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Posts Tagged ‘psychological’

This week, Mother’s Advocate welcomes doula and artist Amy Swagman. She began making mandalas to prepare for the birth of her third daughter. Creating these pieces helped her to envision (and ultimately create) her ideal birth as well as meditate to prepare for labor.  Since her daughter’s arrival the mandala project has broadened to draw from other women’s experiences of their births. Through her art she hopes to change the climate of birth from fear to empowerment and convey feminine energy. 

I like to say that my first daughter Haven, made me a mother which was as earth-shattering as any experience could be.  My second daughter Lyric made me a doula and birth activist, and my third daughter Seren made me an artist.  Each pregnancy and birth, all different in their own ways, gave me immeasurable gifts.

When I became pregnant with Seren, I was surprised to find that even though we had planned for her I was feeling overwhelmed and unprepared.  I did not expect that to happen with my third!  I felt very trapped, helpless, and disconnected to my little babe.  I took it out on my husband, who is so wonderful and patient. It was a very stressful few months.

We were planning a much-wanted home birth but I felt like my emotions, fears, and anxiety were getting in the way.  Counseling didn’t help.  Talking to friends about it didn’t help.  I needed something else to center me.

I remembered going to a talk called “OPENING to the Art of Birth” presented by friend and fellow doula Alahna Roach.  In it she described the functions of the right and left brain.  They are as follows:

Left Brain Right Brain
logical / rational intuitive
sequential random
analytical holistic
objective subjective
structured fluid (especially with time)

Alahna said that the state of mind you’re in when you’re doing something creative (right brain) is the same state you’re in when laboring and birthing.  Time flies by without you sensing it as acutely.  You are very porous and intuitive.  You aren’t as easily able to answer questions or communicate logically.

To illustrate this she had us do a blind contour drawing.  Without looking at the paper we had to draw all the lines, cracks, details in our opposite hand.  After a few minutes of this Alahna came up to me and said, “Amy, what year is it?”  I had absolutely no idea.  The only thing running through my head was “Uhhhh, I should know the answer to this question!”  Anyone who has given birth or attends a lot of births has seen this written all over a laboring mama’s face.

So I decided to create a small mandala (image within a circle) every day during the last few months of my pregnancy to help me center, process, and prepare for my home birth.  Each one would take anywhere from an hour to four hours, though I hardly noticed.

I loved it.  I craved it.  There was so much solace in taking time for myself, doing something creative, getting lost in symmetry, turning off any worrisome thoughts.  I created images based on what was going on in my head that day.

For example, this one was created to help me connect and envision my baby:

This one was done to help me embrace my “mommy body”:

  As you can see, this image played out almost exactly in Seren’s birth!

Creating artwork, getting into that free, meditative mindset, helped me have the beautiful, peaceful, gentle home birth I had wanted for so long.  To read Seren’s birth story please visit my doula website here.

How to create your own birth art:

Quieting the “Inner Critic” –

Oftentimes I hear people say, “Oh I’m not an artist” or “I don’t know how to straight line.”   Well that’s ok, that’s what rulers are for!  The most important thing is to get involved in the creative process, not have a perfect-looking finished product.  Birth art can be a powerful and surprising tool.  You may discover aspects of your creativity that you haven’t tapped into or even realized yet!

Getting into the Groove –

Sometimes starting out with a right-brained exercise (like the contour line exercise I mentioned before) can be a great way to start.  Another one that I’ve found helpful is to start inside a pre-existing shape or pattern.  Coloring books are great for this, and starting inside a shape like a circle or triangle can make things flow.  You can divide up the shape into pie segments or concentric circles (like a bulls eye) and repeat your design around the circle keeping things symmetrical.  You’d be surprised at how easily the image takes shape!

For an example of this technique and symmetry you can visit my album here.

Creating Birth Art –

Some materials to get you started:

•  Pastels – These are great because they are very tactile and can easily be smeared

•  Watercolors – A great way to explore wet medium, covers areas well.  You can draw with a pen or pencil and use the watercolors to fill in areas

•  Polymer Clay (like Sculpey) – a great 3D medium as you don’t need a kiln to harden it, just your oven.

A valuable resource is Pam England’s amazing book Birthing From Within and the accompanying workbook.  In their pages you’ll find many prompts to help you process what kind of birth experience you want or work through any past birth trauma or preconceptions.

Examples from Birthing From Within:

•  Create a birth “power figure”.  What symbolizes strength for you?  What are the attributes that this figure possesses?

•  What do you know about birth already?  What have people told you?  What was the first birth story you ever heard?  What images come to mind?

•  How do you see your baby inside your womb?  What do they see, taste, hear?  Draw your reactions.

Whether pre-conception, pregnancy, birth, or beyond, art is a powerful tool for any woman in the childbearing year.  Tap into that creativity, you may be surprised what you learn about yourself!

I would love to see what you create and add it to my birth art gallery!  If you wish to be a part of it please email me at amy@birthingbody.org with the following:

•  Photos of your piece

•  A brief description about it (optional)

•  A photo of you (optional)

•  A short bio of you (optional)

Author, Amy Swagman

Amy Swagman resides in Denver, CO,  with her husband Kyle and three beautiful girls.  She is a birth doula and  graduated with a BFA in Illustration in 2005.

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This week we are thrilled to feature Diana Lynn Barnes, Psy. D, with an excerpt from her book The Journey to Parenthood: Myths, Reality and What Really Matters where she discusses the importance of recognizing the psychological experience mothers go through during pregnancy and birth.

Most women would not dream of going through nine months of pregnancy without the requisite prenatal care – regular doctors’ appointments, special vitamins, a well-balanced diet, and diagnostic tests to check on the health of the baby. Yet they do not devote nearly the same amount of time or attention, if any, to the psychological aspects of impending motherhood. They fail to recognize how this profound role they are about to assume will alter their lives forever.

Typically, when a woman plans for life after pregnancy, she considers only her work and childcare arrangements. By the last trimester, she has probably already lined up a nanny or selected a day-care center, or at least thought about it. She also may have arranged for a more flexible work schedule in order to meet the demands of her new family life, which is just around the corner. But women generally do not take the time to reflect on the journey to motherhood, although they seem to have plenty of time to attend prenatal Pilates classes and register for the latest baby paraphernalia. They do not stop to ask themselves, “Am I ready to become a mother? What are my biggest fears regarding motherhood? What might it be like to stay at home alone with a newborn all day during those first few months? How can I begin to integrate and prioritize my different roles? And what does my relationship with my own mother have to do with any of this?

Today much has been made of the “supermom” phenomenon, the pressure for a woman to achieve perfection in each of her roles – mother, wife and professional. As a result, many women approach motherhood n overdrive, believing they must “accomplish” something at every point along the path to parenthood. The ideal pregnancy is one in which a woman exercises such control over her body that she does not need to wear maternity clothes until her eighth month. The gold standard for labor and delivery is a quick, easy, epidural-free birth. And the model for new motherhood is a woman who immediately bonds with her newborn, has no difficulties breastfeeding and knows exactly how to interpret every one of her baby’s coos and cries. During the first few months postpartum, the perfect new mom nurtures her child in such a way that he is the first kid on the block to roll over, walk, talk and hum along with Bach’s Prelude in D Minor. This accomplishment-focused mother is so busy trying to achieve what she considers to be the essential goals of motherhood, that it is no wonder she is left with no time to contemplate what being a mother means in the context of her own personal universe. And that self-analysis can be crucial as a woman attempts to navigate the postpartum period and life with an infant.

Throughout the transition to motherhood, a woman may ponder the question, “Who am I?” as she tries to incorporate the unfamiliar role of mother into her identity. An expectant mother’s changing view of herself is just one of the many things that can affect her adjustment during this transition. Others include the degree to which she desires to become a mom, her earliest childhood experiences with her own mother, her general reflections of family life, and her relationship with her husband or partner. The extent to which she buys into societal expectations regarding motherhood also influences how she will experience the shift to her colossal new role.

Mothers and daughters

Pregnancy and birth can trigger a flood of memories for an expectant mother about her own upbringing and, in the process, reveal a wealth of information about her relationship with her own mother. All of a sudden, a woman may recall how supportive her own mother was, what her mother sacrificed for her, or how her mother attended every one of her sporting events. A new or expectant mother may also face painful or sad memories, instances when her on mom somehow failed her, constantly criticized her or disappointed her. A woman uses these experiences, both positive and negative, to start to define what type of mother she would like to be. She determines how she wants to be like her own mother and how she would like to be different. This evaluation becomes part of the foundation for her ideas about motherhood.

Excerpted from The Journey to Parenthood: Myths, Reality and What Really Matters (2007). Oxford: Radcliffe Publishing pgs. 27-29

Author, Diana Lynn Barnes, Psy.D

Diana Lynn Barnes, is an internationally recognized expert on the assessment and treatment of women’s mental health, particularly around concerns pertaining to the reproductive years. She is the past president of Postpartum Support International and currently sits on the President’s Advisory Council for that organization. She is also a member of the Los Angeles County Mental Health Task Force.

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