Small Blessings Blog

Senses and Sensitivity of a New Mother

Jai Ram Kaur Hergo - Saturday, August 02, 2014


When you get pregnant, what happens to your senses? What have you noticed?


Most women report that their senses seem amplified in pregnancy. Your sense of smell: stronger. You become pickier about what tastes good and what not. You can become sensitive to sound in a new way and sometimes have the feeling of wanting to hold something over your belly to protect your baby from harsh sounds. Some women report that how they see seems to change. What other sense haven't we touched on? Touch! Sense of touch is often increased – wanting to be touched more (or less). Needing physical reassurance.


What does all this point to? We could well ask, what is the innate intelligence of life up to with these changes? Are they just random? Kundalini Yoga humanology holds that women are 16 times more sensitive than men. Yes, 16 times. This may have something to do with the 16 petals of the lotus of the throat chakra and its connection to the thyroid and parathyroid glands with their function of regulating metabolism and energy balance. A woman, with her capacity to grow a new life in her own body, has to be a sophisticated being, to be able to regulate and balance 2 (and more) bodies at the same time. She is also more fluid than a man. She has a cycle which like the moon cycle is 28 days long and so she waxes and wanes, moves and changes, physically and mentally/emotionally. Without this ever-changing nature of woman, like nature is ever-changing, how boring would life be? How static and fixed.


When a woman becomes pregnant she enters into the field of nature in a whole new way. She becomes part of the cycle of nature itself. A young woman flowers into womanhood and then when her beauty attracts and she opens to let herself be pollinated (so to speak!) she begins to bear the fruit. Inside the fruit (the baby) is the seed of new life, which will in time take root, grow and spread out into the world, flower, attract and so on.

So it is common and also desirable to want to be in nature and feel it as a part of you and that you are a part of it. This can be a very connecting and nourishing thing for a pregnant woman especially.


A baby's senses also develop in the womb, starting with the sense of hearing, and so your voice and its vibrations, other outside sounds, including the voices of the father, other family members, friends, and all sounds around you as well as all your inner physical processes – gurglings, beating, and the sound of your breath – are the soundtrack of your baby's early life. Your voice is the sweetest thing to your child and it becomes the first link to the world and then back to you after birth. Your voice for the newborn is the sound of home and safety. But a lot less muffled once they are out of course, so this might be a clue as to how being quiet around a newborn could be wise. Anyway, we tend to naturally, intuitively do this around newborns.

You might want to think about your baby's soundscapes in the womb. How about playing beautiful music at home, at work, in the car? What about being selective about the kinds of movies and TV shows you watch? You will if you allow and tune into your increased sensitivity naturally know which sounds are wholesome and which aren't. It is just whether you choose to accept these messages and act on them or not.


Touch: touching your belly you send little ripples through the waters of your womb. Moving rhythmically with conscious breathing, like we do in yoga class, massages your baby's skin, which as she gets bigger stimulates all the body systems in their development. The baby as it is squeezed by contraction-expansions or surges is massaged. As it passes through the birth canal and out into the world it is squeezed thoroughly and its lungs stimulated into action. There have been many studies about children born by caesarian which suggest a link between a sense of personal boundaries and physical and emotional security and this pressing during vaginal birth. I have one child born by caesarian and the second two vaginally and I can testify to the difference in terms of the first having wanted to be physically squeezed as a little child, to get a sense of where his own body stops and the outside world begins, and to feel safe so he can relax. Vaginal birth seems to provide an important experience for babies, which if they don't get it it creates a need which seeks to be filled in other ways. And of course touch releases oxytocin in humans – the hormone of love and calm and belonging. Humans need to be touched. Babies that are fed but not held do not thrive. Adults who are not hugged and touched are also likely to feel less connected and loved and therefore so not thrive as they might – not hard to understand! So being touched, having massage, being intimate in ways you enjoy in pregnancy... All helping develop your baby's touch sense in the womb.


Sight: the baby begins to see in the womb – diffused of course through the waters of the womb and through the limited light let in through the skin of your belly. But seeing none the less. Think of it that what your eyes see translates into sense impressions, moods, physiological states, thoughts, feelings, states of consciousness .. and these are passed on invisibly to the baby. So be aware of the sights you are seeing, as you are seeing for two. Nature would have to be the most healing thing to see. Consciously see it daily if you can if you want your baby to grow into a sensitive, awake person.


Taste: baby starts to sip your waters and taste them. The second taste is you. Your colostrum, the first yellowy think precursor to milk. Your skin. Sense of belonging is also sealed through this tasting. What you taste and HOW you taste it in the pregnancy will also invite an aliveness to the wide world of taste. Your sense of taste is also finely tuned to show you which foods are good for you and which not in pregnancy. So you can trust that.


Smell: Smell comes last, as it needs air and there is only air when your baby comes “Earthside” or hits the atmosphere. From inner space to Earth space. Although when you look at a new born sometimes they seem to come from outer space, or look ageless, timeless. Your baby navigates their way to your breast and nipple not through sight of course, but through smell, the deepest, oldest sense. If you put your newborn to your breast they will probably snuffle around like a little animal with eyes closed to find the nipple. These are survival instincts but also an essential part of emotional bonding, deep security of attachment, sense of belonging and of being welcome and loved. Also if you bring your baby to the breast very soon after birth it increases the likelihood that breastfeeding will flow easily for you both. I will always be grateful to the midwife who got me to bring my first newborn (by emergency caesarian) to my breast after the birth. Those moments of him suckling and connecting so readily with me made everything seem ok.


Just an aside, the order in which the senses depart as death approaches is exactly the reverse of the above...


So the upshot of all this? You are sensitive! Yes! That's because you're a sophisticated being who brings new life into the world! If you weren't sensitive we would have a lot of damaged babies .. and seeing women who have clouded that sensitivity through alcohol or drug use or through an excess of trauma leading to shut down of sensitivity is the exception that proves the rule. On a gross physical level your sensitivity ensures the safety of your baby's health. On a more subtle level your sensitivity means your baby is nourished on an emotional and spiritual level, starting in the womb, as it means you will want to change certain moods, behaviours and environments to feel better, meaning your baby feels better. We also say in these teachings that your baby's mind (negative, positive and neutral minds) are shaped in the womb, through your own equivalent minds. So the whole timbre, atmosphere and vibration of your thoughts, not the content, because the baby is in a non-conceptual, pre-verbal state, is transferred to them and actually SHAPES them. So all your courage, openness and love is transferred. Troubles and challenges may well arise, and often do!! So its not to say wrap yourself in cotton wool for nine months. That's not possible for one, and it's also not life! So not that. But rising to meet the challenges presented with all your inner resources is what your baby will learn. They too will face challenges in their life, you betcha! So how will they face them? What model is laid deep in the dark pre-verbal time of the womb?


Don't be scared by this! I know some might be! Breathe. Trillions of babies have been born and there will be trillions more. Being kind with yourself, knowing you're ok and are the perfect one for your baby already, is a good place to start feeling good and ok. Life is not a pony yard (a translation of a German saying.. life is not a field of daisies?). Human dignity also comes from facing hard things and growing through them. So we're not talking polyanna here. So embrace your sensitivity! The dark with the light. The sunshine with the rain. The pleasure with the pain. You, after all, are a divine and noble woman, an intimate part of nature, and nature is happening inside you right now, initiating you into its secrets. You are your baby's first and most important teacher. You don't have to try. You just are. And you are up to the challenge and you will grow into it. Nature gives you 9 months and then the rest of your life to learn. It's kind like that.

The only thing about birth you can really control - your inner atttitude

Jai Ram Kaur Hergo - Wednesday, July 16, 2014


The previous post I wrote on this blog was about choosing your care provider for birth. There's much that can be done to create an EXTERNAL context which is as supportive as possible to you during pregnancy, birth and beyond. In fact, in life in general, right? Genuine, caring relationships in life, an occupation that is meaningful, a physical environment that lets you relax and feel secure on a material level. All these and more are factors which are supportive to happiness and contentment.


But are they the CAUSE of happiness and contentment? Is it also possible to feel happy when the outer circumstances are not ideal? I certainly hope so, since how often do we experience “perfection” in our life circumstances? How much is life rather more a coming and going, in a state of perpetual change and flux? Whether it's things like losing a job, a friend, moving house or challenges in relationships or as a woman the effects of the continual cycling of the moon and your menstrual cycle, or during pregnancy the wilder flux of emotions.... change is the only constant. And yet, don't we invest energy into trying to make things stable? Trying to bring about more of what we like and less of what we don't like? How successful are we ultimately in this? Is there another way?


There's a great saying: “Relax. Nothing's under control.” This suggests a paradigm shift. And this is what I want to write about today.


How liberating! Many women when I ask them in Mama Baba Yoga, when they come back to yoga after the birth, about what their journey of becoming a mother has revealed or taught them so far, say a similar thing: becoming a mother is showing me that I am not in control. And imagine! Almost all women say that this understanding comes as a relief, a source of relaxation and pleasure.


So while you can have a great deal of influence on the outer circumstances of the birth – where it is , with whom, under which conditions and in which atmosphere – you will never be able to control it completely. The person you were counting on to be there can't be there. Something comes up during the birth that means an intervention becomes necessary, you are held up in traffic, someone in the room is in a bad mood.. Uncountable factors subject to variation. What is the ONLY thing you can control?


Your mind.


Do you have control of your mind?


If the answer to this question is anything but an emphatic yes you belong to the vast majority of humanity. Your mind is the fastest thing on earth. Yogis say a thousand impulses are released from your mind per second, some of which become thoughts. Your mind is super active, a measuring, analysing, comparing, assessing tool, without which we couldn't exist in this world. But are you your mind? Are you these thoughts? Or are you something beyond your mind, bigger than these thoughts, or a context for these thoughts? Thoughts are constantly changing and moving. Is there anything that is still?


In yoga we say the mind is there to SERVE the soul, so we cultivate mastery of the mind and recognise its limitations. We practice quietening the mind so that in the stillness the truth that is always there beneath the movements of the thoughts can be revealed. Thoughts produce a lot of turbulence, like choppy water, stirring up sand or mud, making the water cloudy. It is then not possible to see through to the bottom of the water. By stilling the mind the waves subside, the water becomes still, and the treasures always lying there on the bed of the sea, waiting to be discovered, reveal themselves. So in meditation, having done the work of quieting your mind, what may well reveal itself is a quiet inner joy. How amazing. Under all the commotion, a quiet inner joy. A spaciousness that you crave.


This is what is meant by happiness that is not dependant on outer circumstances. And cultivating your access to this inner calm and contentment is in my opinion the BEST THING YOU CAN DO to prepare for the birth, but also to prepare for the challenges and joys of being a parent.


How? Let me highlight a contrast in 2 ways of being. In one way of being it is rather a way of doing. Our nervous systems are in a constant process of balance and adjustment. The sympathetic nervous system reacts to stress. Stress in itself is a non-emotional, neutral things. There are stressors in life – things that call for a response on our part. In ancient times the stressors were threats to our existence – wild animals, enemy tribes, threatening imbalances in the elements. These days they are traffic, job stress, unrealistic expectations, financial issues, overstimulation etc etc. Our stressors are further removed from the basics of survival. They are mostly not existential threats. And yet, we get very stressed. How is that?


This is not the place for a deep look at modern life, but the mechanism and message is the same: it is not the stressors themselves that matter, it is our REACTION to them that matters. And those reactions happen in our minds. Is it traffic that is stressful? Or is it the thoughts that follow that create the stress? Here I am wasting my time! How many years of my life will I spend sitting at red lights? I'm going to be late. What will happen when I'm late? I've been late 3 times this week! Maybe I'll lose my job if I keep being late! Etc etc etc. And what is happening in your body while these thoughts are coursing through your mind? A tightening in your chest? A closing in your throat? A hunching in your shoulders? Your heart beats faster, your blood pressure rises. You feel stressed, like there's not enough time or space and the pressure is mounting.


In short, your sympathetic nervous system, the fight or flight response, leaps into action, to get ready to attack or defend. And yet, where is the enemy? Your mind has created this reaction out of the situation and is engaged in shadow boxing. It may or may not be true that your being late will have consequences, but certainly the WAY you RESPOND if this happens will be influenced by how stressed or not stressed you are about it. In other words, your experience of reality is totally subject to your reactions to it. Others also respond to us by taking in the state we are in and in turn reacting, so it creates a chain of events which then take on a certain reality in appearance.


In default drive, the sympathetic nervous system kicks in. We get stressed. We know this. At least if it's not pleasant, it's known to us, and in this way, paradoxically, somehow a “safe” situation. What is less known to most of us is the alternative.


What IS the alternative to letting the mind react and run riot, creating a physiological reaction of stress and even fear? The alternative is to RESPOND. Respond is very different to react. The main ingredient that makes the difference is....... AWARENESS.


This is what all yoga is about. Awareness. Slowing things down so that we have a CHOICE. We can't control outer events, but we CAN choose our RESPONSE to them. When we respond rather than react, we create an opening in our EXPERIENCE of the rush of events, a pause, and then... we have a choice.

How to get to this more spacious space, where there is choice? The easiest way, the common way as a golden thread through all practices, whether ancient, spiritual, modern, scientific: the breath.


The breath.


On the inhale when you are aware of inhaling you balance your sympathetic nervous system.

On the exhale when you are conscious of exhaling you balance your parasympathetic nervous system.

In stead of fighting events and the stress that reaction in default drive, the absence of awareness, brings, we simply BE WITH what is happening. And we stay with what is happening, in awareness, by staying with the breath. Consciously inhaling, consciously exhaling.


This, friends, is the most direct way to influence your mind. Use the breath, slow it down, make it conscious and deep, and within seconds the chop caused by turbulent thoughts in the ocean of self begins to calm. After a few minutes, miracle of miracles, you may even find that underneath the chop and turbulence was always a feeling of calm and okayness. From this perspective, in this psycho-physiological state, things look very different. Much more manageable. New and creative solutions may even rise up out of the depths. Solutions the mind could never arrive at with its thinking. Which happens first: the mind slowing which then creates more balance in the nervous system, or the nervous system balancing, which creates more calm in the mind? Who knows? Does it matter if it works?


These days this practice of BEING rather than DOING, of slowing down and being aware of your breath, of noticing all the sensations of your body and seeing thoughts arise and letting them pass away without attaching to them or feeding them, is called Mindfulness. However, humans have always had minds and this is really just a packaging of truths that are eternal, not specific to any one time or space. In essence, instead of running and chasing and doing and trying to solve, you STOP, BREATHE, FEEL and BE. That's meditation. And meditative mind is by nature intuitive.


This brings us to the how of being with birth. Being with birth.

Birth is a process which we can't control. Birth happens not in the modern neo-cortex of the brain, but in the limbic part of the brain, which is much older. It is emotional and instinctive, not rational and logical. You don't DO birth. In birth, all you have to do is stay connected to that older part of your brain. Everything will happen then. And you do this through your breath.


No doubt, birth involves very strong sensations. Intense contracting and expanding of uterus and cervix in a wave like pattern. The best analogy for birth I have found is that it is like surfing. Each surge or rush comes (aka contraction) and it is your choice as to whether you will ride the waves, fight them or try to get away from them. I can tell you, as you instantly know yourself, that the first option is the only one that really works!


So how? One thing is, and this is a thing you can practice to great effect all through pregnancy, to learn to not fight the sensations. What you resist persists is the eternal truth to look at here. As I said above, our minds tell us we should avoid all discomfort if possible, and yet the more we fight against things we don't like, the stronger they seem to become. We turn our experiences into the enemy and then we fight. This is just an assessment of the mind. How could sensations that are part of getting your baby out into the world be the enemy? They are the friend!! Just turning your perception around in this way will make a HUGE difference to how you EXPERIENCE them. YOU CAN CHOOSE.


So this is why in pregnancy class we practice the birth preparation exercise. It is a challenging arm exercise in which strong physical sensations come up and you learn how to BE with these sensations, without avoiding them. What you are invited to learn, is that when you open yourself to and accept ALL the sensations – and feelings – that you have, they can be revealed as not the enemy at all. A sensation that you welcome, allow and embrace will transform. Consciousness, then, your conscious choosing of your RESPONSE, creates transformation. By staying open and curious (states which the hormone responsible for the rushes, oxytocin, naturally brings about), the sensations can be integrated into your overall experience in a whole new way. You RESPOND with awareness to your experience, you BE with it, just as it is. More than REACTING to or trying to DO something to get away from the sensations of birth, experiencing yourself as being reluctantly dragged through it, you become an active, willing participant.

Luckily, you have a load of help for this, coming from your own internal hormone cocktail. I have written other posts about this cocktail. Oxytocin is the hormone of love and connection. It makes you open, curious and empathetic. You can be empathetic with your self! Kind and compassionate with yourself. The more kindness and compassion you can bring the more beautifully you will sail through it. Kindness and compassion create an oozing of oxytocin, therefore stronger, more effective surges of waves. Oxytocin is also combined with vasopressin in the birth, which makes you courageous. You will need courage to rise up to meet the strong sensations of birth and not run away, to stay breathing and present throughout. BUT IT WILL BE WORTH IT.


Added to this you have during birth endorphins – nature's pain killer. Each rush comes like a wave (a SIMULTANEOUS contraction of the uterus and expansion in the cervix) AND BETWEEN THE RUSHES ARE PERIODS OF REST! Capitals because we normally emphasise the rushes, whereas you spend MUCH more time during birth between waves than actually riding them. MUCH more. Anyone who has really surfed knows this. And so what is happening then? Well, in reactive, fight/flight, fear mode, in between you will be suffering from the last wave, anticipating the next painful one, contracting in your mind and body rather than opening and expanding, feeling overwhelmed and stressed, even panicking and trying to get away from the experience. Is the next rush going to feel more or less painful? Right, more. Alot more.

OR, you are resting. Recovering. Opening. And enjoying! Yes, enjoying. It is a high, a good, happy feeling, with those endorphins and that oxytocin running through you. So you can relax and savour it. Enjoy the peace. Really drop into the peace. Be with your breath, your true friend and golden thread throughout. Consciously inhaling and exhaling, balancing your nervous system, calming your mind, bringing loving kindness to every cell and to your baby's every cell. Maybe even going to sleep for a few minutes, later in the birth when you may be tiring. And when the first signs of the next rush come, welcoming them, allowing them, saying yes to them. Breathing consciously to stay present, riding to the peak of the wave and then gently surfing back down the other side. The actual peak will only last a few seconds. Most of it is building and subsiding. And then resting at the bottom of the wave, basking in the peace until the next one.


That's all you have to do. Sounds easy right? Actually, if you stay in the moment it may not be easy exactly, but it certainly is a challenge you are up to. Certainly. The problems only come when you start listening to your mind and fearful or resistant thoughts, which creates an imbalance in the sympathetic nervous system and a physiological state of fear in reaction to danger.


So while nothing is under control, THIS IS TOTALLY UNDER YOUR CONTROL. It's the only thing that is under your control, but it is also the most significant thing in determining HOW you will experience the birth subjectively. Wow. That's pretty cool.


Big news: This is also a NO MATTER WHAT scenario. It is not true only under certain conditions, but UNDER ALL CONDITIONS. So if something should happen before or during the birth that you hadn't planned for and thought you didn't want even, you can STILL choose what happens next on an internal level. Will you react, letting your mind add all sorts of layers to the facts of reality, jumping fearfully into what ifs in the future or replaying unhappy scenarios from the past to prove its point, or will you simply stay present? If you can stay present in this present moment and breathe consciously, I promise you your perspective will change. There may well still be emotions of disappointment, fear, anger, sadness, and they are all welcome and have their place. So allow them to be there, be kind and compassionate to all that arises, breathe, create an opening in the rush of events.. and from here take your time to respond. You will never regret a response, because in responding you are really giving yourself a chance to draw on all your inner and outer resources accessible in that particular moment to respond to the situation. In reacting you are not giving yourself time to consider deeply. Your deeper resources are not available – your creativity, true intelligence, wisdom, compassion and strength – and nor are you likely to investigate and possibilities and consult about alternatives on the outer level and so you make a choice that is not really a choice. THAT, you may later regret.


So this is in no way suggesting there is a perfect birth to aim for and anything else is a failure. Not at all. This idea is, when you think about it, also a construct of the mind that wants to control things, which as we have seen is a flawed premise for living. We say in Kundalini Yoga humanology that the soul of the baby chooses you, in full beyond time and space knowledge of all that you are, so from this perspective there is a level that is entirely out of our control and even comprehension and yet perfect just as it is. Reactive mind cannot understand this, but responsive awareness can certainly apprehend and touch it, and FEEL a sense of understanding and acceptance. Which brings peace. Even leaving soul out of it, the choice as to how to respond is still always there.


So let all this encourage you deeply. You will be getting the sense that developing a conscious habit that breaks the habit of default drive could bring a great deal of richness to not only birth but also to the life you already live, and to the life that lies before you as a parent. For what do our children need from us more than anything, more than any special pram, carrier, bed or toy? US. Our presence. Our awareness. Our loving, open attention and kindness. Pregnancy and birth are the training ground – a blessing and an opportunity, NO MATTER WHAT.

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