mind-body connection in birth (and why it’s important)

How many times in your life have you heard the phrase “mind over matter”? That’s a frustrating phrase for many of us because it’s just not that simple. So many of us spend years of our lives trying to control our bodies with our minds through fad diets, rigid programs and self-help books, but for most of us they never work long-term. Why? Because that is not the way are were meant to exist. The mind and the body are not separate, and when we treat the body like it is nothing more than a meat bag that we can manipulate from the outside, we are misunderstanding its processes on a fundamental level. Not to mention, when does one-size-fits-all really actually work? Our mental state is directly related to our physical state. They are intertwined. I know you’re wondering how this has anything to do with birth, and I want to shout from the rooftops that this has everything to do with birth — so walk with me as I explore the mind-body connection.

Try something with me!

Let’s begin with a little experiment. I want you to choose an object in the room you’re in. Any object. I want you to focus on that object for as long as you can without your mind wandering to anything else. Just be with that object. Take in its essence — the depth of color, the smell — enjoy every part of that object for as long as you can without your mind wandering (and don’t forget to breathe in the process). Every time your mind moves to where the object came from, where you should move it, why you chose that object — any thoughts other than the essence of that object — redirect your attention back to the object.

Finished? How much time passed before your mind wandered the first time? A seasoned meditator might go for 10 seconds or so before they have to redirect their attention, but most of us can barely hang on for a few milliseconds before we have to adjust. Which brings me to this point: how much control over our minds do we actually have?

Consider how we respond to stress. Those moments of reactivity when stressful stimuli cause use to explode in a fight-or-flight frenzy or shut down completely. We feel silly and embarrassed afterward because we didn’t intend to have that response, but we were unable to stop in that moment, be aware of our autonomic response and consciously choose whether we should respond with reaction or with curiosity/understanding.

When we’re out for coffee with a friend who we haven’t seen in a while and we really want to be present with them in that experience; but we find ourselves interrupting their words with our responses in our own excitement, or thinking about what we are going to make for dinner, or that work project we are stressing about. What about those days where we are thinking about work on the way home and suddenly we are home and unsure how we made it from point A to point B? We want to be present, but even when we are focused on being present we are still unable to be here, now.

Most of us live our lives under the illusion that we are in control.

The truth is that on average we spend only about 5% of our lives in a conscious state. That means 95% of our lives are spent in a subconscious state of mind. During the first seven years of our lives our brains are in what we can call a download mode. From conception, every part of our development is based on reactive responses to outside stimuli. Even before birth we are downloading everything we come in contact with — our parents’ and loved ones’ behaviors and interactions, everything. The second major influence on our subconscious state is trauma. Our bodies like to hold on to traumatic experiences so that we can protect ourselves from experiencing those things in the future.

So wait, I’m telling you that 95% of the time we are functioning in a state of reality that is shaped by the perceptions of behaviors we learned in childhood and through our traumatic experiences. That’s some heavy stuff. But I wouldn’t be sharing it if there was nothing we could do to change it. And this is why mind-body connection is so important during birth… if we do everything we can to prepare our bodies for birth, but neglect our minds, what happens when we move through our first unexpected moment during our labor experience? Subconscious reaction. Depending on what we’ve downloaded through our previous experiences that means fight-or-flight mode or shutdown — and both of those reactions are what begins that fear-tension-pain cycle.

Birth is about surrendering our illusion of control and creating space for our body to do what it knows how to do instinctively — it’s about getting our subconscious reactions out of the way so that we can move through the passage of birth intuitively. Any childbirth education program will talk about the fear-tension-pain cycle and how education reduces fear, which minimizes the likelihood of being stuck in this cycle during labor, and this is so true. But that is only part of it. I have seen the most educated people overthink birth. I have seen people have the most straight-forward births and be traumatized, and I have seen people have the most physically traumatic births and walk away transformed. Yes, exploring our fears is part of this, but understanding how our minds respond to stress and learning how to bring awareness into the milliseconds before reaction occurs — THAT is a conscious, connected state that helps us flow through this rite of passage we call birth.

So how do we get to that point?

Well, like Pavlov and his bell, we train our brains. We teach ourselves to be mindful or aware of our bodies and our surroundings through repetition, just like we did in the above exercise — redirecting our attention to a focal point, also called Meditation. Now I know meditation can seem intimidating, but that is a huge misconception — anything unknown can seem intimidating. Meditation is only as complicated as we make it, and we must let go of our expectations and explore this topic in curiosity. Just as with anything else, there is no magical one-size-fits-all program or task that can save us from the work. The work is part of the process — it is what brings transformation. Exploring our bodies and minds in curiosity and awareness, learning what tools and techniques work for us in our day-to-day lives so that we can be aware and present — that is how we learn to navigate the 95% of birth that is in our heads.

Meditation is a tool that came to me while I was moving through processing trauma from a pregnancy loss. The benefit was earth-shattering for me. It turned my world right-side-up, and the beautiful things I learned about myself during the process of finding the right tools and techniques for me were so empowering. I never stuck with a solid practice, and only used this tool when I thought I needed it, but it worked for me when I did. Years passed and I found myself pregnant and prepared. I took an intensive childbirth education course, did ALL of my homework, made informed decisions, had all the support in the world through my birth experience, and I was still shocked that my trauma (the trauma that I thought I had already moved past) followed me through my birth. My sub-conscious (or reactive) state of mind responded accordingly and there was very little awareness as I slid down that slope and right into the fear-tension-pain cycle.

My daughter’s birth was the most transformative and healing moment of my life. I walked away from that experience needing to learn everything I could find on the psychology of birth. Why didn’t we talk about this intense paradigm shift more than through vague encouragement? Why did we focus more on the one-size-fits-all parts of birth than learning to personalize the most intense part of the experience (the psychological response to the physiological process)? I wanted to learn everything I could and shout it from the roof-tops. Everyone deserves the opportunity to be transformed through birth, because what we take from that experience is what will carry us through the paradigm shift that is postpartum.

After a beautiful, transformative birth I struggled, well wallowed, through early postpartum. I had supply issues and my daughter had tummy problems, and it took months and lots of tears before we worked everything out. One day while moving through that experience, I had a moment of epiphany. I could continue to wallow in this discomfort or I could lean into it, learn how to move through it and figure out what worked for us in this new life. And that was the beginning of my journey in self-care.

You see, before having a child I never prioritized true self-care. I didn’t have to. Bubble baths, glasses of wine, those were prioritized and documented with cutesy hashtags. Even with the amazing tools I had learned, that I knew worked well, I never used them proactively. I only used them when I had already surpassed my limits. The most valuable information I learned in the first two years postpartum was how to prioritize my self-care; how to create rituals and routines and how beneficial that sacred time is… and it has transformed my life. So-much-so that in the middle of my Pre-/Perinatal Educator certification I decided to train to become a meditation teacher as well. I wanted to be able to articulate and share the beautiful process of getting to know yourself on a mind-body level.

I’ve learned how to navigate so many tools of meditation and help others not only prepare for both the physical and psychological aspects of birth, but how to navigate the mind and truly transform the postpartum experience, for both parents. Because the entire family unit is affected by birth — physically and psychologically, and parents who walk out of birth aware and transformed are more equipped to help their child through their own seven-year download. Birth and postpartum may be the most difficult rites of passage we experience in our lives, but what if I told you we have the choice to walk through these experiences fully aware and conscious, transformed and equipped with the right tools and mindset to be present in early parenthood?

Join me…

I’m so excited to announce that I will be launching my childbirth education course, Birthing Consciously, later this summer. I can’t wait to share all the knowledge I’ve been building over the past three years, and I’m over the moon with excitement to share a variety of personalized tools and techniques that will not only prepare both parents for birth, but equip you to walk into early parenthood empowered and aware.

If you’d like to follow this process and hear all about exclusive opportunities, giveaways and discounts I’ll be offering as we approach the launch of my Birthing Consciously program, join my email list here and follow me on social media. I’m so excited to share and learn together as I move through this process!

Matrescence and Mindful Living

The walk through postpartum… It’s difficult for everyone, some more than others. The lack of sleep, learning your newborn’s language, the transitions your own body is moving through — it may seem like forever, but mama it is only temporary. Many of us learn intentional self-care and direct communication of our needs through necessity. We reach our breaking point and realize that what we are doing is not working and we need a better method. 

It takes longer for so many of us because of the messages we are given in our society. We praise our new mothers for being out and about in early postpartum, or for losing all the baby weight so quickly. The standards we hold ourselves to as new mothers are unrealistic and degrading when we truly understand the depth of the postpartum experience. Self-care equals a glass of wine or a new pair of shoes. Mental health is so often considered taboo that we are never given the proper tools to become resilient adults, and we wonder why our rates of postpartum anxiety and depression are higher than ever… We tend to ignore, fight against or mute our discomforts instead of leaning in and learning what that discomfort tells us. Our bodies are constantly communicating our needs to us, we only need to find the awareness to understand. 

The important lessons and tools we have the potential to learn in postpartum are integral to moving through life, especially parenthood. But that doesn’t mean we can’t prepare during our pregnancies. Creating a mindful existence brings our thoughts into an inquisitive state, and when we see the world with curiosity we are less critical of ourselves and others, and we flow more easily with the tides of our lives. Here are a few lessons that I learned as I moved through postpartum. 

Give yourself alllll the grace.

So many of us walk out of pregnancy with high expectations. But there is nothing that can prepare us for some of those early postpartum moments. We can only ride the wave and remember that the sleepless nights, the fluctuating hormones, they’re only temporary. Just like our transitions in labor, we must learn to take things one moment, one breath at a time. 

Create rituals that bring you sacred pause.

My life before motherhood was very structured. So much so that in early postpartum I fought against the flow of matrescence with everything I had. I wallowed until I realized that continuing on that path wouldn’t make things better. You see, I had never really had to prioritize self care. I was a workaholic before becoming a mother, but I never anticipated the depth of the fact that  the most important work I would ever do, raising my daughter, was a never-ending responsibility. Self-care was no longer an option, it was a necessity. It sounds so simple, but when we prioritize the care of our bodies and our minds and create routines and rituals to make these processes special, we set the groundwork for a life of intention and overflowing gratitude. 

Prioritize what is truly important to you.

This was a big one for me. As a recovering perfectionist, I still struggle with this… It was so difficult for me to realize that I could not do everything. Breastfeeding was a full time job. My daughter demanded to be worn or held at all times. Yes, I did work my way into finding a flow that worked for me and my family, but I also had to surrender to the fact that it was ok to let things like laundry or dishes wait temporarily and prioritize my self-care. Because if we aren’t functional it affects everyone around us, and if we flourish, so does our family.

Nourish and move your body.

Loving on yourself doesn’t always mean what feels good in the moment. We all know that our comfort foods might mask our feelings temporarily, but making intentional choices about what we put into our bodies can make all the difference in our physical and mental health. When I decided to invest more energy in preparing and eating wholesome foods, I was pleasantly surprised at the immediate affect on my mental health. When I prioritized time to go on a walk around the neighborhood or do some yoga in my basement, my anxiety noticeably decreased and I felt more grounded on a daily basis. “I don’t have time” is only an excuse we make from a place of overwhelm. I promise if you can commit to one week of prioritizing these things, the difference will be so dramatic you won’t want to stop. 

Breathe.

I read somewhere that we all need to meditate for at least 30 minutes per day. If we don’t have time to meditate for 30 minutes we should meditate for at least an hour. Again, “I don’t have time” is only an excuse we make from a place of overwhelm. When I first started meditating I was extremely intimidated. But I found that we have so many tools that simplify the process… in moments where I feel like my mind is too busy to meditate, I reach for guided meditations like this. But I do it daily, no matter what. It is part of my morning and evening rituals because I have noticed a significant difference on many levels. Our lives begin and end with the breath, and when we prioritize time to focus on our breath, quiet our minds, and become aware of our bodies, it creates room for growth and healing on a physical and emotional level. Studies show that meditation reduces inflammation, brings greater levels of self-control, and is anti-aging.  There are so many benefits, why wouldn’t we try it? 

It takes a village.

The most important thing I want you to know is that we are not meant to do this alone. This was my greatest lesson. Even with the best family support I could have hoped for, there were resources in my community that I was too proud to reach for… I wanted to figure it all out myself. But the truth is that every baby and every postpartum experience is different. We aren’t meant to figure it out by ourselves. It’s impossible, which is why we have so many amazing whole-body focused providers who specialize in postpartum doula support, pelvic floor therapy, chiropractic, lactation, maternal mental health, and so much more… it takes a village to raise a child. And it is ok to need help. We build some incredible relationships when we are able to reach out in our own vulnerability, and we equip ourselves to help others on similar paths.

More than anything, be kind to yourself. All of these life-changing efforts I mentioned above came over time. It was a gradual shift in mindset. Don’t expect to implement these all at once and change your life overnight — that’s not what this is about. Remind yourself that motherhood is a lifelong journey, and the deepest valleys make way for the most breathtaking moments. There is no book, there is no perfect. We don’t magically wake up as the mothers who made raising us look easy. Matrescence is not a mother made, you are becoming… 


“The most difficult part of birth is the first year afterward. It is the year of travail — when the soul of a woman must birth the mother inside her. The emotional labor pains of becoming a mother are far greater than the physical pangs of birth; these are the growing surges of you heart as it pushes out selfishness and fear and makes room for sacrifice and love. It is a private and silent birth of the soul, but it is no less holy than the event of childbirth, perhaps it is even more sacred.”

JOY KUSEK