“Be there for others but never leave yourself behind.” - Dodinsky
It’s been said a million times before. It’s a cliché. We all know it makes sense. “Put your own life mask on first.” It’s all very well to know it and agree with it, but it’s quite another thing to put it fully into action. And if we’re going to be honest, it is nearly impossible to look after all our own needs all the time, and look after all our children’s needs all the time. Impossibly impossible, I’d say.
The expression and interconnectedness of mind, body and soul really comes into its own right, and indeed into the light, during pregnancy, birth and parenthood. When we fall pregnant we become responsible for not only our own wellbeing, but the wellbeing of another person. This other person is incapable of meeting his or her own needs. They rely completely and utterly on us. It’s a big deal!
Prior to becoming a mum I had engaged in self- development work and therapy, had trained as a counsellor and in many areas of mental and physical health, had read extensively on self-care and personal growth and worked with others to help them grow and develop. But it wasn’t until I got pregnant and became a mum that the really deep learning and significant growth began.
I chose to have a baby on my own and became pregnant with my son at the age of 38. I desperately wanted to be a mum and naively thought that it would be a walk in the park, an extension of my life, a joy, a breeze. It has been a joy some of the time but it has not been a walk in the park and it most definitely hasn’t been a breeze. Don’t get me wrong, Felix is the biggest joy of my life, but my journey as a parent has not been the joy ride I had expected.
I have come to believe that our children are our greatest teachers.
“I’ve come to believe that our children are our greatest teachers.”
Mind Body Soul parenting differs from conscious parenting in that the concept of conscious parenting relies heavily on being conscious of the needs of our children and how we relate to our children. Dr Bruce Lipton, a world-renowned biologist and leader in the epigenetics field, speaks on his website about conscious parenting. He says, “As a conscious parent, you just need to remember that you should always keep your language in check, and never come across as impatient or rude to your child. You should make sure your expectations in your child is appropriate and make sure you self-regulate yourself and appear confident and calm.” According to Lipton, someone whose opinion I value greatly, conscious parenting alters the cells of your child as they learn to process information in a new way that is more fulfilling to them.
Conscious parenting makes sense to me, and I encourage people to research it, but I am more interested in how we relate to ourselves first and foremost and how that organically improves how we relate with our kids. So, with that in mind, how do we aspire to be an empathetic and calm parent, while also accepting where we are at, what resources we have available, and while not expecting ourselves to be perfect? How do we get the support we really need? And most of all, how do we do our best, in any given moment, without beating ourselves up when we fall short?!?
The truth is that many of us don’t know how to fully meet our own needs, let alone the needs of little people who depend on us entirely to live and breathe, and grow and develop.
I have always been attracted to the Maori wellbeing model, Te whare tapa wha (Mason Durie, 1994). The premise is that our existence can be metaphorically depicted as a house. Think of yourself as a house and in your mind’s eye look at your house, look at you, and imagine each boundary of the house represents a component of your makeup. The foundation is your roots and your connection to earth. One side of the house is your physical wellbeing. The other side is your family and social wellbeing. One side of the roof is your emotional and mental life and the other is your spiritual life. All of these aspects of you are interconnected and they all need strengthening to keep you healthy and strong, happy and empowered, calm and confident, much of the time.
When you are pregnant you are housing your precious baby within. You are at one with this precious soul, distinct but not separate. Everything you are experiencing your baby is also experiencing, in his or her emerging mind, body and soul. So now you have two reasons to look after yourself and to prepare yourself for the birth of your baby, and becoming a parent. The house metaphor goes out the window a little at this point as your baby inside is a little soul in his or her own right. Distinct but not yet separate. When he or she comes out the other end, one house becomes two… but the smaller house is still relying on the bigger house to prop her or him up. It is a huge responsibility, especially in the beginning when they rely on us being there to meet their needs ALL THE TIME.
When you are pregnant your body (not to mention your mind) is changing and is no longer entirely your own. Hormones are flowing and often nausea ups the anti. There are often anxieties about what’s to come. Some of us have anxieties about the impending labour and birth, and others have anxieties about becoming a parent, or even about relationships with significant others. It can be a very exciting time and it can also be a whole array of other things. We all have stories that are quite unique to us. Some people’s stories will overlap with yours and other’s won’t. This is life, and being a human. But I think we can all relate to ideas of wellness in mind, body and soul and what we all need to feel ok, and what our children need to feel ok.
If I reflect on myself when I was pregnant I can gain, with the benefit of hindsight, ideas on how I might have preferred to be. I would have liked to have eaten well consistently, focusing on what I needed and what my little whare needed. I would have liked to have had more water, more greens and fruit, more fibre and healthy fats and less junk food. I would have liked to have done pregnancy yoga and meditated regularly throughout, slept more and remained in a settled environment with a stable community of people around me. Alas, this was not always the case. It was a rather chaotic time in my life. But we all do the best we can with where we are at. We can aspire to be great but we need to also accept that this is not always the case. We are human and being human is not always straightforward.
“We all do the best we can with where we are at.”
I would have definitely liked to have done a HypnoBirthing course early into my second trimester. I waited, unavoidably, until I was almost due. HypnoBirthing taught me about women and childbirth and how fear of childbirth has become engrained in women’s psyches. It taught me what fear, pain and tension do to our birthing bodies that prevent our uteruses acting as they know how. It taught me about the feel good relaxins that are produced when we are calm and the stressors that are released when we are not. Fight, flight or freeze keep us safe when a tiger is running for us but not when we are having a baby - on the contrary. When we find ourselves having a stress response our muscles tighten, oxygen is directed to our defense system - not our uterus nor our babies. And catecholamines are released which encourages the stress response even more and inhibits endorphins. It really is not ideal. Hypnobirthing taught me how to release fears, breathe appropriately for different stages of labour and how to use affirmations and visualisation to aid relaxation and self-hypnosis. I highly recommend it.
“Fight, flight or freeze keep us safe when a tiger is running for us but not
when we are having a baby, on the contrary…. Hypnobirthing taught me
how to release fears, breathe appropriately for different stages of labour
and how to use affirmations and visualisation to aid relaxation and
My perusing on pregnancy tells me what I would have liked; calmness, stability, solid community around me, regular yoga and meditation, a consistently healthy diet and much more water. And of course HypnoBirthing, without old school antenatal classes (although I did enjoy the connections I made). But hang on a minute, I did the best I could with what I knew and what resources I had. I did fantastically. Oh my God, I’ve never said. It feels great and deep down I believe it. Felix is awesome, feisty but awesome. Never doubt you haven’t been good enough. We have all been good enough. We have all been the best we could be, at those times, and we can still strive to be better without beating ourselves up.
This is the thing: our children are not us and although their primary needs are the same as ours, their emotional dispositions are possibly very different but like us they deserve as much presence, respect, empathy, guidance, joy and gentility as we are able to offer them. Their minds, bodies and souls deserve to be treated with as much respect as possible but here’s the other thing: our own minds, bodies and souls deserve the same treatment and if we look after our own then this will transfer organically onto our kids.
I can tell you now, with the benefit of hindsight, what I would have liked to have done differently during the first four years of Felix’s life. I would have enlisted more support for the early months; a cleaner once a week, regular breaks from Felix to sleep and have some “me” time. I would have eaten better, and not touched alcohol for the first year of his life. I would have encouraged Felix to take the bottle earlier to ensure breaks for myself. I would have continued with yoga and meditation and sought support for my anxiety and sleep deprivation.
Would have, could have, should have… but I didn’t do any of that and maybe it would have made little difference. I’ll never know. But what I did do, and I forget to remind myself sometimes, was be there for him, and for myself 100% to the best of my ability. With where I was at and what resources I had available I worked very, very hard to do the best I possibly could. We all do that and we should all be proud of ourselves for accomplishing what we do.
The final question I propose is more of an invitation to reflect. What are you doing to look after your beautiful, holistic selves; your minds, your bodies and your souls?
Do you have nourishing relationships with your partners, your friends, family and your community? Do you need to foster new relationships? Do you eat well? Do you get enough sleep? Do you get some form of regular exercise that you enjoy or at least enjoy the benefits of? Do you meet your spiritual needs, whatever you see them to be? Your soul’s needs? Your need to be the happiest individual you can be? How is your mental health? Do you need to see a doctor, a psychiatrist, a counsellor, a friend? Do you need more support for yourself, your relationship or your kids? We are not alone, folks, although sometimes we can feel like we are. We need to build ourselves up to be as strong and resilient as we can be, with a community that helps us maintain that, for us and our children. Whatever support we receive, our children receive. Whatever support they receive, we receive. I have come to believe wholeheartedly that it takes a village to raise a child.
Let’s rally together and strengthen our minds, bodies and souls so that we don’t only ‘appear calm and confident’, as Bruce Lipton suggests, but that we are actually calm and confident much more of the time.
Anna McVeigh is a registered HypnoBirthing practitioner and counsellor and is offering free pregnancy and post-natal counselling in 2017 for anyone who first does a Hypnobirthing course with her.