During my yoga class today my attempt at mindfulness went something like this:
Ouch! I can't do this pose anymore. I used to be able to do this pose, before the baby. I used to be able to do it easily. Will I ever be able to do this pose again?
Yeah, if I get better about getting back into yoga. Ugh, I really should be better about getting here to the gym, to yoga. Except, wait, I hope to have more babies. What if as soon as I'm able to do these challenging poses again it's time to try and get pregnant again, and then I won't be able to do--OK, stop, bring it back to the present. Focus. I won't let my thoughts high-jack this yoga class. Ohmmmm. Inhale. Exhale. Hand on the belly, big breath in--jeez, my belly is soft. I didn't used to have this belly. It used to be toned. The baby is almost seven months, I should have lost this belly by now. Everyone tells me it only gets harder to lose the baby weight as we get older and go through subsequent pregnancies. They tell me that after baby number one it's way easier to lose the baby weight. I should have toned this by now. Maybe it's all the ice cream. STOP! Ohmmmm. Inhale, exhale. Inhale. I can hear the person next to me breathing. It's really quiet in here; I silenced my phone, right? I should check my phone, make sure the babysitter didn't call with some crisis. No, that's silly. She's a great sitter; she has four kids and two grandkids of her own. The baby is in great hands. Besides, it's a good thing for the baby to have some other socialization other than Mom and Dad. She's with a great sitter. Shoot, I should really not use this precious sitter time to be at yoga. I should be working. Or sleeping. Really, when you think about it, this $15 yoga class is costing me more than $15 because I'm not only paying for the class, but I'm paying for parking, and the sitter, too. Should I have used that money for something else? Should I spend the extra money on organic groceries? Or should I not waste money on organic? Is the whole organic thing kind of a racket? I saw that email about how with some foods it's matters, but with others it really doesn't. Berries was one of the categories for which it mattered. I love berries--those blackberries this morning were really good. They really added to the flavor of the oatmeal. I definitely prefer blackberries to blueberries. Were they organic? No, I don't think they were. If I don't buy organic berries, am I ingesting too many toxins? Am I going to get cancer and leave my child without her mother? Am I passing the toxins through the breast milk? Breast-feeding. I wonder if I should wean her soon, or if I should keep going. Oh, shoot, the rest of the class has moved on to a totally new pose!
As you can see, my attempts at mindfulness were not entirely successful.
Here's the thing, in spite of the above stream of consciousness, I'm not even a particularly anxious person. To the outside world, I generally walk around each day appearing pretty composed. Someone who, more or less, "has it together"--whatever "it" is.
I do, however, have an over-active imagination and a mind that churns a mile a minute. I'm an information junkie; I enjoy doing my research. I work hard at preparedness and I place a high premium on planning. That is, I suspect, a large part of why I'm not generally anxious.
So, when becoming a mother, that same thirst for information and preparedness informed much of my pregnancy. I enjoyed that period and I used it as a time to get ready; I read books on breast-feeding and sleep-training and healthy diets for moms and babies and lots else. I sterilized the bottles beforehand. I had the onesies laundered and folded and ready for the baby's arrival.
I was so excited about the baby that I genuinely enjoyed this time of seeking out and consuming new and foreign information. And any new mom can tell you--we do not in this country suffer from a scarcity of information when it comes to pregnancy and babies. There are limitless blogs and books and pediatricians and friends and parents and siblings, all redolent with baby facts and anecdotes and words of wisdom. In fact, it can really be too much at times. The fact that there's SO much information out there--and so much of it contradictory!--can make it even harder to sift through it all and actually get an idea as to what we are supposed to be doing as new moms.
Hence, this yoga class and my mind awhirl with "shoulds" and "should-nots."
Let me give you another example of how this played out in my real life. Just this morning, a text message popped up on my phone; a girlfriend just had her second baby and she's seriously considering not going back to work. As I was thinking about her dilemma, trying to consider a thoughtful reply, another text came through. Another girlfriend is in the middle of changing jobs, and she's weighing two different options. One job really excites her, but the other job will allow her more flexibility and more time at home with her baby girl. She's torn. So now, as I'm thinking about both of these girlfriends, a third friend sends me a text: "My friend's pediatrician told her to give her baby iron supplements. My pediatrician never mentioned iron. Do you give iron supplements?"
I wrote back: "No, my doctor hasn't said anything about that! All she told me to do was Vitamin D supplements until six months."
My friend writes back: "My doctor never said anything about Vitamin D supplements!"
Three different pediatricians, three different courses of action. See, even our doctors give us conflicting information! So how the heck are we supposed to know what to do?
Here's what I'm realizing: there's no right answer. While there are countless "shoulds" that we are hearing and reading on a daily basis, there's absolutely not one all-purpose, one-size-fits-all approach to parenting. We as moms are all different and unique, working hard to raise babies who will be different and unique. We are all just doing our best in the wild and varied and complex circumstances in which we find ourselves.
Motherhood, I've realized, will be the single most challenging and unique and wonderful experience I will ever have in my life; it will be the one role and experience that will teach me more than anything else on this earth. And no, I'm not talking about all of the books I ordered on Amazon or all of the data I'll collect from spread-sheet-making friends and doctors and blogs. I'm talking about what I can learn about myself and my family in the process--what my baby will teach me, if I am willing to slow down and learn.
Motherhood, in my seven months, has surprised me. And seeing my sisters and my friends becoming mothers, that has surprised and delighted me as well. Some of the friends and relatives whom I had thought would be lifelong career women are choosing to stay home with their babies. Some of the women whom I thought would relish staying home are eagerly returning to the work force. There's no road map, no right way.
So the key, really, goes back to my struggle on the yoga mat. The key is to be present in our circumstances, whatever those circumstances may be.
I hear my baby crying in the other room. Naptime is over. I will stop typing up these words and I will go to her and I will get that first glimpse of her in the crib--hair tussled, face rosy and crinkled from sleep--and I will fall in love with her all over again in that moment. I will keep my cell phone and computer away, in the other room, and I will sit with her on the floor and I will play with her toys.
I don't have the answers, but she doesn't care. She's not judging me as she greets me with her smiles and coos. She simply wants my company and my love. That, I can give her, and I don't need a book to tell me how. And really, how blessed are we to be asking these questions in the first place? If there's one thing that everyone says, one indisputable fact upon which everyone in the entire contradictory chorus agrees, it's this: it goes quickly. Too quickly. It flies by, and, before we know it, our babies are grown. So we must enjoy it. We must enjoy it as best we can. I will work hard to be an informed and prepared mom but really, what I must work the hardest at is being present. To be present in the early-morning feedings and the late night diaper changes and the ups and downs and the giggles and the cries and the fatigue and the elation. Because, otherwise, I might find myself opening my eyes to discover that, like the yoga class moving on to a new pose, my grown baby has moved on as well.
To learn more about Allison Pataki, please visit AllisonPataki.com or connect at @AllisonPataki