I’m sure you can recall the moment that you found out you were expecting your first child, the excitement, the innocence, the insecurity and the fear. Parenthood comes with its pleasures and challenges and no one is a hundred percent ready to take on the role. I certainly wasn’t.
Even though I am a nurturer, I didn’t always think I had a knack for motherhood. While I was pregnant with my son I experienced a lot of anxiety about being the best mom I could be. I had good intentions and a host of knowledge, but no hands-on experience on how to raise a happy, well-adjusted child. There were even times when I worried not if I would mess up my child's life someday, but how? I wondered if my child would grow up feeling deeply loved and secure. Would I teach him how to look out for himself and others? Would I raise him to make sound choices in life? Would he be happy? For the length of my pregnancy the uncertainty I felt about falling short as a mom started to dissipate. In time I learned to tap into a place of confidence and refuge while raising my newborn and ultimately while parenting my growing child.
“Take a deep breath and hold your belly. You may not realize it yet, but you have the answers. They rest within your heart.”
I was in my early thirties and felt just about ready to become pregnant. My husband and I had been trying to have a baby for about a year and a half until the extraordinary day it happened. I held a positive pregnancy test in hand with an overwhelming sense of joy, relief and gratitude. I was elated to become a mother and at the same time absolutely terrified. My stress levels increased, as did my hormone levels. During pregnancy a woman’s body produces an influx of estrogen along with progesterone, hCG, hPL, and prolactin, all of which aid in preparing the body for birth. These miracle hormones that support life can also affect neurotransmitters in the brain and throw a woman’s mood completely off-balance.
While I was entering the unknown territory of motherhood, my stomach was growing and my hormones were a bit askew, but there was an even more significant change happening. I was going to be a mom, one of the most important jobs out there, so my intent was to shift my perspective from fear to balance. In the end, I wanted both me and my child to be happy. The truth is the most helpful solution, and it was time that I started to live mine.
For many years I found it hard to admit that I may not have had a perfect childhood. Like anyone else, my upbringing had its flaws. After taking a deeper look at my past I noticed that lack of communication, anxiety, blame and rage were at the heart of a lot of my family’s discord. When these issues were exposed I felt a great deal of sadness for my family, and for myself. Soon after this discovery, my grief was overshadowed by hope and I was left to consider a very important question.
What would I like my child to remember about how he was raised someday?
I knew that I wanted to exude a calm, confident, and supportive energy with my son. I also wanted to be much less reactive with my child than my parents were with me. Lastly, I wanted to raise my son with humor in the home, something that I treasured from my upbringing. Sounds simple right? I knew what I wanted and didn’t want for my child, but I wondered how I would get to this harmonious place?
From that point on, I did extensive research on emotional intelligence, which fosters attentiveness and validation in parenting. It also helps to identify, examine, reflect and control how you might feel and react in social interactions. I also learned positive parenting techniques. These skills help parents hone in on a child’s needs, not their bad behavior. It also helps parents see their children as unique individuals, with their own set of opinions and feelings, not merely an extension of themselves.
I joined a weekly meditation group and became extremely interested in mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). After some time, I became certified in MBSR and learned how chronic stress affects our bodies, minds and overall outlook. Research has shown several positive benefits to engaging in MBSR such as increase in positive reactions to stress, increase in subjective well-being, increased empathy and increased awareness of interpersonal patterns. I found these qualities to not only be important in parenting, but in life.
I didn’t just do the research; I started to live my life the way that nature had intended, happy, balanced and with equanimity. My fear and anxiety about not being a good enough mom started to fall away and eventually I felt compelled to reach out to others and share what I had leaned with them.I created a blog addressing stress during pregnancy and in parenthood. I also spoke to expectant parent groups about my encounters with stress, and educated them on the importance of self-care when pregnant and also while transitioning into parenthood. At the end of each meet we would engage in a group meditation.
In doing so, I realized that there was a true camaraderie and connection between expectant and current parents. We were all trying to figure things out as we went. This was one of the most pivotal realizations in my journey. Through personal experience and while working with others, I learned that there was a universal need for people to feel more sincere, centered and confident in their choices as parents.
When we’re going through a difficult time we usually feel an overwhelming sense of anxiety and fear. It’s our body and mind’s way of sending out an SOS for help. Once this happens, we can choose to address our needs or ignore them.
If our concerns are met with truth and compassion, progress and healing will follow. Can you recall the last time you were under a lot of stress? How did you address your apprehension? Did you attend to your concerns or disregard them? While taking a closer look at my reaction to stress, I noticed that my tension rested in my shoulders, chest and stomach. Then I realized the thoughts that would follow like, “Would I be a good mother, could I deal with the pressure?”
Fear was usually at the center of my anxious thoughts.
The next time you feel anxiety or fear rising, don’t ignore it; take a closer look into why it’s happening.It can be as obvious as pain in a certain part of your body, or a subtle sensation in another area. Perhaps your mind races and causes more anxiety and you get caught up in all of negative possible outcomes of a situation. Instead of ignoring tension in the body or getting caught up with anxious thoughts, take a deep breath and try to see the truth and patterns behind your stress.
Deep awareness is the first step to releasing anxiety.
- Listen to your body sensations, like tension in the shoulders, jaw, hands or stomach. Become aware, investigate the feelings, take note of them and slowly release the tension.
- Notice repetitive thought patterns that cause anxiety. Take a deeper look at them and when they arise ask, what is at the heart of this anxiety, fear, sadness, or anger?
Becoming aware of our bodies and minds in any given moment can help us to be more present of our thoughts, feelings and emotions. Awareness can truly create a sacred space for flow and self-improvement. Looking back now, I understand that my anxiety stemmed from a place of wanting to help my child feel whole in life, something that I struggled with. I didn’t want him to carry the burden of dealing with unresolved fears from the past.
During my journey, I learned to respect and bow to past and present challenges, a sort of thank you for sending this trial my way. With that, I could overcome and improve the future. I am still learning how to become the parent I aspire to be through day-to-day practice, but now I have the vital tools I need to fall back on to help me feel comfortable and assured throughout the ups and downs.It is important for all soon-to-be parents and current parents to see that they can make a positive change in their lives that will greatly affect the lives of their children. Trust your instincts and learn to trust your internal parental barometer. You have the power to change the future.
Now I’d like you to ask yourself:
- What you’d like your child to remember about the way they were raised someday?
- What don’t you want to do while parenting your child?
- What do you want to do while parenting your child?
- What self-care rituals help you to feel centered?
- What makes you feel connected to others?
What helped me find comfort while I was experiencing anxiety during pregnancy was that I didn’t follow a checklist from a book, or take advice from sources that didn’t feel right to me. I reflected deep inside of myself, took the guidance I wanted and left the rest behind. In time, I revealed my true parent identity, the mother I truly was at the core.I discovered that I had control over how I acted around my child, something that didn’t occur to me had I not dug deeper into my discomfort. I wanted to make sure that I was okay so that my son would be okay, and we were.
Each person’s unique parent identity exists within him or her. The treasure that rests beneath the worry and judgment is well worth it when you’re proud of the parent you’ve become and your kids feel loved and connected to you. At the end of the day when we kiss our kids goodnight we know what we really want for them in life and it’s not something that can be taught. It’s a pure and undeniable truth that no one else can touch.
You are not alone on your journey into parenthood. The transition isn’t easy for anyone, but in time you will stand strong and trust that you and your child will be okay.
APA. 2017. Mood swings during pregnancy: causes and treatment. American Pregnancy Association. http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/mood-swings-during-pregnancy/ [Accessed July 2017]
DeClaire, J. & Gottman, J.M. (1997). Raising an emotionally intelligent child: The heart of parenting. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence. New York: Bantam.
Kabit-Zinn, J. (2005). Wherever you go there you are: mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York, NY: Hyperion.
OWH. 2017. Depression during and after pregnancy fact sheet. Office on Women's Health. http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/depression-pregnancy.html [Accessed July 2017]
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kimberly Rosso is an LMSW, Certified Life Coach, and Positive Parenting Instructor. As a lifetime learner who lives in New York with her husband, son, and dog, she practices mindfulness daily and believes meditation and MBSR has greatly improved her life. She can most often be seen enjoying time with her family, immersing herself in educational trainings, and connecting with others on their journey to self-improvement. Read more at kimberlyrosso.com.