A guide to pregnancy and childbirth
Partners in Love
You are the seed of enchanted forests of mystical realms.
Together we will nurture our desires
In the sacred corridors of our souls.
And one day these desires will burst into flame,
And in the burnished glow,
and sudden splendor of love,
We will dream a new world of reality
From the purity of our hearts.
Each human being is woven from the genetic and behavioral threads of his or her parents. The relationship patterns that your child is exposed to, before and after birth, shape her mental and physical well-being. Whether you and your partner create a traditional nuclear family or choose to explore one of the other modern variations in child rearing, developing your communication skills is essential to a healthy and nourishing emotional life.
Pregnancy is a landmark event in a couple’s relationship. When two people make the choice to parent a child, both partners assume a new level of responsibility. In every relationship, there are times when needs and expectations bring to the surface underlying emotional issues. Almost all psychological disciplines acknowledge the presence of an inner emotional child in most chronologically adult human beings. When you create a baby, you will have another inner child fully dependent upon you to meet her needs. For your benefit and the benefit of your family, we encourage you to use your pregnancy as an opportunity to heal unresolved emotional issues and improve your communication skills.
Pregnancy is a time of dynamic transformation with numerous physical and emotional challenges. It is normal and natural for parents to encounter a wide range of emotions during pregnancy. As mothers and fathers anticipate how a new baby will change their lives, it is common to feel happiness as well as apprehension. Acknowledging, accepting, and embracing this ambivalence is important, because anything we resist persists, and eventually creates distress. Many years ago, Freud recognized that the inability to tolerate ambivalence was the root of neurosis. By recognizing and accepting the diverse feelings we have without judgment, we are better able to respond to challenges in ways that reflect our highest values.
In addition to emotions of excitement, enthusiasm, and joy that usually predominate, it is not uncommon for a pregnant woman to experience feelings of anxiety, trepidation, and uneasiness. Among other issues, a mom-to-be may feel concerned about her rapidly changing body shape, her wider-than-usual mood fluctuations, her ability to be a good parent, and changes in her career path. The father-to-be may be uneasy about losing his partner’s attention, her changing sexual drive, his competence as a parent, and the financial costs of raising a child.
Acknowledging and developing the skills to express these darker emotions helps you free up creative energy that can otherwise be trapped in the denial of these completely normal feelings. We frequently see pregnant couples at the Chopra Center who are troubled by ambivalent feelings they have been afraid to express. When they learn that most people share these emotions, and that they are not destined to be poor parents just because they have doubts or fears, a tremendous weight is removed from their hearts and their delight in the pregnancy is able to shine through.
Take a couple of minutes now to consider the various feelings, concerns, and questions you have about becoming a parent and express them in your journal.
Like the imagined monster in the closet that generates anxiety in the child who is carried away by her worst fears, your unspoken concerns are often the ones that generate the most distressing emotions. Begin by acknowledging them to yourself, and then use your best communication skills to express your concerns to your partner. A couple that participated in one of our recent workshops found tremendous relief by performing this simple exercise.
I’m feeling really excited about becoming a mother.
I’m conflicted about how much time I should take off from work.
I love my big breasts.
I am tired of this morning sickness.
I’m feeling more connected to my older sister who has two children.
Will everything go okay with my labor and birth?
I like focusing on eating healthy foods.
Am I gaining too much weight?
I can’t wait to be a parent and share my love.
I’m concerned that our small house will not be big enough for my family.
I feel more connected than ever with my wife.
I feel pressure about the cost of raising a family.
My life seems to have more purpose as I think about my new family.
Will my wife and I have any time alone together after the baby’s here?
My wife seems gentler and more emotionally available.
Although my wife’s been cuddly, she hasn’t had much interest in sex.
When this couple had the opportunity to express their concerns in a safe and nonjudgmental exchange, each partner felt relief and deeper intimacy. When hearing the concerns of your partner, it is best to simply acknowledge them without attempting to “solve” the other person’s problem. Simply saying, “I can understand how you might have that concern,” or “Thanks for sharing your concerns with me,” is usually more effective than trying to convince the other person that their anxieties are unnecessary. Remember, ambivalence is a healthy aspect of human emotions. Acknowledging the dark side does not negate the positive aspects.
We all prefer environments that exude peace and harmony. Most of us do not willingly go into a battle zone. An unborn baby is aware of her environment as she grows inside the womb and responds to her mother’s feeling of comfort or agitation. The story of the family as told through both words and feelings is learned by the unborn baby long before birth. Put your attention on learning to heal upsets with your partner before your child arrives. Open your heart and clear any toxic emotions that may be residing there. Make your home a garden of peace so your baby will feel safe and cherished both before and after her first breath is taken. Allow your baby’s beginning to be innocent, harmonious, and filled with wonder. Healthy, loving communication is its own reward in every relationship. Using your pregnancy as a catalyst to enhance a deeper connection between you and your partner will reap benefits for all the members of your family.
The ABCs of Emotion
Emotions engage both your mind and body. Emotions are distinguished from other thoughts by the accompaniment of physical sensations. Emotions are primary mind-body experiences. If you hear that a company in your town is going out of business, it may transiently catch your interest. If it is the company that you or your spouse is employed by, it is likely that the information in your mind will be accompanied by potent sensations in your body. We call these sensations feelings because we actually feel them in our physical body. When we use language to characterize our emotions such as, “I felt like I was kicked in the stomach,” or “I felt my heart was breaking,” our words are describing the sensations generated in our bodies.
Although our emotions come in many different flavors, they ultimately boil down to two primary feelings: comfort and discomfort. As a result of what you see and hear in your world, your body interprets the experience as being either nourishing or threatening. All feelings are reducible to comfort or discomfort, pleasure or pain, happiness or sadness, or as novelist Tom Robbins once said, “Yum or yuck.” Whether you are consciously aware of it or not, every choice you make is based upon your expectation that the choice will bring you greater comfort and less discomfort. Every decision you make, from your order at a restaurant, to the style of shoes you buy, to the job you take, is based upon the expectation that your choice will result in greater comfort or less discomfort. Sometimes we are willing to endure immediate discomfort for the expectation of longer-term comfort, such as when we exercise, undergo a medical procedure, or forgo dessert; but even these choices are ultimately based on the belief that the anticipated long-term pleasure outweighs the short-term pain.
Given the same circumstance or situation, different people have different emotional reactions. If you are a pure vegetarian, being served a helping of Grandma’s meatloaf will not elicit the pleasurable sensations that a meat eater experiences. Your teenager may experience intense pleasure listening to hip-hop music while it may give you a headache. Some people revel in the exhilaration of a roller-coaster ride, while for others it would be a nightmare. It is not the inherent experience that generates feelings of comfort or discomfort; rather, it is your interpretation of the experience.
Why does one person enjoy a scary horror movie while another relishes a romantic comedy? The answer boils down to a simple principle that is obvious when you observe children. What you will soon discover when your baby is born is that feelings derive from needs. When a child gets what she wants when she wants it, she feels comfortable. When she does not get what she wants, or gets what she doesn’t want (like a bath or an early bedtime), she feels uncomfortable. Positive emotions arise when we feel that our needs are being met. Negative emotions arise when we feel our needs are not being met.
The more successful you are in meeting your needs, the more likely you are to spend time in states of emotional comfort. When it comes to interpersonal needs—the needs we have in relation to the people in our lives—communication is the most important determinant of need fulfillment. If you are skilled at communicating your needs, you are more likely to see them satisfied. Unfortunately, most people are not masters at communicating their needs.
It is common for people to hold the idea that what they require is so obvious that the other person should simply “know” what they want. Many have an unspoken expectation that “If you really love me, you should be able to read my heart and mind, and give me what I need without me having to ask for it.” Most children actually enjoyed a period of time when this was the case. An infant child cries and an attentive mother urgently attempts to diagnose the need and fulfill it: “Is she cold? Is she hungry? Does she need her diaper changed? Is she tired and needs a nap?” As people mature emotionally, they learn to meet more of their own needs and, ideally, learn to communicate effectively so others are able to understand and meet their needs. Because most people have never received formal education in communication, we would like to review a simple process that we have found to be very helpful. Drawing upon the work of psychologist Marshall Rosenberg, this process of conscious communication avoids wasting emotional energy on labels and judgments, and focuses on successful strategies to increase comfort and decrease distress.
There are five key questions that we encourage you to address whenever emotional turbulence is activated in your body/mind: What is occurring to trigger my emotions? What emotions are arising within me? What do I need that I am not receiving? What am I getting out of not having my needs met? What am I really asking for?
We’ll review these questions one at a time in more detail.
WHAT IS OCCURRING TO TRIGGER MY EMOTIONS?
Situations in the present frequently remind us of similar circumstances from the past, evoking memories and feelings that may have little to do with what is actually occurring now. For example, you may be driving on a trip with your partner who has fallen silent. This triggers a memory of your parents not talking to each other for days at a time. As a result you say to your partner, “What are you angry about? Why are you being so cold to me?” Your partner is surprised and responds, “I was just thinking about how we can arrange the baby’s room so it won’t feel too crowded.”
It is very useful to separate out what you are seeing and hearing from your interpretation. In this example, after your partner did not speak for ten minutes, you interpreted this silence as anger or withholding. Begin to notice how often you substitute your interpretations for your observations. Your doctor does not return your call within an hour and you label him as uncaring. Your sister arrives fifteen minutes after the time you were scheduled to meet for lunch and you judge her as selfish and narcissistic. Your partner talks to another person at a party and you label it as flirting. Whether your analysis is accurate or not, replacing your description of what is occurring with your interpretation rarely increases the likelihood that you will get your needs met.
On some level, judgment always involves some rejection. People respond to this subtle sense of rejection and become less willing and able to give you what you need. Have the intention to avoid judging and see how you waste less time in states of emotional turbulence.
WHAT EMOTIONS ARE ARISING WITHIN ME?
As a consequence of something you saw or heard, emotions are activated. Develop an expanded vocabulary of your emotions and you will find that uncomfortable feelings dissipate much more quickly. If you are visiting a foreign land and have a limited grasp of the native language, you become frustrated in your efforts to communicate your needs. Since most people have limited emotional vocabularies, they compound their unhappiness by their inability to express what is happening inside them.
In his insightful book Nonviolent Communication, Dr. Rosenberg points out that certain words we use to express our feelings increase our sense of victimization, and are therefore better avoided. When you say, “I feel . . . abandoned . . . neglected . . . rejected . . . abused . . . unappreciated . . .” or “manipulated,” you are holding other people accountable for your emotions and setting up a situation where someone else has to change in order for you to feel better. If you are uncomfortable because you believe someone is manipulating you, they must stop their behavior in order for you to feel better. If you are waiting for someone else to change in order for you to feel more comfortable, we hope you have a large reservoir of patience.
Rather than relinquishing your power to external circumstances, we encourage you to own your feelings, and use language that reduces interpretation and conveys your willingness to accept responsibility. Rather than saying, “When I saw you flirting, I felt abandoned by you,” try “When I saw you talking to that person, I felt anxious, jealous, and irritable.” Using language that conveys your responsibility for your feelings will reduce the likelihood that your partner will move into a reactive emotional mode, and increases the probability that you will get your needs met.
Practice expanding your emotional vocabulary so you do not resort to the language of victimization. An alphabetical listing of suggested empowering words is presented below.
WHAT DO I NEED THAT I AM NOT RECEIVING?
If you are experiencing uncomfortable emotions, it is because you have a need that is not being met. If you are not clear about what that need is, it is unlikely that someone else will be able to figure it out for you. Become clear about what you seek and you will substantially increase your chances of getting it.
Needs can be seen from a variety of perspectives. According to Ayurveda, we have four basic needs. We have a need for material comforts, known as Artha; we need love and connection, known asKama; we need a sense of purpose in life, known as Dharma; and we need spiritual awakening, known as Moksha, or liberation. Whenever you feel emotionally upset, one of these needs is being threatened.
Human beings need to maintain healthy ego boundaries. This means having the freedom and personal power to say “no” when it is in your highest interest. When your boundaries are healthy, you allow energy and information to move into your life when you believe it is nourishing but maintain appropriate defenses when an encounter carries potentially toxic consequences. Boundaries crossed without permission create emotional pain.
When you are in the midst of emotional turbulence, see if you can identify what you need that you are not getting or how your boundary was crossed without your consent. Then, see if there are other unspoken issues that are subconsciously sabotaging your ability to meet your needs. This brings us to the next question.
WHAT AM I GETTING OUT OF NOT HAVING MY OBVIOUS NEEDS MET?
When we participate in situations that generate emotional conflict or turbulence, there is usually another conversation taking place within us at a deeper level of awareness. This realm of consciousness, commonly referred to as the shadow, stirs up strong feelings because these deeper needs may be in conflict with those on the surface. Perhaps you believe that intense emotions are necessary to keep a relationship alive and need conflict to generate the intensity. Perhaps you need more drama in your primary relationship because your own life is lacking in passion. Perhaps your need for control or your need to be “right” exceeds your need for harmony. Perhaps, even as you consciously state your desire for greater intimacy, you create conflict because you are afraid of the vulnerability that the intimacy requires.
If you find yourself in a pattern of recurrent conflict with your partner, ask yourself what you might be getting out of the clashes. See if the current situation is reminiscent of earlier intimate relationships. Ask yourself if there are other issues, unrelated to the conflict, seeking expression. Quiet your mind, ask the questions, and see if any insight dawns.
WHAT AM I REALLY ASKING FOR?
Your chances of meeting your needs will be substantially enhanced if you formulate a request and ask for what you want. It is not uncommon to substitute a demand for a request, but outside the military this diminishes rather than increases the likelihood that your needs will be met. Making a request requires a willingness to be vulnerable, because there is always the possibility of hearing that dread word “No.” However, asking for a specific behavior that the person is capable of performing increases the likelihood that you’ll get what you need.
Don’t waste your energy asking for someone to think, believe, or feel a certain way. Rather than saying, “I just need for you to feel how much I am hurting,” try “Can you put your arms around me?” Rather than saying, “I need for you to spend more time with me,” try asking, “Can we meet for lunch tomorrow?” The more specific you make your request, the more likely your need will be met and your feelings will change from uncomfortable to comfortable.
You have an appointment with your obstetrician and ask your husband to meet you there. He gets stuck in traffic and arrives twenty minutes after your visit has started. You feel upset. Consider the following two scenarios of how you might express yourself as you are leaving the doctor’s office.
“I can’t believe you were late. You’re so inconsiderate. Knowing you, you’ll probably miss the birth.”
“I told you the appointment started at 10:30 and you arrived at 10:50.”
“When you weren’t there at the start of my appointment, I felt abandoned by you.You’re never there when I need you.”
“When you weren’t there at the start of my appointment, I felt anxious and insecure.”
“You should know what I need. I need what every pregnant woman would need. I need you to be there for me.”
“I need to feel that this baby is a high priority for you. I need for you to hear what the doctor says so we can discuss it. I need to feel your support throughout the pregnancy.”
“I’m not getting anything out of this argument. If you were a good husband you would be there by my side.”
“Perhaps I need to blow off steam because I feel nervous and out of control in medical environments. Directing my frustration at my husband gives me a sense of control.”
“You need to be on time and make me feel safe if we’re going to make a family together.”
“I feel nervous when I’m at the doctor’s office without you. Can you promise me that at the next appointment you will arrive on time?”
Learning to communicate your needs more consciously increases the probability that your needs will be met. It doesn’t mean that you will get everything that you want, but improving communication skills will improve the chances of getting more of what you seek. When both parties are committed to honestly expressing needs in ways that make it possible for them to be fulfilled, everyone wins.
Dealing with Upsets
Even with the best communication skills, normal, healthy people get upset. There will be frequent times when your needs are not met exactly as you would choose and your ego boundaries are crossed without your permission. It is unrealistic to expect that you will completely avoid emotional turbulence, but it is realistic to expect that you can regain your emotional center more quickly by using tools to digest emotionally charged experiences. Keeping the emotional body clear is essential to good health. People tend to hold on to emotional hurts, betrayals, and disappointments, because they have not been taught effective ways to deal with them. As a result of trying to suppress the pain associated with emotional wounding, many do not experience the joy and vitality they would like.
Undigested emotions, like undigested food, result in the accumulation of toxicity in our physiology. We offer seven steps for releasing emotional toxicity.
1. Take responsibility for what you are feeling. When you find yourself reacting emotionally to other people, it is usually because they are reflecting some quality that you have not fully acknowledged about your own nature. Accept responsibility for your emotions and you will cease to be a bundle of conditioned reflexes, which makes you vulnerable to the opinions of every person you encounter. When you find yourself in a reactive mode with someone, ask the question “What can I learn about myself from this experience?” See if you can identify in the other person a quality you feel upset about, which you have been denying in yourself. This is the Mirror of Relationships principle: “Those we love and those we hate are both mirrors of ourselves.”
2. Identify the emotion. “I feel .” It may be angry, sad, hurt, jealous, lonely, etc. As clearly as possible, define and describe what you are feeling, avoiding language that encourages a sense of victimization.
3. Witness the feeling in your body. Emotions are thoughts associated with physical sensations. Upsetting thoughts trigger uncomfortable bodily reactions. The chemistry associated with emotions has a life of its own that must be acknowledged before the emotion can be processed further. Just observe the feeling, allowing your attention to embrace the sensation. By simply experiencing the physical sensations, you’ll find the charge of the emotion dissipates.
4. Express your emotions privately to yourself. Write about your feelings in a journal you keep just for this purpose. Use the five questions elaborated above to explore the meaning of the emotional upset. Allow memories of similar situations to come to the surface and write about them, too. Use language that accurately conveys what you are feeling. Allow yourself to express all that you need to about the situation.
5. Release the emotion through some ritual. Physical movement is usually best for this. Go for a walk, dance, swim, or perform yoga with deep-breathing exercises. Allow your body to discharge the emotional tension from your physiology.
6. Share the emotion with the person involved in the situation once you feel more centered. If you have gone through steps 1 through 5, it should be possible to share your feelings without casting blame, expecting pity, or trying to make the other person feel guilty.
7. Rejuvenate! If you’ve gone through steps 1 through 6, you deserve to be rewarded—so reward yourself for your good work. Do something nice for yourself. Get a massage, listen to music, buy yourself a present, eat a delicious meal—nourish yourself.
One of the most important communication skills you can develop is that of conscious listening. Often when someone shares a concern, the other person feels the need to fix the problem. In the attempt to be helpful, a response may be formulated even before the issue has been fully communicated. More often than not, the person is not seeking suggestions on how to fix the problem as much as simply needing to be heard. Listening attentively to another’s concerns, instead of immediately trying to make it better, cultivates feelings of being understood and facilitates resolution of the problem. See if you can agree to the following “rules of engagement” with your partner.
• We take turns being the one who expresses and the one who listens.
• When I am the expresser, I use language such as “I feel . . .” rather than “You made me feel . . .”
• As the listener, I demonstrate my attention through my expressions and gestures and by repeating what I have heard from you.
• We make the commitment to have regular conscious communication sessions with each other. We will reward each other for successful listening sessions—going for walks, taking a bubble bath together, going out for romantic dinners, giving each other massages, making love.
Enliven Through Your Attention
• Place your hands on your belly a few times throughout the day and send loving thoughts to your unborn baby.
• Journal each day about your experiences.
• Early in your pregnancy, plant a tree or flowering bush to symbolize the growth of your baby in the womb. After your child is born, you can take care of the plant together.
• Read enchanting stories and heartfelt poetry aloud to your baby and listen to beautiful, relaxing music each day.
• Perform a daily oil massage on yourself before you bathe or shower.
• Diffuse an aroma while listening to music, while soaking in a tub, or while meditating to create the association between the fragrance and the relaxed state of awareness.
• Ensure that you have all six tastes available during your meals throughout the day.
• Choose to eat meals that are rich in color, aroma, and texture.
• Be mindful as you eat your meals. Eat at least one meal each week in silence with your full awareness.
• Practice meditation for twenty to thirty minutes twice daily.
• Pay attention to signals of stress that you experience during the day and employ stress-reducing behaviors to minimize the harmful effects of stress on you and your unborn baby.
• Perform yoga postures with awareness on a regular basis, being gentle and respectful of your body.
• Embrace your pregnancy as an opportunity to experience more natural healing approaches to common minor health concerns.
• Whenever an uncomfortable symptom arises, go through a mental checklist to ensure that you are taking time to relax, eating properly, drinking enough fluids, and exercising regularly.
• Develop an open line of communication with your health care provider and have a low threshold for calling about any emotional or physical concern that may arise.
• Commit to improving your conscious communication skills. When you are feeling upset, determine what you really need and ask for the behavior that will fulfill your need.
• Practice the seven steps for emotional clearing when you are experiencing emotional turbulence. Notice how empowering the process can be when you take responsibility for your feelings.
• Whenever you are finding it difficult to communicate with your partner about your feelings, create the opportunity to practice conscious listening.