What happens when mamas have compassion for everyone—except themselves?
I always wanted to be a mother, but like many other aspiring mothers, several times during my pregnancy, I too would call my mom and ask her: “Will I always be running around, overwhelmed, exhausted, fatigued? Will I be able to have a quiet conversation with my husband? How on earth will I exercise and meditate once I have to take care of another little person?”
Yet, when my son Vivaan was born, it all seemed to work out.
My body was my ally and supported me on my journey.
I felt connected with my husband.
I somehow added up my numbers and created typo free slides at work.
I exercised and meditated (for a few minutes!), connected with my friends and in many ways felt nourished.
It wasn’t perfect by any means. I struggled, questioned my choices, experienced exhaustion and fatigue (but not all the time, thankfully) and had occasional tears but overall felt peaceful and content. Even though I didn’t have uninterrupted 8 hours of sleep on most nights, I could smile in the morning... until postpartum anxiety hit me.
I had severe periods of intense anxiety with tears for no major explainable reason. I could walk in the hallways at work and tears would trickle down my cheeks. I was plagued by questions and doubts that wouldn’t cease. I felt deeply inadequate and struggled to keep my head above water. The doubts plagued me:
- What if I never find a good job again?
- How do I find more meaning in my work?
- How can I find work that can change people’s lives while still allowing me to provide for my family?
- Why am I getting my third degree if I haven’t figured it all out and still feel unsure about what I want to do when I grow up?
- Who asked you to have children if you don’t have answers to life’s questions?
- What kind of a mother are you who is constantly crying when you really have everything in life?
- What will your son learn from you?
- What was the point of spending so much time and resources on yoga and meditation if you can’t manage your own emotions?
- How could I possibly be this upset when I have such a beautiful life?
My inner critic was rude + mean + unkind. And I listened to her.
I acted out all the positive psychology research I had been reading for years—I meditated, practiced yoga, connected with loved ones, got out in nature, moved my body, got as much sleep as I could with a little one, ate healthy food, practiced gratitude—and yet I couldn’t experience peace.
During my meditation, I had a high degree of awareness of own pain but my frustration with myself didn’t go down.
I committed myself to a new mindfulness training, and it was only then that I had an insight that shifted my entire perspective.
My magical moment arrived while I was listening to leading Buddhist and meditation teacher Tara Brach, who said:
“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”—Carl Rogers
I listened to her recording again and read more.
This message from her book Radical Acceptance stuck with me:
“This is an inner process of accepting our actual, present-moment experience. It means feeling sorrow and pain without resisting. It means feeling desire or dislike for someone or something without judging ourselves for the feeling or being driven to act on it. Clearly recognizing what is happening inside us, and regarding what we see with an open, kind and loving heart, is what I call ‘Radical Acceptance.’”
I had been meditating for years, practiced a life of compassion to others and tried to find meaning in my daily life.
Yet when I needed that radical acceptance of myself as an imperfect but loving mother, I was too busy trying to judge, change + fix myself.
Although I could love my baby when he kept me up at night, I couldn’t love myself.
Although I could forgive coworkers, I couldn’t let myself off the hook.
Although I absolved whatever mistakes my husband made, I beat myself up for my own.
I continued to meditate and did everything else that I knew would heal me but most importantly, I slowly began practicing compassion toward myself.
For every struggle, every question, every risk that didn’t pan out, I chose love for myself over judgment.
I tried to hold the space for my fears and insecurities.
I could be scared and uncomfortable and still be peaceful.
I could be worthy of my own love and kindness despite all of my questions.
I continued to act to address my fears, to grow and live a life more aligned with my values but reminded myself I wasn’t broken.
I learned to accept that I didn’t need to fix everything overnight (and I probably never can anyway) to feel like I am a contributing member of my family—and of society.
And most of all, I learned that in this evolution of kindness, I am modeling to my son the very self-compassion I wish for him.
It is time to treat ourselves with the same understanding and compassion that we extend to our children. It’s time to mother ourselves.
Wishing every mother, the strength and compassion to access her own wisdom through her practice and may the ripple effects contribute to more peace, compassion and kindness in the world.