[Editor's Note: This essay contains mentions of self-harm. If you are having thoughts of harming yourself or someone else, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room right away.]
My entry into motherhood was not the explosion of joy I anticipated.
With a background in psychology, I was informed enough about mental health and wellness that I expected some challenges as a new mama, but during my pregnancy I stayed focused on the joy, beauty and purpose that my baby would bring into my life. I loved decorating my daughter's nursery, learning about birth, and preparing for life postpartum with my little one.
On the outside, it probably looked like I was doing fine in postpartum, and that's because mental health is often invisible. It's not something that can be seen like a broken leg or a cut. To the person in passing, I just seemed like a typical new mom—tired but happy. I never wanted to come across as ungrateful for my daughter, so I smiled through it, yet on the inside I desperately wanted to run away from the overwhelming feelings of frustration, confusion and rage.
I had intrusive, unwanted and scary thoughts about hurting myself or others, which is a common symptom of OCD. I didn't have any outward rituals typically associated with OCD like counting or hand washing, but I did a lot of internal rituals like bargaining with my higher power to take the horrible thoughts away, singing a happy song on repeat, or avoiding my triggers, in particular certain household objects, the sight of which would conjure up scary imaginary movies playing in my head. It was if I was living two lives, the one my eyes saw and wanted to engage with and the one in the back of my head streaming a horror story on repeat.
For nearly eight months I suffered alone, silently feeling ashamed. As a licensed school psychologist, I was clinically trained to help others learn how to cope with strong emotions and stress, yet I didn't have the first clue how to help myself. I felt like a fraud in my career and life, and I was afraid that if I came forward, I would lose both my job and my daughter. I was convinced that they would take her away from me because I felt "unfit" to care for her because I couldn't even care for myself.
I knew from a practitioner's lens that mindfulness helps ease depression, anxiety and stress, as well as increases self-compassion. I used mindfulness in my practice as a school psychologist and I saw the positive impact it had on families I worked with, so I figured, "Why not? It's not going to work for me but if I don't try something I am not going to last much longer." In the depths of my depression, I dove in. I took a 10 week mindfulness course for caregivers. If you had told me, a person with OCD, that I was going to learn to love my mind, I never would have believed you. I hated being alone with thoughts.
It was slow going at first. I engaged in the class for a few minutes, then I excused myself to "go pump" to escape the discomfort. I felt uncomfortable sitting in silence, tuning into my thoughts, breathing and body sensations. But each day I showed up. Slowly, I learned to observe my experience as a witness, not engaging in every pulling thought or emotion vying for my attention. As time went on, I craved more space and silence. Each time I sat, I cleared out more room in my mind and in my heart for love to grow. Intense emotions bubbled to the surface often. I got angry or sad or felt really tired during meditation, but I knew that every feeling I felt was a layer peeling off me like an onion. My true authentic self was just below the surface.
Ultimately, mindfulness made me aware that I needed help. I wasn't broken and I wasn't a bad person or a bad mother. Mindfulness gave me strength to tell my family, my friends, and my doctor that I wasn't okay, and to find a therapist that could help me.
I became so obsessed with mindfulness that I committed to bring it to *every* mama around the world, which is why I founded Mindful Mamas and created a mindfulness tool just for moms. No matter what our motherhood experience is, mothering is hard. But mindfulness can get us through each challenge.
Mindfulness is the act of noticing things as they are, without judgment. We can simply observe our thoughts and feelings; giving us an opportunity to see things as they truly are.
It allows us to see things we weren't aware of before. Because it can liberate our perspective, mindfulness is one of the most powerful tools a mother can have.
Here are 5 ways mindfulness changed my life as a mother:
1. It freed me from my negative & unwanted thoughts.
Mindfulness helped me learn that my thoughts were not the end-all-be-all truth tellers. It is impossible to stop my thoughts, so mindfulness (and meditation) taught me how to watch my thoughts like a leaf falling from a tree, landing on a river, then floating away into the distance. Leaves will continue to drop, but with mindfulness, I didn't continue to be swept downstream. Today, I can observe my thoughts as I sit by the pretty river and watch them float by.
*To learn how to work with unwanted or negative thoughts, listen to "Working with Negative Thoughts" on the Mindful Mamas App in the guided meditation feature under Self-Discovery > Mindset series.
2. It allowed me to be present and notice the magical moments that were right in front of me.
Thousands of miraculous moments happen every day. Before I learned how to meditate, I missed out on many of these beautiful moments. Now, I choose to see them. Everything in my world is so much brighter. A mindfulness practice gave my brain, heart and body more capacity to notice and wholly receive beauty and goodness.
*To become more present with the ones you love, listen to "Hugging Breath" on the Mindful Mamas App in the Mini Pause feature under the Family Connection category.
3. It allowed me to understand my inherent worth + to seek support when I needed it.
Self-compassion is one of the benefits of mindfulness. I used to think I had to earn my worth; now I know I am worthy because I am alive. This shift in perspective allowed me to understand how to set boundaries, notice when to take breaks and ask for help when I needed it without feeling guilty or weak.
*To remember your inherent worth, listen to "I Am Worthy" on the Mindful Mamas App in the Mantra feature.
4. Mindfulness helped me find calm among the storm.
Each of us is one person doing the work of an entire village. Our to-do list never ends, and we are responsible for little hearts and minds. We carry so much, and when our kids melt down, it can feel like the entire world is crashing down. Through mindfulness, I discovered my calm center, rather than being sucked into my child's chaos. Difficult parenting moments used to throw me into my own emotional spiral. Now, I know how to stay grounded and regulated for my child. Tantrums, resistance and boundary-pushing are now completely doable.
*Find your calm by listening to "Calm in the Chaos" on the Mindful Mamas App in the Guided Meditation feature under Foundations> Cultivate Your Practice.
5. Mindfulness reminded me that messiness is beautiful and human.
We all make mistakes and we all have limits. Mindfulness taught me that I don't need to be a perfect mother. I'm actually teaching my children valuable lessons when I say or do something that isn't in line with my values, because I create an opportunity to repair my relationship with them. While I grow as a person, and work to respond rather than react (most of the time anyway), I am teaching my children how to maintain healthy relationships, even when they make mistakes and still honor their feelings in the process.
*Cultivate self-compassion by listening to "The Art of Losing It" series on the Mindful Mamas App in the Guided Meditation Emotions category.
Start your mindfulness practice, let my team and I help guide the way. Mindful Mamas is a mindfulness and self-care app for moms and moms-to-be. It was created by mamas for mamas. You can download and try for free for 7 days! I would love to walk the mindful path with you today.
Click here to download now.