Four weeks ago, my wife Leah and I welcomed our first child into the world (that's him in my arms in the picture above), but not without significant challenge for Leah.
Leah was in labor for 49 hours -- never having a break of more than 12 minutes between contractions -- which culminated in 3.5 hours of pushing, and she accepted no pain medication. After 2.5 hours of pushing, the delivery team told Leah that they were worried she might not be able to get our son out without the help of forceps or suction.
The team told Leah she had 30 minutes. If she couldn't get his head to crown in 30 minutes of pushing, they were going to help with forceps or suction. These tools are not dangerous, per se, but there are some risks involved in using them.
It didn't seem very likely that our son's head would crown in 30 minutes, and I got the sense that the delivery team didn't think there was any way it would happen.
I learned something new about Leah that day. I've never seen a more determined person in my life.
After being in labor about 48 hours and having pushed for 2.5 hours, Leah somehow mustered the strength to push so hard that our son's head did start to crown. The delivery team looked incredulous, but they happily got ready to help her deliver the baby without forceps or suction.
My wife's effort has elevated her to the status of "real-life super hero" in my mind.
We learned quickly, as all parents do, that caring for a newborn involves many struggles. Although most of the struggles tend not to be as significant as what Leah experienced during her labor, there are many smaller struggles, like getting almost no sleep, getting peed on in the middle of the night, and trying to solve the mystery of why the is baby crying.
Another struggle Leah has dealt with is breastfeeding. After four weeks, despite amazing effort, we still haven't got our son to the point where he can eat only from breastfeeding. Although not physically painful, this has caused significantly more mental suffering for Leah than did the long labor.
It's also physically demanding. Leah wakes up to breastfeed our son for about 30 minutes. Then one of us feeds him from the bottle for about 30 minutes. Then Leah waits another 30 minutes before she pumps milk with a pumping machine for about 15 minutes. Then she goes to sleep and wakes up in 60-90 minutes to do it all over again. She's done this all day, almost every day, for about four weeks.
Tapping Into Joy
In my efforts to serve my son and my wife, I try to do everything that Leah is not absolutely required to do. In other words, I try to do everything but breastfeed and pump milk (I tried and it didn't work for me).
What I can do is feed our son his bottles, change his diapers, hang out with him until he falls asleep, and ensure that he falls asleep peacefully and safely. By doing this, I free Leah up to eat, to catch a nap between breastfeeding and pumping, and to get more sleep between pumping and the next breastfeeding time.
I can also cook our meals, clean the house, wash the cloth diapers, and wash the bottles and pumping equipment after each meal time for our son.
Completing tasks is important in my efforts to serve my wife and son. However, just as important, and perhaps even more so, is to make the effort to ensure that I am fully present with my wife and son, and during the activities in which I engage.
By making the effort to be mindful -- to not be caught in my thinking or my obsession with "getting things done" -- I am better able to have empathy for my wife and son. I am more sensitive to what they need both physically and emotionally in any given moment. This empathetic presence may be the most powerful way I can serve my wife and son.
Being mindful through the day also allows me to discover the absolute joy of serving others, and the joy of simply being alive in even the simplest of moments, like washing bottles.
This past Sunday, while holding my son on my chest during a walk outside, he transitioned from making his little cooing noises to falling blissfully asleep in the cool autumn air. I walked to the top of the hill on the street our home is on, just outside of Nashville, TN. I stopped for a moment to take in the view of the nearby hills and the clouds that were becoming pink as the sun began to set.
I reflected on how I used to spend my Sundays when I was in my early 20s. I would watch football all day. It occurred to me that a Sunday spent mindfully serving my wife and son is infinitely more rewarding than even the best day of watching football.
How A Sunday of Service Can Change Your Life
I've actually been practicing with different variations of devoting an entire Sunday or Saturday to the mindful service of others for some time now. I humbly suggest you give it a try, even if it's just half of a Sunday or Saturday. Here's why.
First, there is certainly a worldly, pragmatic benefit to having a Sunday of service, whether you're serving your family, a nonprofit, your neighbors, or any combination thereof. The skills of being present and having empathy for others are two of the most important skills you can develop for both personal and professional success, especially for leaders and sales professionals.
Practicing these skills in any setting, even on a Sunday, changes your brain in ways that make it easier for you to be more mindful, self-aware, and empathetic in other settings, like work.
Even more important than the worldly benefit of practicing with a Sunday of service is a more profound benefit. If we can maintain mindfulness during a day devoted to serving others, we remember something extremely important: This is what life is all about.
We remember that the most meaningful and rewarding life we can live is the result of simply being fully present with what we're doing and who were with, understanding the person we're with, and doing whatever we can to help the person we're with to be happy.
Matt Tenney is the author of Serve to Be Great, and the forthcoming book The Mindfulness Edge: How to Rewire Your Brain for Leadership and Personal Excellence Without Adding to Your Schedule. To be among the first to get a free preview of Matt's new book, visit www.TheMindfulnessEdge.com.
To connect with Matt, visit www.MattTenney.com.