Mindful birth & parenting

Practicing Mindfulness in Birth & Parenting

Interview with Molly Weingrod of Mindful Birth Philadelphia

What is Mindfulness?

One definition we like is: “Mindfulness is the awareness that arises from paying attention, in the present moment, on purpose and non-judgmentally. ”

Essentially what that means is: Mindfulness is about being aware of our present moment experience, both internal and external. So often we find ourselves living anywhere but the present moment - rehashing the past or rehearsing our fantasies of the future. Knowing that we cannot change the past, nor predict the future, what do we have left? This present moment. Given that we can’t run away from the present moment (though we may try), we might as well be there for it! Mindfulness is about being aware of the present moment, as it is, however it is, and recognizing that it will change because the nature of life is impermanent.

Often, when we sit with what arises, we find all kinds of uncomfortable things - restlessness, frustration, upset, irritation, fear, stress, or just an endless-seeming thought stream.  The practice of moving in towards one's experience, rather than away from it in, allows us to be in it, move through it, and let it go once it’s gone. This being more fully in the moments of our lives, is the practice. And it seems clear that the benefits of being more fully in our experience allows us space to feel greater presence, ease, and peace. Decades of cross-disciplinary study has shown that mindfulness practice lowers people’s stress levels, increases their coping capabilities, leads to less emotional reactivity, and supports people in experiencing more ease and equanimity in their lives.

The capacity for becoming more mindful requires skill building and practice - ongoing practice! The more people practice being in the present moment, the more easily they can sink into it at any point. Mindfulness classes support people in jumpstarting a practice with guidance, regularity, and exploration within a community of practitioners.

How can mindfulness help me in childbirth?

Having a baby is often one of the most transformative experiences in a person’s life.  No matter how things go, pregnancy and birth are intensely demanding, physically and emotionally, and they are just the beginning of the transformative experience of parenting. Like all of life, birth is one part predictable, and three parts mystery. While information is essential, it is not what gets us through the unique, embodied experience of birth. It is our inner resources, rather, that carry us through the challenge of labor and birth.

Mindfulness practice is about slowing down, sinking in, and being with the present moment. While in our regular, daily life, we can perhaps more easily avoid the present moment, the uniqueness and intensity of labor and birth draw us into the present moment unlike anything else. It behooves us to take each moment one at a time.

Like life, birth involves ups and downs, ebbs and flows. The practice of being aware of the present moment, supports people in riding those waves with less tension, and more attention, moving through the inevitable contractions of labor, and of life.

Birth is like a microcosmic view of life: You’ve got pain, pleasure, fear, thrill, effort, ease, challenge, reward, excitement, adventure, the ordinary and the extraordinary - what’s not there, really? This practice of being in the present moment cultivates and nourishes those inner resources that are needed to work with the inevitable pain, fear, and uncertainty around birth, as well as to feel into the pleasure, awe, and amazement that are there too.

Mindfulness is a practice of inquiry into the workings of the mind and body and the nature of being human; we couldn’t come up with a better opportunity to inquire into the nature of the human mind and body than giving birth and becoming a parent. Mindfulness and the transformation of pregnancy, birth, and parenting are a poignant pair.

How can practicing mindfulness help me in my first days/weeks/and months of parenting?

Long after the contractions of birth are over, the contractions of parenthood remain: an inconsolable crying infant, a sleep-deprived parent, the steep learning curve of figuring out feeding and sleeping and comforting and understanding a newborn infant, and their newborn parents. And that’s just the first few months! What about a two-year old's temper tantrum, a school-aged child in tears over being bullied, a teenager's emotional challenge? Routine, everyday events can feel like contractions, too: trying to get a child’s teeth brushed or homework done, or naps taken, or negotiations about friends or screens or meals figured out. Parenting can be hard, and this is when mindfulness practice - the ability to pause before reacting, the ability to get curious, to remain open, to be willing to be with whatever is arising in the present moment, and to let go too - can become not only useful and supportive, but foundational to daily life.  

Babies and children naturally live in the present moment, and aside from basic needs, care only that they are being attended to, experiencing the presence of their parent/caregiver. Mindfulness practice is particularly supportive during parenting when each moment has the potential to be so full: waking, crying, feeding, calming, comforting, holding, recovering; talking, walking, chasing, catching, listening, figuring, resolving; ferreting, planning, organizing, escorting, responding, finding. The list goes on forever. Bringing a “beginner’s mind” to a baby, a child, a teenager, a young adult, to one’s own experience as a parent, has profound effects on everyone.

The attitudinal foundations of mindfulness are perhaps even more pertinent in parenting than anywhere else: non-striving, non-judging, patience, trust, kindness, acceptance, letting go. Parenting is a perfect place to experience the impact of mindfulness.

Tell me more about your Mindful Birth and Parenting classes

Mindfulness Based Childbirth and Parenting classes are not just birth and parenting education; they’re education for life.

During our Mindfulness-Based Childbirth & Parenting Class series students learn to access deep physical and mental relaxation, engage the mind to work with pain during labor, increase confidence and courage for the experience of labor and delivery, develop skills for managing stress in pregnancy, parenting and daily life, explore and expand communication skills with their partner, and become more aware of their own approaches to parenting. Students also learn about the physiology of labor and birth, breastfeeding, life with a newborn, and develop skills on how to communicate with birth providers.

The MBCP series is a mindfulness training class and birth education class in one. MBCP teaches us how to skillfully work with pain, fear and uncertainty in pregnancy, childbirth and beyond. By the end of this course, students understand how to optimize the mind/body connection by influencing your internal and external environment where possible and letting go when necessary.  This course has the potential to grow and shift perspectives in deeply supportive ways, at a time when life is about to undergo some quite drastic changes.

Likewise, our parenting classes are a series in which students are supported to build a mindfulness practice, both formal and informal, while engaging in inquiry and exploration of the ongoing developmental process of parenting. Parents will learn to access and nourish inner resources that support them as people and as parents, as well as that support their children, and their ongoing and ever-evolving relationships with them. Parents will learn coping skills to deal with the multi-layered stresses of parenting and life, and deepen their awareness of their own experiences in life, thereby deepening their experience of, and ease with, parenting.

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Carol O'Donoghue, CNM, MSN, MPH, (left) is a midwife in Philadelphia.  Her start as a birth worker included practice as a doula in a birth center and international work in women's health,  followed by study and practice in nursing, public health and ultimately, midwifery. Carol has been a family nurse practitioner since 1997, and a nurse-midwife since 2002.

Carol is grateful to practice the art of midwifery in an urban, academic teaching hospital in Philadelphia, where she serves a diverse group of women and families.  She is also a clinical instructor and on faculty at Penn's Schools of Medicine and Nursing. She lives with her most important mindfulness teachers--her two teenage children--and her husband in Northwest Philadelphia.

Molly Weingrod, CCE, (right) has been working with children and families for over a decade, formerly in New York City, and now in Philadelphia, wearing a variety of hats. She has a background in education and whole foods nutrition, as well as birth. She is a doula, childbirth educator, and birth counselor.

Molly's professional hats are mainly worn at home at the moment, as she is a homeschooling mom of four young kids. However, she is grateful that living with 4 young people offers her many daily opportunities to practice mindfulness! She lives with her (loud) family in Northwest Philadelphia as well.