My first pregnancy and birth were characterised by false expectations. I didn’t expect to become pregnant. I didn’t expect to bleed at week 36 or go into labour at week 37. I certainly did not expect my undiagnosed breech baby. As I believed birth was a natural phenomenon, I expected to labour normally. I did not expect it to be the gut-wrenching, mind-blowing, sinew-twisting experience that it was.
Nor did I expect the emergency caesarean that followed, the tears in the theatre, the feeling that somehow I had missed the happy mummy boat. In fact my first pregnancy and birth experience were so far away from the pregnancies peddled by marketeers and ad execs that I was traumatised for months afterwards. And yet, in its own way, it was perfect; every bit as powerful, beautiful and life-transforming as the ideal that had threatened to undermine it.
Today’s pregnant woman is imprisoned by narrow expectations. Expected to
continue her 9-6pm office job, despite sickness, sleeplessness, uncertainty, and a rapidy changing body, she is not expected to complain about her dysfunctional oesophagus, her painful pelvic girdle pain or her haemorrhoids. Nor is she expected to be depressed, anxious or ill-tempered. She is supposed to ‘glow’ but the reality is often very different.
In my pregnancy classes I meet all kinds of pregnant women; women with unplanned first pregnancies (much like mine), IVF mamas too frightened of losing their pregnancies to attach to them, single women mothering courageously on their own, women of an advanced maternal age struggling against oppressive medical supervision, radical mamas embracing home birthing and co-sleeping; women who are secure in their relationships, and, in equal measure, those who are not and who feel vulnerable. During circle time, they are encouraged to share their frustrations and challenges as well as express their joys.
Many of the expectations that define our pregnancies are, at best hand-me-down ideas and, at worse, misplaced and erroneous.
When aspects of your pregnancy are at odds with either your own or others’
expectations, those limiting expectations need to be addressed. Many of the expectations that define our pregnancies are, at best, hand-me-down ideas from older, out of date ideologies, and, at worst, misplaced and erroneous.
When teaching mindfulness, there is a concept called ‘Beginners Mind’, which means seeing and experiencing events and people as if for the first time. It is an attempt to cut through the many filters of our unconscious beliefs and expectations in order that we might experience our own reality with clear eyes.
This powerful practice applied to pregnancy helps us to sidestep and question some of the endless expectations that we and others impose upon ourselves. An incredibly liberating and energising practice, it is a practice that necessarily happens in the present moment – a place that very few of us actually reside in, especially when approaching the momentous event of birth.
When I look back on my first pregnancy and birth, I am surprised how I grieved for an experience that I now see was perfect in every way.
Cultivating Beginners Mind during pregnancy enables you to catch yourself projecting ideals and fears onto a situation and re-center yourself back in the moment. Being present in the moment enables you to see your experience as it is, allowing you to savour the heavenly times, accept the difficult ones and avoid planning your pregnancy away.
The sooner we accept the reality of our experience, whether it’s sleepless nights or a posterior-presenting baby – even if it is not what we expected, the sooner we can drop all the suffering around it and get on with either accepting or changing the situation – if indeed change is possible, or the right course of action.
When I look back on my first pregnancy and birth, I am surprised at how I grieved for an experience that I now see was perfect in every way. It is so important to remember that the journey to motherhood is awesome, however it unfolds.
How to work mindfully with expectations in pregnancy:
1. Write down all the beliefs and expectations you have around pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood.
Start your sentences with the words: I believe that …. and write without censoring yourself for one minute. Becoming conscious of self-limiting expectations minimises their powerful hold over us.
2. Remind yourself not to have expectations.
Repeat the mantra “No Expectations” over and over like a mantra. This will help you to open to the experience as it is and not as you want or expect it to be.
3. Treat others with understanding.
The next time someone disappoints you, examine what expectation you had that set you up for this experience. Focus on letting go of your expectation rather than blaming the other person.