I’m Losing My Mind: 10 Steps to Handle it in The Moment

Triggers are inevitable, especially as a mother.  Striving to get through motherhood as a Zen Master is unrealistic.  Every day you are bombarded with situations that can send a rippling sensation throughout your body, resulting in you ‘flipping your lid’ (i.e., losing your mind). The motivation is not about avoiding triggers (that is an impossible task), but rather, it is about learning what to do in the moment.

Knowing, through practice, that we are empowered to handle inner crisis we develop confidence and a healthy mind.  Granted, humans seem to struggle with engaging in activities or behaviours that will foster health.

While my children were young I thought that I needed to learn how to embody the state of being experienced by meditation gurus; someone who could handle all the stressful circumstances that were happening around me with ease and equilibrium.  I often felt like a failure every time I lost my temper and went from 10 to 100 in a blink of an eye.  Thankfully we can repair.  I spent a lot of time repairing my relationship with my children, reminding them that Mama is human and makes mistakes, and it is not about them.  I brought them in closer, held them, and loved them.

That said, I didn’t want to live in a chronic state of ‘flipping my lid’ and I knew that I was responsible for how I reacted to external circumstances.  Further, I recognized that how I was responding to present moment situations were informed by my past experiences.  My past informed my present. Current challenges inspired a quest to dig.  I went searching for what was really bothering me.  This act has become second nature to me, but it had a starting point. I am reminded that it is never too late to start.

The other day I was triggered, really triggered, and I noticed that my system was moving into overreaction. I knew that I needed to catch it before it got the best of me.  After de-escalating my activated nervous system that was pounding, pulsing, and enraged, I wrote down exactly what I did so I could share it with you (without sharing the personal details of the experience). 

When you are about to lose your mind, you may want to try the following:

Notice that you are activated.

Pay attention to the sensations in your body, the thoughts swarming, the emotions presenting, and the actions you ‘want’ to engage in. Reminding the ‘self’ that what is occurring is a patterned response. Most likely it feels familiar and old.

e.g., I always know something is off when I want to attack my significant other and when I want to rage or pick a fight. I also know something is off when I feel generally irritated or ungrounded.

 

Pay attention to the emotions you are experiencing.

Name the emotion(s) and notice how they feel in your body. Remember emotions in and of themselves are not the enemy. They are chemical reactions that are flooding your system. Be curious about how they feel and move through your body. When we resist feeling them, we constrict and make them worse. Think of water and fluid movement. You may want to consider adding this phrase: I can feel (blank) and I will be okay or nothing bad is happening.

e.g., I feel anger in my body. I experience sadness. I am noticing fear. I am shaking. Can you see that I have used words like: feel, notice, experience. When we do this, we create distance from the emotions so that we can learn to tolerate it with mindful attention.

Get it on paper.

Seriously. Write it all down, as it flows. This is not about writing something fluid or cohesive, this is about writing down all the mumble jumble that is filling your mind. Write until it is all out.

e.g., I hate them. I am mad. I wish they would be different. I hate feeling this way. I feel judged. I am annoyed. I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE. Constantly giving, I can’t give anymore. Scream on paper. I am trapped. This will never change. It is not supposed to be this way.

Choose the scenario that is most upsetting to you in this moment.

Something most likely happened that triggered you or set you off. See if you can scan your day or week, and pay attention to what might have been the trigger. Often it is not the ‘thing’ that caused you to flip your lid. It likely occurred earlier and was building.

e.g., Something felt off when that mom, at mom’s group, asked me a question about my baby’s sleep schedule. I felt charged about that in the moment.

Ask yourself: What about this situation/scenario bothers me the most?

e.g., I didn’t like the tone she used. I felt belittled. I felt cornered. I don’t like talking about sleep. The way she asked it, the words she used, the comments.

Check the story you are telling yourself (your perception) about the scenario.

What is the loud stressful thought you are telling yourself? If it is about them, what is it that bothers you most about what the other did? And, ask yourself this important question: What does this mean about me as a person?

e.g., When the mother asked me about my baby and sleeping, I felt threatened by the question. I thought to myself, am I doing it all wrong? Should my baby be doing something different? It is none of your business, but really, I felt put off about it.

AND

Therefore, I feel inadequate as inadequate as a mother. If my baby is not sleeping as recommended by (blank) then that means I am incompetent as a mother. Go one step deeper. If I believe that I am incompetent as a mother, then that means what about me as a person: I am a bad mother.  And when I believe that I am ‘a bad mother’ I feel what? Shame, anger, despair, terror?

Ask this question: What part of me believes that I am (fill in the blank).

What part of me feels this way? Why am I believing I am (fill in the blank)? How long has this ‘feeling’ or ‘perception’ been with me, is it familiar? What am I most afraid of? You may want to consider using TheWork.com at this point to question this deep core belief.

Look for evidence to counter the perception/negative belief.

Find all the ways to challenge the statement you came up with (e.g., I am a bad mother or I am inadequate). Keep writing down or speaking, with conviction, all the ways that this belief is untrue.

e.g., I am doing my best. I love my children. I am not defined by other people’s opinions of me. I am finding my way. I am competent. Motherhood is hard, but worth it. I am allowed to make mistakes. My kids sleep on their own schedule. I am following my intuition. I am loved.

How am I/have I not been showing up for myself?

What do I need more of? Less of? What would be a kind nurturing thing I can do for myself? What have I been ignoring? What do I need to do to feel more confident, strong, capable?

Remind yourself that it is never about the other person or situation, it is always about you.

This is often a tough concept to swallow. It tends to be interpreted as ‘where we place blame’. We cannot resolve anything by focusing outside of our self; we must drop inwards. We cannot control the other – what they say, how they say, what they do. The situation itself may have been inappropriate and yet, how we make sense out of the situation/incident is within our control. We can use the challenging stressful situations in our life to provide us with information about where we are challenged and stuck internally. It is okay to be activated by an external circumstance. And, it is empowering to do something about the activation. Raging is a reaction, not a response. It tells us that something about the circumstance was extremely challenging and it generated an enormous amount of internal distress, that resulted in the perception and action of ‘losing your mind’.

In consideration of the scenario that had pushed me over the edge, and after spending 30 minutes engaged with the above steps, my whole being softened, regained equilibrium and offered insight into aspects of myself that were needed to be tended to. Perhaps, such a list feels daunting or unmanageable.  I get it, it is another prescription to add to the to-do list.  It takes a willingness and a want to do something about our discomforts and challenges. Perhaps begin by implementing one step – begin by noticing that you are triggered.  This may be just what is needed to calm down your system so that you do not flip your lid.

 

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Mindfulness and Motherhood

 

Mindfulness is a practice of noticing and observing that which is arising within one’s internal space, in any given moment, without judgment or analysis. Although I love the simplicity of this act of kindness towards oneself, I must acknowledge the difficulty involved in training the mind to become mindful as a mother.

If you are anything like me, you might agree with my long-held frustration towards the mindfulness movement being dominated by mostly a masculine point of view.  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate all the teachings and the plethora of research about the benefits of having a practice of mindfulness. And, I acknowledge the wisdom that these wise men have offered us – His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Ram Dass, Dan Siegel, Ron Siegel, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Deepak Chopra, Thich Nhat Hanh, Joe Dispenza and Ken Wilber, to name a few.  That said, as a mother, woman, and feminist, I have struggled over the years to embody the teachings of these masters because, well, they just don’t fit in with modern motherhood.

Since I was 13-years-old I have attempted to integrate a practice of meditation into my daily life for stress reduction as an athlete, to deal with symptoms of depression, and to find solace as a mother.  The literature and current research clearly state the benefits of a daily practice of mindfulness.  In an attempt to alleviate my daily struggles with depression, motherhood, and marriage, I figured a practice of meditation would offer much sought-after relief. 

Needless to say, I struggled to include this isolated practice into my life as a mother, and I often felt like a failure.  I tried waking up earlier, staying up later, listening to guided meditations, using binaural beats, engaging in shamanic journeying, and even participating with shamanic medicines. Today, my children are teenagers and I have more space for uninterrupted time to include a practice, yet I still find myself jealous of my friends without kids who can sit in meditation for 1-2 hours a day, or go away on week-long retreats.

Can you sense the groaning frustration?  I held a perception that these practices only benefit those who can find the time and space for them throughout a day.  Let’s face it, motherhood is all-encompassing and rarely gives rise to the space needed for such a practice.  Sure, 20 minutes a day sounds doable.  But when mothers struggle to merely take a shower, how are they supposed to find time for a 20-minute sit?  Further, new mothers are chronically sleep deprived and by the time the day comes to a close, they are most likely to crash with their kids or zone out in front of Netflix to have a ‘break’ from the day.  I get it, I have been there.

My intention is not to tell mothers that they ‘should’ give up Netflix and instead choose a practice of mindfulness because that would be better for them.  Mothers have enough ‘shoulding’ in a day.  The last thing we need is another ‘should’ that adds to our already critical mindset that lets us know all the ways in which we are ‘not good enough’ as mothers.  It is as if the ‘not good enough’ voice is amplified when we become mothers, and our children let us know on a daily basis all the areas in which we are ‘failing’.  Although this negative perception of self-as-mother is almost always inaccurate, I have yet to meet a mother who is not challenged by a negative self-perception of motherhood. 

Would mindfulness help quiet this internal critical voice? Most likely, yes. But…

But for some reason knowing this is not motivating enough to figure out a way to engage in a daily practice of mindfulness.  I would argue the reason is twofold: a) the western worldview of modern motherhood does not support this quality of self-care and b) the recommended practice is not realistic for today’s mother. Let’s take a look at these two statements.

Challenge A: The western worldview of modern motherhood does not support this quality of self-care.

As a therapist, the field itself often focuses on ‘self-care’. “What do you do for self-care?” is a common question posed to mothers in the postpartum, holding up an assumption that if mothers took more time for themselves they would be happier and more balanced.  Most mothers can relate to the fact that when their children are babies, taking a shower without interruption is an arduous task. Need alone staying on top of the ‘to do’ list that many mothers create in their heads.

Realistically, a day and life of a new mother consists of changing diapers, feeding, dealing with a crying infant, maybe taking a nap, figuring out food needs, and finally, collapsing in bed to be awoken within a few hours to do the whole thing over again throughout the night (and add subsequent children to the mix, and well, it is a gong show).  I recall Dr. Sears stating in his ‘Dr. Sears Baby Book’ something to the tune that a mother’s clock is a 24-hour clock and the routine that you were once accustomed to is no longer available.  Motherhood is a 24/7 job.  As our children grow, the demands may change but the pull to be ‘on’ 24/7 doesn’t.

To top it all off, the role of motherhood is viewed as an aside; an adjunct to the role of a contributing citizen (i.e., working in the job force).  This mindset festers in the minds of many mothers with thoughts like: “I am not contributing enough,” “I am a failure because I am not earning a living,” or “I need to manage it all – career and motherhood.”  Finding meaning in motherhood is an arduous task for many. What is certain is that most mothers would agree that they love their children.

And to complicate matters, mothers who face discrimination and/or abuse, oppression due to race or religion, or find themselves marginalized in any manner experience a multitude of challenges.  These added stressors, to an already stressful situation (motherhood), pose additional challenges that would cause any mother to scoff at the notion that ‘mindfulness’ would be beneficial.  Survival is the key motivator in such circumstances. Thus, acknowledging that the mere fact that a mother can contemplate how to include a practice of mindfulness into their daily lives, is a privileged conversation.

Considering these general challenges faced by modern mothers, is it any wonder why self-care takes a back burner?  Women have been informed for a long while now, based upon perceptions of roles in society, that ‘others’ come before their needs.  The perception of ‘The Good Mother’ is one of a nurturing, loving, care provider, who tends to the home and hearth. And often within this archetypal framework, the mother is also the martyr or the giver of all that she has (including her life in childbirth for some).

How can we balance this deeply ingrained concept of ‘The Good Mother’ with reality?

Further, how can we include self-care behaviours and boundaries pertaining to time, individuality, health, passion, and identity?  Introducing the practice of mindfulness requires a kind of reorganizing.  It is not as simple as stating: “You need merely to include a 20-minute practice daily, with discipline, in order for you to feel better’.  Statements like this ignite the critical voice that keeps us feeling small and ashamed. Compounding the challenge is that many of the men who speak about mindfulness do so from a place that is informed by their experiences of life as a man.  Not life as a mother. 

Instead, I propose that the notion of self-care and mindfulness should take on a different mother-inspired approach; one that speaks a new language, and no longer fuels the fear of ‘not good enough’.

Challenge B: The recommended practice is not realistic for today’s mother.

When will I find the time? This is the pressing question.

The answers: Wake up earlier, go to bed later, be selfish with your time if you want it bad enough you will find the time.  The list goes on and on.

Often this leaves a mother to believe that if she doesn’t do those things than she has failed somehow. In some cases, it causes her to give up completely.  I know this place all too well. I struggled with this throughout my journey as a mother of three children.  I knew that the mental health benefits of practicing meditation would lend to a mindful way of being.  And yet, I wrestled with finding time for just me.  When I finally had some time alone, I wanted to get out of the house and go for coffee with friends, or just fall asleep.  I didn’t want to spend that time alone, in meditation.

This started to feed a negative core belief about motherhood that sounded like: “Motherhood has sucked me dry and my children are in the way of me enjoying my life.”  Sure, I was ashamed to admit that I held this mindset. And yes, I knew it created more challenges and emotions of resentment and anger.  Yet, I thought that if only I had more time for me – to focus on what I loved, which at the time was birth and midwifery – I would be happier.  This was not the case.

I was running away from motherhood because I felt overwhelmed by the enormous responsibility, challenged by the daily mundane, and did not embody the meaning of motherhood. I had not found the joy in motherhood that we read about or sometimes experience in our friends.  I thought embracing mindfulness and practicing meditation daily would cure this discomfort.  I thought that I needed to get away from mothering in order to experience more happiness.  I believed my purpose was ‘out there’, outside of me and separate from what was in front of me – my children.  I thought I was alone and that it was all in my head – and my fault.  It didn’t occur to me at the time that this was a complex problem experienced by many mothers.

And then, one day, a year after the birth of my third child, I experienced an epiphany.

My big wake up moment was when I was about to leave my family to follow a Shaman into the Amazon to work with plant medicines so I too could become a Shaman.  In my mind, I likened it to the path of Jesus or Buddha, both spiritual masters who isolated themselves to become awakened.  And awakening was the answer that I sought to get out of my misery. I remembered feeling so conflicted by this choice (and so was my husband at the time) because I was surprised that my pull to walk away from my family was so strong.  I was a stay-at-home mother, who was homeschooling her children, and studying and apprenticing with midwifery.

And I was about to turn my back to it all, to follow a masculine dominated way of awakening. 

Thank fucken god, something spoke loud within.  That something is the voice of knowing, the feminine voice.  And she said with conviction, “Your work is right here, with your children, in the mundane.  Not out there, not spiritually bypassing all your suffering.”  I listened.  And from this place forward I started to cultivate my own feminine practice of being a mindful mother and woman.  And it didn’t look like your typical sitting meditation practice or journeying with plant medicine, or vision questing by fasting.

I realized that the work of motherhood is the spiritual path I am supposed to walk, not run away from. I realized that I needed to lean in more closely and dare I use the word surrender to the work of motherhood.  I needed to find meaning in motherhood that gave rise to purpose.

It is a path that has been gritty, hard, in my face, and real. 

We use the word authentic all the time nowadays, and my path of motherhood gave rise to embodied authenticity.  I have been truly humbled by this journey thus far, and I am only 18 years in.

What follows are a few suggestions that I have learned along that way that will help to give rise to a different way of practicing mindfulness as a mother.

How to cultivate a practice of mindfulness as a modern mother.

  1. Begin by listening. Listen deeply to what your interior self is saying. Practicing listening to what others say, and notice what your interior says. Listen in solitude and during the chaos. Just start to listen.
  2. Pay attention. Notice your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, images, and memories. Every moment we are given information about ourselves and the experience of others. We need to pay attuned attention to what is arising within. This can be done while cooking, nursing, playing, driving, dressing, showering, dancing, walking, shopping. Just pay attention.
  3. Open in love. Blow open the cage that shields the heart and really love your children, even in their challenges. This grows love for you. This means taking risks with feelings and it usually involves tears. Commit to love.
  4. Stop believing your thoughts. Find a tool or therapist that can help you challenge your thoughts and limiting beliefs. When you start to pay attention, you begin to notice the thoughts that you are believing as truth, and how those thoughts are causing you pain. When you believe your stressful thoughts, which never go away, you feel miserable. Begin a practice of inquiry.
  5. Be curious. Curiosity is a beautiful friend. Lead with curiosity, rather than reason or righteousness.  Be curious about your experiences and those around you.
  6. Find meaning in motherhood. This is a personal quest that will look unique for every mother.  Without meaning in motherhood, motherhood is one dimensional.  Meaning gives rise to purpose, and purpose gives rise to deep satisfaction (a.k.a., happiness).

The art of mindfulness can be discovered within the energy of motherhood. From my lived experience, it does not necessarily need the sitting practice of meditation.  I am inviting modern mothers to contemplate this idea and to listen, really listen, and determine for yourself if these suggestions ring true. If anything, it is offering a way of being with mothering and mindfulness that is manageable and meaningful.

Bottom line: you are doing enough; you are enough.

 

Perception and Trauma Recovery

Both the event and the perception of the event must be considered when discussing trauma – Jane Simington.

I want to preface by noting that what I am unpacking in this post is not new information. There are plenty of people who have been writing about some of the concepts below. However, every time someone attempts to write about, what I believe to be are spiritual ideas of transformation, I like to imagine that it means we are getting closer to a collective awakening. Therefore, please know that I am not claiming to be an expert on this topic, but instead, I write about perception, trauma, and consciousness through lived experience and many nights of contemplation.

……….

Over the years I have attended numerous pieces of training on trauma recovery, along with an incessant drive to consume information about the topic. In the beginning, I was driven to understand my diagnosis of PTSD and to unearth how I can heal. This drive never ended and resulted in me finishing grad school, training as a trauma-informed therapist, and developing a healing program for mothers.

I think what inspires me the most about becoming trauma-informed is the power gained. I knew in my bones that I could heal. And I hold this belief for others as well.

In my past, I struggled with depression for years, and I felt disempowered and afraid of being diagnosed with a mental illness. I held a perception that it meant that I would be cursed forever.

I tried to change my thoughts so I could feel better. However, I didn’t experience the results I craved. Granted, this quest to ‘change my thinking’ helped me become mindfully attuned to my thoughts. And as it stands, mindfulness is now receiving gold star status in healing and recovery.

Our physiology is innately intelligent and has a seeking drive that ‘seeks’ to attune towards health. I love this about our bodies. And our mind is deeply interconnected to our physiology (for those eager to unpack the concept of the mind, read The Mind by Dan Siegel).

The body and mind are one.

It is about time that we claim this knowing. Therefore it makes sense that both the physiological impact of an event AND the psychological impact of the event ought to be a part of the trauma discourse.

There is plenty written about the physiological impact of a traumatic event. To name a few, in ‘The Body Keeps the Score’ and ‘Waking the Tiger,’ both Van der Kolk and Levine, discuss the physiological imprint of trauma. Dan Siegel, founder of Interpersonal Neurobiology and author of a handful books, writes about healing from the mind, body, and relational perspective.

The literature readily available today surmounts what was available just six years ago. It is as if trauma-informed care has skyrocketed. I imagine it has done so because it speaks to how we can heal tangibly. It offers a perspective on causation to many of today’s mental, emotional, physical, relational, and behavioral challenges –not just a list of symptoms but a probable physiological cause due to unprocessed traumatic material in the nervous system.

Within the conversation of trauma-informed care, we recognize that each is impacted by a traumatic event differently; each has different variables to consider. One of the variables concerns how the experience becomes etched into the mind/memory/psyche of the individual; in other words how the individual perceives the event.

 

This comment has left me with many questions. A somewhat simple statement is full of complicated calculations and considerations.

What is perception?
How is perception formed?
How do we control perception? Or do we? How do we change perception?
Who is in control – self or brain?
Who is self?

As you can imagine this spiraled me down a rabbit hole of deeper discovery, philosophical consideration, spiritual questioning, and scientific evidence. Unpacking the notion of perception is not an easy task. There is little room for error because misrepresenting a concept could send the reader down the wrong rabbit hole.

And yet, isn’t it all perception anyway? Meaning the lens through which you read this has perceptual embedded within it, filters.
This leaves one to pose the following question: what are those filters made of?

Definition of Perception

Perception, according to the Dictionary refers to “the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses. The neurophysiological processes, including
memory, by which an organism becomes aware of and interprets external stimuli. 2 the way in which something is regarded, understood or interpreted. An intuitive understanding and insight.”

Thus, perception is the process in which we make sense out of an event. It includes our thoughts and senses. Perception informs how we communicate about an experience, both externally and internally. In other words, we are meaning-making machines.

For some time now, I would argue that we were taught that we have free will and thus, how we understand and interpret an experience is within our realm of control. And so, if it is within our power to influence how we perceive an experience, then do we have control over how we make sense out of an event? Regardless if the event is positive or traumatic.

This above notion may sound optimistic and perhaps even motivating for some. And when I first considered this idea I felt empowered to do something about my state of being. That said, the deeper I went down the rabbit hole, the more challenged I became by this concept.

Unpacking Perception

First of all, I felt frustrated that I encoded my traumatic events in a negative light that complicated my healing and my physiological response to trauma. I experienced self-blame. Why is it that some people could move on and have a less aggravating perception of an event, while others become entirely derailed by the experience? Could perception be the main differential factor?

Let me offer an example specific to the demographic I mostly serve:

Mother 1 – comes to therapy because she had an unplanned, unwanted c-section after a transfer to the hospital that resulted in complications that could have been terminal for either herself or her newborn. She is relatively calm about the event, is processing some grief due to the loss of physical constitution and dream birth, but she has a healthy perspective the c- section was the best option at the time and that It makes sense to her. She feels sad about the event but grateful to be a mother. She expresses frustration that she didn’t plan for a c-section or a complication arising and felt annoyed with herself (a bit foolish) but otherwise, she ‘get’s it.’ It was needed. I am well. My baby is well. We will be okay. After a few sessions of grief therapy, this mother feels like she has made sense out of the experience and in her words: ‘I am okay with what happened.’ She isn’t showing any signs of dysregulated physiology, and one would assess that she is not carrying any trauma about this event, even though her life and her baby’s life had been threatened.

Her perception = I am okay. My baby is okay. It is over now. We are okay. It makes sense to me. It is okay to have disappointment and grief, and I will move on.

Mother 2 – Comes to therapy because of an unplanned, unwanted c-section after a transfer to the hospital and being told ‘failure to progress’ and ‘your baby’s heart rate is dropping.’ Everything about the event feels horrifying to her. The image I get is that of a battleground. She felt the terror that her baby was unsafe. She didn’t want to cut open. She didn’t trust the hospital staff, and she didn’t trust the midwives. She presents as dysregulated, hyperaroused, disorientated, and has big energy and emotions. The sense you get is as if she is about to

explode or float out of the room. She has difficulty maintaining eye contact. She wants to tell you her story over and over again. One of the themes is that the caregivers failed her and she finds fault in all that they did. Everything was a violation of ‘abandonment’ to ‘touching without her consent.’ In a nutshell, she has perceived the event as violating, disempowering, disrespectful, disheartening, and believes that the caregivers are to blame.

Her perception = I was harmed. I was violated. I was mistreated. It is all their fault. I was neglected.

Granted these are radically different examples, but they are based on similar cases. Both Mothers experienced unwanted c-sections, transfers to the hospital, and a threat to their baby’s wellbeing. Both suffered physical trauma due to surgery (according to Levine, surgery is a trauma) and each would have experienced prolonged pain due to an induction at some point throughout their labor. Further, childbirth is an incredibly vulnerable experience. Therefore some of our protective strategies that keep us feeling a sense of control in our lives are dropped during labor and birth. Both mothers were equally at risk of having experienced their birth as traumatic based on these factors alone.

However, both had different experiences and are processing differently in the postpartum. Recovery has been quicker for Mother 1. Mother 2 presented with symptoms of postpartum PTSD. All of which poses the question, why did Mother 2 imprint her birth as traumatic? Did she have control over this? Does she have the power to change her perception of the event? These are hard questions to consider. By no means does it reflect that Mother 1 is ‘behaving’ better than Mother 2.

The trap that the old worldview can feed – Just get over it and get on with it, it is selfish to focus on the self.

This worldview leaves mothers feeling ashamed and guilty for how they are responding to their childbirth and can result in suppression of emotions and thoughts. The old ‘ignore it and it will go away’ mindset. I don’t think I need to explain to you that this does not work because your physiology won’t forget about it. As Van Der Kolk states: ‘Your body keeps the score’.

Unfortunately, there is no ignoring; there is only going through.

There are so many variables that could have contributed to each of the Mothers experiences of birth. I am sure I will miss a bunch, however, here is a list of some distinct factors to consider:

  • History of attachment with family of origin
  • Adverse childhood experiences – abuse/neglect/poverty/malnutrition
  • History of oppression – marginalized race, gender, religion
  • Financial circumstances
  • History of sexual assault
  • Nutrition
  • Support systems
  • Religious or spiritual beliefs
  • Physical health before birth
  • Mental health before birth
  • Marital status and relationship health
  • Other stressorsAll of these reasons and more influence a person’s ‘way of being’ in the world. Further, they inform how our physiology and psychology encodes (make sense of) life events. Unless we become conscious of this material intrinsically, we cannot ‘change’ our way of thinking and being.

    Therefore, can we control how we perceive an event at the time of the event? Or is it only afterward that we can influence how we store the information?

    From what I understand, our past informs our present way of being until we wake up to the programs of the past. Therefore, if we are unconscious of how our past experiences have influenced our way of thinking, feeling, doing, and being, then we have no power to change our perception of an event.

    Perception is how we make sense out of a life event. And how we make sense out of current circumstances is based on our past experiences. Therefore, we are living in the past until we become conscious of these core patterned ways of being. Dr. Joe Dispenza speaks powerfully about this notion in his book ‘Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself.’

    We cannot escape life without experiencing traumatic events. Granted, some more horrific than others. However, from what I can see and read, humans have been suffering from trauma as far back as we can go.

    We have a physiological system that responds to trauma and fights for our survival. The problem is that once we have ‘survived,’ unlike other mammals, humans have a hard time returning to a state of calm, connected homeostasis. The challenge is that our neocortex gets in the way.

    We have a thinking brain that tries to make sense out of the sometimes senseless acts and experiences. This brain is responsible for our evolution, and also, it keeps us trapped in trauma as we relive it in our mind’s eye over and over again. It is as if trauma glitches the system for some and puts the record on repeat. Thankfully, there are ways in which we can recover and respond to the glitch that puts the nervous system into overdrive.

    It is imperative that the trauma (i.e., stress) response completes its instinctive cycle. Thus, body-centered therapies are beneficial. They can move the trapped energy in the nervous system. Associated with this nervous system energy are all the thoughts, emotions, felt sensations, and images about the event. Those also need to be processed, and ‘digested’ so that the limbic system can turn off the alarm bells.

During this process, I am noticing that the final phase of recovery pertains to a change in perception in which the person views the situation from a different vantage point – usually, this involves a compassionate release towards self and other.

This does not mean that if someone experienced violence and violation that the perpetrator is not held accountable for their harmful actions or that a mother does not file a complaint against a caregiver if deemed necessary.

But instead, the perceptual field grows to include a deeper understanding of the self at that time, the others at that time, and any influencing historical information that would elicit a compassionate tone of understanding.

Sound like a spiritual awakening?

From my perspective that is exactly what is happening when we grow from one state of perception to one that includes the self, other, living creatures, planet, and cosmos. In a state of deep understanding, we by-pass our conditioned responses based on historical content. Our physiology may ‘keep the score,’ but one can argue that ‘consciousness’ exists within and without the physiology.

When we can ‘know’ that we are more than our physiology, more than the programs we have received through genetics and experiences, we can begin to change our embedded reactionary response to life events – be it traumatic or ecstatic.

For many, trauma is a wakeup call to move beyond the physiology. One’s physiology will be full of experiences and patterned responses to those and similar experiences. We cannot do anything about our past experiences, but we can change how we think and feel about them.

When faced with a traumatic event we may not be able to influence how our system responds to that experience; our physiology responds quicker than our thinking brain can. It is as if we are always one step behind the body’s imprinted and instinctive reactions. How can we catch up?

This leaves me to pose a question about consciousness itself or rather the part of the self that is the Witness, the spiritual self, the higher self, the One, the Void. Perhaps Buddha was on to something as a contemplative enlightened figure who speaks about the cycle of human suffering. He speaks about transcending suffering by non-attachment to the ego identity. I hear un-attachment to our physiology.

The physiology holds the imprinted ways of thinking, feeling, and doing.

When traced back all the way to the womb of the mother, we know that chemicals that tell us if we are safe, wanted, secure, loved are already being embedded into our growing embryo. We learn about the external world before we are born via our mother’s response to it…and on and on we go.

One could argue that we are born imprinted with pertinent information about our place in the world. From that area forward we learn about our physical self through relational attunement with our primary caregivers. Before we can make sense rationally, we are receiving perception about belonging, safety, love, pain, emotions, and behavior. We mirror those around us.

 

Our personality emerges from these experiences. I liken my personality to a large dose of environmental circumstances infused with the energetics of my ‘soul’ (another blog post on that notion). Much of how I perceive myself is based on external circumstances that informed me about myself. From here we see the birth of ‘core beliefs.’ In particular, core limiting beliefs.

Our perceptions are infused with core beliefs about the self, others, and ways of being in the world.

Thus, going back to the earlier example about the two different mothers. One could postulate that Mother 1 holds a core belief based on historical experiences – I am okay in the world, it is safe to be here. Whereas, it is possible that Mother 2 holds a core belief based on historical experiences – The world is unsafe, and I am at risk of being harmed.

I am making a broad stroke with this last statement. However, I am offering a point of view that how we currently perceive aspects of our history profoundly influence a traumatic experience that we have not considered before. Elements such as core beliefs based on childhood experiences. Secondly, I am suggesting that trauma is an opportunity for awakening to the ‘self’ that exists outside of our physiology. As such, perhaps from this place, we can rewire how we store memories so that we are no longer chasing our physiological reactions, but instead, changing the program so that the physiology responds differently in the future.

Is this not what the ancients meant when they said: When you heal, you heal seven generations back and seven generations forward.

 

On Vulnerability

The truth is: Belonging starts with self-acceptance. Your level of belonging, in fact, can never be greater than your level of self-acceptance, because believing that you’re enough is what gives you the courage to be authentic, vulnerable and imperfect. ~ Brene Brown

Vulnerability feels like your soul is exposed, turned inside out, waiting for a response. To be vulnerable requires authentically showing up in your life. It is not vulnerable to merely show up for yourself in the silence of your home. It involves relating to others or exposing a part of yourself, your soul, to another. It is the act of feeling exposed, raw, real, and open as a way of connecting that can feel like the scariest thing anyone could ever do.

Vulnerability does not feel safe, simply put.

It doesn’t feel safe because, for the most part, it has not been safe to be authentic and exposed. In moments of vulnerability, we may have experienced an attack, bullying, mockery, belittling, laughter, emptiness, and more profound yet, public or family shunning. It is as if our cells recoil at the thought of being vulnerable, we move away from it. And again, we are told that we need to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability and offer more, not less, of ourselves. The world needs this, and we need this. Why do we need this?

Author Brene Brown, deemed the ‘expert’ on vulnerability, suggests that human vulnerability opens our hearts and thus, shines a light on our shame, so we no longer live small. We need to come out of our hiding places so that we can belong; genuinely belong. When we are vulnerable, we are real. And when we are real, hiding nothing and letting our imperfections be seen, we are tapping into vulnerability.

That said, vulnerability has not always been perceived as powerful. For example, I invite you to pay attention to any judgemental thoughts, felt sensations in your body, feeling reactions when you hear the phrase: She was so vulnerable.

What did you notice? Maybe you noticed an open reaction, curious to hear more. Or perhaps you felt constriction, fear, protection; akin to feeling ‘sorry’ for someone who was vulnerable. Maybe you felt anger. Or, perhaps you interpreted the phrase as an indication of weakness. As you can see, there are many possible reactions to the words: she was so vulnerable.

I recognize that within myself I have an array of responses depending on the context in which the statement is used. Are we referring to a woman who was writing a personal story? Or a child who was exposed to an environmental catastrophe? A teenager who was attacked while walking home from school? An executive director speaking publically about a cause? Or, a mother in labor?
Each scenario generates a different emotional response. And yet, we praise vulnerability.

From my vantage point, vulnerability is both powerfulness and powerlessness.It is a paradox: to be courageous and weak. The act of vulnerability is intensely feminine.

Exposing our soul in a courageously authentic way, with flaws on the outside, can produce both joy and sorrow. It is risky. Therefore, it is understandable why we are shy to show up with vulnerability in our day to day lives if we are still figuring out whether being vulnerable means demonstrating strength or exposing our weakness. And I would add it is extra challenging for anyone who is not of the dominant culture – i.e., the white man who aligns with patriarchal values.

Jumping forward, I want to turn your attention towards the notion that when a woman is in labor and giving birth, she is utterly vulnerable.

Notice what arose within you. What were your thoughts, emotions, felt sensations? Take a moment to listen to what is emerging within, what story is showing up?

Just the other day I was having a passionate conversation with some colleagues and women friends. I was speaking about how vulnerable and exposed I was feeling since sharing my first draft of my opening chapter of my book: Healing After Birth. In this section, I unpacked my birth story, my shame, and my unannounced birth trauma. It was the very first time I choose to be this public about my birth experience. Part of it was cathartic, but another part was my soul’s need to weave this story into my life’s work so that I can show up more authentic with each mother I serve.

I was spinning out my anxiety that presented because a part of me was interpreting my decision as dangerous, ridiculous, and selfish. Moreover, I felt as if I was standing on the front lines awaiting a verbal thunderstorm of opinions raining down about one of THE MOST vulnerable times of my life. What had I done! Vulnerability is bullshit, I thought to myself.

As the tension in the room was rising, we were all feeding off this angst. My colleague caught me off-guard and posed a statement: Jen, women in labor are vulnerable, period. You were incredibly vulnerable during your birth experience. And so how can you expect a woman in labor to stand up for herself, defend herself, push against unwanted procedures and protocols, or NOT hand her power over to her caregiver?

Whoa! This comment hit me on so many levels, and my system was highly activated and jumping all over the place. It was as if all of my years of experience was being sorted out in my brain and I needed to pull it all together to have a response that was short and legitimate.

I babbled my way through and felt like I was making no sense at all. Women being vulnerable in labor is such a massive topic of discussion, I said. On the one hand, women are profoundly powerful in labor and birth; and right, they are also incredibly vulnerable.

How was I interpreting this idea of vulnerability? Why was I so triggered? Part of my trigger was that I said I wish women did not hand their power over to their caregivers. But I saw my error in this statement, as we collectively unpacked the concept. Granted we only skimmed the surface. However, these questions entered my mind.

What is power?
Who has power?
Where is the power?
How is the power used?
What is vulnerability in this context?

It is fair to say that everyone in the birthing room has their power. The mother has personal power, along with the caregiver, support people, partner, family members, etc. Each person brings with them, into the room, intrinsic power. However, in this milieu, we bump up against the tension that lies between a mother’s need and desire to exert her power during labor and birth and the needs of the ‘expert’ in the room.

I imagine that you can already sense the complexity involved in this statement. And how appropriate it would be to do a power analysis to ascertain who holds more power in the birthing environment. That said, I am not going to unpack a power analysis in this article. But let’s just say that those who work within and for the medical establishment hold an incredible amount of power to influence, control, inform, and manage the experience of labor and birth.

And fundamentally, a woman’s laboring body houses a shit load of knowledge and power. Thus, one type is external power or power over, and the other is, internal power or power within.

Now, let’s take into consideration that women are still victims of oppression, and marginalized women that include but not limited to women of color, first nations women, Islamic women, and refugee women experience a much higher degree of social abuse and mistreatment of care.

The patriarchal worldview foundationally informs the medical establishment. Thus, when you combine oppressed women within a patriarchal institution you encounter power over tactics that are intended to control, manage, suppress, disempower, and submit. We cannot ignore the fact that for centuries women have been raised within the dominant cultural worldview. One imprint in particular haunts women in labor – The caregiver knows best. Within this mindset, there is an invisible power exchange that occurs, and thus the caregiver inevitably has power over the laboring mother.

Does this not elicit vulnerability? The kind of vulnerability that denotes weakness and at risk of harm.

The notion above refers to the quality of vulnerability that I have been defending against for the past 17 years. To say that a woman in labor is vulnerable is akin to saying she is in harm’s way. Moreover, I am ignited to do something about this concern, and I react with a desire to protect. My backlash attempt was to empower women through education, inspiring mothers to take back their births, body, and babies. All of which was motivated by the concept – do not allow yourself to be vulnerable in labor and delivery.

Most of the research I explored on the topic of childbirth trauma noted that women felt disempowered and traumatized in labor when they lacked choice and control, felt violated, abandoned, neglected, or feared that there was an emergency that could have resulted in the death of their baby. To mitigate this from happening it seems evident that we need women to feel prepared, confident, knowledgeable, trusting, and determined to be ‘self-directed’ in childbirth. In other words, to mitigate vulnerability (because that meant you were in harm’s way) you need inner strength and determination. I am unsure if this is in fact true?

Thus, to be genuinely vulnerable in labor and birth was/is risky. And truth is, childbirth is entirely a journey of vulnerability and letting go. So we stand at this crossroads again. If it is not safe to be vulnerable because when we are vulnerable, we get hurt, how is a mother going to allow her labor to open while vulnerable? What a dilemma.

This dilemma is what challenged me that night as I was impassioned with angst and confusion. How do I address this complicated topic? Both are true: Women in labor are incredibly vulnerable, and women in labor are full of power.

And then it hit me the next morning. Of course, I couldn’t sleep that night. I felt like my ideology was butting up against my colleague’s words. What was it that challenged me so much?

I realized it was the fact that I was vulnerable during childbirth. I was profoundly helpless in the postpartum with my daughter when I was utterly sick. And I was disgusted with myself for being so ill because I perceived myself as being weak. Thus, I considered myself as being in harm’s way. Deeper yet, I had failed. During that experience, I believed that vulnerability equated failure and a lack of power.

And harm is what occurred during that 24-hour hospital stay. My vulnerability led to a violation of my body – aggressive procedures against my will. And being immobilized for two weeks, oozing mucous out of my ass, was not only humiliating it was vulnerable.

I was terrified of being that vulnerable.

The concept of vulnerability is complex to unpack, especially as it pertains to the childbirth milieu. The deeper I go into my understanding of vulnerability, I recognize that there is a difference between being vulnerable as a way to bring my authentic self to the world, and being in a vulnerable (unsafe) situation that could result in harm. The childbirth continuum includes the possibility of both forms of vulnerability. Thus, discernment is critical.

Although my body may react similarly to each case, both being perceived physiologically as a potential threat for harm, I choose to engage with my mindful mind to remind myself that vulnerability does not always involve damage. Albeit, it is still a risk.

The risk to be real, knowing that rejection from the tribe, family, friends, is a possibility can trigger paralysis and symptoms similar to perceiving death. This degree of terror is a result of our biological primary need to attach securely with others, in love and kindness. If we consider the above notion, to connect with love and compassion as a primary motivation, we are inclined to lean into vulnerability as a means to meaningful connection and belonging.

My drive towards vulnerability, authenticity, and raw exposure of my hearts story is not something I enjoy doing; it is a necessity. Without it, my experience of life would feel empty and meaningless. Thus, it is worth the risk. And that also means that rather than shaming myself for having been vulnerable during my birth and postpartum, that I connect with this past part and hold her in love. The antidote is a compassionate connection and non-judgemental understanding for both the self and others.

I sat with this post and contemplated the paradox of vulnerability – holding both powerfulness and powerlessness. I allowed myself to venture inside to connect to my postpartum self; grief showed up as I held my dear collapsed part in the depths of her pain of vulnerability. Knowing in that moment that I could carry both powerfulness and powerlessness within myself, and that is enough.  I believe in the concept that the deeper one goes within, the greater capacity they have to hold that for someone else.  Holding the paradox of vulnerability, in acceptance and understanding, is my work right now.

 

I Can Get Better on My Own; I Don’t Need Your Help

 

I’m fine. I can figure this out on my own. I don’t need help. It is not that bad. What can they offer, that is different from talking to my friends? If I get professional help I am ‘weak’.

These are common thoughts that many people experience when they are faced with emotional or mental distress, including myself.

I remember the day I decided to reach out and call a therapist.  I was nervous as fuck and my edge was up. I was thinking to myself: What can she offer that my friends have not already offered? How is she going to help? And what if I am smarter than her (yes, I thought that)?

Luckily, my therapist was prepared to answer my questions and I felt an opening of hope.  I booked an appointment on the spot.  I was an unemployed, single mother at the time, with no insurance plan and I was about to commit to $180/hr for psychological therapy.  I had done enough research to know that I was displaying PTSS (post traumatic stress symptoms) and she (my therapist) had a modality that could help me ‘get my brain back’.

I knew I needed it, so I took a risk, went into debt, and stepped outside of my comfort zone to get the help.

Recently I posted on facebook a meme called Want Change and this blog post was inspired by that meme.

 

Step One: Get your brain back.

 Had I not reached out and received the therapeutic support that was trauma informed, I would not have healed my brain. Yes, my brain.

At that time, I felt like my brain was crumbling on the inside and I was losing faculty.  I had, what felt like, zero control of my emotional reasoning. And, nothing in my world felt safe – places and people.

After extensive research about trauma, I understood that my brain function was compromised due to prolonged unresolved stress response and I needed a therapeutic modality that would create cohesion between the two hemispheres, and between the 3 brains – cerebellum, limbic, and neocortex. My nervous system was fried and I was living in a state of constant adrenaline, which I am sure you can imagine,

My nervous system was fried and I was living in a state of constant adrenaline, which I am sure you can imagine, eventually, deteriorates brain function.

Allow me to explain in as much plain language as possible.

When there is too much stress hormone (adrenaline and cortisol) flooding the system, the limbic system (our emotional brain) can go all wonky (I know, non-professional lingo).  According to Dan Siegel, a pioneering trauma expert, we ‘flip our lids’ under states of duress.  This means that the rational, executive function of the prefrontal cortex is no longer running the show and instead, survival emotions flood the system.

Why is this important to know?

Because I thought that ‘feeling’ all those erratic emotions were a normal part of being human and I was just being ‘emotional’. Further, I believed that this was just ‘who I was’ – aka. an overacting emotional person.

Stay with me, there is a reason why I am sharing my personal story to make a point.

We are told to feeling is good. This is true. It is what makes us human and we are designed to experience an array of chemical responses that produces emotions.

The challenge is that when you feel like the emotions are running the show, and therefore determining your experience of life as you know it, you can feel disempowered by them.

As Siegel suggests, we need to ‘down-regulate’ our distressing emotions and we do this by noticing when we have flipped our lids. Voila, the magic of mindfulness.  With mindfulness (interoception) we can bring our prefrontal cortex back online.

Sounds great, right? And, how do you do this?

Step Two: Embody your emotions.

 Once you become aware of your emotions and notice them in your body, you can work with them. They no longer become the thing that is happening to you, but rather, an experience that is occurring within you.

This was my next phase of healing as I saw it.  I needed to not fear ‘feeling’, rather I needed to learn the art of embracing what I am experiencing inside of me.  During this phase of healing, after my nervous system calmed the fuck down, I started to identify felt sensations – i.e., emotions. And I named them with curiosity.

Fear. Anger. Sadness. Joy. Excitement. Shame. Guilt. Worry. Love.

Embodying my emotions is very different than feeling overwhelmed by them as if they were a freight train.  I learned very quickly that my emotions shift, like the wind.  They don’t last if observed.

I have come to believe that unobserved emotions stay stuck. Embodied emotions flow like the ocean. And feeling safe enough to experience my emotions was key.

Allowing the self to be witnessed in the process, and guided when needed, so I could learn how to stay with the felt sensations of the emotion was HUGE.  I could not have done this on my own.

It helped to have a guide, who could hold that container, and who knew the territory, to encourage me to stay in my body.

Talking about problems or challenges is not enough.  And often, friends and family get tired of hearing the ‘same story’.  The story isn’t changing because the emotions are stuck.

Step Three: Challenge your beliefs.

I felt different. I felt calmer and embraced my emotions. My brain and nervous system felt balanced. Now what? Many stop therapy here.

I feel better, so why go back? Sound familiar?

I knew I wasn’t done. I knew this because although I felt stability, I had not dug into my core beliefs – The patterns and imprints I acquired throughout my life thus far, particularly those from my primary years. I could have ended therapy here, however, I knew too much to realize that I would still be controlled by my past experiences and beliefs.

I needed to ‘go in’ to engage my mind and cognitions.  Using many different modalities, I started to unpack years of programming – ways of being and thinking – that molded my personality and traits.  If I didn’t take the time to question those beliefs and get to the core belief and emotion, and gently challenge it, I believe that I would have remained in the more neutral, somewhat familiar way of being. And the possibility of repeating dramatic patterns would have re-surfaced.

Don’t get me wrong, noticing our beliefs and the emotional attachment to them, so we can change them, is hard work. 

My mantra – I am not the program.

Who am I behind the program? What is my essence without the program? Our program feels so real and alive in us; of course it does. We have strong neural nets that have been formed based on that program – way of thinking, feeling, and behaving.

Step Four: Heal your connection to self and others

Based on all of this, thus far, do you still think you do this alone? Are we really meant to do it alone? Would you heal your physical body alone without some form of professional care or guidance?

It baffles me that even I carried the stigma and cultural belief that we/you/I should be strong enough to figure this all out on our own – heal your brain, your emotions, and change your beliefs in the isolation of your interior world. That just seems like crazy talk.

But we are ‘programmed’ culturally to think this way – to believe that individuality is best.  Individuality = do it alone and don’t ask for help and don’t be too dependent on people/community. I am calling bullshit on this mindset.

Science tells us that we heal faster and better in the presence of a loving, calm, connected, compassionate person. 

This is because of something called: co-regulation. In fact, our system is a ‘seeking system’ which means that biologically speaking we are primed to seek out this quality of care and connection in others, and when we don’t get it we go into a stress response.

For many of us, therapy may be the first encounter with this kind of presence and care – this degree of felt safety.

Bottom line, from my generalized and lived-experience perspective, is that healing cannot occur when we feel unsafe.  Let me unpack this.

Neuro-physiological safety is different than physical safety.  Sure, generally speaking, for the most of us we have a roof over our heads, food on the tables, clothing to wear, and we are not in harm’s way.  Once we have met these foundational security needs our system can calm its stress response and in a healthy system, shift back into a state of homeostasis.

However, without delving into the plethora of research presented by neuroscientists and medical professionals, I want to highlight the findings of Stephen Porges, who coined the term ‘neuroception’.  In a nutshell, if our system has experienced a threat to its sense of safety at any point throughout its lifespan, and has not had the opportunity to complete the stress response and store the memory effectively, the nervous system remains on ‘high alert’ and can get wired this way.

What does this have to do with connection and physiological safety?

We send out signals and pick up on signals faster than our frontal lobes can compute and think about what we are ‘sensing’.  We are not perceiving the environment with cognitions, we are ‘neuro-ceiving’ the environment with our skin and neurons.  We make sense out of our environment, and determine if it is safe, based on our past experiences.

When our stress response is activated because we are neuroceiving a situation or person (even if we are unaware of the triggers) our connection circuitry in our physical system becomes compromised – it is hard to connect when we are in an activated stress response.   

Many of us live in a chronically activated stress state. The antidote is simple, yet not easy.  We need to be vulnerable, and connect with people who are safe.   

So all of this science ramble to say the following: We need to not only heal our brains, embody our emotions, and change our beliefs; we also need to connect vulneralably with other humans. 

And this is challenging because when we are struggling and when we have been in a state of chronic stress, when we have endured challenges and/or life-threatening events, our physiological system makes it so that we become self-absorbed.  So, opening in vulnerability feels counter-intuitive.  And yet, the healing medicine lies in our capacity to take a risk and connect heart spaces (not talking sex here) with another.

So, once again I ask the question: Can you do this alone? And how many of us have a stable, safe, non-judgemental, open, kind, compassionate, empathic, knowledgeable, and experienced person to dive into this process with? My guess – very few people have someone like that.

This doesn’t mean that the friends and family we have cannot be a part of our journey; it just means that they do not necessarily have the experience or capacity to offer what your system truly needs.

Step Five: Act.

Need I say more.

If you want to heal, healing will find you. And, like birth, no one can do it for you.  That is the catcher.  There is an intelligence within – call it what you will – that wants to find its way and KNOWS its way.  We just get in the way of its unfolding.

When I finally stepped out of its way and let what needed to move through me, move through me, without judgment or need to control, my healing journey started.

It is a journey.

Each day I am reminded that taking action is part of the process.  Filling the brain with information is helpful, it builds the courage to act.  But there comes a time in which you need to stop what you have been doing and do something different. 

I chose to reach outside of my comfort zone and go to therapy and spend a shit load of money doing so because I valued my health so much and I was terrified I was going to lose my life and my mind if I didn’t take this risk.

Best risk I ever took.

My new mantra: I never want to figure it all out alone ever again… and neither should you. 

 

Birth Shame & Blame: A Response to An Epidemic

midwiferyfor soul quote

For twelve solid years I pioneered the natural birth industry as a childbirth educator, doula, student of ‘traditional’ midwifery, and advocate.  This included a strong focus on instinctive and physiological labor and birth.  The motivation to teach about the power of birth, from this lens, was supported by scientific evidence in the fields of physiology, endocrinology, neuroscience, personal experience and a belief that the mammalian female body was created to give birth instinctively.

Deeper yet, I became a spokesperson for natural birth after the birth of my first child because I saw birth as a women’s rights issue; I wanted to stop violence against women in birth.  Naturally, I saw the medical institution as the culprit (and those who worked within it) and Midwifery as the solution.

I believe that all passion is motivated initially from a place of heart and soul; a desire to ‘do good’ and ‘help’.  However, although the initial motivation stemmed from a place to ‘do no harm’, it is hard to maintain that place of pure motivation without developing an ideology.

I want to talk about how the ‘natural’ birth ideology can be contributing to the concerning rise in childbirth shame and postpartum depression. Including my personal and professional mental battle, as I wrestle with this paradox and help mothers find healing.  

Fifteen years deep I am still grappling with the question: If birth is physiological and instinctive than why is it not the experience for so many labouring mothers?

What stands in the way of accessing this mammalian birth right?  And why does it matter?

For years I believed that if care givers would just support birth physiology and get out of the way with all of their protocols and interventions, then women would birth instinctively and uncomplicated most of the time.  This led to a belief that the reason why there is a high rate of complicated births, followed by unwanted c-sections and interventions, was/is the caregivers ‘fault’ for not applying physiological evidence based care.

From this vantage point the ‘cure’ was/is simple: Care givers need to change their practices to be supportive of physiological and instinctive birth.  

The First Layer of Blame

This mindset led towards what I would consider to be the first layer of blame: If childbirth did not turn out the way the mother had hoped, someone is to be blamed, and that someone is the caregiver!  

For a few years I was stuck in this mindset and could not see beyond it.  Care givers of birth (Obgyn, Midwives, Nurses) were at fault; the system was at fault; and the education was at fault.  Mothers could scapegoat their authentically painful feelings by adopting this mindset.  Instead of authentic grief being expressed in response to their unwanted birthing experience, mothers could project anger towards the institution of birth and make them ‘wrong’.

This anger has fuelled many movements within childbirth: Freebirth/unassisted birthing; Cesarean prevention and awareness; Mainstreaming midwifery; Childbirth rights; Thousands of blogs and videos; Documentaries about the politics in childbirth; and Lawsuits against mistreatment in labor.

These movements have opened up the conversation about childbirth in that, giving birth is no longer a private affair but a public topic of conversation.

Within a decade I have personally witnessed the business of birth BOOM! Doula is no longer a puzzling sounding word with no context; but rather a necessity for pregnant families to have by their side.  We have experienced an explosion within the Doula industry: There are more courses and instructors now, more Doulas, online programs, extra ‘workshops’, birth bag supplies to be purchased, and even postpartum doulas.

If you are pregnant you are bombarded with more than a handful of different childbirth classes to take, all of which are most often focused on helping you have a ‘natural’ childbirth experience; some even focusing on hypnotherapy to help you train your brain to ‘let go’ in labor so you can have a pain-free physiological labor.

Midwifery has become mainstream (for the most part) and more and more people are hearing the word and choosing a Midwife as their primary care giver.  And, for pregnant families within my home city of Edmonton, many are denied access to care because there are not enough midwives to serve the demand.  Met with outraged citizens, many of these women who are denied access of care are afraid to give birth with an Obgyn in attendance (I was one of these women who feared OB care).

The Second Layer of Blame

This feeds what I believe to be the second layer of blame: The system has denied women access to caregiver of choice; it is therefore the systems fault for a unwanted birth outcome.  

Again, outrage in regards to ‘lack of choice’ has motivated a movement to draw awareness to the fact that this lack of choice is a violation of birth rights.  This has led to what I would call the second wave of unassisted birthers.  The first wave was motivated by a desire to have autonomy and ownership over the birth experience, the second wave is in response to a denial of care.  Two different starting points.

In all of this, the natural birth movement is still very much at the forefront of all of these movements.  From what I have gathered over the years, more women are desiring a natural birth because of a belief that this is the best way to give birth.  A belief that I have fostered and fuelled.  And although part of me believes that this is true, I cannot know that it is the absolute truth – especially if it is causing much emotional pain amongst todays mothers.  Birth empowerment and informed choice are high up on the ‘needs’ list for pregnant women.

And throughout my career as an advocate and educator, I taught exactly this:  If you just get the right caregiver (or no caregiver), who supports birth physiology and altered states, and who listens to you and supports your needs, you will feel safe enough to let birth happen to you.  

All you need is the right environment that supports your hormonal needs in labor, and you need to be undisturbed and left alone so you can find your way.  Albeit, all of this was/is supported by science and what we know about instinctive physiological labor, I still found myself perplexed when I attended or was told about a ‘birth that didn’t work out’.

What went wrong? Who interrupted the labor? Who was to blame?

Underneath these initial responses were thoughts that something got in the way: It must have been due to hidden unprocessed trauma; discomfort with letting go; psychological challenges; unhappy relationship; discomfort with sexuality; discomfort with losing control; low pain tolerance; unsupportive environment etc.

As you can see, there are thousands of possibilities.  Some of which may be true; they may have contributed to the outcome.  However, what is the benefit in figuring it out and focusing on all the reasons why birth ‘didn’t happen’ the way a mother had hoped it would?  What if how a mother gave birth didn’t matter, as long as she was supported in a kind, considerate, humane way?

The Third Layer of Blame

This leads to a third layer of blame: I, the mother, must be at fault.  My body failed me because I didn’t have the outcome I wanted…the outcome that society is suggesting I have.  Anything ‘less’ is unforgivable and someone needs to be ‘blamed’.  

When there is blame there is shame.

Each of these three layers of blame foster shame and worse, distrust in the self (and body for future births) and the other (care givers).  This is cultivating the very thing that I, as an advocate of natural birth, was trying to eradicate from the very beginning: violence against women in childbirth. I can’t believe it has taken me this long to realize this and see through the cracks.

What is worse: overt externalized violence or internalized self-perpetuated violence?

Violence is violence and they both feed disempowerment and oppression.  Internalized shame is a violent act that disempowers every mother; diminishes her life force; keeps her from feeling joy in her children; feeds the belief that the female body is defective; and separates mothers from each other (natural birth camp versus medicalized birth camp).

We want to foster a society that empowers mothers and families

It is ironic and beautiful that my path has led me towards a counselling profession in which I help mothers heal from childbirth trauma.  I am honoured to hold the stories of shame and guilt, as I sit on the receiving end and see the damage that can be caused by a birth ideology: all women must give birth physiologically, naturally, and instinctively.  I am humbled as I sit in sessions and hold raw grief, grief that is behind the anger and the blame, grief that comes from relief and release from these binding mindsets.  Grief that happens when a mother realizes she doesn’t have to hold onto the blame.

Although I still believe in the science that supports birth physiology, I have stopped my need to blame: blame caregivers, lack of choice, or women.  Rather, as a holder of stories I recognize that it is far more than this.  It is about transcending this mindset and discovering a new mindset that fosters the most kindness towards self and other.

From this kind inner place true joy can flourish regardless of one’s birth experience.  

NOTE: I am not suggesting that we turn a blind eye and ignore overt abuse that does occur in childbirth.  This type of childbirth trauma needs addressing and consequences.  There is no room for violence period.  Also, I chose to use the words: she and women.  I acknowledge that not all pregnant people identify with these labels and that the language around birth is changing.  Please know my intention is to be inclusive to all peoples.  

 

 

A Vision for An Undisturbed Birthing Centre – A New Paradigm for Midwives

I came across this piece that I wrote years ago, yet still strongly hold dear to my heart. It was called:

An Independent Midwifery School & Birthing Centre:

A vision to contribute to the healing of our planet and people.

“To heal the earth, we must heal birth” ~ Jeannine Parvati Baker

This is a vision for the independent study of Midwifery, serving aspiring midwives, doulas, and pregnant *women and families. Offering  Quantum Midwifery education and hands on apprenticeships; in hopes to train care givers to nurture the body, mind, heart, and soul using sacred and scientific teachings from the undisturbed birthing paradigm and quantum physics.

One does not learn to become a quantum midwife through only feeding the mind educated information, but rather, one becomes a quantum midwife when she/he/they have gone through the fire of transformation and learns to embody the teachings within his/her being and soul.

Trust is the foundation of this teaching and in the process, fear dissolves.

The science of birth is not rocket science, it can be taught within a short period of time. Yet, midwifery as practice, is learned as a dedication to a path of constant internal investigation, healing, and transformation.

Quantum Midwifery teaches the curriculum of modern midwifery care as well as:

  • Teachings for the mind, body, and soul
  • How to work/serve within the undisturbed paradigm of birth
  • How to transform fears into deep trust
  • How to create soul based relationships & connections
  • How to communicate deeply, honestly, and with compassion
  • How to sit in the fire of human transformation
  • Anatomy and physiology as both science and mysticism

In quantum midwifery, you learn the old and the new. Nothing is left out.

I use to believe that Midwifery had only one mode of operation, however, I soon discovered that within the field of midwifery, as within every field of study, there are many political tensions due to differing paradigms of thought.

Since regulation and registration within Canada, we have experienced, as both birthing people and aspiring care givers, challenges to get our education and experiential needs met. Currently, it is challenging to find care givers, challenging to enter a university program, challenging to ‘challenge’ the status-quo of birth.

Even more challenging, is the path in becoming a registered/licensed midwife; especially if you choose to align yourself with any other paradigm that differs from the dominant systematized ‘professional’ model of midwifery care.

I have experienced an internal soul battle regarding this issue since I was first introduced to the scientific literature and lectures by Dr. Michel Odent and the quantum midwifery paradigm (well over a decade ago). Since then, I have read and been introduced to more and more people choosing to align themselves with this model of care. This dilemma causes a lack of congruency within the internal world of the care giver and the external world of practice.

Within Canada, we have mainly one valid option of study for those interested in practicing midwifery legally and that is via university education. It has become more and more difficult, over the past ten years, to enter midwifery via the direct entry route. Although it is true, a couple of external programs of studies are still qualifiable for registration, it has become very difficult to validate those modes of study.

The frustration that I have experienced, after attending two birthing centers for internships and having studied both within university and as a self directed learner, is that there are no centres or apprenticeships available for me to have practiced what my heart knows to be true.

You see, in quantum midwifery, ‘midwifery’ does not belong to any organizing system or institution. We, today’s independent midwives, are not interested in joining the governing systems and institutions that regulate/license/register modern midwives; we are merely wanting to carve out space for our voices to be heard and our way to be practiced. Furthermore, being able to access quality education and training within this paradigm.

If we are to see change on this planet, then no institution can own and control all modes of learning and operating. We cannot have our food controlled by only a few corporate companies, for in doing so we are destroying our health, our planet, and our freedom. The same holds true for birth and midwifery, the same governing bodies that dictate what and how we learn, cannot gain full power over the path of midwifery; nor how we choose to practice, where we choose to practice, and with whom.

The institutional programs may be able to offer a different path of midwifery, and this is valid and necessary for true freedom of choice, however they cannot govern control over our bodies, our babies, our families, and our paths to midwifery. Since, after many dead end attempts to ‘enter’ the system of midwifery I (and many others), have decided to create a NEW pathway that is steeped in the values of that which is sacred to quantum midwifery.

There is absolutely no reason why, within Canada, that we cannot choose to learn and apprentice within the quantum midwifery model of care. We can rewrite the laws and create space for a sacred and ancient pathway of midwifery to re-emerge. Where women can receive the quality of care they are asking for, where aspiring midwives can receive an education and apprenticeship they desire, and where, a community can thrive based on sustainable living practices that nurture the entire human being. The vision is a centre, one that supports, teaches, and works within the undisturbed birthing paradigm. 

The time is ripe for the development of a women-centered ethic in the US [and Canada] that includes the complex issues that surround birth and motherhood. A women’s movement that is too narrowly focused to take seriously the needs of women becoming and being mothers is itself in a stage of prolonged adolescence and must mature. 

It is time for feminists to realize that pitting the needs of non-mothers against those of mothers is a way of weakening-not strengthening-women. 

Women should not lose their human rights when they become mothers. The status of motherhood is progressively lowered when women themselves have little understanding of the needs of women who give birth and of the abilities of their own bodies. 

It is also important for women to be aware of the historic role of midwives and how their changing roles have played out in parts of the world where the profession of midwifery was not eliminated, as it was in the US [and Canada] during the early decades of the twentieth century. 

When giving birth to a new life is discounted as a possible source of female empowerment and ability, we place immense burdens on virtually every mother in our society, while at the same time expecting each one of them to live up to the ideal of being the Perfect Mother. We can and must do better than that. Ina May Gaskin, Birth Matters, 2011

*Although we used the word Women & Families throughout these writings, it denotes ALL peoples. All races,faiths, and gender/sexual associations (transgender, bi-sexual, gay, poly).