Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallée
Monkey Press, 2007
Paperback, 142 pages, price £9.95
(Reviewed by Debra Betts, EJOM Vol. 5 No. 6)
It was with great anticipation that I opened this latest work from Elisabeth Rochat de La Vallée. A clear, concise, authoritative text on the classical references to foetal development and a woman’s role during her pregnancy is long overdue. I was not disappointed.
The text is divided into four parts covering various aspects of pregnancy and draws upon a number of references including: the Suwen, the Lingshu, the Mawangdui Manuscript (a text found in a tomb dating from the second century bce), Sun Simiao's writings and the Zhubing Yuanhou Lun (a compilation of writings dating from 610 CE).
Non-medical texts (the Qipolun and the Luxingjing) are also discussed with reference to their images of the hun, po and shen within the developing foetus.
Beginning with the Suwen, the relevance of the ren mai and chong mai are discussed for both the woman during pregnancy and for foetal development.
The second part of this book covers the pulses of pregnancy, following on from the statement “the classical texts do not say exactly when it is possible to first detect pregnancy.” Commentary is given for the various references from the Suwen and Zhubing Yuanhou Lun texts with explanations as to the differing interpretations.
The ten months of foetal development, the changing pulses and the responsibilities of the woman as her pregnancy progresses form the third aspect of this book.
The Zhubing Yuanhun Lun is presented with a detailed guide to foetal development, including advice on foods and activities for the mother-to-be; this text is contrasted to the Mawangdui Manuscript and the writings of Sun Simiao to give a comprehensive overview.
The month by month meridian support required for a successful pregnancy, the points mentioned in the classics associated with these meridians, the responsibility of the mother to influence the developing child as the pregnancy progresses and the five phase development of the foetus, including the sixth element of stone, are all covered in detail, with commentary on the author's opinion as to their relevance to clinical practice.
The final section deals with texts that expand upon the spiritual development of the foetus and the arrival of the hun, po and shen.
I found this book a joy to read and enjoyed reflecting upon the interpretations for the classical passages given. I would recommend this book to all practitioners interested in treating women during pregnancy. An understanding of the different approaches to pulse taking during pregnancy, the use of diet, exercise and the mother’s emotions to encourage optimal foetal development is as relevant to today's clinical practice as it was when these texts were written.
While it is true that women may not be interested in advice to eat bull's heart and barley to ensure her baby is a child “full of wisdom and strength”, it remains vitally important for women to consider how the food they consume affects their pregnancy. While they may consider it irrelevant to look frequently at peacocks and white jade rings for a child “who will be beautiful and without reproach”, the use of positive imagery that has relevance for her can be important in a western medical model with an emphasis on illness and a media promoting tragic birth stories. The advice given about calming extreme emotions and engaging in suitable physical activity also remains valid in today’s clinics when a woman's choices about her work and recreation influence our ability to offer effective treatment.
For many women, adopting the concept that pregnancy is not an illness has come to mean they feel pressured to continue with their lives as per normal; the traditional Chinese concept offers a welcome alternative that allows women to engage in positive imagery and exercise/rest that respects a developing pregnancy.
The final advice given at the end of her pregnancy, that a woman “loosens her belt and waits” has particular resonance in our society where women are primed for their magically ‘due date’ and going past this incurs the prospect of a medical induction.
The aim of this text is stated as being “to identify which ideas from these ancient teachings are still helpful today in our understanding of the transformation of blood and qi during the ten months of a pregnancy.”
This book meets this challenge and offers the richness of the classical texts in a clear, concise, extremely readable form.
With a background in nursing Debra graduated with a Diploma in Acupuncture from the UK in 1989. Returning to New Zealand she established a private practice specialising in pregnancy and women’s healthcare. She began specifically developing and teaching acupuncture courses to midwives in 1997. She has been lecturing internationally on the use of acupuncture in obstetrics since the publication of her text book The Essential Guide to Acupuncture in Pregnancy and Childbirth in 2006.