APPPAH 2017: Best Conference So Far!

As the airplane shudders from unsteady thermal winds, my body courses with energy. I still feel immersed in the warmth that I bathed in this weekend, with the people I am coming to know as a family.

Maybe it’s just my own perception and self-growth, but I feel like the APPPAH congresses get better each year. The knowledge shared builds on itself: science is now validating what APPPAH has known and taught for decades. Hearing silver-haired speakers talk about the origins of the organization, I envisioned myself and my peers, dark-haired and smooth-skinned for now, talking about this era of APPPAH many years from now.

Dear friend and now-retired APPPAH president, Sandra Bardsley! I'm so lucky to have attended every conference during her presidency, from 2013 to 2017.

Dear friend and now-retired APPPAH president, Sandra Bardsley! I'm so lucky to have attended every conference during her presidency, from 2013 to 2017.

My gosh, what respect I hold for the pioneers of this program. As someone who promotes “touchy-feely” practices like meditation, doulas, and massage, I always feel compelled to quantify my statements with scientific research. These days, there are thousands of academic journal articles to support what I’m saying, but the original members, did not have this evidence to back them up. They intuitively and experientially knew what was right, and devoted their all to helping people bear and birth children in better ways. What guts, what courage! As passionate as I am, I’m not sure I would have had the strength to be a pioneer.

Luckily for me, they and Robert have already paved the way for what I want to do; and luckily for them, there is a growing group of young adults who see the value of bettering birth and are taking active measures to support this cause. I am so honored to be among them.

I reunited with Zsuzsanna Horvath from Budapest, whose son, Lihel, was about the size of a blueberry the last time I saw them. Last year, she, Gabriella Rodriguez, her husband Nayib Bukele, and I had spontaneous, post-conference, Space Needle adventure, which I cataloged in a previous blog. The four—now five—of us enjoyed a leisurely lunch on Saturday, catching up on Nayib’s political endeavors, Gabriella’s work providing childcare to market workers all over San Salvador, and Zsuzsa’s transition into motherhood, all the while admiring Lihel’s captivating, blue-eyed stare. Touching base with these bright, passionate young adults, each doing something magnificent for their community, has become an annual tradition that fuels my fire, inspiring me to keep striving for greater endeavors and deeper connections.

Gabriella, Zsuzsanna, Nayib, myself, and the real star of APPPAH, baby Lehel.

Gabriella, Zsuzsanna, Nayib, myself, and the real star of APPPAH, baby Lehel.

This weekend, I heard Drs. Catherine Monk and Anne Diamond Weinstein present on the negative impacts of prenatal maternal depression and stress, and the potential for positive interventions. I attended a talk by mother-daughter dynamo-duo Drs. Joanne Halverson and Alicia Wilkes, soul family from Seattle, about the importance of nurturing community. And though I had not come prepared to give a talk, I was asked to present in a twist of fate: one of the keynote speakers was stuck in India.

I’ve been in a similar situation, so I empathized with the speaker. However, I did do the best I could with this short-notice opportunity to present in front of the entire APPPAH congress. Between—and sometimes during—talks, I disappeared into my quaint cavern of a room to condense everything I wanted to communicate with peers and idols into a 15-minute Powerpoint lecture. I tried to breathe into my center and not become intimidated by the fact that I would be lecturing people whose books had influenced my life.

So, on Saturday at 4:00, two hours before my flight home, I presented what I knew. I started by guiding the congress through a three-minute meditation, touching briefly on vase breathing, encouraging us all to feel our connection through energy and air. Once the room had settled, I dove into the benefits of meditation, and the potential of applying those benefits to the prenatal period. I was blessed that Drs. Monk and Weinstein had already spoken about the negative impacts of prenatal maternal depression and stress on the offspring, because it meant that I could spend more time on the inverse: the potential of prenatal meditation to positively impact babies, perhaps for life.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_104f.jpg

I spoke about Calm Birth’s history, giving shout-outs to Robert and Sandra, and explaining how I first came into this program. I don’t think I’ve written about that here. Perhaps one day I will. I shared some of the highlights of the letter from the office of the Dalai Lama, because I needed to know that for my own self: that the wisest person on the planet sees the potential of prenatal meditation, and the practices he recommended coincide with our very own.

At this point, I was flagged: I was almost out of time. I’d been told I had 15 minutes, but then, right before I spoke I’d been told I had 20. I’d taken my sweet time during the lecture, and hadn’t followed my notes to a T. I was now at 13 minutes, 30 seconds, and I hadn’t even talked about our practices. So I raced through my final slides, knowing I wanted to spend time on my last one. I shared what we’ve been doing in the recent past, with online teacher trainings, Spanish translations, new recordings with gender-neutral language, and, of course, our beloved app.

I skipped over the specifics on the three Calm Birth practices, knowing that people with interest could look them up on their own time. Then I got to the last slide: a picture of my parents, in their own dark-haired, smooth-skinned days, nestled together, all their energy focused on a pink, yawning newborn: a little Anna.

“I want to end on a personal note, with a moment of gratitude to my parents,” I said, blinking back tears. “They gave me the blessings of a great entry into this world. I haven’t given birth or been pregnant, so I can’t speak from the experience of having used meditation for that. But I am lucky enough to know what it’s like to be the adult offspring of parents who meditated daily during pregnancy. My life has been really blessed, and I attribute that in no small part to the beginning that my parents provided for me.

Picture1.png

“This felt experience is the reason I have chosen to devote so much energy and love to this program. The more I learn about pre and perinatal psychology from the likes of you all, the more inspired I am to carry Calm Birth forward into this quickly-changing world.”

I hurried out of the room, amidst applause and hugs, to catch my flight back to Seattle, back to my sweetheart and my home and the promise of a bright future. I carry APPPAH and Calm Birth with me wherever I go. Synthesizing the two into my presentation was an honor and, I like to think, a leap forward into the organization’s awareness of Calm Birth. Hopefully, the next time I present, I will have time to prepare a bit more, but pulling this together quickly felt right, somehow. I was able to use the stress-reducing techniques I teach—I got beyond any sense of fear or doubt, and channeled my own inner wisdom, and that of the lineage I carry. What a blessing to have the opportunities to share these practices.

I already can’t wait 'til next year.