Sunday, June 22, 2008


She's on her side, with her back to me. I reach under the sheet -- something they taught me never to do, in massage school -- and lay my hand on her taut, baby-full abdomen. Gently stroke backwards, a mild myofascial stretch, helping the bewildered abdominal muscles adjust to being twice their accustomed length. Again. My hand cradles the little one. Straight back, following the grain of her transverse abdominals, then up and back, as the external obliques run, and then down and back, following the internal obliques. The baby shifts a little, and I wonder, as I always do, about this long dream-time in the dark of the womb. The intensity of the tenderness I feel for this little one startles me, quite different in quality from the affection I have for his mother. Spontaneous prayers for his good fortune form in my mind. He could not be more blessed in his parents, but the world is a dangerous and unpredictable place, and his vulnerability staggers me. What a world to wander into, tiny and naked. I hold him for a moment. Om mani padme hum. Behold the jewel in the lotus.

Another part of my mind is assessing: she's in terrific shape. I know the lower paraspinals would love some firm work, but I refrain; you're not supposed to do that, according to the books; so I do some very gentle kneading and holding, and I feel a brief annoyance at how little good information we have. Like most medical massage lore, it's very possibly just made up. If it had to do with expensive drugs you could sell, there'd be half a dozen meticulous (if tendentious) studies on it. As it is, there's no telling: maybe it's just somebody's theory, or it's based on some anecdote that crept into medical texts in the 19th Century, never disputed or verified. I'll try to track it down some day. But anyway, you take no chances with pregnancy massage. On to the legs: just a little edema below the knees; less than most women have late in their eighth month. But clots are possible, especially in the saphenous vein, at this stage -- clots are always possible where there's edema -- so I do gentler work on the legs than I normally would. On the inner leg and thigh, basically just placing my hands, one after the other. Avoid the ankles. This is another possibly bogus restriction. There are acupressure points that are supposed to induce labor, and they include several of my workhorse points; among them the meeting of three ways, where three yin meridians cross at the inner ankle. I suspect that you would have to do things in a particular sequence, at the right time of day in the right season, to induce labor; real acupressure is quite complicated, very far from the magic "push this spot and your headache goes away" of popular imagination; my guess is that your chances of inducing labor by accident are about zero. But another thing I need to know more about. Until I do, no prodding the ankle points.

All this, of course, is just the superficial surface of my mind, the running patter of the conceptual mind. The real work is going on, my hands listening, holding, speaking in their own language.

Halftime. Bathroom break. Not a lot of room in there these days. I go into the living room, look at the photos on the shelves. Her family on a fishing expedition. His mother holding him (three years old) on her lap and reading to him. I lock my hands and stretch, reaching up toward the ceiling, shake out my legs. The toilet flushes; the door clicks. I give her a few moments to get back on the table, tap at the door. Time to do the other side.

She's an old hand at pregnancy massage: she's already got the pillows all arranged. I rest my hands on her shoulder and hip, reconnecting, settling. A familiar sequence of thoughts rises up:

I wasted all my life till now. This is what I should have been doing all along.

No. You couldn't have done this until now. Not wasted. You were preparing for this, though you didn't know it.

Don't be so portentous, Mr Dale. You're just doing a massage. You think too much.

But I am so happy. "I did not know I was so empty, that I could be so full."

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