Mindful Pregnancy: How Not to Expect When You Are Expecting
By Nadia Raafat
I was doomed from the beginning, expectations-wise. I didn’t even expect to become pregnant. I certainly didn’t expect the dramas it elicited; the isolation I would feel. I didn’t expect to bleed at 36 weeks or go into labour at week 37. I certainly did not expect my undiagnosed breech baby. As I believed birth was a natural phenomenon, I did expect to labour normally but I did not expect it to be the gut-wrenching, mind-blowing, sinew-twisting experience that it was. Nor did I expect the emergency caesarean that followed; the tears in the theatre, the feeling that somehow I had missed the happy mummy boat. In fact my first pregnancy and birth experience was so far away from the pregnancies peddled by marketeers and ad execs that I was traumatised for months afterwards. And yet, in its own way, it was perfect; every bit as powerful, beautiful and Life-transforming as the ideal that had threatened to undermine it.
The Myth of Super Woman in Pregnancy
Today’s pregnant woman is imprisoned by narrow expectations. She is expected to continue her 9-6pm office job as normal through the body-morphing first twelve weeks of pregnancy. (It doesn’t matter that she is propped up on ginger pills, sea-sickness bracelets and vomiting her way through her lunch-break.) Once past the 12 week anomaly scan; the ritual clinical blessing, she is then expected to bloom her way through the second trimester; sleep on her side with ease, exercise moderately, feel wonderful and avoid bars, clubs and late night social activities. She is certainly not supposed to complain about her dysfunctional oesophagus, her painful pelvic girdle pain or her haemorrhoids. Nor is she expected to be depressed, anxious or ill-tempered at this time of complete transformation and uncertainty. No the 2nd trimester is all about full hair, great skin, beautiful bellies and happy couples shopping together for buggies and nursery furnishings.
The reality is of course very different. In my pregnancy classes I meet all kinds of pregnant women; women with unplanned first pregnancies (much like mine), IVF mamas too frightened of losing their pregnancies to attach to them, single women mothering courageously on their own, women of an advanced maternal age struggling against oppressive medical supervision, radical mamas embracing home birthing and co-sleeping; women who are secure in their relationships and, in equal measure, those who are not and who feel vulnerable. The diversity of experience is as rich and wonderful as the many different shades of their unique personalities and their Life experience to date. Although the women find great relief in their shared experience; they are also are very interested in their differences. During circle time, they are encouraged to share their frustrations and challenges as well as express their joys.
Let’s Talk About Limiting Expectations
When aspects of your pregnancy are at odds with either your or others expectations; nine times out of ten it’s the limiting expectations that need addressing. Expectations are meant to be guidelines not law. But the reality is that an expectation is a strong belief which almost certainly, unless questioned, will lead inevitably to its fulfilment. Many of the expectations that define our pregnancies are, at best, hand-me-down ideas from older, out of date ideologies and, at worst misplaced and erroneous beliefs that lead to inevitable frustration; like due dates, baby weights, or the inevitable pain of birth to name but the obvious few.
Whilst many aspects of pregnancy are common to all pregnant women; your best friend’s, your neighbour’s, they may also not be anything like you’ve read about, watched or seen on tv. If this is your second pregnancy; it will be nothing like your first.
Mindfulness and Liberating Unconscious Beliefs
In Mindfulness, there is a concept called Beginners Mind; which means seeing and experiencing events and people, as if for the first time. It is an attempt to cut through the many filters of our unconscious beliefs and expectations in order that we might experience our reality with clear eyes. This powerful practice applied to pregnancy helps us to sidestep and question some of the endless expectations that we and others impose upon ourselves. An incredibly liberating and energising practice, it enables you to open you up to all the possibilities that any moment contains. Nothing is taken for granted. No inevitable pathway is set.
It is a practice that necessarily happens in the present moment – a place that very few of us actually reside in. The truth is we are pretty much constantly projecting either forwards or backwards; organising our futures and tidying our pasts. Pregnancy more so than ever because we are, inevitably, approaching the biggest event of our lives thus far.
Cultivating Beginners Mind during pregnancy enables you to catch yourself projecting ideals and fears onto a situation, to drop the projections (recognising them for the unconscious, inherited and unexamined beliefs that they are) and to recenter yourself back here in the moment, choosing to experience that fully instead. Being present in this way enables you to see your experience as it is.
As all the decisions we make happen in the present, it follows that we should spend as much time there as possible. However this is more easily said than done. But It is an investment that, with time, bears great reward. After all wouldn’t it be wonderful to actually take that deep open curiosity of the Beginners Mind into your birth experience, free of all the fear and drama around childbirth which programmes like One Born Every Minute perpetuate.
Savouring the Heavenly Moments in Pregnancy and Accepting the Difficult Bits Too
And even then, as you apply Beginners Mind to your pregnancy experience; savouring the heavenly moments, accepting the difficult ones and doing your best to avoid planning your pregnancy away; Life will still happen; babies will mal-present, husbands will come home late and drunk, breasts will not produce enough milk, babies will not sleep. If you find yourself in conflict with your experience; it’s not the way you thought, hoped or expected it to be; see if you can drop your projections on the situation and see it for what it is. The sooner we accept the reality of our experience, whether it’s sleepless nights or a posterior-presenting baby – even if it is not what we expected, the sooner we can drop all the suffering around it; and get on with either accepting or changing the situation – if indeed change is possible or is the right course of action.
Perfect in Every Way
When I look back on the time of my first pregnancy and birth I can see how disappointed I felt; so in resistance to the unplanned motherhood story I was in versus the one I had imagined for myself. Unable to see how I had imprisoned myself I continued to suffer and resent those who had prevented the dream and continued to grieve for an experience I now see was perfect in every way. The journey to motherhood is awesome however it unfolds. Through its trials and tribulations; tears and joys; new mothers are born; real mothers with sore nipples and flabby tunnies not glossy supermodel ones. But these mothers, if only they looked past their own filers, would see that they are perfect in every way.
Nadia Raafat is a journalist and the founder of Becoming Mother and is a Yoga and Meditation Teacher, a Birth Educator and a Doula.
Her Double DVD Set: Becoming Mother Yoga & Mindfulness for Pregnancy & Birth is now available via www.amazon.co.uk and www.yogamatters.com
She runs ongoing 8 week Becoming Mother Mindful Birthing Courses
For more info visit www.becomingmother.co.uk
Write down all the beliefs and expectations you have around pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood. You may not consciously know what they are yet. But start your sentences with the words: I believe that …. and write without censor for one minute. Becoming conscious of self-limiting expectations already minimises their powerful hold over us.
Next time you catch yourself coming up against the wall of your own expectations, remind yourself to remain open by repeating the words: “No Expectations” over and over like a mantra. This will help you to open to the experience as it is not as you want it to be.
Dealing with Others
It can be useful to have expectations for yourself as long as they are tempered with compassion but having expectations for others will only lead to disappointment – especially if you haven’t even told them what those expectations are. The next time someone disappoints you, examine what expectation you had that set you up for this experience. Focus on letting go of your expectation rather than blaming the other person.