It seems like the word “mindfulness” is everywhere. But what does it really mean? Is it just a trendy word people use to seem vaguely spiritual or natural? Or is it more than that, something that we all have a deep hunger for even if we don’t quite know what it is? And what does mindfulness have to do with pregnancy, birth and parenting? What does it mean to birth mindfully? Why is pregnancy the perfect time to cultivate mindfulness?
My favorite definition of mindfulness is “the gentle effort to be continuously present with experience”1
Being present with experience means bringing awareness to your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surroundings, moment-to-moment, without judgment or attachment. This means noticing, accepting, and letting go of each moment as it happens. “Accept” is a frequently misunderstood word. Accepting is not resignation, it is not liking or condoning. It means acknowledging that something is the way that it is. How is this helpful? Acknowledging what is makes you free to then respond to that thing, whether that thing is beauty, joy, and love or pain, fear, and anger.
Responding is completely different than reacting. There is no freedom in reacting. Reacting is like following a script programmed in your mind by your past experiences. Without re-training your mind, you react to a tangle of conflicting stories that are activated by the stimulus. With mindfulness, you gain the freedom to choose how to respond. Awareness creates choice.
Take a moment to think about where you are and where you have been in your pregnancy. When have you made “the gentle effort to be continuously present with experience” and when have you become hooked by stories in your head about the experience? Imagine what is to come: the last weeks of pregnancy, being in labor, giving birth, holding your new baby, learning to care for her, the new changes in your relationship with your partner and family… How could “the gentle effort to be continuously present with experience” benefit you, your baby, and your partner? In which situations do you think you would tend to react rather than respond? How would it be different for you if you either reacted or responded to that situation?
Make a list of some situations like these and write down how you might respond or react
Pregnancy is the perfect time to cultivate mindfulness. There is an amazing thing happening right here right now in your body. There can also be a lot of new, challenging emotions and thoughts coming up. And you know that you will soon be experiencing the intense challenges (and joys) of giving birth immediately followed by the intense challenges (and joys) of being a parent, combined with the intense challenges (and joys!) of being in relationship with your partner as new parents. Life can throw challenging situations at us at any time, but being pregnant is one time you know that it’s coming.
Mindfulness is not something you talk about, it’s something you practice. It’s not as important how much time you spend practicing as how often. Your practice sessions can be a short as 30 seconds, or even just one breath. You do need to practice intentionally and regularly. As you practice regularly, you will begin to notice more times of spontaneous attention to the present moment. So if you want to be continuously present with your experience during labor, you need to put in that gentle effort now. In other words, if you’re not doing it now, you won’t do it then. But don’t “should” yourself. If you’re curious, try it. If you want to love all of life - the good, the bad and the ugly, let yourself. Don’t wait until the perfect moment, don’t try to be perfectly mindful. Remember that it’s okay to “ring the bells that still ring… forget your perfect offering… there’s a crack in everything… that’s how the light gets in.” (Leonard Cohen)
But what do you do exactly? There are endless ways to practice mindfulness. Here are some ideas to get you started.
It can be really helpful to practice with a group as well. The group energy, and the ability to talk about your experiences with others makes the practice even more powerful. If you’re pregnant and ready to start cultivating mindfulness, deepen your practice, or just want to learn more about how you can use mindfulness to cope with the challenges and joys of the childbearing year, come join us! Sarah Wort, of From the Heart Doula & Reiki Services, will join me in offering a two-hour workshop on April 15 on Mindful Coping Through Pregnancy, Birth & Beyond. At this workshop you will get to experience techniques for accessing your intuition, coping with pain, opening to the beauty and love of it all, and becoming closer to your partner.
Learn more about Mindful Coping for Pregnancy, Birth & Beyond here.
1Bodhipaksa, What is Mindfulness? 2007. Found at http://www.wildmind.org/applied/daily-life/what-is-mindfulness
Christy is a doula and Birthing From Within childbirth mentor committed to strengthening families and communities through storytelling/storylistening, meaningful celebration, mindfulness, and reflective work.