A suspected diagnosis of IUGR. High blood pressure and swelling that leads to being on pre-eclampsia watch. A severe case of postpartum depression. All these issues have appeared for clients, students, and friends in the past several months and it’s heavy, scary, and fear inducing (also creating fear OF inducing!). For many of us, pregnancy is the first time we might encounter a health crisis of any kind. That, coupled with fear for the health of the baby is enough to send anyone straight to worry-town without a clear map of how to get back.
Although I enjoy focusing on the sacred, beautiful aspects of pregnancy, the truth is, that for some of us, pregnancy is difficult, riddled with complications, uncomfortable at best and painful at worst, and filled with anxiety that overshadows the joy. My own experience with bed rest (twice!) and pre-term labor has me speaking from experience here.
But what does every pregnant woman have in common, regardless of medical challenges or smooth sailing until the very end? UNCERTAINTY. And this may be the first time we have encountered uncertainty in such a raw and vulnerable way (shhh, don’t tell anyone, but it’s been here your whole life). Before baby, during pregnancy and throughout parenting, uncertainty will remain an undercurrent that threatens to drown you. But you can rise above, I know it. You just need some tools.
“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh.” –Pema Chodron
What helped me get through a combined 9 weeks of bed rest over 2 pregnancies, 10 days in the NICU, early days of parenting, an underemployed husband for the past 18 months (he now has a new job, hurray!) and a host of daily and future unknowns?
*An abiding sense of faith and a tenacious sense of optimism. For me this comes easy, due to personality, but it’s a practice that can be cultivated if optimism is not your-go to. I have always felt that things will work out, even if that “working out” was not according to my plan or vision. I have full faith that there is something greater than us, that supports us, loves us and wants us to thrive. While we may not be able to control what happens to us in our lives, we can absolutely control how we want our lives to feel. By setting a feeling-intention (peace, joy, ease) we can take what is handed to us and use our thoughts and our actions to bring some shine to a bleak situation. There is lots of research on how powerful the mind-body connection is and the impact it can have on health, healing and spirit. When things are difficult, if we master our mind and stay positive it changes the experience entirely.
*Gratitude—What are you thankful for? Fear cannot exist if you douse it in gratitude, and when we remember our blessings we are more fully grounded in the moment. What does this look like? It can be a written gratitude practice, a litany of thankfulness you recite to yourself before bed, or a counter-thought when something negative or scary happens. While on bed-rest, I was grateful for each day the baby stayed inside, I was grateful to have last-minute help, to have a warm cozy bed during a tremendous February blizzard, to have a supportive husband, to have access to the internet and a laptop that kept me feeling connected….the list goes on. What does the flip side look like? I was sick and tired for most of the time on bed rest due to medication to stop contractions, I was missing out on days spent with my 2 year old who was learning new things every day, I was worried about the health of my baby, I was piled under blankets as our old furnace kept conking out, I felt vulnerable, unproductive and oftentimes a burden, because I required so much from everyone. Gratitude may not change your reality, but when reading those two perspectives, which one makes your heart feel better?
*A kick-ass support team (friends, family, babysitters, experts)—Get help. It changes everything. No matter what this looks like for you—reaching out to friends for favors (they want to help, really!), hiring cleaning services, calling in experts like birth doulas, postpartum doulas, lactation consultants, therapists. Surrounding yourself with support lifts you up and gets you through. You are worth it. I repeat: YOU ARE WORTH IT.
*My breath & mindfulness—Whenever I am feeling lost, helpless or unsettled, I try to bring my attention back to my breath. This helps me stay rooted in the present moment and remind myself that this moment is all there is, and it is good and we are safe.
*Yoga—Hitting the mat in whatever form possible always soothes my soul and connects me back to my center. It takes different forms (and is sometimes not physical at all, like when I was on bedrest), but reading Yoga philosophy or inspirational content, practicing yoga nidra (also known as a yoga nap) or restorative yoga can reset everything.
*Serious self-care (this one I did not practice during those early days of parenting, much to my detriment but now have a much greater focus on)—Self-care is not just about spa days and indulgences. It’s really about checking in on a daily basis about what you need to fill your soul so you can be the best version of yourself. It’s a constant process of learning to put your own needs first (or at least in the same stratosphere as your family’s) and to ask for and advocate for what you need. Self-care looks different for everyone but think of it as ways to mother and nurture your own well-being. This will always be difficult for me, but I’m realizing the major impact it has on my life and the lives of those around me.
Have you had a pregnancy or parenting challenge? What did you do to help yourself get to a better place mentally? Please share in the comments below as we could all benefit from a bigger tool-kit!