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 nearly a decade ago 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?
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!