How to Catch a Rainbow

May is a busy month, with various key dates of celebration and recognition. Over the course of the month, i am going to share with you some tools and suggestions. First up, in honour of Maternal Mental Health Week, here is a tool that i put together. After studying both Dialectical Behaviour Therapy as well as more body-based self-compassion modalities, i find this tool can be helpful to help you take control of your emotions. I love acronyms as it makes it so much easy to remember the suggestions. Plus it’s a helpful reminder that we can be in control of our feelings.

It can be hard to take time for yourself, especially when we are told to take care of others and that it’s selfish to do kind things for ourselves. This tool can be a great way for you to steal some moments to yourself, in an intentional way. It also can manifest some good feelings that linger. Rainbows are incredible symbols of everyday magic or woo woo, and taking time to notice the joy and beauty in the everyday helps us with our emotional well-being. We deserve to notice these moments, and deserve to take time to pause.

R – What is an activity of REST that you can take a break with
It’s important to slow down and catch your breath. We can only see rainbows when we are able to be aware of what’s in front of us. This is also a great way to notice what we need an a given moment. What can you do in this moment to rest and relax? Can you put your feet up and just take in the sights and sounds around you? Linger a bit longer in the shower, add some luxurious hand lotion to your sensory self-care. Have a cat-nap. Maybe treat yourself to a nice mala bracelet with your favourite crystal – this can be a calming tool and a way to practice some mindful meditation.

A – ACCEPT as you are – it is what it is
Radical Acceptance is a helpful tool to be able to acknowledge something for what it is. That doesn’t mean we have to truly agree with it, but the acceptance can be a first step to let things go. This stops the pain from turning into suffering, and it allows us to be more present with ourselves in the present. When we don’t accept something, it keeps us stuck. So, try working with this idea and practice saying “it is what it is.” See how that starts to feel in your body. Maybe some parts feel less stuck or tight.

I – What is an INTENTION that you can set for your day
Setting intentions for a day, a week, or a year can be a guide that sets you with following where your want your life to go. The intention can be a simple word that carries meaning for you, or a mantra/affirmation that holds significance for you. If you don’t already have one, take some time to journal and brainstorm the words and phrases that are meaningful for you. It is a good way of giving ourselves permission to focus on what we really want, and to take ownership of our moods and behaviour. Then work on ways to implement it into your everyday life. Maybe there is a symbol that speaks to you as a guide – be it a rainbow of hope and luck, a butterfly of resilience, or a lavender flower that helps you feel calm. When you have a symbol that acts as Recalled Anchor (i wrote about it more here) or resource, seeing it in your everyday life is a great way to boost your mood.

N – Be NICE to yourself – practice self-compassion
Self-Compassion is not the same as self-esteem and yet they work well together. To have self-compassion, it implies that we need to treat ourselves with the loving kindness we give others when they need our support. Think of some ways to give yourself self-compassion – it can be a permission slip to eat some chocolate after a hard day, and to enjoy it without judgement. It can be to not do the dishes and instead watch some marathon TV. It can be a yoga stretch or dance to your favourite music. The compassion comes from reminding yourself that your matter and deserve this break.

B – Take time for yourself and read a BOOK
Reading is a great way for your brain to take a break from the monkey mind or inner critic. It is especially helpful when we are able to distract ourselves from the everyday worries and thoughts. You can get your dog-eared favourite book, or a new book that you have never read; it can be a fiction novel, self-help book, or a how-to book for something you want to learn. Take time to write in your own journal, free writing or following a guide. If reading is not your thing, no worries. Listen to an audio book or a podcast. This podcast that talks more about everyday magic and woo woo is a great listen! Watch a movie that you have never seen before – the idea is to let your brain relax and absorb what it is taking in, instead of the constant chatter it typically takes you to.

O – Go OUTSIDE and get some fresh air in your body
Research has shown links to fresh air, being outdoors and mental health. Our brains are elastic and benefit from the change in scenery as well as air changes. Sensorimotor Psychotherapy and Polyvagal theory also show us that a quick walk outdoors can do a lot to change our mood. Everything is better outside. Think of some simple things you can do – a walk, sitting on your porch our balcony, a picnic snack during your lunch break for instance. Another benefit to getting outside is that there may be other people that you can connect with – it helps us feel less alone or isolated after being indoors when feeling down. You don’t need to have a long chat with someone, but a quick hello can be a great break your mind and body needs too.

W – Drink a glass of WATER to refresh yourself – take care of your body’s basic needs
In keeping with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it’s imperative to take care of your basic needs. Research shows that we need to nurture our physical body in order to heal our mental health. Do a quick checklist – when was the last time you drank some water, had a healthy snack, slept enough, did some exercise for your body? If it’s been 2 hours since your last water break, have a glass right now. And then find ways to allow time for the other ways to take care of your body.

The C-Section Club

I have mixed feelings about clubs. I never was a Girl Scout, in choir or on sports teams as a kid. I was a dancer though, but that doesn’t seem like the same kind of club or group like the others. For one thing, the rules and homogeneity that seemed to go along with it felt too forced. And just because one kid likes to play soccer, that doesn’t mean she likes the same music or food as another. And it felt like we had to be the same all the time, like Stepford Wives. I could be wrong though.

One club I never thought I’d join is the C-Section Club. Looking back, i guess it was inevitable: my mom is a 2-time club member herself. I know that cesareans are not exactly hereditary or contagious but it sure seems like they are. Friends who gave birth right before I did also had c-sections. A distant relative on my partner’s side said after the birth, “well of course she (meaning me) had a cesarean, look how small she is (I’m 5”1)!”

And yet I kept turning a blissful and determined eye away from allowing a c-section to be an option. I chose not to fully integrate the conversations about c-sections that were happening at my birth prep class. I skimmed over those chapters in the books I had.

Fast forward to the weekend of the birth of my first child. After 36 hours of early labour, a part of me knew the birth I wanted wasn’t going to happen. A part of my body also trusted that what I was feeling was not within the realm of normal. And yet when my care was transferred from midwife to OB, I was resistant. Who was this person to me? I’ve never met her and she surely did not know my birth plan or dreams. When she confirmed that I was not progressing at stage 2 (what the fuck does the mean anyway!?), they strongly suggested I get an epidural. And then a c-section a mere few hours later. I wish I trusted my body just needed to rest, and that my sweet baby was so eager to meet me so got stuck in the canal, and that my body got swollen from his eagerness. While the decision was ultimately mine, one thing I struggled with is that I never felt a bond or trust in this doctor. And that she did not have my best interest in mind. This is when my birth story turned from something sacred to something hard: I lost my voice and trust in what my body could do. Because I was told I couldn’t do it.

This post is not necessarily a birth story of my first (I did share a bit here), but rather a chance to acknowledge how some of us feel when we don’t get the birth we want. It’s a place to start that work. I know a lot of us feel like the end result of healthy baby healthy parent is paramount, and yet I can’t minimize the mixed feelings we experience when we go through an experience that is out of our control.

Since it’s Cesarean Awareness Month, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge that each birth is unique, sacred and magical. They are also scary, painful and intense. Most of all, each is real and natural. I hate how vaginal births or unmedicated births are sometimes mistakenly called natural births, like medically supported or c-sections are any less natural. In an article full of helpful tips for people who are pregnant, Erica Chidi Cohen, one of the founders of Loom (an amazing pregnancy, parenthood and reproductive health clinic in LA) shared this great thought:

We need to stop using the term “natural birth.” The concept of natural birth is divisive and inherently competitive. All birth is natural. It’s as simple as that. If you want to have the intense sensations of labor and you’re coping well, go for it! If you have a hard time with pain or you have bad associations from trauma, that’s totally okay. You have the inherent right to choose how you want to navigate your birth experience, and those choices should be free of judgment. You should be celebrated for moving through the process of pregnancy and birth, however it unfolds, unmedicated, medicated or cesarean. THERE IS NO UNNATURAL BIRTH. It’s not Westworld. It’s all natural.

I also really love the work of January Harshe and the Birth without Fear movement. The quote above is one of my fave ones from her. And yet so many of feel pressure to birth a unicorn.

Here’s why our well-intentioned comments about someone else’s experience can be problematic: it doesn’t take into account their potential birth trauma and how it’s linked to consent and body trust issues. We hear about birth trauma that relates to obviously upsetting experiences of injury or even infant death. But another type of birth trauma is one where the birther has their voice taken from them, and instead the medical expert is calling all the shots. When some of us have experienced sexual violence and later in life get pregnant, this new experience can bring up former body memories and triggers.

We are also told that our bodies are meant to birth babies, and there is an assumption that people who birth vaginally are stronger. Not only did my body not fail me, I am incredibly strong because I grew humans in my body and then birthed them. And yet, I like so many others are made to feel inadequate, scarred and less than. We are already at odds the day we become parents when we birth via C-section; talk about being set up to fail.

So this month is all about honouring our path to birth babies and to be recognized for the hard work it is to have such major surgery on our baby’s first day earthside. I wear my scar proudly – to me it’s not a battle scar but a reminder of my strength and resilience. I’ve reclaimed it and it works for me.