Body Secrets Revealed

Midwifery Today, Issue 141, Spring 2022.
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Figure 1. Philtrum

After more than 40 years as a massage therapist, I am still awed by the secrets and hidden truths within the human body. According to the ancient principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the body tells us everything and it’s up to us to read these clues and use this information for healing purposes.

TCM is a complex and sophisticated art and science that describes the physiology, pathology, diagnosis, and treatment of the human body in intricate and mutually related terms. The theories of Yin/Yang, the Five Elements, and Acupuncture (to name a few) are all part of Chinese medicine. Disease is diagnosed using four basic methods, much like midwives and doulas use when examining their clients: looking, hearing and smelling (and tasting), questioning, and palpating (touch).

Looking (inspection) provides information about a client through observation of her facial expressions (this is particularly revealing during labor), demeanor, spirit, and colors. The face and eyes are of particular importance because organs of the body are reflected in certain areas of them. The face also holds secrets about fertility. In Taoist physiognomy, or face reading, a person’s vitality as shown in the face is seen as one’s fortune. The philtrum (Figure 1), is a landmark where the face comes together in utero during fetal development. It provides information about the client’s ability to conceive and informs whether or not labor will be easy. The ideal philtrum is a deep, long, wide groove with a slight flair where it meets the upper lip. A flat philtrum in women indicates low kidney qi, low fertility, and the likelihood of early menopause. A short but defined groove may indicate difficulty in conceiving and a difficult labor. In both women and men, a flat philtrum indicates low sexual and reproductive energy.

Figure 2. Linea nigra

A horizontal line across the philtrum may indicate that the endometrium is too thick, especially in a young woman. It may represent polycystic ovary syndrome, endometriosis, or being on the pill too long. It might also mean that there is an abnormality or malformation of the uterus, which may explain a difficulty in conceiving.

As labor approaches, her lips swell and darken and she often appears “juicy.” Her sacrum swells and becomes puffy.

Some of the most revealing and fascinating displays of subtle physical secrets happen during pregnancy and labor. When a woman becomes pregnant, changes in her skin are among the early signs of pregnancy. Her nipples and areolae darken and she develops the linea nigra which serves as a GPS, guiding the newborn to her mother’s breast (Figure 2).

Figure 3. The purple line of pregnancy

During labor, her hard-working body reveals how labor is progressing. At about 7 cm, or at transition, some women develop beads of sweat on their upper lips. The purple line of dilation (Figure 3), a labor assessment guide, is a visible darkened line that extends from the buttocks and moves up the sacrum as dilation increases. By 10 cm, it reaches the top of the sacrum. This is a valuable tool in evaluating the progress of labor that can replace an invasive and uncomfortable internal examination.

Looking at the navel before conception may also reveal reproductive conditions. A navel pulled downward may indicate intestinal and menstrual difficulties.

Listening to what the client is saying is an important part of holistic care. TCM will not only heed her words, but pay attention to the sound of her voice and respiration. Sounds from a laboring woman are equally revealing. I’ll never forget a story I heard from my own postpartum doula, R. While she was in labor, her mother, a midwife, was with her. After many hours, R requested an epidural and then made a deep grunt. As the nurse was leaving the room to get the doctor, R’s mother said to the nurse, “Where are you going? She made the noise!” Within half an hour, R’s baby was born.

Listening also includes monitoring the fetal heartbeat during labor. Using a Pinard or fetal monitor, midwives can discern if there is fetal distress.

Figure 4. Spleen 6

A woman close to labor releases certain pheromones, which experienced midwives, doulas, and massage therapists can smell and even taste. This is the body saying it’s getting ready for birth.

Palpation (touching) gives clues as to the position of the baby and the progress of labor. One of the most powerful acupuncture points to do this is Spleen 6 (Figure 4).

Spleen 6 is located at the juncture of the three yin (female) leg meridians and is very powerful in assessing gynecological health. It is a dynamic point that changes as her cycle changes. It is so powerful that it must be avoided during pregnancy to safeguard against premature uterine contractions. But as a palliative against menstrual cramps, to stimulate the onset of labor, to encourage labor once it has been established, and to encourage reproductive healing during postpartum, Spleen 6, found on both legs, is the powerhouse.

During pregnancy, Sp 6 feels hard, round, and substantive. Once the uterus starts to soften, so does Sp 6. A softer Sp 6 indicates dilation (not how many cm, but just that it has started). That it the time to stimulate these points (along with a few other choice acupuncture points).

I am pretty sure you never considered how much like TCM your brilliant work is. TCM relies heavily on the five senses and the sixth sense of intuition. So does midwifery and labor support. You also need a loving heart, which you all have in abundance.

About Author: Elaine Stillerman

Elaine Stillerman, LMT, has been a New York State licensed massage therapist since 1978. She began her pioneering work in prenatal massage, labor support, and postpartum recovery massage in 1980. She is the developer and instructor of the professional certification workshop “MotherMassage: Massage during Pregnancy” which she began teaching in 1990 and which is currently taught at massage schools, spas and resorts across the country.

In 2013, she was the recipient of the inaugural “Educator of the Year” award from the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education (AFTME) and was inducted into the World Massage Festival’s “Massage Hall of Fame.”

Elaine is the author of Mother Massage: A Handbook for Relieving the Discomforts of Pregnancy (Dell, 1992), The Encyclopedia of Bodywork: From Acupressure to Zone Therapy (Facts on File, 1996), Prenatal Massage: A Textbook of Pregnancy, Labor, and Postpartum Bodywork (Mosby, 2008) and Modalities for Massage and Bodywork, 2nd ed. (Mosby, 2008).

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