The power of mindfulness to create resilience

I made a thing!

This is the piece I created on completion of the Developing Doulas training course.  I’m calling it Resilience and it means everything to me.  We were asked to reflect on an aspect or element of the course that we have taken out into the world and the impact it may have had.  There is so much that I could have used as the focus for this reflection, the course widened and deepened my knowledge and sense of connection in so many ways.  But I decided to focus on a transformative shift felt by a woman I was working with throughout my time on the Developing Doulas course.

I have been working with a client recently who has been battling crippling anxiety around her role as a mother, the health and well being of her family, Covid-19, the state of the planet, everything really.  As her postnatal doula, working over zoom, I have struggled with my own Inner Critic and the feeling that I “should” be “doing” more to help her/fix her/coach her/something – anything to help her feel better.  I know that my role is none of these things.  I know that she simply needs to be heard and held, but it’s so hard, especially over Zoom, to connect strongly with the feeling that this is enough.  Then, like a bolt from the blue, someone mentioned MINDFULNESS, just in passing, as part of an entirely different conversation in a Developing Doulas session.  This sent me spinning off to delve into the literature around mindful meditation in perinatal practice.

Mindfulness practice is something that I have used on and off, inconsistently, in my own life, from a simple 3-deep-breaths technique to calm pre-teaching nerves, to prolonged guided meditation sessions to help with my own mental wellbeing and sleep issues. I resolved to strengthen my mindfulness practice for my own benefit, and then, as its use is evidence based, I happened to mention the benefits of mindfulness as an approach to tacking postnatal anxiety, to my client.

We had been playing with relaxation and visualisation techniques for several weeks and, while she was able to enjoy them in the moment, she said she didn’t feel able to carry those feelings of calm forward into her every day life.  She had encountered the concept of mindfulness meditation before but felt unable to engage well with it because she felt frustrated that she was unable to prevent her mind from wandering.  We spent some time exploring her understanding of mindfulness and how it might feel to be able to approach the practice with self compassion.  We discussed how the goal of mindfulness practice is not to prevent the attention from drifting, but rather to repeatedly notice when it has done so and gently, kindly, usher it back.  Every time we notice that we are thinking about the past or the future, planning, worrying or remembering, we can welcome it as an opportunity to offer ourselves some kindness and invite ourselves to refocus on the present moment.

My client found that another barrier to embracing mindfulness fully was that she disliked focussing her attention on her breath and found it made her feel a bit panicky.  She gave some thought to what else she might find more grounding and settled on the feeling of the supporting surface beneath her back and legs.  Once the pressure to focus on the breath was lifted, she was much more able to relax into the process.

Since my revelation on the doula course, and subsequent conversation and tentative exploration of mindfulness with my client, I have been extending and embedding my own meditation practice into my daily routine.  As a result I have found that, in my daily life, I have been able to be really attentive to the quality and frequency of my Inner Critic voice, noticing when it tells me I’m doing not enough, or maybe too much, as a mother, a doula, a practitioner, and I’ve felt able to remain rational in response.  I’m really seeing an impact day by day on my ability to separate myself from my thoughts and feelings, knowing deeply that they will come and go like clouds in the sky, and that I don’t have to follow their narrative if I don’t want to.

In the meantime, something wondrous has happened to my client.  She has been practicing returning her attention to her bodily sensations whenever she feels her anxiety rising.  She has been able to quiet and diminish her intrusive thoughts and give herself some peace from the relentlessness of her worrying mind.  She has found a whole new sense of herself as a responsive mother and is really starting to believe that she can enjoy this fleeting moment of early motherhood for what it is, rather than getting lost in regret for the past and worry about the future.

I made this picture to represent the power of her new-found resilience.  I’m so proud of her determination to try a new thing and explore the possibilities for healing that it opened up to her.  I’m proud of myself for being open to hearing the wisdom of a fellow doula, am I’m immeasurably grateful to Maddie and my doula sisterhood at Developing Doulas for doulaing me too.

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