Solicited Advice (and the gift of empathy)

May 07, 2012

A friend of mine just had a baby – her first. At our age it’s probably one of the last births I’ll be celebrating in a while. If I were to give her some of that infamous “unsolicited advice,” I might start with something like, “stay in touch with community; don’t isolate yourself.” In her case, I don’t have to, because in her birth announcement email, she invited no-telling-how-many friends she has spread across the planet (most of whom are well into and beyond their birthing years) to feel free to provide any advice we might have to offer.

Now that’s rare, I thought – I was far too insecure to show my insecurity and throw such a thing out into my own community. How brave, how wonderful of her to be so open and welcoming . . . after all, there’s probably an awful lot of good advice to hear! And she can take or leave whatever she receives. It got me thinking about what I would most want to share . . .

A wise friend once told me, “avoid the baby books – all you need to be a good parent is lots of love and diapers.” I’ve come to agree . . . pay less attention to all the do’s and don’ts about babies and parenting . . . and more attention to yourself as a human who needs soothing, soulful nourishment, and grounding.

Believe in yourself as the best mother this lucky little girl could have. . . don’t let all the fretting and stressing about the best methods, techniques, fads. They not only add unnecessary stress, they take away from the present moment, which many of us don’t even experience if our minds are always busy with the past or the future.

Don’t just take care of your needs “whenever you can”  – schedule them! Another good, wise friend once told me her motto which stuck with me: “happy mom = happy child.” I knew it was true, but my problem was that I wasn’t so sure what I needed to make me happy.

If I could do it all over again, I would have gone beyond pre-natal yoga and learned pre-, peri-, and post-natal mindfulness and meditation. The writings of Thich Nhat Hahn and the importance of breathing beyond the birthing experience would have entered my life much earlier.

I would have focused harder on solidly knowing those places I need to go / things I need to do to return to my center, especially when it was all feeling so terribly unstable.

Stable mom = stable child?

I don’t know, but it sure seems as if my second baby experience was much “stabler” than my first, which I think I can credit to me not being so terribly wobbly.

If I could do it again (not gonna happen), I would expect quiet a smooth ride. Ahh, but it’s all so easy to say with hindsight.

Wouldn’t it be nice if first-time parents could go at it as if they’re old pros? Of course everything is going to be alright. Just breathe. Be here, now, in this moment. My husband used to say to me “just laugh” – but I found that really difficult in the middle of my son’s violent tantrums. I wished I’d learned that art sooner, too.

On a closing note, I love to share one of my more visual memories with new breastfeeding mothers. It came to me as quite a shock how hard it was to learn for both baby and me! Breathing just like through labor became absolute key for my (our) success. Staying calm, assuming it would flow and all would be fine.  I learned this because one day 4 or so months later, I had a stressful board meeting and took a break in the middle of it to pump milk. Nothing came out – aurgh, I had to hurry! It seemed obvious that it was simply not going to work. But before giving up, I tried looking at a picture of my son, and breathed deeply. I let my mind get off of what was outside my office door, and onto that human I didn’t know I could love so much. Deep breaths. It didn’t take long before the milk gushed out. I loved that I could see this experience, because there’s no believing (for me anyway) quite like seeing!

Oh, and enjoy those endorphin-rush highs you get while nursing – you’ll miss them when it’s all over. The good news is that later, when you want that feeling again, ask someone to empathize with you, which is the art of truly listening without judgment. Researchers have found that one (being empathized with) often feels that same endorphin rush – isn’t that interesting?

To my friend, who not only just had a baby, in just a few short months, she’s starting a new academic job, moving to London, and getting married (that takes care of about half of the most-stressful-life-events list, doesn’t it?) . . . my ongoing gift to you is all the empathy you care to request of me – please do.

Cara Crisler
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