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From Kalamazoo to Detroit

Let me pick up from where I left off two blogs ago and update you on the rest of the conference in Kalamazoo. I've been getting carried away with meeting so many amazing people that I've not kept up with my blogs. Joanna (our daughter) tells me that she's waiting eagerly to read the next one so here goes, Joanna. This one's for you.

More from the Mi-AIMH Conference

The conference took place at the Radisson Plaza Hotel in Kalamazoo. It looks really stunning doesn't it?

After the 40th anniversary banquet on Sunday night we woke up to another inspiring talk by Marva Lewis, entitled Translating Culturally Valid Research into Evidence-Based Community Interventions: Successful Steps Along the Nappy-Haired Road. Marva shared over a decade of research on the hair-combing task. As a result of her studies she established a routine and ritual as a valid context to assess and intervene with African American mother-child relationships (Lewis, 1999, 2013).

'Ten minutes per day x 365 days per year x 12 years of combing a child’s hair equals 4,380 opportunities for parents to bond with their children during this simple daily task'.

The little girl in the picture does not look as if she's enjoying the hair combing experience. However, if her mother was aware of Marva's project she would know how to transform this time into an experience that strengthens their relationship. A bit like the picture below.

The findings from Marva's research suggest that the behaviours that occur during hair-combing

interaction (HCI) - talking, touch, and listening – are the same behaviours that strengthen the attachment bonds between parent and children. The ritual of the hair-combing task can also be used to re-connect and unite parents separated from children due to placement of the child into foster care or other traumatic separations.

Marva showed us a lovely clip of a young mother in a mother and baby unit, combing her baby's hair. Despite the unfortunate circumstances in which she found herself her interaction with her child demonstrated many strengths that she had inherited from her own experience of having been parented by a good enough mother. She sang and played with her baby, taught nursery rhymes and talked to her about family and friends; turning the experience into a fun game. Afterwards, the child felt proud and pretty. A great way to build self-esteem in a child.

My next workshop was on The Inter-generational Passage of Trauma: Historical Trauma, Parenting, and Healing; which examined the impact of historical trauma, such as migration, colonisation and slavery, and how to find healing through learning and re-learning history, story telling, embracing culture and grieving the loss of culture.

In my clinical work with abused and traumatised clients I also see the power of story telling. The telling of the story is integral to the process of healing and restoration. The client feels accompanied by the therapist as she revisits the past; but this time, she is not alone and a new story can unfold. In sharing her story with the therapist, she might discover that amidst the pain there was also some laughter; some good moments that have been hidden beneath the bad memories. A process of 're-storying' or 'restoring' takes place, and somehow, things feel more bearable as the client finds a measure of healing.

Infant Mortality

This seminar was followed by a special lunch, which featured a panel discussion exploring community efforts to eliminate infant mortality disparity in Kalamazoo. More black babies die before their first birthday in Kalamazoo County than in other Michigan counties. Three times the amount of African American babies die compared to white babies. Poverty is the main reason behind these deaths. Panel members shared passionately about the efforts of their organisations to address the issue and responded to questions from the floor.

Movie Night - Life of Pi

We ended the day with a movie; 'Life of Pi', about a young Indian boy named Piscine (Pi for short) who survived for 227 days at sea after a shipwreck; stranded on a lifeboat with a Bengali tiger. The tiger that he feared so much (representing his body) gave him a focus and reason to fight for survival. Dr Bill Schaeffer led the discussion in which we raised questions from the movie about how we live with the dangerous part of ourselves; about reality and illusion and the place of religion and spirituality as we travel across the sea of life in this boat (our body). The film also raised other questions, such as 'what is the truth?' Is it the literalism of science, which sacrifices the sense of the mystical story along with its many levels of meaning. Or is there room for religion and spirituality? Perhaps we throw out the baby with the bath water when we are excessively rational. Pi was only able to find a place of calm and stillness when he sank deep beneath the surface of the ocean with it's urgent reality of crashing waves. Perhaps we also need to go deep to find peace and meaning to life, especially when we are buffeted by life's waves.

Bill explained that Pi is an irrational number that is infinitely long and never repeats itself ... constantly new. It is a perfect formula to use when discussing the complexity of life. It is a scientific term which merges science and math with the mystery that cannot be solved in any rational way. This irrational number is found in every important formula of physics in modern science. The discussion reminded me of a verse in the scriptures that says 'He (God) has set eternity in the heart of man' (Ecclesiaste 3:11, The Bible). Even as Pi is the formula behind the length and width of the rivers and the orbit of the planets, so the mystery of God is written in the universe.

The last day

The last day of the conference featured a keynote talk by Kandace Thomas who introduced us to the ten Diversity Informed Infant Mental Health Tenets, which explain a dynamic system of beliefs and values that shapes interactions between individuals, organizations and systems of care. You can Google this if you wish to read more as it would take more than a few lines to unpack the richness of the Tenets.

Kalamazoo to Detroit

I was glad that we had another night in Kalamazoo to digest all the rich information from the conference. Our next stop would be Detroit...

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