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I have this memory from 1990 of feeling like my little baby and I were all alone in the universe. The love that I felt for him was heartbreaking. I could sit and watch him sleep for hours, waiting for his little cherub lip to quiver in his slumber. Everything else in my life felt too bright, too loud, too something… too raw. My body was a disaster, and my mind wasn’t too far behind. The only bright spot was the baby.
I had flashbacks of giving birth for months. It was terrifying and excruciating. They call it a precipitous delivery, when your cervix dilates from 4 to 10 centimeters in less than 10 minutes. His head was stuck behind my tailbone and they were pushing so hard on my back that it felt like it broke. The anesthesiologist wouldn’t give me an epidural because they didn’t have an IV running. She responded to my screams for drugs: “You’re not getting any drugs, honey; your baby is coming out now.” It felt like someone was cutting my body open with an axe and pulling out my organs — and that was a vaginal delivery!
I didn’t realize that the flashbacks and feelings of isolation and sadness were classic postpartum depression. I thought it was not postpartum depression because I didn’t have feelings of wanting to harm the baby. I figured I was just a little screwed up, and that maybe I wasn’t emotionally equipped to be a mom.
Four years later, after surviving 18 weeks on bed rest and hemorrhaging during the delivery of identical twin girls, I knew to recognize postpartum depression when it hit me like a wave and tumbled me to the bottom of the sea. I stabilized after finding the right anti-depressant and enlisting the help of a wonderful psychotherapist, but it wasn’t until I began studying mindfulness that I really turned the stress in my life around. I healed myself, rewired my brain, and now as a Mindful Self-Compassion Teacher, I help others do the same.
If you or someone you love is struggling to get through the day, here is a Mindful Self-Compassion practice to try.
When you have a negative feeling, it activates your fight/flight/freeze response. If you then beat yourself up for having that negative feeling (i.e., “I screwed up, I always screw everything up”), you add a second poison arrow, making the reaction even worse. To break that cycle, try this easy, one-step soothing touch exercise:
Put your hand or hands on your heart. If the heart isn’t your soothing place, try your belly, your face, or your arms. Place your hands on your body wherever you find them most soothing.
Sit with that feeling and allow yourself to be comforted.
That’s it! This simple self-care gesture will calm you, especially if the intent is genuine. It is remarkably powerful and the results are nearly instantaneous. Regardless of whom else you have in your life that has nurtured you or is available to do so currently, you can access effective self-nurturance any time you need it.
After soothing touch, you can tell yourself what you most need to hear… i.e., "You are a good mom,” or “You are doing the best you can.” Then try to pop in a positive memory to change the channel. Make a list of things that bring you joy and see whether you can do something on that list today.
May you be safe, happy, healthy, and live with ease.