I have such happy memories of sharing baby massage with my youngest daughter, Martha. It was a time of calm in the middle of a storm. An oasis of love in a desert of worry.
Martha was diagnosed with Down Syndrome the day after she was born. When they told us, I felt that my life was over.
The emotions were overwhelming. The disbelief, the total denial, the hoping against hope that the doctors had got it wrong. The days of crying. The sense of failure and guilt that I had burdened my family with a defective child. The heavy dread of what our future held. The desperate and futile fantasy of somehow turning back time so she might never be born.
On top of all this there was worry about her health. Martha had a large hole in her heart. She struggled to breathe, struggled to gain weight. We spent anxious months waiting for cardiac surgery. I fed her butter and baby rice to supplement my breastmilk, willing my scrawny baby to put on a few more ounces.
Like most babies with Downs, Martha was late to smile, late to sit up, floppy and passive. One of the hardest things was comparing her with other babies. I found myself avoiding baby and toddler groups. I dreaded contact with relatives or friends with “normal” babies of similar age. Every bright, smiley, active baby felt like a personal insult – another reminder of Martha’s inferiority.
Bitterness and Tears
I struggled through those hard months with bitterness and tears. But there were lights in the darkness. The simple and wholehearted acceptance of our other children. The support of friends and family. The sweetness of breastfeeding. And baby massage.
I hadn’t tried baby massage with the older children, as it wasn’t around much when they were little. But a friend had recently trained as a baby massage instructor, and she suggested I give it a try with Martha.
Help delayed development
I was keen on anything which might stimulate Martha and help her delayed development. What I hadn’t anticipated was how much baby massage would help me.
I was a little nervous to join the group of mums with big, active babies. I wasn’t so keen about undressing my funny looking baby with the big scar down her chest in front of others. But I hadn’t anticipated that Martha would be such a star at baby massage.
She loved it
She absolutely loved it! To this day, Martha is a calm, gentle and tactile child who gives the best hugs on the planet. Lying down to be gently stroked, massaged, talked to and cuddled was her idea of heaven.
Some of the babies in the group became bored or restless after a while. Martha would enjoy every last minute of her massage. It became a special time for the two of us. Tickles and smiles, hugs and love.
She continued to love being massaged when other babies were getting up and crawling away.
Feeling rich and blessed
And for me, it was so calming, so beautiful. Every time I shared a massage with Martha, I healed a little more. I wasn’t giving care to a passive and damaged recipient. I was receiving love and kindness and total acceptance from my generous child. It filled me up. I began to feel rich and blessed.
Of course this is part of a bigger story. But baby massage helped us on our journey in a wonderful way for which I will be forever grateful.
Martha is now twelve years old. She is healthy, funny, confident and brings our whole family joy and pride every single day. The early days of fear and sorrow seem far away. Like every family, we are an unfolding adventure.
The privilege to teach
It feels very fitting that I should now have the privilege to be able to teach baby massage to other families. I am most grateful for the chance to share a little of what we have received.
Baby massage is helpful in so many ways, for many different babies and their parents. It builds loving bonds of trust. It helps with sleep, colic, teething and so many early causes of restlessness and crying. It is great for babies with special needs, as well as for healthy and normally developing babies.
Baby massage helps parents too
But it is easy to forget how much it helps parents too. If you are feeling sad, worried or insecure as a parent, for any reason, baby massage can help you too. In baby massage we focus on our babies and realise how much they want to give us. It is a beautiful way to build bonds of love to last a lifetime.
Karen Lawrence is mum to seven children.She previously worked as a midwife and health visitor before training as a specialist yoga and baby massage instructor.
Karen teaches Baby Massage at her home studio in Billericay, Essex.
You can see details of her classes at her website www.thecalmspace.co.uk/baby-massage-courses-in-billericay