Early motherhood and the nervous system

I am “up regulated”. 9 weeks into motherhood, and I have leaned far enough into the outer reaches of my nervous system’s capacity. I know this because my skin has started to react. All my life, my skin has been one of the first and most responsive exhibitors of my wellbeing. So I know the signs well. But it truly hit home when mum offered to take my newly created mini human for a short pram ride, while I ‘caught up on sleep’ (how many years can I sleep for?!?), and try as I might, with all my yogi relaxation tools, I could not wind down even into a state of relaxation.

I am no stranger to this wound-up state. Like most Londoners I know how to burn the candle at both ends. It’s been one of the many bonus’s of having taught yoga for many years, I have had to live my yoga practice, and in doing so have had to step off that spinning wheel and find the pace that suits my body and mind. Naturally, a new baby on board disrupts the rhythm of just about everything.

Two key forces are at play here. The first being that, I am miles out of my comfort zone on an entirely new journey. However prepared I thought I was, and however relaxed and go with the flow my intentions may have been, I am quickly realising (somewhere in the midst of labour this dawned on me) that things are not going to be as it seemed they were. My spectrum of positive and negative experiences has widened immensely in these early weeks. To give a simple and fairly obvious example; as a new mother, in the tornado of advice and well meaning (sometimes useful) instructions from experts and family, I and my newborn have to find our own rhythm. What suits us, may not be what is recommended, by aunts, grandparents, or even health visitors. Its useful to me now to remember that what is currently being recommended is often not what always has been the recommendation nor always will be. As in most fields, expert recommendations ebb and flow with unfolding information guiding new guidelines. Ultimately what I choose will have to rest with me for the rest of both our lives, and I would like to make choices I feel at ease with.

Which leads me to the second thing, which is recognising that now that we are here, in this strange new world, I do have resources to bring with me from my old experiences. My biggest question now is how do I create space for response-ability, when I am keyed up, and hyper-reactive. Thankfully, I have been practising space making, for many years. And here is the perfect example of the life situation arising that makes all the practice worthwhile.

First I must find some acceptance, my old youth patterning of beating myself is entirely unhelpful here. Yes, instead of being ahead of the curve, I have been eating for survival (i.e. too much, too often, lots of sugar, and my body weight in dark chocolate). Also snatching entertainment / distraction myself with immediately satisfying but detrimental crap (over watching stimulating TV, multitasking while on the loo and in the bath, taking my phone to bed and googling in the middle of the night). Judging my choice of activity is unhelpful. However from past exploration, I know what I love in life, and that ultimately all these actions combined and overdone, do not make me feel good. I cherish the  feelings I get when I am making other choices than these. So for me, when high sugar, carb and fat become breakfast, lunch and dinner, and when the quick relief entertainment takes over my mind something funny/unfun happens.

At this time, my senses are very open and receptive. My mind takes on board everything I provide it with. I start to notice that waking in the middle of the night – which I do often both for my little one and my own adjustments – I am worrying about whether the characters from last night’s tv are going to resolve their argument in time for their holiday. This pisses me off, why am I wasting brain power (20% of the glucose my body turns food into goes into fuelling my brain) worrying about people I don’t know. Next I notice that while feeding my little one, I am yearning for a quick social media fix. Instead of being present and mindful in the midst of treasured moments, I am craving and distracted. My day starts to feel overtaken into where and how can I put him down and keep him entertained so that I can get a social media fix. This is not where I would love my mind to be.

Turning choice around is more often for me about understanding where I am, taking an honest look at what is happening, and remembering or imagining what I would love instead. Writing this all down helps, as does talking about it with an objective listening ear.

I start to notice the good things that are filling our time. Imagining more of what I would love to be doing, also coincides with feeling a little more healed from giving birth, starting to find our groove. There are many pluses to how we are doing. I am proud that I haven’t filled up my diary with baby classes, we have spent a lot of time since birth at home, eating home food, taking small walks, avoiding busy places. I do nap when my baby naps, which I know is no easy thing for many mothers. I have had osteopathy to support my body post the birth marathon.

Plan of postnatal nurturing action:

Before I go to bed, I oil up and moisturise my skin with a variety of good smelling (Ren Rose Otto body oil), warm sesame oil and moisturiser (aveeno body moisturiser) creams. I pay particular attention to using my thumb knuckles to massage the outer edges of my sacrum at the base of my back. I lift my arms in the air and sweep my hands under my armpits to help stimulate and move the lymph nearest to my breasts. I massage my breast bone – and the marma point between the breasts that supports breastfeeding. And finally I fully and completely massage my feet. If its cold, I put socks on.

I re-activate my supplements, I have continued taking my pregnancy vitamins postnatally but it has been sporadic. I take supplements in the morning as vitamin C provides plenty of energy. I take copious amounts of omega 3 and make a point of using ghee on my food for the next few days. I need to increase my ojas, give my nervous system some oil to burn. (Additional note : I didn’t find out until much later that Magnesium was also a fantastic supplement to take)

I roll out my mat. With a newborn, everything happens in slots during the day that happen between breastfeeding. So during our first awake slot – usually between 7-8am – I put him on his play mat in the living room and roll my mat out. And I start GENTLY. My body is a whole new territory after pregnancy and giving birth. I take time to start breathing fully again. I use Tara’s and my postnatal DVD to remember how to move, to be reminded how to take care of myself. And then during our second feeding of the day, I practice a meditation taught by Rod Stryker on yogaglo.com while feeding. It feels like heaven.

It takes a week. I start to feel like myself again.

Michael Pollan food rules applied again – eat food, not too much, mostly plants. I am shifting my attention towards vegetables, cooking in bulk so that they are in the fridge for making soups and chopping into grains. I buy rice and millet and cook in bulk so I can put them in salads and quick heat them for supper. I slow cook chicken to make a broth and store the meat in the fridge for lunches and quick suppers. I try to stop buying sugary foods. Chocolate is still in, it gets darker, and I remember to eat it earlier in the day, sometimes.

We are 10 weeks. I am able to lie still, with him in the room, while he sleeps deeply. As I have practised relaxation, his sleeps have become longer and deeper. Who knows if the two are linked, I am sure the experts would like to tell us. But I appreciate that we can both relax better now. And I am deeply grateful for the yoga tools, tips and tricks that have saved me, again.

Dr Oscar Serrallach’s book – The Postnatal Depletion Cure came out long after my postnatal period. But its a wonderful resource for anyone who is not feeling like the parts are coming together again after birth.

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