Two days ago I downloaded the series of podcasts from one of my top five most inspiring sheroes/heroines Elizabeth Gilbert who I was so privileged and inspired to meet in November 2013 at High Tea at the De Hortus Botanicus here in Amsterdam as a celebration and promotion of the release of her then latest book The Signature of All Things.(It’s a really wonderful read btw!!!)
Last night I started to listen to them, this morning I was aching to hear the rest, so the Teletubbies were put on the iPad for the little person and I indulged. Creativity explosions! Ideas galore! Gratitude beating through my body! Thankful faithful heart.
The two quotes in the Instagram picture which literally made me catch my breath when I heard them came from Episode 4 of Magic Lessons where Liz speaks to Rob Bell, had to be written on my fridge immediately. I recently discovered (thanks to my tenants who were living here for the first half of this year) that you can write on my cupboard surfaces with dry wipe marker – anyone who knows about my sheer love of both stationary and playing teacher(!) will atest to the fact that this is wonderful news.
Later this morning as I was walking The Pig and was still reverberating with the thankfulness, creativity and gratitude I decided to share one of my daily practices with you.
My “3 Things”
- 3 things I am grateful for today.
- 3 things I am hoping for today.
- 3 things I am trusting today
- 3 things I am releasing today
So here is today’s list – even though it’s a little earlier than I usually put them together:
Today I am grateful for:
- My friend Liz and all that she is; her work, her generosity, her spirit and her laugh!
- The incredible late summer weather that Amsterdam is bathed in
- Amsterdam Oosterpark – where The Boy, The Pig and I walk every day and enjoy the daily changes where we really notice “It is a new universe every second!”
Three things I hope for today:
- That the forecast is right and that we can enjoy this late summer bliss for three whole days
- That my client is enjoying being 9 days postpartum and that breastfeeding is establishing well
- That my next client is ready to contact me and move forward with our work together
Three things that I trust today:
- That I will be divinely guided to take the next perfect step toward helping my clients to find me
- That the universe in all it’s glorious abundance is taking care of my finances
- That I will start “The Book” when the time is right
Three things I release today:
- The need for perceived originality in my writing – surely if I write from my heart and soul voice then that in itself is unique?!
- Worry – it takes so much energy and focus away from the areas I wish to direct my energy and focus like The Boy, The Pig, my desires and my dreams.
- Guilt about the iPad and Teletubbies: listen to Magic Lessons Podcast episode number 1 for the justification
A) as much as I say “daily practice” I confess it doesnt happen every. single. day.
B) sometimes the same thing will take up space on the list for days/weeks at a time
C) sometimes I don’t manage 3 – but I still write 1 or 2
“Every orchestra has specific instruments and musicians, but you, the mother, are the conductor. You are writing your own symphony, you choose the music and the notes. If something is out of tune, you can change the music. You create the harmony. You are the maestro.”
excerpt from The Greatest Pregnancy Ever: The Keys to the MotherBaby Bond Tracy Wilson Peters, CCCE, CLD, and Laurel Wilson, IBCLC, CCCE
As a doula in Amsterdam, I hear many confessions from pregnant women or women who have recently given birth. I say confessions because often it’s as if they hear the word “Doula” and then decide to offload the thoughts they haven’t dared to share with anyone else about pregnancy, or childbirth or the postpartum period. This isnt a new experience for me – I often wonder if I have a sign on my forehead that reads “Please share your most taboo thinking/intense life experiences/painful loss/heartfelt desire/dirty secrets with me”?!?!?! It’s all good – I love hearing these untold pregnancy and birth stories!
A very common pregnancy confession (that sometimes women feel so guilty about that they don’t dare to vocalise it) is that they don’t or didn’t feel very connected to baby.
Fortunately we are now very mindful of the fact that babies’ consiousness does indeed develop in the uterus. Annie Murphy Paul gave an excellent TEDTalk on the matter, and the documentary What Babies Want explores this in a very convincing and heartfelt way – both great watches if you find you do want to explore the subject of babies’ inutero consciousness (see also the links at the end of this blog).
As with much of our developing awareness though – this knowledge can be a double edged sword. Many pregnant mothers upon hearing that indeed baby’s consciousness is there from almost the moment you see the extra line on the stick or hear the words “You’re pregnant” become very concerned with making sure their unborn baby has only positive experiences within the uterus, and that she experiences as much love, connection and nurturing as possible before birth. Great! As long as it doesn’t become a means to tell yourself that you are anything less than absolutely incredible for carrying a baby inside your womb.
“People keep asking if I’m enjoying the mother-baby connection and honestly I just don’t know what that is supposed to feel like?”
“How do I connect with a baby that I can’t see?”
“It’s hard for me to feel loved up and connected to baby when I just feel like crap 82% of the time due to pregnancy tiredness!”
Other confessions along the same lines go
“I felt so sad so often during my first pregnancy – I was worried that when she was born she would be depressed”,
“I just don’t have time for this pregnancy – I’m running around after an eighteen month old who has just started running – I can’t keep up with him let alone focus on this unborn baby”
You get the picture. Why are parents so hard on themselves?!?!
Here are six suggestions as a quick “How To Connect With Baby During Pregnancy”
- First thing in the morning or last thing at night. That lovely only half awake time when your eyes are probably closed, you feel way less self conscious and either the thought bubble (The Mind) is just about to switch on or off. As you’re adjusting your body to rest or wakefulness take a moment to place your hands on your beautiful bump and maybe just begin by saying “Morning Baby” (or Goodnight!) No need to say it aloud – though no harm in doing so. Once you feel comfortable doing this – you may even like to spoon in to your partner and invite them to say a few words.
- Whilst doing something mundane or mind numbing. You’re washing the dishes or brushing your teeth, dare i say it – maybe you’re driving on a route you know like the back of your hand. This is also a great moment to decide to check in with how baby is feeling. Chances are you’re relaxed and just in the moment – baby may already respond to this energy and have a little wriggle around – focus your attention on your womb, perhaps this feels more comfortable if you touch your belly with one hand to make contact. Tell baby what you’re doing. Tell her it’s boring! Tell her it’s really not your favourite thing to do but that somehow it’s quite relaxing anyway. Tell her what you did today. Tell her what you’re doing later.
- Guided visualisation or meditation. As a coach and doula in Amsterdam I often suggest to clients who are looking to build meditation into their practice but who find it difficult to switch off that they have a look on Youtube for guided meditations to listen to on headphones. That would be a great place to start, there are lots of guided meditations out there to try, and many women report finding a lot of peace and relaxation from the Natal Hypotherapy and Hypnobirthing CDs. It is also important to say that it is very very common for you to go “to sleep” whilst listening to a guided meditation, especially whilst pregnant(!) forgive yourself for this – and be reassured that it is all going in anyway! EDIT: I have also since recorded a few prenatal/pregnancy visualisations and meditations here and here!
- Singing to baby. Something wonderful happens to us when we sing! We breathe differently, we breath deeper, our lungs expand more fully and our diaghpram needs to get to work to help us project our voices. If you are a power ballad singer in the car, if you are a musical star in the shower or if you’re an arena filling singing chef in the kitchen – keep on singing – and just set the intention that the song is for baby. Having a song or two that you sing repetitively for baby during pregnancy can be a wonderful calming and reassuring tool for helping baby to feel safe and calm in the fourth trimester – and beyond. There is a truly beautiful anecdote from Penny Simkin (doula and doula educator extraordinaire) to be found here – enjoy!
- Going within: asking questions and listening. After having adopted a couple of the practices above – once you are able to recognise that you are connecting with baby in a deep and a meaningful way; then you may be ready to really take the contact with baby to the next level. Usually to really be able to pose questions and hear the answers it helps to be still and quiet. To be comfortable and feel safe. To know that time is stretching out ahead and you can really enjoy taking time to communicate with baby. Sitting down comfortably; if you are comfortable in the lotus position with your back straight and your spine aligned – great! Perhaps you’re more comfortable sat on a chair – a straight and well supported spine, both feet on the ground, perhaps you’ve been really using the birthing ball and are able to sit with a straight well aligned spine, knees wide and below hips, feet stable and supportive in full contact with the ground. Begin by placing your right hand on your belly to make contact with baby, and your left hand on your heart centre (on your chest).Take three deep breaths and focus on dropping your consciousness from your head into your heart. Take another three breaths and set the intention to connect with baby. Notice the warmth of each hand, notice baby; is she still, does she move? Invite the heart to ask baby how she is feeling. Notice. Breathe. Notice. Allow the feelings/instincts and thoughts to come up and take shape. Try not to judge. The ego will get busy telling you this is crazy, telling you that you’re imagining things. Just allow those thoughts; they too have their place. Ask again; ‘what can I do to help you feel better’? Notice. Breathe. Notice. Allow. Ask if there is anything else that baby needs to communicate to you. Notice. Breathe. Notice. Allow. And finally, what do you want to communicate to baby? Share. Notice. Feel. Breathe. Notice. Allow. Before you open your eyes, move around and get back to your day – take some time, take space together, feel the gratitude, feel the peace, feel the calm. Then >slowly< come back to your body, open your eyes, stretch and pick up your day.
- You’re always connected anyway….Remember this. Go about your day. Just be reassured that baby is listening, baby is feeling, baby is sentient, baby is connected to you; you are connected to baby – baby is within you. Baby is coming to earth, and earthside there is a whole range of emotion, of feelings, of experiences, of connection, of disconnection. Baby will get to taste it all. You are unequivocally connected to baby every second – waking or sleeping. And maybe that is enough for you to remember; actually you dont have to make a conscious effort to “connect with baby” because baby is connected. Let me say it again: you. dont. have. to. “DO”. anything. Be aware of the connection. Don’t scaremonger yourself about any “negative” experiences being “bad” for baby. By all means – focus as much as you can on the positives – beautiful if you can mainly be in this state, but if there are things going on in your life that are stressful, that are out of your control – let it go, try not to get hung up on it.
Here are a couple of other links for you to look into on the notion of mother-baby connection and evidence for it’s positive impact on pregnancy, child bearing and the immeditate post partum period, if you have any to add or if you have any heart warming anecdotes to share on the topic: please comment below!
Lastly: image credit unknown – I would love to attribute this beautiful image to it’s rightful creator so please make contact if you know the artist.
In the park there is a constant ebb and flow of people. People exercising. People circulating energies through the serene movement of Tai Chi – every morning at 10am in front of the bandstand should you wish to join. People cutting through. People detouring in order to exhange a street for a winding path flagged with luscious green grass beside the lake. People walking their dogs. People drinking. People playing. People being people.
Late this afternoon I was walking Winston. I was falling into the gentle mindful experience which I try to be present in each time we walk in the park. Part of this means I am aware of the people around me, but at the same time need to remain unattatched to what they’re doing around me. This is intrinsic to my growing and deepening mindfulness practice.
I noticed the air. It was cold but not bitter. It was not moist but it couldnt be described as damp. I felt thankful for my sheepskin gloves. The wind was insistent. The wind was neither aiding nor abetting my movement. The blustery rhythm however was not regular enough to excite a breathlessness within me – which happens with the right kind of wind. The sun was starting to say a slow Wintery goodbye. I felt grateful to have enjoyed the sunshine today – not commonplace for February in The Netherlands. The ground was hard beneath my feet. I noticed within my body the release of endorphins starting to mobilise. I noticed the half smile on my face.
I heard a voice behind my right shoulder and turned to face the man who had spoken.
It was a man of around 60, riding his bike, wearing a baseball cap which was frayed around the rim. His dark chocolate brown hair was greying but his smile was bright.
“Strong sturdy dog isn’t it, a bulldog? It’s back and behind is so strong, and round and perfect.”
Hoping that he wasn’t in fact talking about my behind in a vaguely disguised dog remark, I replied warmly that I loved Winston’s behind – and that Winston was a great dog. He proceeded to explain that he had a Jack Russell, and that he thought of her when he saw Winston’s behind because her back and behind were a little fragile. I said the appropriate dog owner to dog owner “Awwwwwww cute, shame about the fragility” and started to continue moving. He fell into my rhythm but on his bike, and went on to explain that she was his companion, that there was only him and her at home now – his wife had died just over a year ago.
He wakes up in the morning and rolls over and says “Good Morning” and he swears that she answers back – in her own doggy way. They have a routine together now. They wake up in the morning – he says “Good Morning” and she replies – then he lets her out into the garden so she can do her business. He cleans it up and then they can go back to bed for an hour or so.
He explains that his wife died of a brain tumour, and that before that she had been prone to lung infections. She had loved animals but because of her fragile health they had resorted to keeping a pair of canaries rather than any other animal. He laughs loudly and says “Imagine the chaos – two canaries flying around! We couldn’t keep them in a cage.” His laugh rings out and he smiles with a distant look in his eye and says “You know, she knew she was going to die. It was about eight months before she did that she started to insist that we got a dog, despite her ill health. So we got the Jack Russell…..I think she wanted to know that when she left, the dog would still be there. So that there would be someone there for me when I opened the door as I came home from work. And she is there. She’s there waiting for me behind the door.”
He refocused on me, and we shared a blurry moment. I can’t speak for him but I noticed my heart was full of love, and worried that it may brim over through the tear ducts in my eyes.
I rubbed his arm and said something simple about the beauty of the companionship of dogs. Then we smoothed over the raw emotion by sharing a moment passionately enthusing over the efficacy of sheepskin gloves in keeping your hands warmer than any other glove, and for the second time in the space of twenty minutes I felt thankful for my sheepskin gloves.
And we parted.
As I walked away I marvelled again at the way love never dies. How it lives on in our minds, in our dogs, in our sheepskin glove warmed hands, in our shared windy moments in the park, in our hearts, in our souls.
I hope that his beautiful wife rests peacefully, and looks in every now and again on Ricardo and his Jack Russell with her fragile back and behind.
Not completely. Let’s say my façade fell apart. My mother and baby group tribe got to see the real messy, emotional, vulnerable, snotty, sweaty and mascara melting side of me which I strive to keep so well hidden….
Yesterday was day two of my back flaring up. No baby wearing – the stroller was out (oh how my self judgements raged about being disconnected from Jasper/how I’m failing at the attatchment parenting model/gremlin grumbling ad infinitum). I lost my tram pass (grrrrrrrrrr) so bought a single ticket (cue bigger GRRRRRRRR) and found some redemption in the pleasure of giving a free pass to the first person waiting at the tram stop I debarked from. Then I remembered I was 35 minutes late…rush in to the building as fast as possible – never mind the back twinges!
I came upon my new mummy friends and their bubbas sat around in an oxytocin filled room, sheepskins, blankets, fleeces, big innocent eyes, new teeth to speak of, bare bouncing bottoms, warm sudden wet fountains(!)….for the first time that day I felt like I could really breathe. I was greeted by a big kiss and “You’re looking hot today!” Indeed I’d highlighted my eyes with a stripe or two of liner, somehow hoping that a little jet black mascara and Mac serpent green would galvanise me and prevent me from losing my marbles.
My little man was excited to be in the building, which he already associates with joy, connection, laughter, song and development. He greeted everyone with big flirty Gemini smiles, more than happy for that moment to be centre of attention in a room full of love. He was a useful distraction for me; an extension of my facade. I brushed off my wince of pain as I sat down with a brief comment acknowledging it wasn’t anything physical, just some emotional turbulence manifesting physically. And our mother and baby Shiatsu massage session started. Monika was magnificent – connecting with everyone in our group individually and collectively. We all learnt a lot. We breathed deeply. We let go. We watched our bubbas let go and love us even more in our spacious open selves.
And the session ended. Monika graciously, generously went to one of our mums – a true warrior goddess recovering from major surgery on her intestines but eager to see us at her earliest opportunity. We busied ourselves chatting and beginning to clothe our naked mini beings.
I felt Monika’s hand before she said “And you Mama….lets work out whats happening with your back”.
The touch of a human. The touch of a mother. The touch of a balanced centred and well intentioned woman, a nurturer. Wow; always a pleasure – but as a solo parent and a single person one of the things we can miss the most is the loving touch of another. Already I felt relief. What ensued was Monika inviting me to lay face down on a yoga mat – my little man was quickly tended to by a loving mother with spare hands(!) – and Monika set to work on my spine…. Pretty quickly there was a big build up and release of heat, the tension seemed to vibrate underneath my skin, my spine tingling with the targeted manipulations. The tears fell, fortunately my hair covered the side of my face, but then the heat and the sweat took over, the thoughts tumbling –
“Oh jeeeeez….how will I manage to spring up and surreptiously wipe up this pool of tears, snot and sweat as I head off to the bathroom once she’s done?”
“What is wrong with me that a massage does this to me time after time?”
“Breathe…ouch that hurts….breathe….ouch that hurts….breathe”
“Oh my god I’m supposed to be leading a session with these ladies next week – who the hell will respect me enough to participate NOW?”
…..you get the picture!
Monika’s magic hands sensed it was time to stop kneading. She advised me to stay still for a few moments, reassuring me that Jaspie was just fine. I thought “Jump up, drag your sleeve over the wet patch, look at the floor and make a dart for the door – no one will see your mascara streaked panda face- go go go!”
My body had other plans. It threatened to spasm. The fear came. I froze. I eased myself back on the floor.
Darling Esther arrived at my side with loving arms and gentle cooing tender words. Reassuring and distracting, encouraging me to take some time. The rest of the thoughtful, considerate group of women held the space, gave me space, took their space and led by example: they allowed the experience to just be what it was, in that space, on that day, and loved me anyway. No sideways glances. No whispering. No knowing looks. No false comments about “everyone falling apart sometimes” or “hormones eh?!” No single mother pitied projections, no meaningless “I don’t know HOW you DO this on your OWN”.
Once I’d manoeuvred my sobbing damp self off the floor, I was held. They mothered me. They continued to hold the space around me. Judgement free, hurry free, question free.
So I had fallen apart. Not completely but not far from. My façade had fallen completely away. My sisters got to see the real messy, emotional, vulnerable, snotty, sweaty and mascara melting side of me which I strive to keep so well hidden.
My aching back still grating. The fear of a spasm lock down still playing out in my head. My mascara still tracing an interesting angle vertically on my cheek. But feeling seen. Feeling valid. Feeling cherished.
And the falling apart; it was OK. Really. It was more than ok – it was a huge relief. It was an opening. It was authentic. And we connected even more deeply than before. We bonded; our hearts wide open and non-judging. We “saw” each other. Me through my lens of tears; they through lenses of empathy and compassion. My falling apart represents progress for me. Letting go and letting people in. And through letting it all hang out and being totally accepted even in that snotty messy version of me, I get the added bonus of feeling SO much healing gratitude that my life is blessed with 150 minutes, once a week, with a sisterhood that does what our ancestors and our tribal counterparts know heals the spirit of a woman more than any drug or any therapy session could ever do.
With heartfelt gratitude to my sisters and their beautiful bouncing gurus from ‘Tiny & Mighty’, and wishing all who read this post a bare minimum of 150 minutes of utter and complete acceptance and authentic connection, this week and every week.