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Mindful : August 2013
empowered. “ I ca n do anything for 12 minutes,” said Aria na. Amy felt it helped explain why her last labor was so difficult: She was so involved in remembering the agony of each past contraction, while bracing herself for the next one, that she never gave herself a chance to notice, much less enjoy, the downtime in between. She found Bardacke’s lecture so inspiring she repeated it to all her pregna nt friends. Bardacke has a special term for the stressful situ- ations that all people—pregnant or not—encounter daily: “contractions of life.” Just as mindfulness can help labor contractions, it can help us deal with those reactive spasms of fear, anxiety, or a nger we feel in body and mind when we encounter difficulties such as a traffic jam, a new job, or a tantruming two-year-old. Over the next few weeks, it became clear that many in the class were starting to use their newly learned mindfulness techniques to get through these contrac- tions of life. One needle-phobic woman told the class how she focused on her breath to deal with the very long needles used for a mniocentesis. Another told of her realization that tracking time stresses her out. “So I started actively covering my clocks.” She tapes an index card over the clock in her car, which helps keep her relaxed when she gets delayed in traffic. Even Zed, who was still fidgety during the in- class meditations and ra rely practiced at home, was seeing some benefits. When traveling for work, he usually grew restless and irritated by how long it would take to get off the plane once it landed. But during a recent trip, he closed his eyes, took some deep breaths, and was able to stay calm. One late October evening, Bardacke had everyone sit in a circle on the floor. She presented a picnic- sized cooler. “Is it full of raisins?” one expectant father teased. Bardacke laughed. “I’d like you to take a nice handful of pain,” she said, as her assistant moved around the circle distributing pieces of ice. Bardacke had them hold it for a period of time without doing anything special (but if you’ve ever tried gripping an ice cube for an extended period of time, you’ll know it’s no picnic). The room filled with groa ns. This “pain practice” is the best she ca n get to inviting contemplation about pain in prepa ration for labor. She had them hold the ice a second time while fo- cusing on their breath. The room g rew quiet. Many were certain the second time was shorter. To their surprise, Bardacke informed them that both stints lasted 60 seconds. “Nothing changed except how you were using your minds,” she said. Then she had them repeat the exercise several more times trying different tech- niques to focus, like counting, visualizing a baby, or concentrating on the center of the pain. “There’s no one right way. It’s finding out what works for you.” During one round, Ariana reached out to hold Zed’s ha nd a nd realized something she hadn’t recognized before: touching him was soothing. → For all the scientific research on pregnancy and childbir th, it is still not known what triggers the normal labor process for a par ticular woman. It can be unset tling to realize that the cer tainty of a baby’s due date is an illusion, so I encourage cou- ples to begin their mindfulness practice by becoming a bit more tentative about their due date, and maybe saying, “We’re due sometime at the end of March,” or “maybe around mid-April.” This is a practice in itself, a way of beginning to live in “don’t-know mind” and of getting a bit more comfor table living in the truth of uncer tainty about the future. Looking deeply at due dates is an oppor tunity to discover that pregnancy and childbirth take place in a kind of time that most of us, unless we tend a garden, are unfamiliar with: the realm of hor ticultural time. This kind of time is measured in a slower arc than we’re ac- customed to, a time span that is in harmony with the biology of living things: plants and their seasons, and humans in their life cycles of bir th, grow th, ag- ing, and death. Whether or not we har vest a beautiful crop of tomatoes from our garden or apples from our apple tree de- pends on a multitude of causes and conditions—with many of them well beyond our control. Unfamiliar and perhaps somewhat uncomfortable with this more organic kind of time, we try to put pregnancy, childbirth, and the grow th and development of our children in the time frame we’re more familiar with: industrial time. This kind of time is based on the clock, with its exact calcu- lations of seconds, minutes, and hours. Living on clock time often means living in the fast lane, which, while it may seem invigorating for a short period, usually feels pretty stressful. The ver y existence of your due date can prevent you from seeing pregnancy and birth- ing as being in harmony with another kind of time frame, because you may see your due date in the same way you view a meeting at work, a scheduled airline flight, or an appointment for a haircut. Because indus- trial time fosters the illusion of cer tainty—after all, people do arrive at an appointed time for a meeting, airplanes do arrive on schedule more often than not, and you usually show up for your haircut on time—we may create stress for ourselves by imposing the standards of industrial time on this biological process oc- curring in our body. Due dates, while undoubtedly helpful, can also encourage you and others around you to worr y about the future—when the birth will actu- ally happen, how many hours your labor will take, and so on. When the body begs to slow down during pregnancy, when we realize we cannot predict the exact date of our birthing, when our baby needs us to be in harmony with his or her rhy thms of hunger and sleep and grow th and change, we are being asked to slow down and enjoy living in the kind of time that isn’t measured in seconds, minutes, and hours. It Takes As Long As It Takes Childbirth doesn’t answer to the clocks that run so much of our lives. And there’s a lesson in that for all of us. Adapted from Mindful Birthing: Training the Mind, Body, and Heart for Childbirth and Beyond, by Nancy Bardacke, CNM, reprinted with permission of HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. © 2012. August 2013 mindful 49 family