Alison Hazelbaker was born in 1957 in the day of behaviorism and leaving babies in cribs to cry so they wouldn’t be spoiled. She is one of seven children whose mother has Borderline Personality Disorder. Her mother failed to provide the necessary safety and security and appropriate mirroring. At 21, she was pregnant with her first baby and found herself without any good maternal role models. She really wanted to breastfeed after seeing her older sister nurse her baby, so she started attending LLL meetings when she was six months pregnant. When she attended meetings, she found herself staring at the interactions between the mothers and babies, as it was the first time she had seen this kind of attunement and connection. Observing these connected dyads struck her at a visceral level. She knew it was the “right” way to do things. These experiences were so profound for her that Alison attributes the beginning of her career to La Leche League.
She began reading the La Leche League library and found a wealth of information. From the Continuum Concept by Jean Leidloff to Sindey Craig’s book, Raising Your Child, Not by Force but by Love, which spoke about the idea that if we can make regular love deposits for our child, like we would a bank account, a withdrawal isn’t going to upset the attunement in the relationship. This was very hopeful for her and encouraged her to stay connected to her children.
She had to work hard to overcome the parenting that was modeled for her, but she made a strong commitment to learn attachment parenting. Her family wasn’t supportive, but she had conviction.
Alison started to train as a midwife. She had an unnecessary c-section when she was 22 and needed to get her power back. She was really mad at herself for not having done more research after watching her peers have interventions in their births. When she read Silent Knife by Lois Estner and Nancy Wainer Cohen, a book that put a voice to her feelings, she felt validated. She felt a strong pull to become part of the solution, rather than part the problem.
She moved into breastfeeding support as a La Leche League leader. She has a more “radicalized style” to discussing midwifery and natural birth that she discovered wasn’t popular in Ohio. When she moved to Arizona, she found a great match with her co-leader there, Pat Arentz, who was also a nurse. They created a wildly popular group with lots of applicants, fun games and gatherings for the mothers, and a culture of support.
She got her IBCLC in the mid-80’s after hearing about the test from her co-leader, so she hung her shingle out and people started coming for support. At the time, there were no models for how to deliver lactation care, so she did what she had learned as a LLL Leader: peer support, listening, and identifying and solving problems.
When she had her 4th baby, she discovered he had a severe tongue-tie. She was doing her Master’s degree research and developed her Assessment Tool for Lingual Frenulum Function™©, formulating and codifying diagnostic criteria for tongue-tie. Her Master’s degree opened up a whole new world for her. Her passion turned into a focused drive. She was determined and inspired to overcome the significant challenges that were being presented to her and other moms.
She notes that 1992 was a line of demarcation in her clinical practice. That was the year epidurals became more common and the Back to Sleep Campaign began. She saw a series of babies who weren’t helped when she applied everything she previously learned.
Around this time, Alison was exposed to cranial sacral therapy (CST) through a study group and immediately knew that she was onto something really important. She wondered what would happen if these breastfeeding babies with sucking issues weren’t responding to any of the other interventions were treated with CST?
She began CST training after having her 5th baby. He was her largest baby (10lbs, 12oz, head circumference 14 ½ inches) who came out with head molding, jaw clench, sucking dysfunction and a tongue-tie. He had his tongue clipped before he was 24 hours old, but it didn’t completely resolve the issue. She called a craniosacral therapist who treated him via his mouth. Alison watched in amazement as he changed to normal suck-swallow-breathe coordination. She was hooked and knew she needed to receive training as soon as possible!
During this time, around 1994, the epidural rate was climbing to 35-40%, babies were being induced at 39 weeks, they were narcotized and vacuum extracted, and by the year 2000, physicians were inducing at 38 weeks. She knew that CST could help these unfortunate babies. At this point in time, skin-to-skin research was just beginning and wasn’t used therapeutically with full-term babies. She began advising skin-to-skin for all babies, not just premies.
Somewhere during this time period, she realized she was burning out. There was no conversation about the need for self-care. She ended up in therapy to work on her own issues: her relationship with her mother and the dynamics of being raised by someone with Borderline Personality Disorder. It was an intense time of healing, learning her triggers, coming back to herself and learning how to be supported to come into a different relationship with life, her work, and legacy.
She augmented her Upledger training with the three-year Biodynamic CST training and jumped right into her doctoral program at Union Institute and University. She studied developmental psychology, biophysics, and morphogenetics, concentrating on the energetic human. She did a rigorous 3-year study on how people heal, the results of which informed the development of her own therapeutic approach. This experience brought her full circle.
How do people actually heal?
Everything came back to safety, security and proper identity development.
With such varied areas of study, Alison felt conflicted within herself about who she was as a worker and clinician. Was she here to do Psychology work? Work with babies? CST? She knew she was burnt out as a lactation consultant. The answer to her question came as an insight and her clinical practice is now a combination of all the things she loves doing. She works with babies and adults, as well as survivors of the borderline dynamic.. She works “smart,” engaging the notion that she can achieve the healing goal quickly, without drama. The key, she says, is finding the fulcrum so that massive patterns collapse all at one without violence or concern about retraumatizing clients.
During her doctoral work, she found trauma research and began learning how to use CST to address trauma. She read Peter Levine, Bessel Vander Kolk, Dan Siegel and many, many more books by key researchers. Alison notes the convergence point in the first decade of this century where all disciplines began coming to the same conclusions. We can look at Interpersonal Neurobiology and understand how the brain works. We can look at Epigenetics and understand how the experiences and environment from before conception through pregnancy and early life affect the expression of the genes transgenerationally.
Alison realizes that her whole life has been geared toward this work. We’re not victims. We all have the capacity to heal even if we’ve been significantly “damaged” along the way. We need to prevent problems the best we can. But it is challenging with our current state of affairs, especially with the addition of technology into our every-day lives. Technology interferes with optimal interpersonal relationship. What does that do to us as humans? And when we think of the current technologically oriented birth and routine separation of mother and baby, we have much work to do.
Even though there’s much work to do, Alison gets re-energized with the new challenges being presented. How do we bring people back to Mother Nature’s plan? We know enough about it that we can respect Mother Nature and support the integration of these important concepts into the way we are in the world and the way we transition our families into being. The founding mothers of LLL understood this intuitively.
Alison recently completed her PPNE certificate and we’re delighted to have her as a new educator in this program. She’s excited to see Birth Psychology becoming more widely available and wants to remind you as a PPN educator how important it is to take care of yourself and your own issues so that the information can be carried out into the world from a strongly grounded and centered place.
This important work has become a part of who Alison is as it becomes a part of us all. It is important that this becomes integrated, not remaining stand-alone information. It needs to be applied to parenting and re-parenting ourselves, for the way we raise our children is the way our society will be.
Alison integrates the PPN information into all of her talks on breastfeeding and through the Hazelbaker Lactation Institute (http://www.alisonhazelbaker.com/hli-home) where it is part of the education of her students. She supports her own children having their children, providing reading materials, support and modelling in their three-generation household. It isn’t a separate thing.
Alison’s incredible body of work has made so many contributions to the lives of families, mothers and babies, and we are so grateful for all she has done and continues to do to make the world a better place!
For more information on Alison and her work, please visit her website: http://www.alisonhazelbaker.com