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Creating Space to Process Motherhood

By May 3, 2019Blog

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?


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