Hold your horses, or WHOA MAMMA : the slow or ‘gentle’ approach
I think the question we are really asking ourselves here is what does loving & accepting ourselves –as we are - really look like? And more specifically - how would this manifest in pregnancy ?
All of these bigger, better, faster, stronger impulses are essentially rooted in self-dissatisfaction, or a dissatisfaction with the way things actually are, right now.
It comes from this mentality that we somehow have to push past something, to get ‘there.’ And this usually involves some form of concerted, strenuous effort, or even harm and self-sacrifice. It’s what J refers to as « the other side of the line. » This image of ‘there’ being some idealised version of reality nirvana whereby if we can only get to the other side of that line we might FINALLY feel better and start loving ourselves more fully.
Except we all know that this never happens, and that once we get to the other side of that line we simply start drafting out new lines, to achieve and conquer instead…
SO here’s the lightbulb : I think pregnancy and birth runs the risk of being just another part of this destabilising, erratic line-drawing process. We draw out a line for a ‘natural’ birth or a certain, particular, idealised image of how pregnancy ‘should be’ and of course we invariably fall short of it. And then we suffer .
Unless, we STOP, still, now and switch to an entirely different frequency. And I think that’s where the gentle approach has something to offer...
Experiencing Pregnancy TODAY : integrating reality
« What would it be like, if I could experience each moment of pregnancy, each stage of this new experience….with astonishment… or wonder…or awe ? »
My concern with the antenatal world, im momento, is that we’ve all become a little bit overly-obsessed and blinkered by the birth. It’s hypno-birth, active-birth, mindful-birth, positive-birth…birth birth birth birth birth.
But there’s also a whole 9 month precursor to that all important birth (which we call pregnancy in case anyone’s forgotten). And I’m not denying the significance of birth, but what I do see – increasingly - is this tendancy for women to spend much of their pregnancy entirely consumed by the anticipation – and often anxiety – of realising this fixed, future reality of their perfect birth.
In reality - there’s a whole lot more in-between. Within this 9 months - each and every minute - lie hundred and thousands of tiny, unique micro-miracle happening , day by day, and I think it’s a real shame for us to miss even some of that.
Because, that focus on the birth experience is in the future, often the way distance future. Again it is this tendancy for grappling to be ‘on the other side of the line.’ Feeding into the idea that where you are now is not quite where you want to be.
Writ large the ‘I need to be over there’ philosophy prevents you from enjoying and appreciating your life and pregnancy TODAY. It prevents you from seeing what’s good and enriching about YOUR life TODAY. Equally, it prevents us from making the time&space to nourish and accept what’s difficult or challenging for us, right now.
A gentle paradigm for life makes for a gentle paradigm for birth
Here’s the juicy bit : By building this gentle, responsive, and realistic approach to pregnancy, I think we also build the foundations for a more dynamic, flexible and realistic approach to birth too. The two are entirely complementary, and the same mindset then gradually seeps into the postnatal period; facing the realities of new motherhood gently and realistically as well.
The self that meets it's self – the constantly oscillating range of emotions and sensations day to day during pregnancy - with kindness, love and understanding, is the self that also encounters the wide range of sensations and emotions during labour and meets them too with tenderness and understanding, acceptance and curiosity too (Equally, it is the self that could eventually feel the urge for an epidural during labour and meet that with understanding and acceptance as well).
Further, it is the self that can meet the undpredictable and unknowable behaviours of a newborn baby with greater understanding, compassion, and patience...
Seen from this angle, pregnancy is, in fact, a continuum, whereby the gentle and flexible mindset you cultivate during pregancy – and life itself – eventually manifests itself in the same way during birth and beyond.
In short – the more intimately you learn to meet your daily experience gently, and with love, now, the greater your capacity to meet your birth, your baby, and your experience of new motherhood with love and undertanding too.
Isn’t this just like Hypnobirthing or Mindfulness?
« there was no seperation between their meditation practice and their labour experience. They were in a dynamic relationship to the birthing process as it unfolded, moment by moment. Like the dancer who is one with the dance, their birthing became their meditation practice. » Nancy Bardacke, Mindful Birthing
Well yeah, it kind of is. But it’s also more than that. It’s more dynamic, integrative, and complex than that : because – well – women are more changable & complex than that. And pregnant women are definitely so much more complex than that !
Some people say that hypnobirthing is actually a ‘mindful’ approach, but having taught hypnobirthing and experienced its effects I honestly don’t believe it is. I think it’s a first step towards mindfulness but I don’t think it goes all of the way. In a sense, I think we need to mix the two – and then throw in some other flavours and spices for good measure.
For me, hypnobirthing just cherry picked a few of the most essential aspects of yoga and meditation practice and bottled them up and branded them as a kind of crash diet for positive birth. But you can trace the roots of both of these schools into a much deeper and more profound practice of ancient philosophy and « ways of knowing .»
The danger I see with some of these hypnobirthing ‘post-it’ style affirmations is that they can sell you an image of how you should feel, and they can ignore what’s actually happening now. If you’re not flexible – or gentle - about the way you use them, they risk to perpetuate this cycle of the illusionary future, this pattern of always needing to somehow be or feel something outside of what or where you are now. In contrast, mindfulness focusses on what’s actually here, in this moment.
Mindfuless is simply a ‘waking up’ to the essence of life as it is, now. An appreciation and a care for the present moment, cultivated through paying attention, without judgement.
Nadia Rafat sums up the difference between a mindfulness approach and other birth preparation schools beautifully in her article here.
No Pain no Gain : How is gentle, STONG ?