Preparing for childbirth: The delicate dance between pushing out and letting go

Observing a friend struggling with, and complaining about, the last days of her pregnancy –constantly posting on Facebook about how she finally wanted her baby to make an appearance in the “real world,” listing details about all the activities she undertook in order to make this happen ASAP — made me reflect on the delicate dance that childbirth is. 

I get it. I’ve been there.

Ready to Push?

Feeling big — no, huge! Not being able to see my toes anymore, let alone tie my shoelaces. Feeling very swollen in the summer heat and out of breath after walking up the stairs to our apartment on the 4th floor. Rolling around on the mat in my prenatal yoga class feeling like a huge whale. Nights spent sleepless with heartburn, an active baby in the belly, and a bladder that never wanted to go to sleep.  

And then, there is all the excitement about finally getting to meet this tiny human being that you have lovingly and patiently grown in your belly for all these long months. The excitement about becoming a parent — for the first, second, third… time. There are all the people around you, asking when the baby is due — which does not really help or make waiting any easier — and so many other good reasons to finally push the baby out of your belly and into the world. 

But First…  

But there is another side to the story, which tends to be forgotten or at least does not enjoy a lot of spotlight.

A more delicate, more sensitive — even darker — side that might not be as limelight-worthy or Facebook post-worthy…a side, which in my opinion, is just as important as the “push side.”

It is the side that mindfully focuses on letting go.

On gentleness, on feeling, on making space for the baby to come into this world…and making space for what is to come and follow.

On becoming aware of and consciously reflecting what is transpiring inside of us: physically, spiritually, and emotionally. 

Facing Our Feelings

This includes facing our anxieties and deepest fears and doubts about birth and about parenthood, about our ability to “do a good job” at delivering and then protecting, nurturing, and growing this delicate, wonderful new being that we already love more than we could have ever imagined. It may also include acknowledging and confronting our fear of failure, our fear of pain, our fear of loss, and our fear of fear. 

Furthermore, it includes facing the reality that things are (again!) about to change tremendously. That not only our everyday life is about to get the next big overhaul, but also our whole universe: The way we relate to the world, and the way we relate to ourselves is going to drastically change.

It includes coping with our bodies changing — yet again — from the pregnant state to a postpartum state, which will look and feel very different from what we are accustomed to and from what we might actually enjoy or expect seeing and feeling. We might feel empty, tired, depleted, sore, and possibly a far cry from attractive and sexy for quite a while.  

I vividly remember mourning my “empty“ belly for several days following my daughter’s birth. It felt empty and somewhat sad to not feel my baby inside my belly anymore. While I was certainly very happy to finally be able to hold her and cuddle up with her in my arms, I missed this innate and exclusive feeling of connection to her.  

Bringing Together the ‘Pushing Out’ and the ‘Letting Go’

I believe that, in order to consciously and mindfully prepare for birthing our child, it is important to take the time to look at and ideally merge both sides of the equation: the “pushing out” and the “letting go.”  

The tiredness of being pregnant and the energetic eagerness to have baby out of my belly have certainly helped me tremendously in getting over my fear of giving birth and all the pain that would be — and certainly was — involved. However, being mindful, open, and receptive to the side of letting go, creating space, and facing anxiety, doubt and fear — even mourning during this transition — has certainly proven to be very helpful as well. I believe it might be one supportive part in the puzzle of alleviating or possibly even preventing feelings of the “baby blues.” 

So, I’m calling on all expecting moms: Take a deep breath and give yourself a mindful moment — and ideally many more — and some space to merge both ends of the continuum. By doing this, you will be giving your body, mind, and spirit a chance to holistically and soulfully prepare for what is to come instead of forcing it into birthing-action mode.

Photo source

My dark first weeks of motherhood

julia hargerI can hardly believe I survived all the chaos of early new motherhood. At the beginning, I didn’t think I would — at least not with my sanity intact.

For nine months, I mentally prepared to share my life unconditionally with a new being. I also did my best to get ready for one of the most anticipated — and what I thought would be the hardest — moments of my life: labor. Looking back, the physical pain from delivering a baby feels insignificant compared to the hardship of early motherhood, especially the first 6 weeks.

I wondered what I could have done to be better prepared for early motherhood with my first baby. But nothing can really prepare you for this.

Editor’s note: Adjusting to parenthood can be challenging, and the emotions of early motherhood can be difficult to navigate. In-person support is especially critical. Attachment Parenting International (API) encourages all mothers to consider hiring a doula, to be in frequent contact with a breastfeeding specialist and to connect with their local API Leaders and API Support Groups. Additional considerations for a smooth transition to new parenthood are included in the first of API’s Eight Principles of Parenting: Prepare for Pregnancy, Childbirth and Parenting.

For the first weeks, I wondered what would happen to me. I am certain I am not alone here, moms. Not even all I have learned from yoga in the past years were very helpful, I must admit. The beginning of motherhood was a time when I felt completely taken up by my emotions.

I became moody due to the lack of sleep. I felt pain from my body healing itself. I cried when she cried. I thought “Not again!” when, after 10 minutes from falling asleep, I heard that tiny cry all over again. I found myself stripped of any patience, way beyond what I imagined. Indeed, I thought “What did I get myself into?”

I skipped showers because of lack of time. I looked really bad. I had my legs hairy all summer, and I had to get used to my new body. I cried out of frustration, “I don’t know what you want!”

There were days when my face did not manifest a single smile. I hated my husband, because he could do anything whenever he wanted — shower, sleep, go for a jog — while I had to plan a whole schedule just to brush my teeth, or do it in 10 seconds. I also resented the fact that he could get back to his normal life straight away, and I was stuck at home.

I felt this extreme guilt of not responding properly to what everyone expected of me as a mother or what I idealized of myself as a mother: that, at the time I held the baby for the first time, a magic would happen and my own needs and desires would simply vanish…that I would be complete and happy straight away, only for being a mom…as if this dark part of questioning, frustrations and pains simply don’t exist.

But slowly, the rewards came. As the days went by, I started to feel happier with tiny feats: when she smiled, when she stopped crying, when she finally slept. I was so thrilled when we could go through a diaper change without a single tear, or when I could put her in the stroller and go for a 10-minute walk to pick up some groceries. I was deeply grateful when my sweet and calm words could soothe her, even if she was screaming her lungs out and could barely hear me.

I also rediscovered joy in the most trivial things: drinking water, having a shower, a tight hug, a quick chat with a friend, sleeping, my mom cooking for me, my daughter’s smile, her smell. I love and value these things so much more now!

Oh motherhood! The contrast between devoutness and empowerment at the same time! My vulnerabilities gave way to strength and resilience as I realized I was capable of all this. I did not know my body was capable of producing something to nourish her so perfectly. My embrace, my arms and my words can transform the loudest scream into a timid smile. My smell, hinting she is safe, changes her face completely.

And, all of a sudden, me again! A couple of weeks ago, I wondered how quickly this phase would pass, but now I hope it does not go so fast. I am anxiously aware that this dependency will someday be gone, and I will miss the time when all she needed was me.

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