Mindfulness and Becoming a Mum
Published on: October 05, 2018
Mindfulness teacher Anna Croucher explains how her meditation techniques helped her through pregnancy, labor and those precious, yet exhausting, infancy months.
By Anna Croucher
When I found out last year that I was expecting my first child, I knew that life would change radically. I also appreciated that being thousands of miles from home living in Thailand, with no maternity leave or health insurance, a small support network and my parents not able to visit, I would need to look after my own wellbeing to ensure I was psychologically strong for what could be a challenging time.
As a long-standing meditation practitioner, as well as trained mindfulness teacher, I also saw this as an opportunity to strengthen as well as count on my personal meditation practice.
What is mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness meditation is increasingly in the public arena as an approach to develop present moment awareness, being fully awake to where we are and what we’re doing. This helps to prevent us from becoming overly reactive or overwhelmed, helping us to cope more effectively with negative thoughts and emotions, as well as actively enjoying the good times in life.
Fifty-eight percent of the time, we are thinking about the past (making us more prone to depression) and the future (making us more vulnerable to anxiety). When our mind is somewhere else we are not really getting full value out of life.
…I focused on the quality of the experience…
After a history of being told I wouldn’t be able to have children, I wanted to be present, to ensure I was fully with this journey of becoming a mother.
My experience of incorporating mindfulness was guided by my intuition developed through years of practicing and teaching mindfulness. I regularly invited myself to reflect on how to weave in the attitudinal foundations of mindfulness: to be non-judgmental, trusting and patient without striving whilst encouraging a sense of acceptance and letting go, qualities well suited to the unknown path, to parenthood.
I was aware that having thirty minutes for ‘formal’ seated meditations may soon be a luxury. However, during pregnancy, I relished this time. It provided me with a valuable space to tap into how I was feeling, noticing if I had allowed myself to become overtired or had aches or tightness, and whatever I noticed I encouraged myself not to judge, instead greeting it with a wry smile. Like my friend said, those varicose veins are your baby’s way to say hello!
The Metta Bhavana or love and kindness meditation is a popular practice to encourage self-compassion. During pregnancy I changed the start of the mantra from ‘May I’ to ‘May we’, repeating the words “may we be well, may we be free from suffering…”
I feel this helped me bond with my baby before she was born. Interestingly, after birth, I naturally went back to saying ‘I’ when I felt it important to reclaim a little of my own identity!
Mindfulness in labor
Like every other first-time mum I’ve met, the birth was totally unfathomable beforehand, apart from the clips from movies and television showing how terrifying it can be. My mindfulness practice encouraged me to be open to my direct experiences (as much as I could) rather than think “this is a contraction, this should be painful!”
I kept asking myself questions to keep me curious about the sensations, such as “where are the edges of the feelings?”, “what happens when I breathe into it?”, “how do the feelings change over time?”
I am pleased that I didn’t know that it would go on for over thirty hours, but at least a mindful attitude allowed me to deal with it stage by stage.
And then when it didn’t go as planned, I was able to let go of there being a ‘right’ way to give birth and accept the decisions that were made ensuring the wellbeing of my baby and myself.
Mindfulness with a newborn baby
The biggest surprise for me was just how much mindfulness helped me in those first few months looking after my newborn alone. Everyone kept saying how quickly babies grow, and I wanted to ensure I was regularly stopping to take in her uniqueness, fragility and brilliance.
Out went my formal mindfulness practices when sleep became too precious to get up early and meditate. Instead, I adapted my mindfulness practice to when I was nursing her, being as present as possible to the changing sensations from her as she moved and sucked, and coming back to my breath in between.
By regularly practicing mindfulness when I nursed, I noticed that I remained quite calm and grounded throughout the early months. Rather than check emails or my phone during this time, it became a chance to recharge my energy during the day.
Of course, there were nights when I had to walk and rock her to sleep, when at 2 am my mind could easily get hooked in negative thoughts about how exhausted I was. These would become opportunities for walking meditations, rather than focusing on the panic of how long I would be up. I focused on the cold tiles on my feet and shifting weight as I walked.
This really helped me flip my thinking to see these midnight walks as replenishing rather than depleting to my wellbeing.
Relishing my own time
I noticed a pull towards rushing when I did get time to myself, trying to cram as much as I could in, as I didn’t know how long I would get. However, quite quickly I realised how counterproductive this became.
Rushing meant I took no pleasure in these activities that were potential opportunities for ‘me’ time, so rather than the quantity I achieved I focused on the quality of the experience. Having a shower, cleaning my teeth, even washing the dishes, I slowed and used it as a chance for calm.
When I started mindfulness meditation, over a decade ago, it was to compensate for my natural tendency to be busy, that I knew wasn’t healthy long term. It is often said that rather than being ‘human beings’ we should actually be called ‘human doings’, with our preference for achieving.
I knew that my days could not be measured by ‘to-do’ lists anymore, instead, I focused on ‘to be’ lists, thinking about the qualities that I wanted to bring to the day: humour, patience, self-compassion. My reflections at the end of the day would check in with how much I acted in line with these qualities.
I also started and continued with my list of five things each day that I was grateful for. This encouraged me to remember some highlights I may have missed otherwise, whilst focusing on the day-to-day a little more.
And, when I had the days of existential navel gazing and self-doubt, I was able to step back a bit and watch the waves of emotion, with a little objectivity as well as compassion towards myself, and every other mum for what a roller-coaster becoming a parent is.
The roles that I have, including mindfulness mediator, mother, and partner, are lifelong ones that require patience, commitment and a full heart to myself and others.
I know that there will be many challenges ahead that will test my practice, however, I am pretty sure I have given myself, and my daughter a good foundation to approach what’s in store. As they say, “You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf.”
About the Author
Anna is a mindfulness meditation teacher, trained executive coach, and occupational therapist with over 16 years of experience. She facilitates mindfulness-based stress reduction courses and mindfulness programs for teens, and currently works as Whole School Student Welfare Officer at Regent’s International School.
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