Couples walk along pathways leading to a school room on a bright, sunny Saturday morning. There’s a crispness to the air as they enter the classroom and greet others who have already arrived. They put their packed lunches and snacks away, and find a space in the room amid yoga mats and meditation cushions. These couples are members of a Mindfulness Based Childbirth and Parenting class, childbirth education that can not only improve couples’ satisfaction with their birth but also positively impact their parenting journey. This is an all-day retreat, a day that will include meditation, reflection, speaking and listening, yoga and mindful eating. A chance to pause and more deeply experience what they’ve learned over the previous 6 weeks.
Mindfulness Based Childbirth and Parenting (MBCP) was adapted from Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) by Nancy Bardacke MSN, CNM. MBSR was created in the 1970s by Jon Kabat-Zinn Ph.D as a way to “soothe and heal (the) body, mind and spirit.” He defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” MBSR has been the subject of much research over the past 30 years and studies have proven that mindfulness:
Decreases anxiety, stress, depression, exhaustion and irritability
Reduces pain and the emotional reaction to it
Improves emotional intelligence
Increases grey matter in areas associated with self-awareness, empathy, self-control and attention.
Improves the immune system
Bardacke, as a nurse-midwife and MBSR instructor with a long-standing meditation practice quickly realized the benefit mindfulness could bring to new families. Even in the best of times, pregnancy and birth bring stress, fear and anxiety. There’s anticipation of the intensity of birth followed by the around the clock care required by a newborn and anyone who’s lived that experience can attest to the moments of joy, fear and exhaustion that accompany those early days.This is a transformative period in the life of a family, unlike any other time and MBCP has been shown to help new families come to terms with that transformation.
In the 9-week MBCP course (a 10th session occurs after all the babies are born and while it is a celebration of the births, it’s also a chance for the families to practice together once again) during which attendees learn formal practices such as sitting and walking meditation and yoga. They also develop informal practices of bringing mindful attention to daily activities such as teeth brushing or driving. These activities, done mindfully, take present moment awareness off the cushion and into daily life. Yoga and mindful movement are also important aspects of the program and help parents prepare for the physical work of labor.
MBCP isn’t about the kind of birth or the place of birth. No one knows how any birth will unfold so it is important to be able to tap into your inner resources and work with whatever the birth process brings. Mindfulness instruction is interwoven with the topics that go along with traditional childbirth education such as the body changes of pregnancy, labor, breastfeeding and caring for the newborn. Techniques for working with the intense sensations of labor are practiced in three sessions. Attention is also paid to the new role of being a parent and the relationship changes parenting brings. Both parents are encouraged to attend the classes but when that isn’t possible, another support person is welcomed, be it mother, sister, friend or doula.
Students are asked to commit to practice for 30 minutes a day. Daily meditation practice is hard work, as are childbirth and parenting. Establishing a daily practice can be a touchstone to a place of peace in difficult times. This body-mind connection brings awareness that they have the inner resources necessary to move through labor and it’s challenges. Mindfulness can help you become not a perfect parent but an engaged, present and aware parent, getting you in touch with your inner resources and wisdom, wisdom that we all have but that’s sometimes buried in the mud of preconceived notions, doubt, worry and fear.
The mind is like a glass jar full of clear water. Imagine taking a spoonful or two of dirt and stirring it into the water. Now set it aside as you sit quietly and focus on the breath for 3 minutes, 5 minutes, 10 minutes. Watch the water clear as the dirt falls to the bottom. This is like your mind meditating, allowing all the cloudiness of our thoughts to fall away, leaving us calmer, clearer, and more present.
And that’s what the parents-to-be attending the all-day retreat will experience on this day of slowing down and quiet thoughtful introspection-a clearing of the mind.
*published in a different form in WOMANA magazine.