Let’s face it I’m a massage addict. I’ve been getting massages for over 20 years. For me, massage is great for stress relief and some much needed “me” time. I see it as a necessity not a luxury. When I was going through infertility I would get regular massages to minimize stress and allow my racing mind to calm down.
I was intrigued to know how massage can help someone going through grief and loss associated with infertility, miscarriage and stillbirth. Many times these emotions are repressed and there may not even be time to grieve as many women move onto trying to conceive very shortly after a loss.
I reached out to a local registered massage therapist, Lindsay Switzer, who combines her Kinesiology background to help her clients heal on a physical and emotional level. She explains how human touch can have a profound impact on someone experiencing grief and loss.
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Can you share a little bit about yourself and your background?
I have worked in the field of Kinesiology for 10 years in settings such as Chiropractic and Sports Medicine clinics, Fitness Centres and Gyms, and Long Term Care. I have an extensive repertoire in the aspects of biomechanics, athletic/fitness training and conditioning. I became a Registered Massage Therapist in 2013 and utilize traditional Swedish relaxation, deep tissue, myofascial release, and manual lymphatic drainage techniques in my practice.
I believe that Registered Massage Therapy can play a crucial role in the treatment of both physiological conditions and emotional conditions, such as depression, anxiety/panic, grief, and stress (including post-traumatic stress).
Why did you first decide to become a Registered Massage Therapist?
I grew up as a young athlete, and unfortunately suffered several musculoskeletal injuries along the way, which introduced me to the world of physical rehabilitation. From there I watched and learned about the body and its functions relating to sports and movement. Watching the manual practitioners work with me to rehabilitate my injuries sparked an interest in healing.
For someone going though infertility there are often multiple doctor’s appointments, medications and maybe even feeling like a failure month after month. How does massage help to deal with stress?
The stress associated with infertility is so deeply painful and for many people they may find it hard to cope with such strong emotions. The emotional stress and self-defeating thoughts can wreak havoc on the mind and body. The mind-body connection and fertility continues to be researched. Check out this article - http://www.conceivethepossibility.com/research.html.
Massage is an ideal outlet for the stress associated with infertility. It can be especially beneficial with insomnia related to stress, headaches and anxiety. Massage offers a caring, safe, and comfortable environment for the client to release their tension and emotions. The human connection can make going through infertility less isolating and difficult.
Many people going through infertility do not share their struggle. They may experience miscarriage and suffer in silence. How does massage help them to release their emotions?
There are also physical symptoms associated with miscarriage – it is not a comfortable process, in any regard. I recommend all clients suffering a miscarriage see their family doctor for initial assessment and any possible medical intervention. Once cleared, Registered Massage Therapy can help.
With regard to the emotional side, going through miscarriage and stillbirth may leave some feeling like they are in a black hole. Self-loathing and low self-worth in the wake of a negative prognosis, pregnancy test, or fertility procedure can leave clients feeling very isolated and hopeless. The simple act of human touch and the connection it offers can be deeply healing. Human contact has been shown to be an effective treatment for depression. (See: http://www.massagetoday.com/mpacms/mt/article.php?id=13933)
Why is this the case?
Human touch can induce the release of oxytocin -- a hormone in the brain that plays a role in pair bonding, social interactions and attachment, and even managing inflammation and wound healing.
This hormone is especially important when treating clients dealing with infertility, and in particular, grief associated with miscarriage and/or early child loss. Receiving healthy human connection can help to lessen negative thoughts and feelings, as well as stress and its associated hormones. For more information, visit: http://www.integrativehealthcare.org/mt/archives/2010/03/oxytocin_-the_h.html
Many people release emotions differently during massage. Some people talk during the treatment, others may laugh or cry. Every person is different, there is no standard way to release emotions. But keep in mind that Registered Massage Therapists are not psychologists, and they are not equipped to offer psychological or emotional advice or guidance; however, as Registered Healthcare Professionals, they are obliged to listen intently, offer professional support, and even suggest referral to an appropriate alternate Healthcare Professional.
Registered Massage Therapists are bound by the same privacy laws and codes of conduct as other Healthcare Professionals in Ontario, your personal information will always be kept confidential.
How does massage help with the grief or depression associated with infertility and miscarriage?
Grief in particular can have significant physical effects on the body. People process their grief in many different ways. However, grief associated with infertility and child loss is one of the most profound – largely due to the nature of infertility remaining a taboo subject within Western culture. There is so much guilt and shame associated with not being able to bear your own children. These feelings become internalized, and can develop into physical symptoms.
Using a touch-type therapy can have a big impact on our functioning as a whole person -- from brain chemistry, to nerve conduction, to muscle function, to tissue tension... the treatment of which all help to facilitate emotional release.
As we spoke earlier, so many people resist letting these emotions out (anger, frustration, depression, sadness, hopelessness, etc.) It’s not easy to talk openly about infertility, miscarriage, and child loss, so these emotions very quickly and easily get bottled up within the body; often manifesting in physical symptoms such as headaches, jaw and neck pain, general aches and pains, and even visual disturbances (e.g. light sensitivity, eye fatigue).
Grief is a natural process – the loss of a child, a newborn baby, a miscarriage, our sense of self… there are many ways to grieve infertility, but they all affect our functioning in and perception of the world around us, often resulting in a disconnect. Registered Massage Therapy also helps to facilitate the mind to body connection in the client. Being aware of a gentle and comforting touch during such a dark time creates a sense of safety and trust for the client. They now have an acceptable place to bring their grief to the surface.
There are many physical symptoms of grief such as headaches, shoulder pain, jaw pain, appetitive disturbances and fatigue. What type of treatments would you use to help?
The focus of this type of treatment is relaxation. Movements and techniques would be slow, and light to medium pressure applied through longer strokes along the muscle lengths. The therapist wants to avoid using more vigorous and energizing techniques that might commonly be used for sports therapy or deep tissue treatments, as they often tend to excite muscle fibres and twitch-response.
Many of these physical symptoms are the result of unconscious muscle contractions we are not aware of during times of increased worry or stress, as well as our postural and movement habits that may change or become more pronounced (i.e. when we’re depressed, we tend to slouch our shoulders more, clench our jaw, or generally become less active). Registered Massage Therapy can help to release muscle tension and myofascial trigger points that cause the associated pain.
How many sessions do you recommend?
There is no definitive number of sessions. It’s best to have a conversation with your Registered Massage Therapist to determine what works best for you. It could be weekly, monthly or every couple of months.
There are many factors to consider when planning a treatment regime. Every client’s experience is different.
Do you have any tips or body work techniques that can be used at home?
Gentle stretching exercises with a focus on breathing are very beneficial. Yoga and meditation are great places to start. Gentle self-care is extremely important throughout your journey through infertility. As hard as it is to spend time taking care of yourself during times like this, it’s the best thing you can do, and you’ll never regret it.
If you’re not comfortable with massage therapy, there are many other relaxing and mindful options to choose from – restorative yoga, guided meditation, gentle stretching, and light cardiovascular exercise can all help to get you started.
If you are interested in receiving Registered Massage Therapy a treatment option to your infertility struggle, please feel free to contact Lindsay through her website (www.switzer-therapy.com), or speak to a Registered Massage Therapist about your situation and concerns. Everyone has a different story, and deserves their own customized Registered Massage Therapy treatment.
Many people wish to receive Registered Massage Therapy, but are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the level of contact or undress that typically occurs during treatment. Every client should know that their trepidation is normal (especially if they have never received Massage Therapy before). The Registered Massage Therapist is ready to walk you through every aspect of a typical Massage Therapy treatment, and will hopefully put your mind at ease with an open discussion about draping, contact, boundaries, and other areas of concern from the client.
What books and resources do you recommend on massage?
I recommend The Registered Massage Therapist Association of Ontario website, www.rmtao.com, for general information about our profession and listings of active and practicing RMTs.
The College of Massage Therapists of Ontario, www.cmto.com, for specific information about our professional regulations and codes of conduct.
Massage Therapy is a highly interactive treatment option, depending almost fully on the aspect of touch. Therefore, it can be difficult to truly experience Registered Massage Therapy from books or magazines. However, in recent years there has been a dramatic increase in empirical scientific research relating to Registered Massage Therapy and its effects on human physiology. And thus is becoming a more accepted and normalized part of the client’s circle of care.
Registered Massage Therapy is largely a word-of-mouth based practice, so get out there and ask around!
If you are experiencing infertility or have experienced miscarriage or stillbirth, the loss and grief can be crippling and overwhelming. Massage can offer you an outlet to process your emotions and to experience the healing power of human touch.
Sarah Clark empowers couples to discover how lifestyle and diet can dramatically impact their chances of conceiving. She was diagnosed with premature ovarian failure at 28 and had both her kids with donor eggs. Not until years later did she discover that the root cause of her infertility was a food intolerance. Join the Free Fab Fertile Support Group on Facebook for mini-challenges, motivation and inspiration!