. At this point I picked him up and hugged him and reassured him that I still loved him. And that he is smart, because he knows hitting people isn't a good idea. And that knowing something and being able to do it are two different things sometimes. Within a couple of minutes he was ready to do something else - no fit, as there often is in situations like this. I'm darned if I can tell you why what I did worked. Or exactly how it is related to being in the middle of this book. But I know it did, and it was. I think what this experience shows me is that I do have the instincts or subconscious understanding of how to do this stuff (teaching tales, hypnosis, catalytic therapy) and if I have the confidence to apply it, it works.

The other is that yesterday, I was speaking with someone who's been involved in an uncomfortable email exchange with several others and myself recently. We were talking about how it's hard to convey meaning in email and misunderstandings can occur. I shared a story from the book about Erickson using sub-vocal cues to mislead a psychic to illustrate the point that there is much non-verbal communication that simply can't happen in email, and it was helpful in my conversation.

Finally, this book did bring up a recurring question for me about doing things that seem distinctly therapeutic and counseling oriented as a childbirth mentor and doula. My background as a church professional has taught me to be wary of providing counseling or therapy beyond fairly carefully constructed boundaries because I am not a trained counselor or therapist. I'm supposed to refer to a skilled psychiatrist or psychologist for anything beyond a one-time (or other brief interval) solution-focused pastoral visit. So I'm just wondering about what my boundaries are and should be as a mentor & doula.

April 13, 2010

Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering

Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering: A Doctor's Guide to Natural Childbirth and Gentle Early Parenting Choices by Sarah J. Buckley, MD.

There are some things I loved about this book. It's got good, detailed summaries of what current research shows about the 'hormone cocktail' of labor, about appropriate management of the third stage of labor (dealing with the placenta), and about the neuroscience of attachment in early infancy. I "knew" this stuff from reading about it on-line and in the press - but it's very useful to have it all laid out (and official looking.)

Sometimes, though, hearing all the "evidence" about any subject, even if I've done everything "right", raises my anxiety level. Too much information, my brain seems to signal. Overload. Shut down now. I guess I wish Buckley had gone a little further towards trusting parents to make the choices that are right for them, whether those choices match the state of current research or not. She's definitely waving in that direction, but she's not all the way there.

What good does it do to choose the "right" thing if it leaves you or your partner or your child uneasy or unhappy or in conflict with someone or something important to you?

April 5, 2010

Baby Catcher

Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife by Peggy Vincent.

I had read bits of this book before, but on the recommendation of Rixa Freeze I thought I'd try it again.

I still didn't really like much of it. I felt Vincent focused way too much on the "drama" of birth - the transfers, the near-misses or disasters, her experience being sued out of private practice.

However, there was one bit, in a description of her own birth-giving experience, that is absolute dynamite:

"The next contraction came grinding down on me, but it felt different. A white-hot hole of knowledge opened in my pain. I saw that in my effort to get around or under the pain, I'd been avoiding that central point of intensity, staying on the bring of the primitive surrender that's required to get a stubborn baby out. I'd talked hundreds of women into taking that leap of faith, that shut-your-eyes-and-jump moment of bravery. Like a girl standing on the high dive, walking back and forth the length of the board, shivering, going to the brink again to stare down into the water so far below - and then she's off, airborne. Free.

With sudden clarity, I knew it would have to hurt more before it got better. I wouldn't be able to circumvent the pain. I had to go through it, enter willingly into the void, holding nothing back. I had to jump off the diving board."

That's it. That's Finding the Center, one of the Birthing From Within pain-coping practices, in a nutshell. I've now used this passage in a class with parents, and I felt it really worked. I'll use it again!

April 3, 2010

A Gentle & Mindful Transition to Parenthood

Our Birthing From Within Keepsake Journal by Pan England, Section Eight: A Gentle & Mindful Transition to Parenthood and Section Nine: Preserving Memories of Your Pregnancy & Birth.

I have used the Postpartum Expectations exercise with parents in my childbirth classes several times. I like it, but I'm looking to branch out. I really love the looks of the Penny Game and maybe I'll try it in the next couple of weeks. If I do, I'll try to come back and comment on this post to share how it went.

Personally, I recognized that I need to work on following my bliss in ways other than being goal oriented. I'm doing well at focusing on goals that are important to me; I need to do better at allowing myself time to just be and just be creative.

I love the Joseph Campbell stuff about marriage. I wonder how I could use it?

And I drew my baby! It's not a very "good" drawing, but it was an interesting process - AND, even though it is very technically imperfect, it does LOOK like her to me.

Gestating Parenthood

Birthing From Within, by Pam England, Section VII: Gestating Parenthood.

On a personal level, it was very interesting revisiting this section after my most recent birth and postpartum period. The postpartum transition was especially difficult for me after my second child was born; this time after the birth of my third child has been, conversely, wonderful and healing. Re-reading the reminders to care for oneself as a new parent, for one's relationship as new parent-partners, and to be careful about how you remember your birth experience affirmed for me that my partner and I did learn from experience and do things differently in a way that worked better for us, this time.

On a professional level, re-reading this section reminded me to consider carefully leaving enough time in my class series to focus on the importance of the postpartum transition period. There is so much to do in a class - never enough time for it all - but this stuff is important.

On a practical note: the internet makes setting up postpartum help from family and friends MUCH easier than it was even 12 years ago when BFW was published. Here are some great sites you or a family member or friend can use to set up an interactive calendar of helpers for meals or more after your baby is born: