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Practical Tools for Staying Sane During Pregnancy and Your Child's First Year
Reviewed by Peggy O'Mara on Dec. 1, 2009
When I was a new mother in the seventies, I was struck by an apparent paradox. The spiritual books I read talked about getting up to meditate at three in the morning as a transformative experience, and yet getting up at three in the morning to comfort my baby was considered to be the utmost in personal deprivation. I suspected that motherhood could be a spiritual experience, but few acknowledged this then. Cassandra Vieten breaks ground in her book Mindful Motherhood by taking the pivotal research on mindfulness and metaconception and applying it deftly to motherhood.
She makes mindfulness accessible to women during the busiest, most demanding, and most exhilarating time of their lives, but the book is helpful to everyone because Vieten is masterful at articulating concepts that are often presented more obscurely by others. “The trick here is to not make practicing a big deal,” she writes. “Find the pockets of time already in your life that are available and will work for you. Don’t see mindful awareness as a serious endeavor that is separate from the rest of your life.”
Vieten sets this tone of accessibility early on in the book’s introduction: “Mindful motherhood, simply put, is being present in your body and connected with your baby no matter what is happening.” The book, however, is not a simple recipe for feeling good by meditating; the tools and exercises she capably articulates take hard work. Even so, she is able to make the inner experience of pregnancy and new parenthood tangible—from the inevitable overwhelm of the last days of pregnancy to diaper changes, waking up at night, and even family tragedy. As Vieten says, there is no better time than pregnancy and early motherhood to develop a practice of mindfulness because this is when we are already rearranging and reassessing our lives.
One of the jewels of the book is the Mindful Motherhood Yoga Series, a quick, easy series of five sitting and seven standing poses expertly developed by Jnana Gowan and illustrated by Joanne Le Cocq. It’s also reassuring to hear Vieten take the pressure off: “You can do the series with your baby. Though it is ideal to carve out time for yourself, don’t wait for alone time to practice yoga, because that may be a rarity. Go ahead and include your baby in your practice.”
I found Vieten’s description of “the train of thought” especially helpful. She describes three elements of our experience: feelings, sensations, and thoughts, as well as the “fi ve activities of the thinking mind”—evaluating, reflecting/planning, problem solving, making meaning, and comparingcontrasting-categorizing. As she says, “The bottom-line evaluation that underlies most of our unnecessary suffering is the thought ‘This shouldn’t be here.’” Suggestive section and exercise titles such as “Acceptance Is Ending Your Argument with Reality” and “Accepting What Is” show us the way out.
Nothing is more helpful to being pregnant, having a baby, or being a parent than this advice. There is so much to do and take care of as a pregnant or new mom, and cultivating mindfulness gives us the literal breathing room we need to manage our responsibilities with grace, gratitude, and compassion. I particularly like Vieten’s Self-Compassion exercise: “Next time you hear that critical, judging voice berating you or being mean to you, use it as a red flag or warning signal to bring mindful awareness to your experience in the moment.” The Quick Body Re-Entry and Losing It Mindfully exercises are also two of my favorites.
When I was a mom with two babies under 18 months, I wrote a poem about things I would do in the future, such as “going to meet the guru.” Vieten echoes my experience and that of countless mothers who realize that the baby is the guru. Mindful Motherhood will help you to meet your guru in the present.