Mind/Body Connection

Mamas on Bedrest: Are you creating a future Nobel Laureate?

November 22nd, 2010

For many mamas, when they are told that they have to go on prescribed bed rest they see it as some sort of personal failing.  They ask themselves, “If pregnancy is the most natural thing for a woman to do, any woman should be able to do it right? If millions of women will become pregnant and give birth each year without a glitch, why am I having all these problem?”  Mamas, if this is you, you may have fallen prey to the myth of  The Enjoli woman.

“I can put the wash on the line, feed the kids, get dressed, pass out the kisses and get to work by five of nine….’Cause I’m a woman-Enjoli! I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and, never, never, never let you forget you’re a man..’Cause I’m a woman Enjoli!”

Some of you may be too young to remember this commercial that aired in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. It was for a perfume called Enjoli by Charles of the Ritz. It epitomized the idea that women could do it all; take care of the house, the kids, work a full time job and still be the sex kitten that their husbands needed them to be. You may laugh when you watch this video, but this one commercial made Charles of the Ritz millions! Everyone knew the tune, the commercial and the product.  Heck, some 20 years later, as I was preparing this blog, it immediately came to my mind.

Why would such a cheesy jingle come to my mind when thinking of mamas on bed rest? Because the advertising moguls of that time, like so many other societal and cultural influences, have created and promote unattainable perceptions of women; that we can do it all and be it all and when we realize that we can’t, we beat ourselves up about it.  I was having lunch with a friend the other day and she mentioned that she tries to be like the woman in  Proverbs 31 in the old testament of the bible,  but just “isn’t there”. (Proverbs 31: 10-31. For those of you not familiar with this dynamo, she has her home if order, her kids call her blessed, she is somehow earning income and making her husband proud. But hey, no pressure!)

We could sit here all day and ask, where do these ideas come from and why do we women buy into them? But that isn’t really a productive use of time. The innuendos and influences are there. What we women have to do is to look at them, acknowledge their presence and then move on with our lives.

So how does this pertain to mamas on bed rest? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, your need to be on bed rest is not likely your fault! There are many reasons that women are prescribed bed rest; placental problems, cervical problems, preterm labor, pre-eclampsia and multiple gestation to name a few of the more common indications. Some women may chastise themselves saying, “If I hadn’t been working so much or moving this way or that…Then I wouldn’t need to be on bed rest.” In most cases, nothing could be further from the truth.

A brief literature search shows that nearly 20% of pregnant women will be prescribed bed rest at some point during their pregnancies. That’s 1 out of 5 women! So clearly the need for bed rest is more common than many of us realized. But what is distressing to me is that women blame themselves for having to go on bed rest. So right here and right now, I’d like mamas on bed rest to consider an alternative explanation for the bed rest prescription.

During pregnancy you grow a whole, complete human being. Think about it. Your body grows a whole other, fully functioning being. This takes an incredible amount of energy! Your body (your belly in particular) will expand to a size beyond what you may have ever believed to be physically possible. To support the pregnancy and the development of the growing baby, your body will increase it’s blood volume 45-50% by the end of the pregnancy so that it can deliver the necessary nutrients and oxygen to the growing baby while continuing to support your physiologic needs. Your musculoskeletal system will expand and adapt to support anywhere from an additional 20-50 pounds of pregnancy weight. Your kidneys and intestines will increase their efficiency to not only extract nutrients and wastes for and from mama, but also for and from the growing and developing baby. The adaptations that your body undergo during pregnancy are nothing short of miraculous.

The fetus that develops becomes a baby with the capability to see, hear, smell, taste, move and think. As the baby grows, he/she will grow not only is stature, but will gain gross and fine motor control, reasoning capabilities, communication skills and whatever other gifts and talents are bestowed upon them such as the ability to sing, draw, complete complex math equations, or to develop innovative products. All of these developments require energy, perhaps more energy than your body is normally used to expending to sustain yourself, let alone another being. By you slowing down, it gives your body the ability to divert energy from moving and sustaining you to making energy available for fetal development. Is pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure) your issue? Perhaps your blood vessels need a bit more energy and leeway to adapt to the increased blood volume and transport necessary to feed and nurture your baby, leeway that results from lowering your body’s needs so the energy can be shunted to your baby? Are you going to chastise and berate your body for needing a little extra energy to create something or someone brilliant? What if you are growing the next Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi or Michael Jordan? If you are a mother of multiples, what if you are growing the next version of the Wright brothers and your children will revolutionize how we travel? What if…..

The work that your body is doing is more than a construction crew and/or scientists could do in many more months. They say that to house all the information and processes of the human brain would require several football fields. Yet mama, you are creating that complex organ that will fit perfectly inside your baby’s small skull right now. The best artificial limbs and organs are nothing compared to the originals we have and mama you are creating them-right now! Go ahead, sit back and marvel at your creative self, you deserve it! You’re awesome!

Bed rest is hard. You may feel achy, bored and lonely. Your hormones may make you feel weepy. You will need help with the most basic tasks and that may make you feel incredibly vulnerable. But just remember all the phenomenal things that your body is doing at this very minute. What may seem like “laying around” may be creating the next Nobel Laureate. What if…

Mamas on Bedrest: What Do You Desire?

November 16th, 2010

I went to a “Desire Intensive” this past weekend with “Mama Gena” Regena Thomashauer. The intensive was just that and along with much pageantry, there was a lot of substance. Mama Gena kept bringing the focus back to, “What do you desire?” It was a question that left a lot of us dumbfounded.

What do you desire? For many of us, the immediate answers are “a good life,” “lots of money” or “a mate”. And let’s not forget the favorite, “I just want to be happy.” But what does that really mean? As Mama Gena pointed out, when we answer “a good life,” we have a vision in our minds of what a good life is, what it looks like, where we’d be living, what we’d be doing and with whom. What is lots of money? Does that mean the ability to no longer live paycheck to paycheck or that you want to be a global economic force? And as far as a mate, do you want a legal spouse, someone with whom you share your life yet may never marry, or a companion but not an intimate partner? It’s these specifics that Mama Gena forced us to gaze upon and to ruminate over to discern just what we want out of our lives.

So I’m taking a page out of Mama Gena’s book. Mamas on Bedrest, what do you desire for the child (or children) that you are currently carrying? When I was struggling with my own pregnancies, my response was simply “I just want a healthy baby”.

It’s true that we all want our children to be healthy. However, most of us have a dream, an ideal, a desire of the type of life we want for our children. Perhaps we want them to be able to go to schools that we were unable to attend, to have clothes or toys or other opportunities that we didn’t have.  Maybe we want to share experiences with them that gave us great joy or to teach them certain things about our families or life. Whatever our desires for our children may be, I would be willing to wager a large sum that it’s more than simply being “a healthy baby.”

I feel this most acutely with my daughter. She was my first successful, and most difficult, pregnancy. I did want her to be born healthy. I believed that once she got here everything else would take care of itself. But in truth, I wanted so much more for her. Yet, when I was pregnant with her I was so worried that I would lose her that I rarely if ever focused on her future-not even the near future just after her birth.

There is a saying in my tradition that goes, “The mother’s temperament during pregnancy will be transferred to the baby.” I have no evidence to back this statement but my if my daughter’s personality and behavior are any indicator there is some truth to the statement. While I was pregnant with my daughter I lived totally in fear of losing her. I spotted early on and had cramping early in the second trimester. I was nauseated for the entire pregnancy and had a barrage of aches and pains. By the time the third trimester rolled around, I just wanted her out. The way she rumbled and roamed around my belly, I think she felt the same way and at 36 weeks and 6 days, we were both obliged by intractable labor and an immediate cesarean section delivery.

Now, 8 years later I have a beautiful and smart little girl who is friendly and outgoing, but lacks confidence and often fears something bad is going to happen. As I have said, I have no evidence that my thoughts during my pregnancy with her somehow transferred to her personality, but I can’t help wondering if there isn’t some truth to the sayings of the wise women in my family.

If I had it to do over I would have focused my energy on being strong and confident in the fact that I was finally pregnant and that despite many of the “road bumps”  I was doing well. I would have focused on the positive aspects of being an African American woman in this often cold and unfriendly American culture. I would have collected mementos and trinkets from family members like my grandparents that had already passed on, who possessed wisdom and experience and who lived such extraordinary lives in the face of adversity and as a result she now benefits from their acts of courage. I was unaware of the mind/body connection then. Rather than lament missed opportunities,  I act from where I am now doing my best to infuse her with all the bits of wisdom that I have amassed.

Mamas on Bedrest, you have a golden opportunity. I understand your fears and concerns about your pregnancies.  However, I want to encourage you to shift your focus from fear and worry to desire. What do you desire for your baby? Dwell on it, dream about it. As it says in the bible,

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy, meditate on these things.”

Philippians 4:8

If you want your baby to have a strong foundation in your family history, ask older family members to record their stories-either in print, via recording or best of all, via video. Read your favorite books to your baby. Play your favorite music to your baby. As the saying goes, if you can believe it, you can receive it.

There has been much written about the power of the mind to create. I believe this to be true. So Mamas on Bedrest, with your abundance of time to create, give in to your dreams and dwell on the desires that you have for yourself, your family and your new little baby.

The Mind/Body Connection: What it Means For Mamas on Bedrest

June 24th, 2010

Yesterday was my oldest sister’s birthday. She turned 52. She may not be too happy to know that I have blasted her age to the masses, yet her birthday is truly an extraordinary event. My sister was a preemie. She was born at 6 1/2 months (they didn’t really do weeks back then according to my mother) and weighed a mere 3 lbs. She subsequently dropped down to 1 pound and everyone in the neonatal unit was sure that she wasn’t going to make it. But my parents, the wide-eyed teens that they were, never for one moment doubted that she would make it and yesterday’s birthday is a testament to that fact. My mom says that “I just never even thought about her dying.” I believe it’s that spirit that kept my sister alive. My mom also says that every time she visited my sister in the NICU, my sister would move and squirm. The doctors believed that this movement helped her to deep breathe and contributed to her survival.

We don’t talk much about my sister’s birth but it is still a clear memory for my mother. I realized this 8 years ago when I had my daughter at 36 weeks and 6 days and she was admitted to the NICU. My mother came down to support me and as we entered the NICU she stopped just inside and was momentarily frozen. I didn’t think much about it then but I now realize that my mother, in that moment, was reliving her own experience of entering the NICU to visit my sister. 44 years later, the NICU still had the power to halt (albeit momentarily)  my mother.

Back in 1958 when my mother had my sister I am sure that no one discussed the mind/body connection and what it could mean for premature infants and their parents. But researchers now know that there is a very strong connection between the mind and the body-not only within an individual but also between people, especially between premature infants and their parents.

Last night I had the great fortune to attend a parent discussion group hosted by Hand to Hold, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting parents of premature infants and children utilizing a mentoring model. New preemie parents are paired with “veteran” preemie parents so that the vets can help the new parents navigated the complicated hospital system, cope with the myriad of peaks and valleys that constitute caring for a fragile child and to be a support and a caring, comforting ear. Dr. Jennifer Gunter, OB/GYN, Physiatrist, pain medicine specialist and author of The Preemie Primer spoke about the mind/body connection and how it can have a huge impact on premature infants as well as their parents. She talked at great length about her own experience carrying triplets, losing one at 22 weeks and subsequently delivering the two remaining boys at 26 weeks. “Everyday I would say to myself and to the babies, Not today, not until 26 weeks.” She actually gave birth to her boys at exactly 26 weeks.  Dr. Gunter also offered several good, simple techniques for parents to use when they are feeling overwhelmed.

  • Take a deep breath that expands the belly not just the chest
  • Go for a walk, outside if possible. Walking eases tension, forces you to take deep breaths and the fresh air and sunshine will help lighten your mood
  • Use positive affirmations. Positive affirmations change the brain’s chemistry and actually affect how the body reacts. Dr. Gunter keep telling herself and her boys “not until 26 weeks” and helped delay her delivery. My mom kept talking to my infant sister and held it in her own mind that her baby would come home and she did.
  • Yoga. Yoga is a great stress reliever and helps with breathing and calming the mind
  • Dr. Gunter recommends that parents of preemies be screened for post partum depression 2 weeks after the birth of their child. This is also a good idea for parents who had a traumatic birth.

Mamas on Bedrest are at risk for delivery complications and premature delivery. This knowledge can be very troubling causing mamas to worry and fret. This is no good for you or your baby. As Dr. Gunter said, the emotional state of the mother does influence the baby. Worry releases brain chemicals that can have negative effects on both mama and baby’s health. Likewise, a positive attitude along with positive affirmations will release brain chemicals that have a calming and health enhancing effect on mama and her infant. I encourage you to begin cultivating a positive attitude towards your pregnancy, labor and delivery. Speaking positively about your child’s health-not only to yourself, but to your child. Studies have shown that babies in utero and out respond to their parent’s voices and to their environment. Keep the environment as calming, soothing and positive as possible. Read to your baby, sing to your baby, play music or just talk lovingly to your baby. This will release calming, positive brain chemicals into your blood stream that will subsequently make the in utero environment calmer and more health enhancing as well.

You’re doing very Important work, Mamas on Bedrest! Here’s to you and to healthy, full term pregnancies, safe and uncomplicated labors and deliveries and to healthy, happy babies.!