By Elizabeth West
Web Exclusive – March 24, 2009
I have to admit that when I first heard about Maternal Infant Bonding (MIB) therapy for pediatric asthma, my expectations were modest at best. We’d tried a number of different approaches for controlling our daughter’s asthma, but nothing helped much. After experimenting with homeopathy, changes in diet, and various sorts of energy work, including reiki, we turned with some reluctance to allopathic medicine.
The inhalers her doctor prescribed did keep us from frantic trips to the emergency room and eased her discomfort in the night. However, she was still up many times every night, coughing and tossing and turning, struggling to find a position that allowed her to breathe more easily. And, of course, this meant that she was tired, cranky, and unfocused during the daytime. Her immune system was in shambles. She was the kid with the chronically runny nose, the one who has that telltale shine on the upper lip in every photo.
We adopted Cybéle when she was five-months-old. Her breathing difficulties were apparent from the start. Asthma was diagnosed when she was two-years-old, and it just got worse as she got older. By the time she was three-and-a-half-years-old, we had abandoned hope that we could manage her asthma without Western medicine. By the time she was four-years-old, I was ready to ask her pediatrician to prescribe oral medication in addition to the inhaled bronchodilator and corticosteroid medications she had come to rely on.
Feeling frustrated and helpless, I vented to a friend who had navigated many complex health and emotional issues with her own child. She told me about a man named Tony Madrid, a psychologist with whom she had worked to repair her bond with her son. Apparently, the therapeutic process he used to heal broken bonding was having amazing results for kids with asthma.
I had no concerns about my bond with Cybéle. We were as close as could be, and I couldn’t imagine loving her more. I didn’t understand why the process might work on asthma, but after talking with Dr. Madrid on the phone, I realized we had nothing to lose. It would, at most, take three sessions, and if there was even a small chance we could ameliorate her symptoms to avoid taking systemic steroids, then it would be worth the time and money.
A few weeks later, I was sitting across from Tony Madrid in his pleasantly cluttered office. Sunlight filtered through the surrounding redwoods and poured into the room. His dog slept peacefully on the extra chair. An energized man in his mid-sixties, Tony had, I noticed, the kindest eyes I’d ever seen. I felt a little more optimistic.
He took a brief history, and then we got right to work. The first step was to hypnotize me. I had never been hypnotized before and was quite curious to learn how it would feel. As a long-time meditator, I wondered about entering an altered state at someone else’s direction. Tony asked that I hold a pencil and gaze at its tip while he spoke softly to help me relax. Within a couple of minutes the pencil fell from my grasp, as I had been told it would. My eyes closed gently. I was fully conscious and thinking with surprising clarity. In truth, I usually go a lot deeper every morning when I sit to meditate, and it was hard to believe that much could come from such a lightly altered state of consciousness. What I didn’t understand at the time was that my unconscious mind was fully accessed and engaged. That was where the work was to be done, and the fact that I remained connected with my conscious mind didn’t interfere.
Once I was under as far as I was apparently going to go, Tony began to take me through the creation of a new experience of my daughter’s gestation and birth, all in my unconscious mind. He started with, “Imagine that you have just learned you are pregnant. You are filled with anticipation and joy. You feel the beginnings of a new life growing inside you. Let yourself experience a healthy and happy first trimester, and when that feels complete, your index finger will float.” I’m well practiced at visualization, so although I had never been pregnant before, this was pretty easy. The part about my index finger floating was harder to credit. But once I felt really connected to the idea of finishing the first trimester, my index finger twitched and then floated, seemingly of its own accord. At his direction, I proceeded to imagine the pregnancy, stage by stage, until it was time to give birth.
“Cybéle is ready to be born, and you are ready to receive her as she comes into the world. You have a quick and effortless delivery, and your baby is laid on your chest. You hold her and you look into each other’s eyes, recognizing each other at once. When this feels complete, your index finger will float.” Tears were streaming down my cheeks while my finger floated. I had never experienced this moment in life, and it felt indescribably precious and beautiful. When I arrived for my appointment, I could not have conceived of loving her more than I did. As I sat there, hypnotized, imagining that I was holding her and preparing to nurse for the first time, I felt my heart just break open. For the first time, I experienced the full impact of the biological bond with my daughter. For the first time, I felt like a mama tiger, ready to kill or die for her if necessary. There really was no separation between us. My unconscious mind had truly accepted a new version of events and telegraphed it throughout my being.
Tony led me through the remainder of the process, imagining our life together flowing from this seamless state of connectedness up to the present time. After he brought me out of hypnosis, Tony told me that although he had many questions to ask, I would need a little peace and quiet as I had just given birth. We would meet again the following week to see if any more work was necessary to complete the bonding process.
I felt soft, happy, and a little dazed, but utterly functional. I went directly to pick up Cybéle at her preschool. When I arrived, she launched herself across the room and into my arms, shouting, “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!” She covered my face with kisses, telling me over and over and over again how much she loved me.
All afternoon, she was beaming, by my side and without question, attached. It was beautiful to be with her. That evening, I decided to skip the inhaler. She slept through the night without waking, and without coughing. I hardly dared to believe it. The next morning, she said, “Mommy, I lost my cough!”
Six months later, we have not used any medicine. Very rarely, she coughs a little during the night, and once in a while she wakes and needs mom. But what child doesn’t? Her immune system is much stronger, and although she still gets upper respiratory infections, they are much less frequent and severe. She is sleeping, so she is happier and better able to function during the day. She is more confident, and her self-esteem has grown. A number of behavior problems have melted away, and best of all, our relationship, which was already wonderful, is now extraordinary.
After the advent of this miracle in our lives—asthma virtually cured in one 50-minute session—I have learned that our experience is far from unique. Dr. Madrid and his colleagues have been quietly helping to relieve the suffering of many children with asthma using this technique for the last 30 years.
Since he discovered the efficacy of MIB therapy in treating pediatric asthma, Dr. Madrid has researched the connection and published several studies. He and other researchers have found that between 70 percent and 80 percent of the children with asthma enrolled in studies had experienced one or more of the circumstances that often lead to a break in maternal-infant bonding. He has also shown that among these children, almost all of those under the age of nine get better when their mothers go through the MIB process. For older children, the results were less dramatic, although many experienced measurable improvement.
Miraculous though it is when applied to pediatric asthma, MIB therapy is not just for breathing problems. It seems to quickly heal wounds that otherwise might take a lifetime of dedicated investigation and therapy to ameliorate. It gives moms and kids who have longed for a loving and joyous relationship another chance, even in cases where the trauma which caused the problem is decades in the past. It can forge new bonds in families formed by adoption. And most fundamentally, it offers children the opportunity to grow up knowing what it means to love and be loved without reservation.
Tony Madrid, PhD, practices in Monte Rio, California. He teaches at the University of San Francisco and offers workshops and classes on hypnosis and MIB therapy in various locations on the West Coast. More information about bonding and MIB therapy can be found on his website, www.rivershrink.com.