From Vimala Schneider McClure
In 1973, when I was 21 years old, I found myself working in a little orphanage in northern India. It was summer, and extremely hot. My money ran out quickly; we barely subsisted on donations solicited door-to-door. Most of my time was spent in survival tasks – washing clothes, drawing water from the well, cooking strange foods over a crude cowdung-heated hearth. The little girls who were our charges were always sick and required a lot of attention. It was hard work from dawn to midnight, and from the moment I arrived, I longed to go home.
Gradually I adapted to the rigors of my new life. The sleepless nights, weeping quietly and missing home, slowly abated. I began to love the children and to find non-verbal ways to communicate with them. The older girls taught me how to cook and how to massage the little ones with mustard oil. I taught them how to bring down a fever and to sing “This Old Man.”
We had very little to eat, just some white rice and a few vegetables twice a day. Sometimes we would fast so that the children could eat. Once in a while, we had a special treat of (horrors!) buffalo milk. There were poisonous snakes, scorpions, monkeys, and all manner of insects. There was a food shortage and outside our little house we saw the ration lines growing day by day in the 110 degree heat.
During my last week there, I succumbed to malaria. When I was delirious with fever, all the women in the neighborhood came to look after me. They massaged my body and sang to me, taking turns until my fever broke. I will never forget the feeling of their hands and hearts touching me.
On my way to the train station after a tearful goodbye at the orphanage, my rickshaw stopped to let a buffalo cart go by. To my right was a shanty – just a few boards and some canvas – where a family lived by the roadside.
A young mother sat in the dirt with her baby across her knees, lovingly massaging him and singing. As I watched her I remember thinking, there is so much more to life than material wealth. She had so little, yet she could offer her baby this beautiful gift of love and security, a gift that would help to make him a compassionate human being.
I thought about all the children I had known there and how loving, warm, and playful they were in spite of their so-called disadvantages. They took care of each other and they accepted responsibility without reservation. Perhaps, I thought, they are able to be so loving, so relaxed and natural because they have been loved like this as infants, and infants have been loved like this in India for thousands of years.
A seed was planted in my mind, and I returned home with both joyful anticipation of the future and sadness for what I had to leave behind.
In 1976 I was expecting my first child. I spent most of my pregnancy reading and writing, and I decided that I wanted to write and to be involved in some aspect of parenting or childbirth education.
After my baby’s Cesarean birth, I organized some other parents and childbirth educators who were interested in forming a support network for C-section parents. We formed an organization with a training program for support counselors and a series of workshops and prenatal classes. We faced considerable opposition from obstetricians when we began to lobby for fathers to be admitted in the Cesarean operating room.
Eventually we prevailed and a whole new suite was constructed at the community hospital for Cesarean deliveries. Two years from our first meeting, fathers were allowed to witness the births of their children and support their wives during Cesarean birth, and we were able to offer prenatal classes to help make the experience positive and joyful for all. In the meantime, I practized the Indian massage on my baby every day, and was thoroughly delighted with the experience and its results. I began to put together all the information I had learned about infant growth and development, and all the applicable research on touching.
I incorporated Swedish strokes and some ideas from reflexology and yoga (I had been teaching yoga for ten years), experimenting with my baby and taking detailed note of his changes. I then named the strokes, put together a curriculum for a five-week course and began to teach in my home. For the next few years these activities along with raising my children (my daughter came along two years later) consumed all of my time.
I learned how to use the medical library, and with babies in tow would spend hours poring through journals to find data to validate what I was learning from the babies in my classes. My training in listening skills through the Cesarean birth group and La Leche League leadership training helped me immensely in being open enough to learn from every class and every baby.
I wrote Infant Massage: A Handbook for Loving Parents in 1977, and began to receive invitations to speak at various functions. Eventually, several childbirth educators approached me and requested that I train them to teach my course. I wrote the first edition of the Instructor Manual and began to share my ideas and experiences with others.
The International Association of Infant Massage Instructors was born when Audrey Downes sponsored an instructor training in Chico, California in 1981. Audrey took on the task of directing the organization, and spent the next several years working very hard to bring it into a viable framework.
Our first group of trainers – Diane Wamsley, Diana Moore, Laurie Evans, Helen Moses, Maria Mathias, and Jody Wright – joined us during that period, after having spent time as instructors and working in various ways to promote parent-infant communication. Maria Fagerlund, in Denmark, joined in 1986, and we were truly “international.”
Another event in 1986 was a turning point for us. We met together to form the first Board of Directors of the IAIM, and began the official process of becoming a nonprofit organization. Again, it was Audrey’s extremely conscientious, hard work that enabled us to get to that point.
Our first meeting as a Board of Directors signaled a whole new phase for the organization; we each re-committed ourselves to our work together and to bringing Infant Massage and the vision it represents to our culture and the world.
A Lifetime Commitment
What is my vision? I believe that by fostering and encouraging Infant Massage and other cultural traditions which enhance the parent-baby bond, and by helping create more family-centered values in our culture, we will begin to see whole generations expressing more compassion toward and responsibility for their fellow human beings. I believe in supporting parents in their love for their infants.
I believe that babies are aware human beings who deserve respect, tenderness, and warmth, and above all, a listening heart. When we listen to our infants with our hearts, we discover whatever it is that we want to know.
I believe that every parent, regardless of personal philosophy, and every infant, regardless of birth history or disposition, should have the opportunity to experience the lifelong benefits that come from early bonds that are loving, healthy, and secure.
Video: Hear Vimala’s own story of how the IAIM started
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