This blog is based on an article I contributed to Whole Mamas and is a version of the Spilt Milk Yoga chapter The Shock of Birth/Embracing the Learning.
Yoga teaches us that whatever our challenges we can turn them into learning. What makes the difference is our own internal approach. In our responses we can make choices that increase our sense of liberation and love no matter what the situation. We can move through and beyond the struggle to find meaning in our experience.
Here I’ll share with you something of my motherhood experience, like I do in the book, followed up with a Spilt Milk Yoga practice, and some questions to guide you in your own self-inquiry.
The Shock of Birth – my experience
Giving birth was a shock for me. I’d read about it, I’d heard about it, I’d even assisted a friend giving birth. In second stage she’d gripped my shoulders and shouted point blank into my face “NO ONE EVER TOLD ME IT WAS GOING TO BE LIKE THIS!” I heard that loud and clear and I got ready.
But as much as I’d primed myself physically with ante-natal classes, yoga, advice from others, and a birth plan, nothing prepared me for the psychic shock of giving birth. Despite glimpsing its shadowy presence on an ultrasound scan and the growing discomfort and inconvenience of hosting its expanding tenancy, my baby was still somewhat of a concept until I saw her head emerging in the midwifes wavering mirror.
I had imagined what it would be like to be a mother. I had pictured snapshots of the life ahead of me. But I was still shocked. Nothing could really have prepared me for it.
I was shocked that a complete person came out of my body, so finished and separate. I’m not sure what I expected, but her entirety blew me away. Her own lungs, ears, legs, all working. Then it hit me that now I had to care for this vulnerable being. It was all up to me and I didn’t know what to do. The responsibility I felt to my baby eclipsed all else.
In the first moments she was laid on my chest a new Me was also born, Me as mother, the responsible half of an intertwined lifelong duo, no longer autonomous and separate. My whole life flipped. I scrambled to reconfigure my life around another person, it consumed me moment to moment, day to day. Things that used to matter didn’t matter anymore. I forgot my birthday. I didn’t seem to matter to me anymore, or I did but only to serve this baby. I felt used by my biologic, like a resource.
There was joy too of course. But this unexpected bit needed acknowledging as part of the whole of my experience. I needed to include this part of me, forever changed, and what I expected of myself and my life.
Embracing the Learning: A Spilt Milk Yoga practice
It is not widely shared that becoming a mother can be shocking, difficult and frightening. The surprise of it can be disorienting. Even when things go roughly as you thought they would it can be a struggle to adapt. You may feel you are losing your mind or drowning in expectations you cannot meet.
Becoming a mother is a huge transition. Your body changes, your focus and lifestyle change, your priorities and worries change and your identity changes.
Sometimes our experience really doesn’t match with our expectation and we become unsure of ourselves and the world. Our picture of the world can be so radically shattered that it’s hard to reconfigure a sense of who we are and what we’re supposed to do or even be able to expect from life. If there are added stressors, an unwell baby, a distressing birth, it can be even more difficult to piece together a “new normal”.
A friend’s midwife told her that trauma occurs in the gap between expectations and reality. If you feel a gap, big or small, it is important to acknowledge that this is your experience at this time.
Shock. Anger. Grief. Loss. Anxiety. Self-doubt. Shame. Blame. Helplessness. Loneliness. These aren’t words we usually associate with the experience of becoming a mother, and yet they are all components of our inner life. Motherhood even at its simplest is a fast track to the heart of that life’s richness, it can challenge and inspire us. You are entering a territory where love and fear learn to shake hands, listen to each other and converse wisely.
The Spilt Milk Yoga practice here is embracing the learning. Embracing the learning acknowledges that you are on a journey, cultivating self-knowledge as you go. You cannot know everything in advance because the learning is happening now. Having a learner’s mind is at the heart of the niyama, the yoga principle, of self-inquiry. To cultivate self-knowledge requires acknowledging your experience.
This is where you are. This is what is happening. What do you want to grow in yourself in response? What do you need in order to grow this?
Embracing the Learning: Spilt Milk Yoga guided self-inquiry
If you can grab a pen and journal in response to these questions. Journaling assists reflection and articulation and deepens self-understanding. And if feels like too many questions, just go as far as you want at this time, and come back agin to the questions when you’re ready.
Part one — your experience
- Choose a current situation you are experiencing as a mother. It could be giving birth, breastfeeding, being a work at home mother, having your child in hospital.
- What were/are your expectations around this?
- What is/was your experience?
- Is there a gap between your expectations and your experience? If so, have a go at describing it, and what that feels like for you.
Part two — your aspiration
- What do you want to grow in yourself in response to your experience?
- Where in your situation could you practice this?
- What do you need in order to practice this?
- How might you ask for, create, or do this?
Part three — today
- What is one small thing you could do in your day to honor this aspiration?
- What learning are you embracing as a result of where you are now?
- What is one thing you are appreciating about yourself as a mother?