I always wanted to be a mother, and yet like many other aspiring mothers, several times during my pregnancy, I too would call my mom and ask her –
“Will I always be running around, overwhelmed, exhausted, fatigued? Will I be able to have a quiet conversation with my husband? How on earth will I exercise and meditate once I have to take care of another little person?”
Yet, when Vivaan was born, it all seemed to work out. My body was my ally and supported me on my journey. I felt connected with my husband. I somehow added up my numbers and created typo free slides at work. I exercised and meditated (for a few minutes!), connected with my friends and in many ways felt nourished. It wasn’t perfect by any means. I struggled, questioned my choices, experienced exhaustion and fatigue (but not all the time, thankfully) and had occasional tears but overall felt peaceful and content. Even though I didn’t have uninterrupted 8 hours of sleep on most nights, I could smile in the morning until…
… Post partum anxiety finally hit me. I had severe periods of intense anxiety with tears for no major explainable reason. I could walk in the hallways at work and tears would trickle down my cheeks. My insecurity was primarily triggered around fears pertaining to my work and career. “What if I never found a good job again? How do I find more meaning in my work? How can I find work that can change people’s lives while still allowing me to provide for my family? Why am I getting my third degree if I haven’t figured it all out and still feel unsure about what I want to do when I grow up?”
My inner critic would shout and yell at me and say things like – “You are 31 and you should know better. Why did you make choices around x, y and z? Who asked you to have children if you don’t have answers to life’s questions? What kind of a mother are you who is constantly crying when you really have everything in life. What will your son learn from you? What was the point of spending so much time and resources on yoga & meditation if you can’t manage your own emotions?” My inner critic was rude and mean and I let her do that to me. Oh dear…
Add to this my intense pain of leaving my baby and going to work. Almost every morning, I’d have tears in my eyes as I would nurse him for the last time before putting him down in his crib. I didn’t experience the guilt of being a working mom but deeply, badly missed him and didn’t know how to be with him and at work at the same time.
I acted on all the positive psychology research I had been reading for years – I meditated, practiced yoga, connected with loved ones, got out in nature, moved my body, got as much sleep as I could with a little one, ate healthy food, practiced gratitude, and yet I couldn’t experience peace. During my meditation, I had a high degree of awareness of own pain but my frustration with myself didn’t go down. “How could I possibly be this upset when I have such a beautiful life?”
Thanks to Google, I discovered mindfulness4mothers. It was a beautiful relief to know that I wasn’t alone and I wasn’t crazy. Once again, the “doer” and problem solver in me wanted to listen to everything in the program and implement everything hoping that I could “fix” my negative self, overnight. Ah!
My magical moment did somewhat arrive. I was listening to Tara Brach in the program and she said this:
“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” — Carl Rogers
I listened to her recording again and read more. This message from her book Radical Acceptance stuck with me:
“This is an inner process of accepting our actual, present-moment experience. It means feeling sorrow and pain without resisting. It means feeling desire or dislike for someone or something without judging ourselves for the feeling or being driven to act on it. Clearly recognizing what is happening inside us, and regarding what we see with an open, kind and loving heart, is what I call “Radical Acceptance.” If we are holding back from any part of our experience, if our heart shuts out any part of who we are and what we feel, we are fueling the fears and feelings of separation that sustain the trance of unworthiness.”
Wow – I had been meditating for years, read Tara Brach & Kristin Neff’s work on self compassion and self acceptance, listened to their talks and shared the wisdom with my students and friends, yet when I needed that compassion for myself, I was too busy trying to judge, change and fix myself. I couldn’t love myself for my imperfections. As Tara reminds us in her talk, I was attending to myself but not befriending myself. I wanted to be peaceful, calm and relaxed and only then could I love myself.
I continued to meditate and did everything else that I knew would heal me but most importantly, I practiced compassion toward myself. For every struggle, every question, every risk that didn’t pan out, I chose love over judgment. I tried to hold the space for my fears and insecurities. I could be scared and uncomfortable and still be peaceful. I could be worthy of my own love and kindness despite all of my questions. I continued to act to address my fears, to grow and live a life more aligned with my values but reminded myself I wasn’t broken. I learnt to accept that I didn’t need to fix everything overnight (and I probably never can anyway) to feel like I am a contributing member in this world. Sure, my life could have been much worse and there are billions of people without access to life’s basic needs yet my own pain was worthy of my love and compassion. It was okay for my baby to know that mommy can have big feelings and she can cry and be upset but she can still love me. I still miss him at work and leaving him makes me sad but my container is bigger and am able to hold the space for all that emerges and make choices with more wisdom.
My faith in meditation and in mindfulness as a tool to deal with life’s big emotions has further strengthened. I was naïve to not see the full power of mindfulness yet hope that it would heal me. I am glad to have had the support of a wonderful program like M4M at a difficult time in my life and I am so grateful for the gifts it has brought in my life.
Wishing every mother, the strength and compassion to access her own wisdom through her practice and may the ripple effects contribute to more peace, compassion and kindness in the world.
Neha is a grateful mother, program manager at LinkedIn, a sustainable MBA student, and a restorative yoga teacher. She integrates all of these roles on her blog, Mindful Living, and is passionate about helping people find tools to lead meaningful & mindful lives and sparking conversations at the intersection of personal fulfillment and global impact. Follow her on twitter @mandhanin.