3 Mindfulness Tips for New Parents
When I was pregnant with my first son, I remember getting a bag of baby stuff from a garage sale. Inside were these bottle inserts, and I could not figure out how they worked. I started bawling because I didn't know how the parts were supposed to go together, and that suddenly felt indicative of becoming a parent as a whole.
If I couldn't figure out bottle inserts, how would I ever birth and raise a child? It was this feeling of completely failing before I'd even really begun.
I know I'm not the first parent-to-be who felt overwhelmed with the monumental life change that was fast approaching. Becoming a parent is such a time of upheaval. You don't know what to expect — you have this vague sense that your life is about to change, so you prepare, except you don't know precisely what you're preparing for. Mixed in with the excitement and anticipation can be a sense of instability and anxiety.
That's a lot for anyone to sit with.
3 Mindfulness Practices When You're Expecting
If you're preparing to welcome a child into your family, mindfulness can be a helpful way to create a container for your feelings. Here are three practices I recommend:
Take inventory of your feelings.
The first step is to identify precisely what you're feeling. Before you can start effectively working with your feelings, you have to know what they are. You might find yourself channeling these feelings into something like excessive purchasing or social media scrolling without realizing it.
We do these things to avoid the feelings because they're often overwhelming and uncomfortable. But this doesn't make them go away, of course; it just offers temporary distance.
Take some time to do an internal inventory, meaning to open and sense what you feel. There are a couple of ways to accomplish this, through a meditation practice of tapping into the feelings, noticing the feelings, breathing into the feelings, and then giving the feelings space. You can also journal — note all the things you're nervous about, all the things you're excited about, all the things that are unknowns, etc.
Just pinpointing with words what you're feeling can immediately take away some of that discomfort. Remember, fear likes to live in the shadows, but identifying fear demystifies it, so it's better to bring it out into the light.
Lean into the unknown.
It's impossible to know what will happen in the next five minutes, let alone what will happen during the rest of the pregnancy, the delivery, the baby's first few minutes in the world, etc.
Instead of letting your mind make up a story about how it's going to be, embrace the unknown. This is difficult because our brains like to have some certainty when we're anxious, so they'll concoct stories and cling to them. Your mind might say things like, "This is going to be horrible," or "You're a failure already," or "This is too overwhelming for you."
If you're pregnant, you might have a narrative in your head that you're not going to be able to handle the pain of the birthing process.
Open the door to saying, "I don't know." Frame each one of those certainty messages in a new context — instead of "This is going to be horrible," say to yourself, "I don't know what this is going to be like. I don't know how I'm going to feel." It's scary to do that, but it can also be freeing — and it's closer to the truth than the anxiety that threatens to pull you under.
Recognize and draw on your sources of strength.
You have done hard things before, hard things you never thought you could do. I know this because everybody has. Mine your memory for those and celebrate your strength. Think back to times when you felt anxious and came out on the other side. Access some of that resilience that already lies within you.
Another great well of strength you might not have considered is from connecting to your ancestors. I never really thought much about my ancestors until I was pregnant. I remember walking down the street, just getting teary thinking of every mother before me. It's an amazing thing.
Look at the long lineage of people in your family tree who have become parents — many under much more strenuous and difficult circumstances than you're likely facing in the modern era. We can find inspiration and courage from our history and our ancestors' history.
And don't forget to connect to the strength that is in love. There is love growing at a level that you can't quite see or hear — tapping into that love is very transformative, even if you're not exactly sure what it is.
What Lies Ahead
If you find yourself utterly frustrated while putting together a crib, mystified while reading up on sleep training, or, yes, even crying over a bag of bottle inserts, know you're not alone! These mindfulness practices won't magically make you an encyclopedia of baby knowledge. Still, they will make you more comfortable with the fact that you can never know or anticipate all the worry, questioning, and earth-shattering love that's about to come your way.
Header photo: Cavan Images/Getty