Embracing Paradox: Nurturing Resilience for Birth and BeyondAug 19, 2023
In the heart of expecting mothers is a landscape full of paradoxes. Paradox, by definition, implies the coexistence of seemingly incompatible realities. It's a natural part of life, and is especially poignant in the journey towards motherhood. It is the intertwining of joy and fear, strength and vulnerability, certainty and uncertainty, all in the same breath. Nurturing resilience, the capacity to navigate life's adversities and come out stronger, is crucial for the transformative journey of birth and beyond. Ironically, the key to developing such resilience might just lie in embracing these very paradoxes.
Understanding Paradox and Its Connection to Resilience
Paradoxes create tension within us, an uncomfortable balance between contrasting realities. It's the simultaneous experience of the euphoria of impending motherhood and the overwhelming fear of the unknown. It's the embodiment of tremendous physical strength and deep vulnerability.
Resilience, on the other hand, is the ability to adapt well in the face of adversity, trauma, or stress. It's the capacity to 'bounce back' and thrive despite life's challenges. For expecting mothers, resilience can mean navigating these profound physical, emotional, and mental shifts with grace and tenacity.
The link between paradox and resilience might not be instantly evident, but it's an impactful one. Resilience isn't built by denying or avoiding life's complexities and contradictions, but rather, by acknowledging and accepting them. Embracing paradox can foster an adaptive mindset, which is a cornerstone of resilience.
Embracing Paradox: A Key to Resilience
Embracing paradox allows expecting mothers to hold space for the full spectrum of their experiences. It allows the acceptance of vulnerabilities alongside strengths, fears as well as joys, and the unknown wrapped within the known.
Consider the paradox of physical strength and vulnerability during pregnancy. The body is performing the extraordinary act of nurturing a new life, showcasing an unprecedented physical strength. Yet, it's also a time of heightened vulnerability, as the body undergoes profound changes. By acknowledging this paradox and not forcing yourself into an impossible ideal, you can better adapt to your changing body and reality.
Understanding your core values is another key to making sense of these paradoxes. When your values guide your decisions, seemingly contradictory feelings or experiences can coexist without creating dissonance. We can recognize that there is a (sometimes vast) space between our value, belief, or principle and the way it manifests in our life and actions.
Our society doesn’t like paradox. We are marinated from an early age in the belief that a paradox is something to be fixed or avoided. Not being able to put an easy label on our experiences can feel scary, and we are literally trained to believe that it means we are doing something wrong.
Too often, as well, our discomfort with paradox is attached to our expectations for a specific outcome:
If I feel fear AND joy in childbirth, I must not have prepared enough—otherwise I wouldn’t be scared.
If I am physically fit AND have a belly, I must not be exercising “correctly”—otherwise I would have a flat belly.
If I both love my newborn AND wonder if I made a mistake, but must not be a good mom—otherwise I would never miss my child-free life.
Getting comfortable with paradox means developing the ability to step back from our thoughts, look at them and say “Hmm. That’s interesting. I wonder why I think that.” It means learning to examine where these stories we tell ourselves come from, and getting the distance to decide if they really serve us.
Often, looking at our thoughts with curiosity, instead of reacting to them unquestioningly, is the key to getting comfortable with how your life IS, not how you’ve been told it should be.
Strategies to Embrace Paradox and Build Resilience
Shifting one's mindset to embrace paradox involves acceptance, compassion, and mindfulness. Acceptance doesn't imply passive resignation; it means acknowledging reality without judgement. This is where it is helpful to practice distancing yourself from your own thoughts. A helpful signal is to look for “shoulds.” Throughout the day, catch yourself when you’re thinking of something you should do or feel, or the way something should be. Ask yourself, “Why? Where did this idea come from, why do I feel this way?” You don’t have to go deeper than this at first. Your goal isn’t to immediately become to queen of paradox, but to start getting comfortable questioning your own stories.
Practicing self-compassion allows expecting mothers to extend kindness towards themselves, particularly during moments of fear or uncertainty. The more you learn to be curious about the stories within you, without judgment, the more you will develop a deeper understanding of your hopes, fears, and expectations—the deep things that drive you and hold you back. Along with this, hopefully, you will also discover an understanding that the conflicts, paradoxes, and mysteries you find are not there to “fix.” Some may serve you and some may not, but these elements are what have crafted you into who you are. Before letting them go, take some time to sit with them and appreciate what they have contributed to your life and who you are. You might decide there’s no need to let them go after all.
These kinds of mindfulness practices are helpful to practice before birth (in fact, I think it’s critical that you do so). They can also be immensely useful training FOR birth. In birth, you will find that nothing is linear. Nothing fits into an easy checkbox, many seemingly contradictory things will coexist, and you will likely have little control over any of it. Mentally prepare yourself to let go of the need to make things controlled, well-ordered, and neat—and make sure your support team is prepared for this as well.
Embracing Paradox: Preparing for Birth and Beyond
Embracing paradox can be a powerful tool in preparing for birth and motherhood. A woman who acknowledges the paradox of pain and joy in childbirth, for example, can better navigate the experience. She is not caught off guard by the intensity of pain nor does she lose sight of the profound joy that awaits.
Sometimes we become so attached to a specific birth outcome that any deviation from the plan can feel traumatic. Whether or not to use pain medication, for example, is often a polarizing topic, or whether or not to birth in a hospital.
Accepting that you can have a transformative birth even if it is medicated/induced/surgical/not how you planned is not easy, but it is an enormously important part of preparing for birth and/or navigating birth trauma. Understand that no matter what you plan or prepare for, you will have to be prepared to pivot at any moment, often when you are least prepared to handle a change. Believing in your heart that birth will test your preconceived categories, labels, and expectations, and understanding how to embrace forces that often seem opposing, can help you open yourself to labor in a way that resistance and control will not.
The journey to motherhood is inherently paradoxical, full of contrasting experiences that coexist. Embracing these paradoxes can nurture resilience, empowering women to navigate the changes that pregnancy, birth, and motherhood bring.
As you traverse your unique journey, remember that paradox isn't a contradiction to resolve, but a dynamic balance to embrace. It's an invitation to understand yourself and your experiences more fully. You're encouraged to reflect on your own experiences of paradox and resilience and share your insights.
By weaving together the seemingly incompatible strands of our experiences, we can create a more authentic, resilient narrative of motherhood, one that resonates with the truth of our lived experiences. Remember, the strength to nurture a life within you, and the resilience to navigate the journey, are already yours.
Before I leave you with all this thought-work on your plate, I’ll give you some of the paradoxes I am (working on) accepting in my life. Let this be inspiration for you to begin examining your own unconscious expectations for how life, birth, and emotions should exist:
I am ambitious AND I stay home with my children.
I am a mother AND a sexual woman.
I want to nurture my children AND I want to sleep.
I am physically fit AND I have a jiggly belly.
I am empathetic AND I need boundaries in my relationships.
I adored breastfeeding AND I couldn’t stand it towards the end.
I want more children AND I enjoy the freedom of not having a newborn.
I love natural & home births AND I had two cesarean births.
I am strong & resilient AND I know when to quit.
I love my husband AND I resent him in parenthood.
I adore being a mom AND I sometimes can’t wait to get away from my kids.
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