EXETER, NEW HAMPSHIRE — Lauren McGinley loves playing with her 2-year-old son Indigo. Before bedtime he is treated to the "kitty cat back scratch." McGinley walks her hands up his back and then runs her fingers down, releasing feel good hormones and softening tissue and nerves.
McGinley became certified in infant and pediatric massage after taking classes with pediatric massage master teacher Tina Allen, the founder of Liddle Kidz foundation, an organization that teaches the benefits of infant massage.
"I was intrigued by her. She said 'I think we're getting detached from our children' — she puts an emphasis on touching and holding," McGinley said of her mentor.
On Dec. 8 McGinley will travel to Vietnam on a two-week mission trip with Liddle Kidz. There, she will visit orphanages where some children suffer from the effects of Agent Orange, are infected with HIV/AIDS or are the victims of land mines.
When she heard about the trip, McGinley was fixated on children who suffer without a hand to hold or a parent to hug.
"I couldn't stop thinking about that happening even (in America). These children go through treatment and there's a bond missing," she said.
According to McGinley, visiting children in Vietnam is about more than just giving hugs. At the orphanages, volunteers will play games that incorporate touch, organize songs and "dance tunnels," give traditional massages and support caregivers who may also be stressed or overwhelmed.
"A lot of touch is introduced as play, interaction, eye contact. We're showing them that there's good in the world," McGinley said.
There is a science behind the benefits of touch. As McGinley put it, "feel good" hormones like oxytocin are released through the process of touch. Studies have shown that infant massage stimulates weight gain and helps with brain and nerve development, balance and coordination.
"This is real, evidence-based care," McGinley said.
She takes the principals of massage and touch to work with her every day as the health outreach coordinator at New Generations Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides guidance and shelter for up to eight homeless women who are either pregnant or caring for a child.
"We've become really detached from our instincts," she said. "I teach women to learn to touch and trust themselves."
McGinley maintains that Americans should go "back to the basics" — learning to hold their children instead of relying so much on strollers and carriages and focusing more on "human things" like natural childbirth.
Still, McGinley understands that "touch is a touchy subject for Americans."
"Our discomfort with the word touch is a symptom of us not doing it enough," she said.
McGinley promised herself she would never leave her son unless it was "something great." She feels the trip, which will cost $3,900, is worth the separation.
"I'm not in the financial situation to do this," she said. "I just jumped in. I'm committed. I trust my community to help me."
McGinley plans on hosting several fund-raisers before her trip, including a tentative clothing swap where community members can exchange used clothing after purchasing a ticket. To donate funds, visit www.firstgiving.com/laurenmcginley.
Although she is traveling across the globe to spread her message, McGinley hopes people in America will also realize the benefits of touch.
"If we just touched a little bit more, it's so simplistic and small, but it could change how a nation develops," she said.
There are millions of infants and children worldwide who are struggling to live to their fullest potential. Would you like an opportunity to bring nurturing touch and pediatric massage to orphaned and displaced children around the globe?
Do you wish to share your skills with children who are affected by Cerebral Palsy, AIDS/HIV, landmines, Agent Orange, developmental disabilities, genetic birth defects, mental and emotional trauma?
Just ask yourself . . . can one person make a difference?
Take this moment to make a difference in the life of a child.
Apply now to be part of our next international volunteer team . . .you too, can be a Liddle Kidz Ambassador!