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It probably wasn't such a great idea to refer to HypnoBirthing, the only childbirth class I ever took, as "HippoBirthing." As much as I enjoyed making fun of it, and scoffing at the videos showing women serenely pushing babies out as if they were sticks of butter, HypnoBirthing is what saved me from having to describe my first childbirth experience as "sort of a nightmare."
Long story short, I did not experience a pain free, staring-into-the-fire birth that HypnoBirthing philosophy promises. But, with the help of visualization and relaxation techniques, I survived what ended up being a potentially-high-stress medical birth free of fear. Only now do I realize what I was doing: I was practicing mindfulness. I wasn't hypnotized, I wasn't in an altered state, I was simply in the moment.
Researchers have only recently begun studying the benefits of being mindful during pregnancy and childbirth. A recent article in the New York Times highlighted the ways mindfulness can help pregnant women overcome their fears and maintain a sense of calm control when giving birth and possibly even help stave off or lessen pre- and postpartum depression.
Nancy Bardacke, a certified nurse-midwife and mindfulness teacher, developed a course called The Mind in Labor, where women learn how to apply mindfulness to childbirth.
“Mindfulness practice provides an opportunity for the discovery of previously unrecognized inner resources of strength and resilience,” Ms. Bardacke says. “By the time the workshop is over, women’s confidence levels increase and their fears begin to dissipate. They realize that even if giving birth is hard, it’s something that they can manage, moment by moment.”
While I didn't call it mindfulness at the time, this rings true in my experience. For most of the 29 hours it took me to get my first baby on the outside, I was desperately clinging to the only known constant, my breath, as well as my chosen visualization--walking down a long flight of wooden steps that led to a pristine beach with crashing waves. Crash, recede. Crash, recede.
And when the nurses started to flutter around me, insisting I be hooked up to a monitor, attaching a fetal heart monitor to my baby, giving me oxygen because my baby's heart rate was "dangerously slow," prepping the OR for emergency c-section, canceling the c-section and telling me to push, instead... I just kept bringing my mind back to those steps and those waves. When my sister, my birth attendant of choice, asked me if I had been scared once it was all over, I said "No. Not at all."
According to Vermont psychotherapist Tasha Lansbury, "mindfulness is simply being aware of an experience without judgment. It’s paying attention to what is happening for you in this moment. It’s tuning in to your inner landscape of thoughts, feelings and body sensation."
One could argue that being mindful during childbirth comes naturally to women. After all, the process of giving birth couldn't be more single minded. You have only one thing on your mind, and you have very little control over everything happening around you. So you breathe in, and you breath out. And you hope, and you pray and you tell yourself you can do it, and you believe your baby will find the way. And, with luck, and a dash of miracle, she does. And so do you.
But I like that people are starting to realize that mindfulness can and should apply to every aspect of your life, including pregnancy and childbirth. And also including parenting. And mindfulness in parenting might come naturally, too, at least in the beginning. Because newborn care is also one of the more single minded life tasks there is, in my opinion.
Despite the crazy stress of bringing baby home, one of the things I feel most oddly nostalgic for is those moments in between, often in the middle of the night, when it was just me and my baby-- together again, skin to skin, mouth to nipple, no place to go, nothing to do but be. Mom and baby together. Being. Not doing. Just being.
The entire world would subside, and the center of the universe was right there in my bedroom. What was beyond the walls of my home didn't matter. Not right then. Only this. Only the here and now.
Now that my kids are older, I struggle with staying mindful. Bigger kids, bigger problems. But I've done enough distracted yoga to know that when I succeed in doing mindful yoga, even for 10 minutes, the whole world, and how I move through it, feels that much more... better.
Photos from iStock
Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.