When pregnant I thought I was doing a pretty good job at preparing for the changes I would face when I became a mother. Indeed, many changes began during pregnancy – greater need for rest meant fewer late nights and less socializing, biological changes meant a greater appetite and a shift in the way I viewed my body, my growing belly required a shift in the way I exercised and slept, and the anticipation of becoming a mother meant I spent much of my spare time reading up on the physiology of pregnancy, planning for childbirth, and organizing what was needed once my baby arrived.
Most conversations I had throughout my pregnancy seemed to focus on the fact I was pregnant, so there was also no escaping the personal and second- (or third- or fourth-) hand accounts of life with a baby – the sleepless nights, insatiable appetite spurred from breastfeeding, leaky breasts at the sound of a baby crying, the trials and tribulations of leaving the house, never (ever) being on time again, difficulties completing even the simplest of tasks, inability to finish a conversation (and all conversations being about our children), no more quality time with my partner, hair loss (actually this one came as a surprise), the list goes on…
Then I became a mother. And it was only then that I truly realized the degree of change that was required of me in my new role. Being privy to the myriad of lifestyle changes was definitely helpful, however it didn’t actually prepare me to cope with the reality that was now my life. My daughter is now 2 years old and has already taught me more than I ever imagined. Here is what I’ve learned about coping with lifestyle changes after childbirth…
- Remember impermanence
No two moments are ever the same. Life is constantly evolving. This is great news for us parents, because it means that whatever we are struggling with in this moment is not going to be here forever. Phew! Remember the saying “this too shall pass.” Simple yet wise words. Importantly, your baby will grow up and you may even miss some of the challenges; the challenges we face are always accompanied by special moments.
While you’re contemplating impermanence (for example, when having to cancel long awaited plans because your baby is unwell), remember to breathe. Our breath is with us at all times and so is our greatest asset to self-soothe and ground ourselves. Notice your breath, follow it a few times in through the nostrils and down into the chest and out again. Allow this experience to give you a moment respite, directing attention away from whatever unhelpful thoughts are passing through your mind.
- Practice acceptance
We tend to struggle with unwanted change. As Buddhist teachings recognize, suffering is caused by our tendency to hold onto pleasure and push away pain. By fighting with circumstances outside of our control we prevent ourselves from moving forward, thus staying stuck in a moment that has already happened and thus cannot be changed. Adaptation to change takes time, so when you notice you are struggling ask yourself, “Am I fighting change or accepting it?” and “Would a difference approach make my life easier right now?”
- Tell others about your challenges
You are never alone in what you are experiencing as a parent. A sense of connection and a feeling of being understood are essential when we are facing any kind of challenge. Allow yourself to open up to friends, other parents, or your partner when you are struggling with change. When doing so, choose your supports wisely; someone who has the time to listen and who is able to provide you with the emotional support you need.
- Harness your inner strength
Life is full of challenges. Take a moment to reflect on past adversity; recognize what factors aided (or hindered) your coping, what you learnt about yourself and how you grew as a person. Each challenge you experience as a parent, when faced with a necessary (but unwanted) lifestyle change, is an opportunity for personal growth. Experiment with approaching change differently. By allowing yourself to view the need for change as an opportunity to learn and grow you are strengthening your resilience.