postnatal

Practicing acceptance – what my post partum body taught me

For the better part of my recent pregnancy I continued a regular yoga practice. Modified of course; a growing belly doesn’t allow for deep twists or backbends, prone positions or core engaging asanas. But continuously going into the well known postures, flowing through sun salutations and resting in a deep squat helped my body feel surprisingly strong and flexible, even with the extra weight and bump that naturally comes with carrying an extra person inside of you. That said, the longing for my regular, non-pregnancy, practice grew stronger as the pregnancy approached its final stages. Oh, to be able to lie on ones belly again! To do a proper head stand and wringe out in a deep twist.

Somewhat naively I thought that once the baby was on the outside, my body – and with that my practice – would go back to its normal ways, shape and strength.

Skip forward to two months post partum: where there was once abdominal muscles there’s now something vaguely resembling a core. What once was flexible now stiff from hours of breastfeeding in awkward positions. Post natal practice is something different than a pre pregnancy practice. A post partum body acts differently than a pre pregnancy body.

Discrepancy between expectations and reality offers a great, but often painful, opportunity to observe one’s reactions to obstacles, to not getting what you want. How we react to obstacles and setbacks varies, between individuals, but also between different situations. Some have a tendency to react with anger and irritation (“stupid body, why don’t you do as I tell you to?”), where others tend to react with worry (“what if I never will be able to go back to my old practice”), yet others with shame (“how embarrassing that I can’t perform even these simple asanas”).

While all of these reactions are common, normal and mostly automatic, they seldom serve us well. Serve us well in the sense that they help us continue on our desired path or foster our well-being.

When reality presents us with challenges, one of our most helpful tools is acceptance. Reminding ourselves that it is what it is, even though it may not be what we wished for. Acceptance to help us continue, starting where we actually are, rather than trying to work from where we wish we were.

In my case: accepting that my post partum body is exactly what it is; strong in some areas and weak in others. Changed by having carried and given birth to a child. Affected by not having practiced certain asanas for almost a year. This is what reality looks like right now, whether it seems fair, good or desired.

Because once we reach that acceptance and let go of our perceptions of how we wish things were, we have a better opportunity to start reacting to whatever we encounter with less anger, worry or shame and instead with more curiosity and even appreciation. Curios about the fact that we don’t quite know what awaits us on our path and appreciation for getting to experience what may come.

Practicing acceptance – life with a newborn

One of the pillars of mindfulness is ”beginner’s mind”; looking at things as if it were the first time we saw or experienced them. Not seldom is the comparison to how a child views the world made. We’re encouraged to learn from children and how they take on each day with a blissful beginner’s mind, simply because they are beginners at life.

Now, I do believe that we have a lot to learn from children and their ways about life, but I’ve more recently learned how being with a child is a full on acceptance boot camp.

Seven weeks ago I gave birth to my first child. Already when my water broke, three weeks early, I once again came face to face with the reality of not being able to plan life’s course of actions. I still had almost two weeks left at work, we hadn’t bought all the necessary stuff, hadn’t packed the hospital bag. And I was four days short of carrying the pregnancy to a full term, something I really had wished for and had my mind set on. But, for some reason that my brain failed to acknowledge, but my body – and baby! – seemed to understand, it was time to give birth and have life change tremendously. Lesson to be learned: don’t always trust your brain to know it all. There are so many things we cannot control, there are so many things that happen that we wish were different or that we wish we could plan for, but simply can’t.   

So this little person decided to come out, healthy and incredibly cute. Taking the acceptance boot camp to new levels in terms of not being able to control one’s every day life. Even writing this post has had to be postponed several times, due to him suddenly deciding not to sleep for that extra half hour after we’ve been on our daily walk. Or vomiting for the fourth time after a feeding, having me spend the afternoon wiping up sour milk and changing his (however adorable) clothes. Becoming a parent seems to be the grandest exposure exercise of letting go of control there is.   

Now, I could spend these first months of my newborn’s life fighting against the clock and my own arbitrary ideas on what I should accomplish, getting disappointed every time my daily plan fails since my baby’s needs still are so unpredictable. Well, not so much could spend, rather have spent. But after enough outbursts of irritation on my part I fortunately remembered to return to the pillars of mindfulness, especially those concerning acceptance and letting go.

Acceptance, as we often describe it within the field of psychology, is to be present with and endure one’s internal and external situation, without judgment or valuation. In short: to be with what is, whether you like it or not. And make your decisions based on what reality really looks like, rather than what you wish it would look like. Which in my case right now means that my days are and will continue to be somewhat unpredictable, filled with body fluids of various kinds, interrupted sleep and merely shorter periods of time to sit down by the computer to write. I can try to fight this, or I can practice acceptance, letting go of the idea that this will be something other than it is. And with that hopefully get a chance to also go into my beginner’s mind as I watch my baby exploring the world with what is nothing short of a true beginner’s mind.