Postnatal shiatsu with refugees

Segolene Cadet, who has just completed her work for the Well Mother Shiatsu Diploma in Maternity Care included some reflections on her work in the suburbs of Paris where she describes her shiatsu with women refuges. I find her work very interesting and hope it can serve to inspire others to get involved in similar projects.

Malien women and babies

Malien women and babies

“Relais BB is an association for parents and young children in the town of Nanterre that is supported financially by the government as well as by the local district of Nanterre. They distribute nappies, food, and milk for women and children up to 18 months. These women and their families do not have any resources and are often searching political asylum. They come from Mali, the Congo, Nigeria, Niger, Algeria, Romania, the Cameroons, and Senegal and are waiting for their documentation. They live in very difficult conditions and are supported by various government organisations that provide them with a small room and cooking facilities. Sometimes there are several families in a room and they are often moved around with their children and babies into different centres week after week due to lack of space

The support team is made up of about 25 people. We are part of a team and distribute the food, nappies, and milk as well as welcoming the families. It is a place where the women can rest and talk to each other while waiting. The children can play and listen to stories. We also have time to listen to the women to hear about the difficulties they may be encountering as parents.

I set up a maternity shiatsu space there 2 years ago, supported by the team who welcomed it openly. Women receive either a shiatsu or an oil massage. They often come with their baby up until about 6 months or when the baby starts to move or crawl when they can leave their baby with one of the team while they receive their shiatsu. Some women also come while they are pregnant.

I have about 3 hours in which to work and so just see two or 3 women so that I have time to listen to them and give them some quality shiatsu time. Sometimes I only have one women and so I spend time in the open space where I can sit next to the women who are with their babies, sharing and talking about their lives.

Afterwards the team gathers for about an hour to debrief.

Usually the woman give birth in the hospital in Nanterre. They often have a Caesarean and I have noticed that their scars are often quite deep and large. After about 48 hours, they go back to their lodgings without any care or financial support. Often they have no family because their mother, father, grandparents, brothers and sisters have stayed behind.

These women are living with great uncertainty about their future. They live with very little space surrounded by many people, so their babies tend to be active. The women have no time apart from their children, because often they are bringing them up on their own. The babies tend to cry when their mother goes away from them to get their provisions. We encourage the women to talk to their baby to reassure them and to experience these small separations in the best way. All of the women have a strong life force, they are courageous and some of them show a lot of solidarity. Despite all their difficulties, they are joyful and smile. The child gives the mother a sense of direction in their life full of uncertainty. The child also gives them a link to their birth land: an expression of the land they left behind.

What happens in the shiatsu session?

During these shiatsu sessions, the women lie on their front and present their back to me. They suffer from all kinds of back pain, including the neck and shoulder because they are always carrying their baby and because of all their anxieties and accumulated tension. The women always breastfeed their babies and there are often problems of milk flow and engorgement.

Their energy is often quite dispersed, especially in their legs and feet. The African women have a lot of tension in their back, shoulders, neck and legs.

I always starting working with their Qi and include Bladder and Gall Bladder. I include some GB stretches and then one or two deeper connections to enable them to come into connection with their Jing (Essence). The women like shiatsu or oil massage on their back, shoulder and neck as it helps them release some of their tension

I find the work on their legs and feet is difficult because it is here that I find the energy most dispersed. I relate this to their connection with the Earth, the land they left behind which was insecure and often violent and the land that has welcome them but is still insecure, uneasy and emotional. I always work here with care and sometimes I only make a light connection such as 26 GB with GB41 or the sacrum with Kidney 1.

The Extraordinary Vessels

The energy of the Extraordinary Vessels for these exiled women is often very scattered. They do not always allow me to connect with it. I have to prepare well with work on the level of the Qi and by gaining the woman’s trust. When the woman is ready, I can work in certain areas of the Extraordinary Vessels, like Girdle Vessel (Dai Mai) or Governing Vessel (Du Mai). Work with the Penetrating Vessel (Chong Mai) and Conception Vessel (Ren Mai) is often hard to access. I think because it is linked with the Land, but also with Blood, Xing their core identity and their breath.

I think this is the heart of their issues of Exile and why they often have Caesareans. I often work with Dai Mai to gather their energy to their centre, to their hara to give it a sense of direction.

Dai Mai work also helps to reduce the backache and tonifies the energy of the pelvis, which is often weak. The Kidney Uterus connection also supports the Dai Mai and the mother when she is tired.

I have just begun to include the Heart Uterus connection with HC6. I work a little with Chong Mai around the breasts, but sometimes this is too much for the women. I think that the women are beginning to get to know me now and trust me but this has taken time. Now they speak more openly about their homeland and the violence they have suffered. I am more able to work with the Yin and I can include a little more the Chong Mai in the postnatal period. I do not always find it is appropriate to include the branch of the Chong Mai in the legs because their connection to the earth is not very stable. I prefer to work Spleen and Stomach and include Spleen 6 and Stomach 36.

The women do not always come that regularly. I do not always offer them massages but let them know about the Shiatsu space. I allow things to unfold as I see the base is the relationship they build in the open space and when they are ready then they chose to come for a massage.

I often work with the babies and they enjoy this time with their infant. I ask them to show me how their mothers, grandmothers and women in their family massaged their babies when I feel they are open to talk about this. This way they can connect more with their culture, remember these members of their family connect with their identity, their culture, and regain confidence in themselves.

In this space, I think they find some comfort and support, well-being, relief from pain and tension in their body, due to constantly carrying their children.

Sometimes they trust me enough to talk about their family and culture but it is rare. They like to show me their newborn. I feel that maternity shiatsu helps support this mother child link even in these difficult and uncertain conditions.

Case study:
Shiatsu for a Malian woman from Mali
She came with her 3 month old, a boy, and a daughter of three. She lives alone and is waiting for her papers. She gave birth at Nanterre hospital and had a Caesarean. Breastfeeding has gone well. She is exhausted. She holds her baby and feeds him during the shiatsu while the daughter is playing with the team in the open space.

I work Bladder in the back and the legs and include Kidney 1. I work the Shu point of Kidney and Bladder, 23 and 52 and 20. I connect with Ming men and the Brain. I include GB stretches including the shoulder and neck. I free the accumulated tensions and ask the mother to breathe deeply and slowly. I work with Kidney Uterus, as the mother seems exhausted.

The Conception vessel, Spleen Kidney and Stomach are cut and without energy. Dai Mai helps gather the energies. This mother does not feel much around the Caesarean scar and the Dai Mai work helps her integrate this. The lumbar area is weak with and the Dai Mai has no direction. I include CV points on the abdomen and stay a while on CV4

Work with a caesarean scar.
I work on the abdomen with Kidney and Spleen
The mother shows me her scar, which is thick and long. I work off the body to release the energetic knots and to knit back together where the energy is escaping. The mother directs this work. I encourage her to massage the scar gently with oil and to feel the contracted areas, which are irritated, and the emptier, open areas.

The mother experiences many strong emotions during the session. She is happy with the shiatsu and the sharing and she says she feels a release and lightness in the scar.”

Ségolène Bourgon Cadet
Masso thérapeute pour la femme et l’enfant
Massage traditionnel à l’huile
& shiatsu maternité
Mémoire post natal, Shiatsu maternité, 29 mars 2015
Copyright@2015

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