June 24, 2011

Surrendering to Pregnancy, Labor and Motherhood

Stretch marks: much to my dismay and efforts, they have invaded my belly region. For months I have been slathering on creams and lotions that promised to help prevent stretch marks and then one morning – last Thursday to be exact – I woke up with my belly feeling rather itchy, looked in the mirror and there they were, little red lines around my belly button. After a few minutes of whining about this to my husband and trying to put some more cream on the jagged lines, I finally had to surrender to the fact that this is life, and just one of the many opportunities to learn to surrender to pregnancy, labor and motherhood.

During Pregnancy

For many women, the onset of pregnancy invites a host of new issues to adapt and surrender to overwhelming fatigue, nausea, vomiting, sore breasts and mood swings. This can be a challenging time, since many women do not announce their pregnancy right away, and suffer through these discomforts without being able to share them with friends, family and colleagues. Huge changes are happening in a pregnant woman’s body and life.

As pregnancy progresses and the mother-to-be continues to grow into this new role and body, new opportunities (i.e. and aches and pains) arise and offer the mother a chance to explore how she can learn not to fight these changes.

Personally, I had to accept that I could not do everything at the same intensity and speed I did pre-pregnancy. At first, I tried to keep up with my busy schedule, but my body (and midwife) soon reminded me that I had to honor that I was in a different place in my life and the body. The life I knew before has changed. With that change, my priorities had to shift. I admit, it was hard at first to surrender to this new pace. But once I did, I felt more at ease.

I have also learned to surrender to my own personal fears about the unknown of labor. I have been hearing for months that “You will do great! You know so much about labor and seen so many women give birth.” While it is true that I have witnessed and been part of many, many births, it does not diminish my fear of what labor and delivery will be like for me. As I enter my 38th week of pregnancy the inevitability of labor starting hangs in the air, I have accepted and surrendered to the fact that I am scared. I think acknowledging this and accepting it instead of denying the emotion is helping me be less apprehensive about the unknown factors of the upcoming event.

During Labor
During the first birth I attended as a labor support doula in-training, the midwife said to my client, “Don’t fight the contraction, surrender and drop into the bed. Let it support you.” I have carried these words of wisdom with me through nearly a hundred births. I have watched many laboring women find their own manner of “dropping or surrendering” to the contraction instead of fighting against them. Most peoples’ first response to pain, whether it be physical or emotional, is to avoid it or lift away from it, usually tightening up their body or mind. This actually leads to more discomfort since it restricts blood flow and oxygen to the muscles. But learning to move with the contraction or discomfort and finding tools to surrender to the sensation or situation usually brings some relief and makes the experience more tolerable. My own midwife reminded me that it is important to surrender to the experience of labor, and there is little I will need to do… just let my body lead the way.

There is also the aspect of surrendering to the unraveling events of a birth. I warn my doula clients and students not to hold onto their birth plan with an iron clad grip. This can lead to disappointment and an unwillingness to see the full picture and options of birth. I know it sounds a bit corny, but I believe there really needs to be a “go with the flow” attitude to labor and delivery. I have had clients that had told me that they definitely want pain medications, but as they sank deeper and deeper into their labor, they found coping methods that took them the whole way through and gave birth in a different manner then they anticipated. On the flip side, I have been with mothers that expressed they whole heartedly wanted a natural, unmedicated birth. But as their labor unfolded, it proved necessary to incorporate some interventions. I was with one client that after about 30 hours of labor she was barely able to support herself and I recommended she get an epidural so that she could rest and have the energy needed to push her baby out and be awake enough to enjoy the first few moments with her baby. Even though this was not her original intention for her birth, she surrendered to the change of plan and ultimately was able to rest, regain her strength, and was prepared to deliver her baby and embrace the joy of her birth.


For years I have heard the story of the first 6 weeks of my brother’s life. He was a colicky baby who wouldn’t stop crying unless he was in a car being driven around. My mom often explains that she had preconceived ideas of strolling around with a cute, cooing baby and was not in the least bit prepared for the crying fits of a colicky, unhappy child. Eventually she surrendered to the fact that, this was the baby she had, and she could either fight and resent the situation that was less than ideal for a new mother, or find a way to embrace the needs of my brother.

Motherhood seems to be a road full of opportunities to learn to surrender to the circumstances that are presented in front of us. Our best efforts may not go over as well as planned and rarely do we really ever have true control over anyone other than ourselves. We cannot control the situation presented to us, but we can choose how we react to it.

I have asked some of my “mom friends” to share some of their experiences with surrendering to motherhood.

“Sitting on the floor next to the potty waiting for my daughter to actually relax enough to let the pee or poop come out… How many times did I read the same potty book, acting excited about all the different steps. But you just have to have patience. Even if you had plans to meet friends… you have to sit next to your kid and let the potty training process evolve. It just takes so long each time in the beginning. But then it becomes routine and I miss those days of sitting next to the potty.” ~ Valerie Gerstein

“As a type A personality I had to surrender to many things in my life not going or being perfect. In terms of the housekeeping, gift giving. In terms of work. Everything has been at about 80% which has been difficult when I am used to doing things at 100%. But I have learned that, that is ok. You just have to breath and accept it. And remind yourself, this is what I am capable of right now.” ~ Jen D’Onofrio

In yoga class, we purposely incorporate poses that safely challenge the student both mentally and physically. Learning to surrender to poses or sensations on the yoga mat can allow for the student to start to learn her personal methods of letting go. For some it is relaxing into the breath (maybe with a releasing sigh), and for others it could be a mantra or gentle reminder- “This shall pass. I can do anything for a short period of time. Or simply repeating “Let go”. If we can learn to surrender to the smaller obstacles in life, like a yoga pose, I believe it will be easier to then digest the bigger challenges in life.




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