As a part of the course, our students go through a series of mindful birth training. This is used both as a self-care measure for them, and as a way to help their clients utilize this resource in their own births. This comes from a student in Malaysia who also works with yoga. The assignment is to learn and practice specific mindfulness techniques and then journal about it.
I really enjoyed the idea of practicing mindfulness during my day-to-day life, even if for a few minutes, starting with my eating habits. I have been enjoying my meals and reducing my portions as I practice mindfulness. Everyday in the morning, I sit down to mediate and do whatever yoga postures my body feels like doing at that moment. Then I can proceed with my day: work, study, take care of the kids, eat… Being mindful has helped me deal a lot with anxiety and accepting what life presents me with at each moment.
Meditation has been present in my life since I was a small child. My father has been a mediator since I was born, and he used to take me and my older sister to his practices. The years passed and he has refined his practice, becoming a zazen practitioner, all the while wondering when I would come to the path of mindfulness and meditation again. Well, funny enough, I met my husband about 18 years ago. At the time, he was into self-study groups and mindful practices, and all I cared about was how to make enough money to pay our rent and go out at night. I did not even care about my studies at the university or had a plan. Well, time passed and here I am, 38 years old, 4 kids, married to this very guy that sort of brought me back into the path of awareness while he has gone completely skeptical. Here I am: relearning to be still, meditate, bring my awareness back to my breath, going deeper into my yoga studies and amazingly enough studying mindfulness even in my doula certification course! I think it is funny because everywhere I turn to now all I see and hear is MINDFULNESS. There is even this very cute cartoon: a picture of a guy walking his dog… On top of the guy’s head: a lot of thoughts; on the dog’s head, just the very picture of where both of them are. And the words: MIND FULL OR MINDFUL?
I am organizing and preparing my next two Birth Talks in the studio where I teach Yoga. The first one is in about a week and I will be talking about Active Birth because I am so passionate about Janet Balaskas’ book. A colleague, who is a HypnoBirthing practitioner, will also talk about that. The following talk will also be about Active Birth, but I had to find another subject to share. I realized a couple of days ago that it has to be mindfulness during labor and birth. Of course I know from my own experience and by observing and listening to other women who have surrendered to the experience of laboring and giving birth that it is truly a mindful meditative moment. This is how I lived my past births, and I wanted to go back to that place again and again. For me, it was truly about being alive and fully aware and present at that moment. Now I know I do not have to experience labor and birth in my body over and over again just to feel alive and present: I can mediate and be aware of my body and my breath and my thoughts that come and go but are not who I am. I am getting really excited about having the opportunity to share with other women this deep connection between mindfulness and labor and birth. I want to share with them that cultivating mindful awareness has to do with acceptance, not struggling with what is, just be there with the sensations in your body and be present with every breath.
Knowing how to deal with stress and anxiety nowadays is one of the key subjects in almost everybody’s lives. Learning a little bit about the mechanisms of stress and its hormones, and why they happen can really help us understand about and learn how to live with stress. The most important thing for me during this week’s study is learning how to make stress my friend and use it to my advantage. And of course, because it is the goal of this course, how I can transmit this knowledge to my laboring clients, who may face stressful moments one time or the other during labor and birth. Another curious thing is the role of oxytocin – by far my favorite hormone – which is released in the pituitary gland in stressful moments and makes us look for comfort and help, telling us to engage and interact with others. In other words, it tells us to seek help. It does this to everybody, but I cannot help but wonder its role during labor and birth. Of course I know it makes the uterine contractions happen, and then it is responsible for the production of milk when we are breastfeeding. Every time a mother looks at her baby, oxytocin is released and she will produce milk. Even if she is away from her baby, just the slight thought of him or her is enough for mother’s oxyticin to be released in the brain. So, I am wondering that during stressful moments in labor, especially in transition, oxytocin must play an important role again. If a slight amount of adrenaline is important ( that fear during transition or during crowning that we are unable to it, or that we are going to die) in order to successfully complete the birth and push the baby out of the canal, then oxytocin must be there making sure we do not succumb to despair and get overwhelmed. I wish I knew more about it.
I think that mindful training to live with chronic pain is of great relief for expectant parents who are eager to learn how to deal with labor and childbirth. Listening to people who have lived with chronic pain for the past 20 years and how mindfulness, a change of habits, incorporating natural movements into their daily routines, and meditation practice have changed their lives to the better is refreshing. I have been trying to lead a more mindful life, and I can honestly say that I feel much better about myself and about others. I have come to terms with the fact that I cannot change others and that maybe I can try and incorporate new ways of doing things myself which can bring change for me. I know that change starts from inside of me. If I really believe that the world can change into a better place, where women, mothers, babies and children are loved and fully respected, I must start from myself. Everything changes when I change. In order to be able to doula other women and help them accept the process without resistance or judgement, I have to surrender first to the beauty and the mystery of it all. These are the concepts that have most resonated with me: allowing, surrendering and nourishing.
Mindful communication is definitely a topic of high importance when it comes to being a doula. Last week I met a potential client, and I think I was not a good listener at that encounter. I keep coming back to it in my mind reminding myself that I did not stress the fact that I will support her in any decision she makes. First, I had to let her know that in the hospital she has chosen to give birth, doulas are not allowed. So if she really wants my presence, she will have to find another provider and another hospital setting. At the same time, she told me she wants an epidural (this is her second birth), and I told her she should do a little research on what happens when one has it. I guess I was trying to show her that by succumbing to one intervention, the cascade of interventions may follow, that I hold knowledge on physiological labor and birth, and that I was willing to help her have one. But maybe she is not interested in one! And I guess I failed in that conversation as a listener- a mindful one, not a judgemental or a preacher one. At the same time, I am not listening to my heart right now towards what is going on with my teenage daughter. I am not going to go into detail about it here, but I realize there is an incredible amount of pain right now in my chest, and it is high time I looked at it and nurtured it. For in the end it really is not only my pain as a mother accepting things as they are, but also my hurt inner child who is wanting attention and nurturing. I guess by learning to listen to myself, to the pain that I am feeling right now, it will help me to be a better listener. Hence improving my relationships with others – including my daughter (I have three other boys) – and especially my doula and yoga clients.
It is very interesting to note that the first video talks about the fact that human babies are completely dependent and hopeless. They need full attention and loving care, otherwise they perish. It takes a great deal of compassion, maybe the highest form of love there is, to care for a newborn baby. But if a mother is completely involved with her “dance of hormones”, this compassion comes effortlessly. Learning to be compassionate of ourselves first and then of others is a very important skill for doulas. When a woman is preparing to give birth and is completely vulnerable during her labor, she needs someone who will be at her side, serving her with whatever she requires so that she can simply give birth. A doula must learn how to cultivate mindfulness in order to be able to practice that “presence of heart” as described in one of the videos, without judgement, fully available. But to reach this state of mind, it is necessary to cultivate mindfulness, so that self-compassion and compassion for others simply arises as a natural response to other people’s suffering.
Accepting things as they simply are, seems like the answer to my own suffering. I cannot think of tomorrow or how I wanted things to be, or how they will be when they change (because I know they will change inevitably). All I need to do is accept things as they are. It sounds very simple, and it really is. Not wanting to change, fix or control others and circumstances for me is what really brings me peace and happiness to my heart. Having an open heart to whatever happens, accepting whatever life has put on my path is the way to go for me. Bringing this to my doula role, it still is the same: being with the laboring woman with an open heart in a compassionate way, living with her one contraction at a time, one breath at a time, and respecting her as a wholesome creature, without judgement, just being there supporting her for whatever happens. I am only truly able to have this presence of heart with other women during labor and the birth of their offspring if I myself cultivate these qualities inside of me, not fighting, just allowing life to unfold in all its beauty and grace.