Mindfulness in birth and parenting is not easy and usually not intuitive, but if you can learn a few techniques for appreciating the present moment, you can get on the road to living a happier, more peaceful life.
One reason that becoming a parent is so crazy and powerful is that after you do all this work to labor and push a baby out of you, the work does not end. You have to find a new normal, and life will never be the same. I sometimes feel like I am in grief, longing for the life that I once had. On the good days, though, I have started to develop a strategy that really helps me to keep my chin up and even be thankful that I have these little people in my life. And I must give immense credit to them, my children. They are teaching me mindfulness. If you can learn how to do it, it may even help you to treasure your new life as a mom.
Mindfulness in Labor and Birth
In my first birth (5 years ago), when I felt a contraction coming I would say to myself, “NOOO! Here comes another one! Please don’t come, please don’t come, I’m not ready for you, I don’t like you!” And do you know what happened? My labor slowed down. The contractions stopped coming, or they would come in weak little waves (that still hurt!). I literally kept my labor from progressing WITH MY MIND.
In my second birth (only 18 months after the first), I learned my lesson. The waves rushed over me. I acknowledged what I was feeling, but I didn’t analyze the feeling. I noticed it for what it was: a contraction. “This is a contraction. It hurts. My uterus is little by little helping my baby out.”
By noticing my feelings and accepting them, I somehow freed up some energy that enabled me to carry on.
Here’s another example of a woman slowing down her labor by avoiding her fears. In the documentary film Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin and the Farm Midwives, Ina May tells this story. After a heart to heart, the mother finally admitted that she and her partner had written their own marriage vows and together they had decided to leave out “until death do us part.” Deep down inside, she was worried that he might leave her. Ina May somehow helped the woman to acknowledge this fear and quickly called a priest. They did an impromtu wedding ceremony with the words, “until death do us part.” The baby was born shortly after.
Her fear was holding her back, but once she recognized it, it lost its power, and she was free.
Mindfulness during the postpartum months
Babies tend to occupy every space in your heart and every minute of your day (and night). During the first year of my babies’ lives I sometimes didn’t realize that I was sad or happy until I had about an hour away from them. I literally had no idea how I felt because I was too busy worrying about someone else.
Try to make space in your day for noticing your feelings, your breathing, if you are hungry, thirsty, lonely, or worried. Ask a friend to come over, take advantage of any opportunity to take an extra long shower, or hire a postpartum doula to take care of the practical side of life while you figure things out. I know that carving out 10 minutes for mindfulness might seem impossible if you have a newborn because you literally need a village of people to take care of everything, but consider your mental health and how it affects the baby. Only by recognizing your feelings can you live in response to them, making changes that put you and your family on the path to happiness.
Mindfulness in the toddler years
These are years of whining, discovery, glorious messes, and oh my sweet heavens are you STILL waking up at night?
It’s hard to be mindful when you are sleep deprived, I know. Sometimes just getting through the day is a struggle. But instead of trying to get to the next moment and counting down the minutes until your child finally falls asleep, try to be in the moment with him/her. What is he feeling right now? Will he remember this moment when he is older? If you are walking together and he stops to notice something, notice it with him. If he is screaming and frustrated, give him words for his feelings, “you are feeling frustrated.” Knowing what is going on inside him makes those big feelings less scary. Then, one day, he will hopefully learn to live in the moment, too, make healthy choices for himself, and appreciate all that this life has to offer.
Our lives are only a short snippet in the history of mankind. Taking time to truly feel our joy, pain, or peace, will enrich our days and those of our children. Simply knowing what we are feeling empowers us to make choices that are the right choices for us in that moment.
Are you able to stay in the present moment when you are with your children? I would love to hear your tips and tricks, because I am still figuring out how to incorporate it into my daily life!