Mindful Motherhood

By Vieten, Cassandra | Tikkun, May/June 2010 | Go to article overview

Mindful Motherhood


Vieten, Cassandra, Tikkun


THERE IS PERHAPS NO TIME, WITH THE POSSIBLE EXCEPTION OF FACING death, that greeting "things as it is" as Suzuki Roshi once put it, is more called for than during pregnancy, childbirth, and early motherhood. Facing the birth of a child is a frontier- complete with all the excitement, challenge, and adventure that confronting any unknown territory brings.

And while motherhood is a source of great joy for most women, recent data suggest that up to 18 percent of women are depressed while pregnant, and as many as 19 percent of first-time mothers experience some form of depression in the first three months after delivery. Other perinatal challenges include mood disorders (12 percent), PTSD (8 percent), and anxiety disorders (7 percent). A robust scientific literature links postpartum depression to impairments in mother-infant bonding. In addition, a large body of empirical evidence in both animal and human studies indicates that stress and mood disturbance experienced during pregnancy increases the risk for preterm birth and other pregnancy-related complications, and may adversely affect the developing fetus, and the child's long-term development.

Despite the potential for far-reaching benefits, relatively little research has focused on developing interventions to reduce stress and improve mood for mothers during the perinatal period. In response to the need for abrief, low-cost, nonpharmaceutical intervention to reduce stress, improve mood, and decrease the effects of stress and distressed mood on mother-infant bonding, and based on our own experiences as parents, my colleagues and I developed the Mindful Motherhood program.

Though small, our pilot study showed that it was possible to learn mindful awareness during pregnancy and early motherhood (even with baby in tow!), and that women who engaged in mindfulness training during pregnancy had fewer negative emotions and less anxiety during pregnancy compared with women who did not participate in the training. There were also trends toward reduced symptoms of depression and increased positive emotion.

An Embodied, Down and Dirty, Sensual Practice

MINDFUL MOTHERHOOD, THE WAY WE TEACH IT, IS FOCUSED ON BEING PRESENT, IN YOUR body, and connected with your baby no matter what is happening. It's being aware of your experience from moment to moment, as it is happening, without pushing it away, trying to make it stay, or judging it as bad or good. It is meeting each situation as it is and, over time, more and more often, approaching whatever is happening with curiosity and compassion.

Mindful motherhood is a way of approaching the good, the bad, and the ugly of motherhood to the largest extent possible, with open eyes and an open heart. Whether those experiences are internal (like thoughts, feelings, or body sensations) or external (like relationships, workplace situations, or the situations in your environment), mindful motherhood is about increasing the capacity to be with whatever is happening, no matter what it is. Exactly like mindfulness practice in any other situation. But motherhood demands a special kind of practice.

For one thing, mindful motherhood requires a person to be mindful in relationship with another being. This most often ends up being true of general mindfulness practiceit's no mistake that loving-kindness practice is the ultimate conclusion of most retreats. But in this situation, relationality defines the practice. Silence, solitude, retreat, refugethe lone-wolf style of "I'm going to sit here quietly with my mind until I see clearly," is very rarely an option in early motherhood.

Second, in mindful motherhood one can forget the aspects of mindfulness that are of the transcendent/detached/observing- with-great equanimity variety. Mindful motherhood is a practice that is living, embodied, down and dirty, sensual, centered and grounded in this world, in this body, in this moment. It's about being present, in your body, and connected with your baby. …

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