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Mindful : August 2013
going a more alternative route, with doulas or midwives or even home births. Some have yea rs of meditation under their belts, while others a re utterly baffled by instructions to pay attention to their breathing and notice the quality of their thoughts. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing,” one of the prospective dads complained one night. Amy a nd Arnold Wong closed their eyes in deep concentration as they explored their raisins. Amy, petite a nd blonde, is a life coach with the bubbly, optimistic personality to match. Arnold is quieter and more reserved. Though he has done less formal meditation training than his wife, as a chef he ap- preciates the idea of bringing one’s attention to food. While everyone else in the class a re first-time parents, the Wongs already have one child, now 4, who is a daily reminder of children’s effortless ability to be in the moment. Their son’s birth was stressful, sterile, and filled with interventions that Amy never questioned until after the fact. Like the epidural that hit a nerve, causing searing back pain “that was so consuming I couldn’t breathe to push.” By the end, she recalled, “I was so delirious, I don’t even re- member him coming out.” To avoid a repeat of that experience, they are hoping to deliver at home with a midwife. This time around, Amy wants to be fully present, as sha rply awa re of what is happening as she is of the tang of the raisin on her tongue. Across the room, Ariana Mohit and Zed Bates seemed flummoxed by Ba rdacke’s directions. Zed, a quality auditor, grew up in a hippie household and has little patience for what he calls “new-agey stuff.” Fidgety and anxious by nature, all he really wants is the nuts and bolts on labor to quell his worries. But Ariana, a lawyer, signed them up for this class pre- cisely because she wanted more tha n the basic facts. She’s thinking about parenthood and is worried her impatience, high expectations, and Type A penchant for control could be a problem in raising a child. “I want to bring some calm and acceptance to my parenting style,” she explains. If tonight is any indication, the course will prove to be a challenge. Zed popped his raisins into his mouth immediately without any scrutiny, while Ariana lost one and af- ter minutes of fra ntically searching, quickly looked at the other and then handed it to her husband. She never liked raisins and didn’t want to eat it. Na ncy Bardacke doesn’t care whether people love or loathe raisins. The point of the exercise was to raise their sense of awa reness. She wanted them to experience the raisin simply with their senses, without preconceptions or judgment. “ Mindfulness is being in the moment,” she said. “And guess what? That’s where childbirth is!” Over the next nine weeks, Bardacke would be teaching them a variety of ways to cultivate that kind of awareness, including meditation techniques, a body scan (a head-to-toe check-in with oneself ), and basic yoga poses. But the core practice would always be the simple yet powerful action of paying at tention to the breath. Following it would keep these pa rents-to-be moored in their bodies and provide an a nchor to the present. “ Whatever is going on, the instruction is al- ways the same,” she would say. “Be with it and just breathe.” Ba rdacke has been leading expectant parents through these kinds of exercises since 1998. At 70 she moves with the energy and ease of someone much younger. She has a gentle voice, stylishly cut short grey hair, and the nurturing if slightly noodgy air of a Jewish grandmother (which she is). She was already a longtime meditator a nd nurse- midwife when she attended a workshop led by Jon Kabat-Zinn, who pioneered the use of mindfulness meditation for patients suffering stress and chronic pain. Listening to him, Bardacke had one of those electrifying life-altering moments when she real- ized that she could combine her life’s t wo passions: meditation and midwifery. She spent several years learning Kabat-Zinn’s curriculum a nd tweaking it to address the specific needs of expecta nt parents. Tonight marks the start of Bardacke’s 69th course, and it will be one of her last. She’s begun training Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Pa r- enting (MBCP) instructors in San Francisco and Nancy Bardacke, founding director of the Mindfulness- Based Childbirth and Parenting program, currently offered at the University of California–San Francisco’s Osher Center for Integra- tive Medicine. The program has attracted the attention of other professionals working with childbirth and parenting who are looking for innovative ways to counteract the persistent medicaliza- tion of birth. 44 mindful August 2013 family PHOTOGRAPHSBYMICHAELO’NEAL