Believe it or not, despite my passion for the core and pelvic floor, these exercises have nothing to do with them…directly anyways….I am proposing that it could be much more powerful to begin more deeply than that. Preparation from the inside out!
If you are like me, you are probably glued to the internet and social media for tips and tricks on how to cope during this incredibly sensitive transition….Perhaps that’s what you are doing right now! The internet can put some wonderful information at our fingertips. Unfortunately, as we search, we are also bombarded with
- images of “the perfect mom”,
- recipes for getting our pre-baby bodies back,
- recipes for “the right ways” to sleep-train, feed, and bond with our babes
It is a frenzy of unrealistic expectation, unhealthy comparison and frankly a recipe for feeling completely and utterly inadequate.
As I read and hear about trends towards increased maternal mental health struggles, moms coming forward to speak about trauma or shame associated with their birth experience, and mothers struggling with the physical effects of not optimally recovering their bodies after birth, I can’t help but wonder about the role that our culture plays in undermining the health of our mothers.
So, what are the exercises that I am proposing to counteract the pressure cooker that new and expectant moms often find themselves in???
Exercise #1: Practice the Art of Letting Go
We were not built to do this alone! It is ok to not feel in control all of the time. In a society that places great value on “productivity” and “independence”, we are often out of practice when it comes to asking for help. So, in pregnancy, while you are growing a human (pretty damned productive, I would say), it could be a perfect time to practice letting go of & delegating some of the little things. Perhaps start to re-define your definition and understanding of productivity. Our bodies are experiencing a surge of oxytocin at this stage of life in order to help us sleep, relax, grow, heal, bond with our baby, and feed our baby. Your job is to heal and fall in love. Boost your oxytocin by eating rich foods, surrounding yourself with people that make you feel supported and loved, touching your baby (in your belly or out in the world), embracing supportive touch yourself, and allowing yourself to feel pampered while letting go of any guilt you may feel about prioritizing yourself. Here is a little-known secret that often takes A TON of this kind of practice to learn…That mom guilt is a whole lot of BULL SHIT!
Don’t get me wrong…I know it’s easier said than done. The postpartum period is a drastic change of pace and difficult to adjust to, especially if you are a highly independent, “Type A personality”. Trust me…I can relate! This is why I am proposing PRACTICE! Not obsessive practice. You are not going to be “perfect” at embracing not being “perfect” right away! Perhaps be mindful of opportunities to let go of control, let go of being in the driver’s seat, put yourself first, be mindful of how you feel when you take advantage of these opportunities. Acknowledge your feelings about asking for help. Try not to judge yourself for feeling some kind of way about it. See if it changes over time, with practice. Does it get easier? And simultaneously, while you practice Exercise #1, use Exercise #2…
Exercise #2: Flex your Self-Compassion Muscle
There is this expectation that new motherhood (while often filled with sleep deprivation) is supposed to be primarily blissful. The reality is that it’s not easy! It’s a roller coaster ride that can be filled with joy and bliss but also will with distress and discomfort. If the distress is unexpected, it can feel more unnatural and foreign. We can get caught up with struggling against it or begin to define ourselves by those times of suffering. So, while working on letting go of comparisons, expectation and control, I think that a healthy dose of self-compassion has the potential to ease a lot of suffering. This sounds simple, but unfortunately, for a lot of us, it is a muscle that does not often get “flexed” and could use a turbo boost of strengthening as we approach a time of intense transition!
Think about your inner voice/your internal dialogue. How does it usually speak to you? What is the tone? What is the content? When does it show up for you? What does it say when you in times of suffering? Is there self-blame? A “suck it up and get on with it” mentality?
Now think about a conversation you have had with a close friend or family member who was suffering. What did your voice sound like when speaking to them (tone, content)? How does it differ from your own “self-talk”?
There are many ways to practice flexing your self-compassion muscle. Dr. Kristen Neff is doing wonderful research and work in this realm. You can think about talking to yourself as though you were a loved one or try this Neff’s mantra in times of distress:
- This is a time of suffering
- Suffering is a part of life
- I will be kind to myself in this moment
#1 brings an element of mindfully acknowledging your experience as opposed to over-identifying with your experience (i.e. “I feel anxious in this moment” vs. “I am anxious”; “I am finding this change difficult in this moment” vs. “I am ill-prepared” or “I can’t do this”)
#2 brings an element of common human experience as opposed to feeling isolated in your experience
#3 brings an element of kindness as opposed to self-judgement.
Visit Dr. Neff’s website for many other self-compassion boosting exercises to try!
I do apologize if you were expecting a couple of magic bullet recipes for helping your body to “bounce back” after birth. I do not believe in “bouncing back”. Once postpartum, always postpartum. It is a milestone filled with opportunity for growth, self-reflection, and finding strength and resilience in new and exciting ways. Perhaps exercise in “letting go” and “self-compassion” will set the foundation for appreciating the transition that our bodies and souls have undergone. My hope is that practicing these things will help you to be patient with their overall recovery and invest in healing in a way that will promote long-term strength and overall wellness.
If you are struggling with fear or anxiety about birth or becoming a mom and are not sure where to start with these exercises, I can help! Come visit me! Spring Forward Health
Lara Desrosiers OT Reg. (Ont.)