Most new moms have been there before. Can you relate to a time when you pee in your pants every time you sneeze at the end of your pregnancy, or feeling the full weight of exhaustion waking every few hours to feed your new baby, or making the decision to, at least, read about sleep training but really, nothing seems to work? These can be rough times in the life of a mother. However, with another lens on, Cassandra Vietan, author of the book “Mindful Motherhood” and other mindful practitioners and teachers encourage us to see these waves of discomfort, impatience, even joy, as weather patterns. Essentially, this is a coming and going of experiences, thoughts, sensations, and feelings – the observation that nothing lasts forever, just as the rainstorm, the warm, sunny day, an of course, the occasional white-out blizzard.
We can learn how to shift our awareness in this way through mindfulness practices that allow us to observe our experience as it is happening, as though we are watching the weather patterns come and go, not trying to change it in any way. Watching our thoughts, feelings, and sensations arise and dissipate no matter what the event or experience, can support stress reduction because we don’t get caught up in wanting things to be different than they actually are and we learn to ride all kinds of waves in the process.
This is not easy to do. Yet, it is well worth the time and effort to explore and be curious about. As a result of pulling our attention into the present moment with our baby or toddler, we can consider a way of being with them, called attunement. This happens when, as Vietan (2012) writes “we respond appropriately to what the baby is communicating. Even if the baby’s upset.” She explains in her article “Incorporating Mindfulness into Motherhood:”
“it’s not ideal attunement to get equally upset.” Ideal attunement might be making sure the baby knows that you see that he’s upset and re?ecting a sense of being able to tolerate or contain that upset. This reaction could be holding him with ?rmness and making low and deep sounds. Luckily, with present-moment mindful awareness that meets experiences as they are, this comes pretty naturally–you don’t have to ?gure it out with your thinking mind (p. 2).
I love this explanation of attunement and the use of mindfulness awareness in the cultivation of it.
Personally, I am in a place of learning how to attune to my two-year old son, who can test me to my breaking-point. Occasionally (like all kids), he can have unnerving, temper tantrums, which, as a third trimester pregnant woman, sends me out the roof, or at least out the back door at times – never to return. No really, through the practice of mindful awareness I am learning a ton about myself as these tantrums or toddler con?icts at the park over a truck, percolate, escalate and eventually dissipate. What I have been noticing, when I am fully in the moment, is a rise in muscular tension, shortness of breath, and a tight face. I am aware of my patterned tendency to resist the whining as though I can tune it out, emotionally leaving my child for a moment or two.
Depending of my own state of stress at the time the breakdown or behavior occurs, I am able to watch my response. I notice how I pull away, maybe even say something passive aggressive. However, the last two times this has happened, I have been able to catch myself after some time and am able to move towards my son, not away. One time I just sat with him, took a few breaths with him and re?ected his upset. Sometimes, moving out of the way, and bringing in a stuffed animal to communicate with him, works wonders as well (more on this coming soon). Eventually, he returns to his sweet self – we become attuned to one another and I am the mom I want to be.
What just happened? How did we get here? I wonder sometimes, was it just time passing or something he felt from me that helped him feel safe enough to move through the upset. These questions are less about getting answers for me, and more about staying curious about what works and what does not work.
What I am most interested in these days is how a mom, dad, or caregiver can grow the part of themselves that allows them to attune to the baby or child they are with in a mindful way. What I am realizing after two years of being with my son, is that self-care is pertinent. Finding two or three ways to care for myself while raising a child, whether it’s scheduled downtime, an online class, exercise, a creative outlet, or a nap, has to happen on a weekly basis.
For new moms, this given space to breath, re?ect, and reset is part of the rediscovering of yourself during motherhood. Without it, attuning to your baby can be extremely challenging. Can you think of a few ways you engage in self-care sans your baby or child? If not, what feels like something inspiring to bring into your week? It’s worth wondering about.
These words feel important to write about, to streamline out of me, maybe in a bigger way one day. For no other reason than to validate what is happening in my life, and hopefully relating to some of you.
On a side note, I will be taking the summer off to tend to the new baby, and Grayson. Come Fall 2013, a new Mindful Motherhood group will start up so we can practice together as a community and not have to be solo on this journey.
Please keep in touch – Erin
Reference Vieten, C., 2009. Mindful Motherhood: Practical Tools for Staying sane During Pregnancy and Your Child’s First Year. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications