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Why the Fuss About Birth and not about the baby?

Babies need to be water with love and patience.

 Why the fuss about birth and not the baby? 

By Sophie Fletcher

“Whatever the present moment contains, accept is as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it. Make it your friend and ally, not your enemy. This will miraculously transform your whole life.” 

Eckhart Tolle

Recently I was reminded by a friend about the bigger picture.  She said birth is just a small part of the journey we experience as pregnant women. The much bigger part of the experience is what comes after – motherhood. She wondered why women are so focused on the actual birth rather than their baby and suggested that this preoccupation with birth prevents a woman from wholly preparing to be a mother, connecting with her baby on their journey.

There is no doubt that the focus has shifted from having a baby, and the baby themselves, to how the women are going to manage the birth, get the right pushchair, finish the nursery, perhaps moving house (surprisingly common!) or how long their maternity leave is going to be.   In our Mindful Mamma classes at the beginning we ask everyone to spontaneously write on a note the first word that springs to mind when you think of birth, very often baby isn’t in the mix, instead words like pain, control, blood, long and hard work float to the surface from fears harbored in the unconscious.

But the truth of it is that from conception to birth to motherhood is a life creating, life changing, daunting, challenging and absobloodylutely incredible journey. Birth is just a moment, an intense moment, of a period in your life that will bring you highs and lows, tears and laughter, fear and joy.   There is nothing more frightening than a baby making their first wobbly steps near your mother-in-law’s granite fireplace and nothing more wonderful than your baby’s chubby arms loosely clasped around your neck as they fall asleep rhythmically breathing into your ear.   But we don’t dwell on any of these before they happen, we experience those moments as they happen and enjoy them or manage them skillfully in the moment.

Imagine conception as the planting of a seed, the seed growing beneath the surface nurtured by the soil, out of sight but watched expectantly until it breaks through the surface.  The plant continues to grow but from this moment is reliant on the water and sunlight to grow and blossom.   Just as this plant needs water and sunlight your baby needs your love, care and gentle compassion to nourish their emotional well-being and growth.

Motherhood can be a wonderful thing and it can also be a mirror of birth in terms of the emotions.  There is fear, there is sometimes that sense of losing control, and there is joy, happiness, the worry of not knowing what is the right way and wrong way to do it.

Birth is just the beginning, and just like motherhood you can choose to get on and do it and do it your way, intuitively with love, strength and patience.   Your baby’s journey into this world begins at birth, just as your journey into motherhood begins and your partner’s journey into fatherhood begins.

So allow yourself to become aware in this moment of your baby, the core of your being, your connection with each other and how you are moving forward together hand in hand on a new, exciting and eventful journey that will last long after the birth.

Prior to the birth, allow yourself the time to reflect on what type of teacher you want to be, how you want your baby to learn. Being mindful of that responsibility, reflecting and welcoming that role will in turn strengthen and prepare you the birth – the moment that your journey begin and the moment that your flower nudges through the soil and begins to grow into a beautiful blossom cared for and loved by you.

 

 

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The Art of Mindful Parenting.

I always wanted to be the type of mum that had a big kitchen filled with the smell of cakes, children of all ages tumbling in and out with windswept hair and big smiles. When mine were born, I seemed so removed from that dream – we lived in a small terraced house in the middle of Nottingham with a garden the size of a postage stamp and my family 200 miles away. I was too exhausted to eat dinner, let alone bake. The instinctual need to be be calm and in tune with my babies slowly began to slip through my fingers. I couldn’t hang onto it how hard I tried.

Trying to juggle too much, I started to observe my children less and just get into a routine. I was treating them less like independent little people with thoughts and opinions and more like these two little balls of energy that had to be fed, bathed, taken to the park, to toddler groups, played with, sung to and rocked to sleep until I collapsed in a heap at the end of the day, ready to do it all again at 5am the next morning.

Then came the moment of clarity. I was feeding my youngest then about 6 months old, after which my two year old came over and started thumping him, I was furious. I hate violence of any kind and here was my two year old thumping my tiny 6 month old as hard has he could. With my intuition clouded, my immediate reaction was reactive and to get angry with him, but then suddenly I realised he was copying me, mirroring how I winded my youngest after a feed. And then I pushed the reset button.

I got calmer, began to tune in, started mirroring my children more and my children got calmer.

There is a lot to be said for mirroring. Human beings learn through mirroring, babies and children lay the foundations for how they interact with the world around them. Our job as parents is as a teacher, a teacher of life! What an immensely important role, more important than a tidy house, or the waft of fresh baking.

A good teacher is wise, is a good listener, is patient, loving, full of praise and of course the best teachers of all are intuitive. They are unselfish, they put the emotional and physical well-being of the child before themselves. They do not work to regimes, or curriculums. They see deeply within each individual child and are aware of the potential within that child. They recognise that children are learning, that they see the world in a different way, they are sometimes clumsy, they sometimes do the wrong thing but that is how they learn. It is up to the teacher to show them otherwise.

Goethe wrote “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them become what they are capable of becoming.” Imagine how you wish your child to be. I would wish mine to be filled with integrity, respect and love for others, to be giving and kind. So I treat them as if they were that person.

A few years ago I read a wonderful book “Edwardo, The Horriblest Boy in the Whole Wide World”. and it’s always stayed with me. It shows how children can be moulded by the thoughts and suggestions of adults around us and for me highlights what a responsibility we have to give a child space in which to learn and discover without being a critical parent.

Agreed, it can be a challenge when you feel tired overwhelmed and out of tune with your own natural maternal instincts. But you can hit the rest button too, and choose to do it differently. Think about priorities, ask for help if you need it, don’t rush around so much, do less, accept that your baby wants you to slow down, wants to connect with you, wants to learn.

Mindful parenting is about being present with your children, teaching them respect, compassion and that love is in abundance, most of all it is about awareness of our child. There are a few books written on the subject, one my favourites is John Zabat Zinn’s “The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting”, and I’ve just ordered the “Mindful Child” by Susan Greenland which I’m looking forward to reading.

But for those really early days, when perhaps you simply haven’t got time to read a book, let alone decipher how to apply it to your life, Carrie Contey and Debbie Takikawa’s mini gem, CALM, is all you need. I was shocked when I found that out that this tiny little book was retailing second hand for £24 so I’m sure Debbie and Carrie won’t mind me sharing these 5 simple steps that form the basis of their book CALM.

CALMS

C Check in with yourself

A Allow a breath and relax your body

L Listen to your baby, be aware

M Mirror and reflect your baby’s feelings

S Soothe your baby

It can be difficult to do, but becoming mindful of your feelings and to have awareness of how you are feeling helps you to become calm and be aware of your baby’s feelings too.

So when communicating and acting with your baby be aware that the present moment can begin to shape the future moments and to shape how your baby becomes and toddler, a child, and adolescent and an adult.

“Watch your thoughts, they become words. Watch your words, they become your actions. Watch your actions, they become habits. Watch your habits, they become character. Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”

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Ten Psychological Tips for Coping with a Newborn Baby

You’ve had so much advice, it’s left you reeling in confusion. Every-one else seems to know exactly what you should do, but this doesn’t really help you to feel in control of the tiredness and emotional changes taking place. Here are some psychological tips to help you through those turbulent early days.

1. Never say “I have done nothing today”. You’ve been there for your baby. You’ve been instantly interruptible (probably a new skill for you), and instantly available for soothing, comfort and nutrition. Research shows that soothing and comfort are as powerful for baby’s well being as food.
2. Never strive to be perfect, always good enough. On a bad day, say to yourself “I was good enough, and that is good enough”.
3. On a good day, capture the moment and bank it in your memory. Remember how special you are, to be a mum (don’t try this on a bad day).
4. Gather friends around you – especially ones with little babies too. Any-one else will have forgotten what it’s really like, and it’s the biggest protector against postnatal depression.
5. Never chastise yourself for needing sleep, rest, a break, a night out, a rant, or whatever you need. Find a way to get it, because it will strengthen you and help you be a good enough mum.
6. Being “mindful” is a psychological term which is used to deal with frustration and low mood. It means focusing on what this feels like, now, and moving away from thoughts of later, or tomorrow such as things that need doing. So while you are cuddling your baby, focus on the cuddle, the feel of it, the warmth, the movement as your baby breathes etc. Push away any thoughts of what needs doing and when. Just “be” with the here and now. Practice this for ten minutes each day and you will realize how powerful it is.
7. Prolactin (the mothering hormone) makes you a little more anxious, a little more irritable, and more submissive and loving. So never try to be all giving and all loving – there will have to be some irritability and anxiety thrown in. We’re back to never trying to be perfect!
8. The effects of prolactin, coupled with a striving for perfection may mean that you find it hard to let your partner do his bit with baby. However, if you want him to help you when the baby is older and if you want him to understand why you feel so drained and why the house is in a mess, then start to give him time alone with baby now. How else will he become confident and competent with his baby?
9.
If you begin to feel that you aren’t coping and that you are not okay within yourself, or if others start to tell you so, don’t hesitate to see you GP or Health Visitor, or find a counsellor. Post natal depression passes much quicker with help and support, and no one deserves to feel awful, so why not go and get the support to help yourself through it sooner rather than later.
10.
This isn’t a psychological tip for mum, but it is about baby’s psychology. While I don’t normally advise about what to buy (there isn’t really very much that baby needs), I am going to mention the Tummy Tub for your newborn baby. Here’s why http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Hnonw1jZDo

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So how can you be a mindful mamma?

This summerI decided to go the extra mile and rashly booked myself on a buddhist retreat led by Thich Nhat Hahn,(Tay) the Zen Master nominated by Martin Luther King for the Nobel Peace Prize. Rather oddly it was being held in Nottingham – so I felt it was too good an opportunity to miss.

His approach to Buddhism is based on mindfulness in Western society. I practise meditation and try to mindful but it is a challenge with a business and two small children so I thought that Tay could show me where the holy grail of mindfulness exists.

So I bundled my two children aged 3 & 4 into a car, with my mother, and whizzed off for a week of noble silences and mindfulness. What was I thinking? Does the universe truly send us lessons to learn – if so this was a week I wouldn’t forget. The first two days the children had a tummy bug, there was nowhere that I could contain the children and there was no tv to give a desparate mum a break. To add to the challenge we had to keep the children calm and occupied while near on 700 people were practising silence for the week.

I don’t think I have ever faced a tougher challenge. After frustration, tears shed and two very lively explorative children things started to settle. Only able to talk to the children in quiet voices, they reacted more calmly. In fact I don’t think I raised my voice once during the week.

Without external distractions I was able to focus on them more closely and respond differently. I sensed that the children sensed this and it became transformative. Ok so they didn’t eat their meals in silence, but they sat down whispered, ate well and drank water for a week. Not a glass of blackcurrent in sight-nor did they ask.

When Tay came into a talk, Fin, my 4 year old, whispered “I like him a lot” and just settled. It made me think about how by being mindful, aware and focussed in the present moment I should be able to see a reflection of that tranquilty in my son.

We learnt some fantastic, simple meditations that can be used before school or work that I’ll be doing with him as he starts school this week.

Mia and myself will be adapting some of the wonderful meditations for our Mindful Mamma classes. These meditations can help you contemplate the miracle of birth and your role as a mum to be – understanding that you and your behaviour is reflected in the baby growing inside you – that by being emotionally strong, calm and tranquil you have the space to grow peacefully through your pregnancy and birth and to be at one with your baby.

Be mindful that during the birth not just a baby is born, but a mother and a father are born too.

And so did Tay show me the holy grail mindfulness? Perhaps not but it certainly set me off on a more mindful journey to discover it.

Have a mindful day!