When I became pregnant, I expected physical changes and challenges in sharing body with a tiny human, but I DID NOT expect the invisible, direct download to my instinct that occurred at the same time and with the same level of expansion and growth. I was pregnant with a baby, I was pregnant with emotions, I was pregnant with new information. This pregnancy sent me in directions that felt nothing less than divine.
It is not in my nature to look for the sacred in only blissful situations. A shamanic and dialectic approach is more my way. Life experience has taught me that we reach new levels of awareness and empowerment in often the most uncomfortable, contradictory, and challenging ways. Hence: PREGNANCY!
Pregnancy for me was not smooth or easy AT ALL. More like, peeling off layers of skin after a mega sunburn. Or being knocked over by ocean waves, being washed out to sea, and not being able to stand on shore until I addressed all the emotions, fears, and old stories that bubbled to the surface of my psyche. Yes, it was hard. work. To think, all this transformation occurred BEFORE the physical/mental/spiritual marathon that is labor and birth! At times I thought I would drown or get buried alive by the sheer magnitude of steady doses of unyielding change, I was fortunate enough to have pregnancy & birth mentors who reminded me (over and over again) that I was headed in the right direction. This was part of being Pregnant. This was the warm up to initiating into motherhood.
Knowing initiation as I do, this terminology helped me to experience pregnancy as sacred transformation. Initiation in my adopted tradition isn’t a quick fix or easy process (see bio). It’s a trial. Sometimes by fire. A complete 360-degree mind-blowing experience that shakes you to your core and leaves you humble, and forever changed. A changed person on a new life trajectory with new responsibilities bridging the old self with the new. Its wild!
Read the (contradictory) Symbols
Before we push out our baby (or baby is pulled out of us), we push through emotional barriers, like passing through steel gates. This post would be longer if I addressed each barrier. Since many incredible advocates for maternal support have already given voice to these, I won’t mess with perfections. The barrier I do want to give voice to is what I call Contradictory Symbols that a pregnant women is surrounded by, which constantly trips her mind into thinking that focusing within is NOT where the answers are! That her instinct is NOT to be trusted, instead, only follow the wisdom of "experts".
We are unconsciously pulled out of our natural desire to soul-search and contemplate and nest. We are given false hopes that if we follow the symbols laid out in front of us, we will have quick, pain-free births, and we will be happy, better moms, with safe & happy kids.
The symbols that surround us come in the forms of: advertisements, fashion moms, “I got my body back” adds, pregnancy & parenting magazine covers, commercials, HAPPY moms, unsolicited baby-formula deliveries, baby registries, parenting books with pretty covers, gender questions, gender colors, morning news shows, “baby bumps”, hospital maternity suite billboards, leading suggestive questions, “you must be so happy!”, strange looks, comments about your size, unsolicited advice, unsolicited “birth is scary” stories, social media, unsolicited “I know what you’re having based on how your carrying” comments, nursing covers, maternity clothing stores, baby showers, etc. Now, each one of these on its own isn’t terribly problematic. It’s the sheer volume of input surrounding us that creates the problem.
Symbol upon symbol leads us out of ourselves, out of our instinct, and into judgmental thinking of self-and-others which snowballs into shame, guilt, grief, anxiety, depression. Is it any wonder that 600,000+ women suffer from maternal mental health disorders during pregnancy and in the postpartum period? That’s 1 out of 7 women! How many of those do you think get help? How many attempt to harm themselves? How many are successful at harming themselves and others because nobody payed enough attention to get them the help they needed along the way?
I’m not saying that symbols lead to maternal mental healthy problems. I do however believe that they lead us so far out of our wise minds that we don’t hear our instincts asking for support. Asking for a bit of processing of this ginormous life change happening to us. Focusing more on buying the perfect stuff with our friends and family instead of sitting down for deep talks where we feel safe to ask the hard questions like, “Am I going to be alright?”, without fear that we'll be further invalidated by a response such as, “Of course, honey! Don’t worry! Be happy! Now, lets talk about your baby-registry?”
We don’t live in a culture that honors sacred transformation. We constantly go outside ourselves to find it. This is problematic when pregnancy REQUIRES US to go within.
Let me repeat that:
Pregnancy REQUIRES US to go within!!!!!!
What does that mean? It means part of our pregnancy deserves time devoted not only to self-care but also to EMOTIONAL self-care. How much and how often depend on your need.
When something big happens in your life, don’t you find yourself having feelings about it? Don’t you find yourself sometimes revisiting life memories? Or ruminating over the ‘what if’s’ or ‘I shoulda’s? That’s how we make sense of change. We go through our own mental and emotional life files to figure out how to deal with the current situation. Why would we expect pregnancy to be any less emotionally stirring? In order to lower the number of maternal mental health issues, we need to add emotional self-care to the pregnancy regimen.
And, no, birth preparation classes do not count as the ONLY source of emotional self-care. I’d even say that most birth prep classes don’t qualify at all in this category as I’ve attended some that never address parent’s feelings but simply go through the steps of labor and delivery. ‘Birthing from Within’ birth preparation classes would be the exception as well as other birth preparation schools that use a more mindful approach to pregnancy and birth.
Trimesters Happen Emotionally Too
The body changes in trimesters. Meaning, emotions and mental focus change in every trimester as well. Most birth-prep classes occur in the third trimester. What about all the changes that occur in the first and second trimester? All trimesters deserve attention.
Being pregnant in this country is hard. The resilient mothers I’ve had the honor of guiding through pregnancy and motherhood have taught me that. I’ve heard it in their stories of trials and triumph. My pregnancy and postpartum experience challenged me too.
A Bit of My Story
Being a “different”, yet more conventional, art-therapist at that time, I knew that what I needed to do as soon as the pregnancy test came out positive was to find myself a therapist. My own decades long self-awareness journey made it even more apparent that, hey, being pregnant is going to bring up some (colossal) stuff! So, go get some help! I made calls. Booking appointments. Waited in cold (and I don’t mean temperature) waiting rooms. And guess what? No therapist would take my case. Why? Because I was “over qualified” as a therapist myself. And wanted to focus on pregnancy. So, after months of searching, I stopped. I was horrified and, yes, lonely. The professional me couldn’t shake the thought, “How many other mothers are falling through the cracks of the mental health system?”
Thankfully, I found resources outside of conventional psychology practices to help me go deep within during pregnancy and ground me during my post-partum years.
(Disclaimer, I am not dissing Western Psychology as a whole. To do so, would be to point the finger at myself as I do adhere to many of its useful ways of helping people. It has its many limitations. Which is why I use a blend of psychology other methods for helping women and mothers in my practice.)
Who Supported Me?
My midwives nurtured me as well as attended to my changing body and baby. They gave me the time and permission to be emotional. They never rushed me and let me know, yea, this is hard and you can do it.
My Birthing from Within mentor helped give me the tools to navigate the journey through the pregnancy labyrinth to prepare me for giving birth. She didn’t cloud my mind with false hopes that my birth would go my way! She DID prepare me for, what if my birth doesn’t go my way. She made me smart about what to expect in birth and how to prevent trauma.
This support alleviated my family and friends to be there for me in the ways they could, instead of having to be my on-the-spot therapists!
Finally, with all the tools in place, the main person who supported me was ME. I did a lot of hard soul searching and looking at old, hard, memories. I made lots of birth art and came up with weird and wonderful rituals to help symbolically honor my process. There was lots of crying and then compassionate “zoning out on TV” when all the input and information got to be too heavy.
Unexpected things did happen and the path to giving birth reached an emotional fever pitch. But with my own blood, sweat, and tears, I did it.
As a highly-anxious mama, I was angry and disappointed that I didn’t have a trained professional therapist to guide me. But, I’ve been down many painful roads in this life, with scars to prove it, and I drew upon examples of my own resilience. That is how I made it through. I was very fortunate. It could have gone a whole other way. For too many mothers, pregnancy and birth don’t lead to happy endings for themselves or their families.
The challenges of my pregnancy and birth journey are what changed the course of my life. Through the pregnancy, birth, and postpartum initiation I found my life calling.
I became a more authentic person unwilling to fit into the limited masculine constructs of western psychology. I decided to be bold and daring and put myself out there to support women and mothers in my own unique way, through all stages of pregnancy, through ALL their fertility choices, life transitions and losses. My goal is to help women discover themselves through their fertility choices. If pregnancy and birth are part of their life story, then I’ll dive into the journey with them to see what they can discover. Perhaps I’m more like an emotional diving instructor. If I hadn’t taken the transformative dive within myself, well, then what kind of guide would I be.