Why mindfulness skills are useful no matter what kind of birth you intend to have OR end up having.

It is important to clarify that this class is not only useful for, or particularly about unmedicated labor. Mindfulness skills can be useful for anyone, in any birth experience.

We just had a couple come back to talk to our current class who had given birth less than 2 months ago and ended up with an emergency C after a long, very difficult labor. The father talked eloquently about how when he was left alone in the room in scrubs and told not to sit down or go anywhere while they prepped his wife for surgery, he nearly fell apart as a mess on the floor. The time seemed to drag on forever and he couldn't do anything, he didn't know what was going on, or if his wife and baby were ok. In his head, he said, "I was 3 months down the line at Christmas dinner with my family and my wife was dead". His thoughts were carrying him to far flung places. He talked about how at that moment, he thought back to class and said to himself, “Dude. This is it. You've got nothing else. Either you're gonna fall apart on the floor right now and be useless, or you're gonna find your breath. Find your breath, Buddy!” And he did. By bringing himself back from 3 months down the line to the only moment he had  - the present moment - he got himself through that incredibly difficult experience of awaiting surgery.

His wife, as well, talked about how important the foundations of mindfulness were for her not only during her birth experience when things didn't go according to plan, but afterward, when processing her experience. She had to remind herself repeatedly about non-striving and non-judging - that things often don't go according to plan and that wasn't because of some fault of failure of hers.  

These are two small anecdotal examples, but I feel they're important to point out because this class and these skills are for anyone who is interested in the nature of their mind/body and inquiring into their own experience and the nature of life - it is really not about a certain kind of birth experience, as we know those are wholly unpredictable. But mindfulness skills are specifically useful for the reality of the unpredictability of life. Given that we cannot predict what will happen, it behooves us to keep our attention in the present, so that we may work with whatever comes our way.

 

Why Mindful Parenting?

A few years ago, when I was looking into teaching MBCP, Nancy (Bardacke) told me a prerequisite for her training was completing an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Course—one based on the curriculum conceived of by Jon Kabat Zinn from the UMass Medical Center, which is the format on which MBCP is based.  I signed up for the class at the Jefferson Mindfulness Institute here in Philly, and set to checking off this box on my path to being an MBCP teacher.

I was a little tentative about going to the class, because I’d taken Intro to Meditation classes about 20 years prior, and I was a busy working mom.  Plus, the price was pretty steep.  At the first class we went around the circle and offered why we were there.  This is easy, I thought: I’m fulfilling a requirement.  However, when my turn came, words spilled out of my mouth I didn’t even know were there: “My kids are getting bigger, and are more challenging…I’m not being the best kind of parent I think I can be—not as patient or receptive, at times overwhelmed; I think I need mindfulness back in my life again.

Like so many of us, dutifully checking off that box is what gets us in the room.  I wanted to be an MBCP teacher?  “Well, you’d better start with your own practice!” said Nancy.  You want to get through childbirth?  Well, you’d better sign up for a childbirth class!  Right?  Well, I’m not so sure…

In my role as a midwife, I always tell my pregnant moms “You come to childbirth with a lifetime of experience getting through hard times, and you have a set of coping skills in there.  Time to tap into those skills!”  I say this because, after attending to many women in birth, I see that human responses to difficulty, pain, uncertainty, fear and even joy do not seem to be correlated with what books we’ve read or what “qualifications” we think we have, or what classes we’ve taken.

Re-committing to my own mindfulness practice has, I think, made a huge difference in my coping skills as a parent.  Of course, I’ll never know—I can’t turn back the last four years to when I took the MBSR class and see how I would have parented without versus with my mindfulness practice.  I do know that having a practice doesn’t mean that parenting teenagers or being in a marriage or work stress has gotten easier—that is a fantasy, right?  It would be “better” the more “Zen” I get?  Nope. 

A few weeks ago I was camping with my family and another family in Wyoming.  Late in the day, my husband, 16-yr old son, and the dad of the other family, decided to rock climb up this climb that we could actually see—from about a mile away.  It was a multi-pitch climb: three lengths of the rope, and would take a whole afternoon.  Late in the day, I noticed a big, black cloud moving toward the climbing party.  I started to notice that I got pretty anxious:  What if they got rained on?  What if they slipped?  I hope they don’t try to rappel down!  What if there is thunder and lightening and they are on the rock face? …and so forth.  I instinctively moved to a place where I could really focus on them: little ants slowly making their way up the cliff, identifiable only by the color of their outerwear—maybe even unaware of the black cloud coming toward them. 

There was absolutely nothing I could do but sit and watch.  And wait.  It was totally out of my control.  Even though the greatest loves of my life might be in danger—I couldn’t change or influence the past (“They shouldn’t have gone!”) nor could I influence the future (“I’m going to go ‘save’ them!”).

So, I thought—time to practice.  I began noticing the sensations in my body, tapping into my breath, experimenting closing my eyes, observed the disastrous thoughts percolating in my mind.  Soon they had made it to the top, just as the rain started to pelt down.  We’d made it! 

Ok, I know this is a kind of extreme example of mindful parenting.  But the truth is, I can come up with lots and lots of other more “mundane” examples—contractions of everyday parenting can be mild, medium or very strong—they are all a feature of being a mom or dad.  It doesn’t really end once the birth is over…it is just beginning.

Why not try out one of Molly's Mindful Parenting Class Series this Fall?

- Carol

Why Mindfulness Based Birth Education?

Why on earth would I take a 10 week mindfulness-based birth education class?

Can't I just get the information I need by reading a book / searching the internet / taking a shorter class?

Firstly, sure! You could! While mindfulness is useful and supportive to anyone, at any stage of life, encountering any challenge (or no challenge at all), it doesn't mean everyone wants to take the opportunity of an approaching birth and transition to parenthood to learn about mindfulness. And that's ok. But if your interest is peaked at all, we invite you to take a closer look. While you can acquire information from a variety of places, you cannot become more attuned to life unless you take the time to slow down, and pay attention. In addition to information about birth, our classes jump start and/or support the cultivation of your own mindfulness practice.

Mindfulness practice is about directing one's attention to the present moment, to the here and now, and being with what arises there. And things are always arising, because we have a body, which senses, and a mind, which thinks. We are constantly experiencing the results of our bodies and minds doing what they do -- sensing, thinking. When we sit with those realities, we sometimes discover things of which we hadn't been aware. That we had a pain in our lower back, perhaps. Or that we spend a lot of our time judging everything everyone says. And infinitely more.

Birth is an intense experience. Lots of things arise. Feelings, thoughts, physical sensations. The practice of sitting with whatever arises turns out to be particularly useful in birth. It is not an experience one can get out of, nor run from. If you run, it finds you; if you try to escape, it pulls you back. No matter how you birth your baby -- "naturally" or not -- the experience is transformational -- you become a parent. And that transformation is one of the most provocative changes we experience as people.

Mindfulness allows us to sit with whatever arises. To be with our experience, no matter what it is, pleasant or unpleasant, knowing that it will change and be different from one moment to the next. This couldn't be more useful in birth, or in parenting, when the physical, emotional, and mental demands for our attention are many, and continuous.

Cultivating mindfulness in one's life takes practice. It's called a "practice" for that reason. It cannot be acquired, gotten, bought, or consumed. We have to cultivate it ourselves. We have to give it our attention. We have to take the time to stop and just be. To sit. To see what is there. 

What better time to cultivate our own awareness than when we are on the brink of the incredible transformation that is becoming a parent to a new being on earth?

 

Mindful Parenting: Listening

In tonight's Mindful Parenting Group, one thing that came up was the frustration parents often experience when our kids don't listen to us. Why won't my kid just do what I ask her to do when I ask her to do it? Which can spin off in our minds in 100 different ways -- He's not listening to me! He is doing that on purpose to drive me crazy! Or, she never listens to me! It's because I am an ineffective parent! Or -- My kid has a serious listening problem! What is wrong with him? We look for somewhere to lay the blame, and our options are few - it's them, or us. 

By bringing our attention to this question of listening for a moment, rather than trying to problem solve, or come up with a successful strategy, we can just look more deeply and see what we find. 

Listening. What is that about? What does listening entail? We might imagine being our child and ask ourselves: What makes me want to listen to someone? There are many things to discover there (Is what we're asking necessary? Relevant? Are we interrupting them in thought/activity, and if so, are we doing it with respect for what they're doing? Are we making eye contact while talking to them?) but beneath it all, I think we find that we want to listen to someone who is listening to us. By whom we feel listened to. And not only listened to but seen. Paid attention to. And not once in a while, or sometimes, or usually, but also, right now. In this moment. 

I was struck as we sat tonight by the way in which I felt like my body appreciated being noticed, that the sensations arising, of tension or tightness, were being acknowledged, and paid some mind. That, not just my body, but the sensations themselves appreciated being attended to. 

Our children are similar, I think. We can take them for granted the way we take for granted the sensations in our bodies that arise over and over again. But the ever-shifting aliveness that is in each of our bodies and selves, and in each of our children, asks to be acknowledged, and listened to, no matter how great or small, in every possible moment.

So, in asking why our children aren't listening to us, we might also ask, "Are we listening to them?" 

Have a look! See what you find.

 

- Molly