by Cathryn Monro

When it’s not what you thought it would be

Becoming a mother can be shocking, difficult, and frightening. Your body, focus and lifestyle all undergo a huge transition. Along with your identity, your priorities and worries change. Even when things go to plan it can be a struggle to adapt.

Sometimes our experience of motherhood doesn’t match with our expectations and we become unsure of the world and ourselves. Our picture of the world can be so radically shattered that it’s hard to reconfigure a sense of who we are and what we’re supposed to do or even be able to expect from life. If there are added stressors, a difficult birth, trouble breastfeeding, illness, school refusal, a feeling that we’ve got it wrong somehow, any version of the spilt milk we didn’t expect, it can be even more difficult to piece together a “new normal.” Change, and meeting the unexpected, continues through the years as our lives and our children unfold.

Self-inquiry is a process of understanding ourselves and our responses, and enables us to turn our experience into learning, no matter how challenging the situation. My book Spilt Milk Yoga – A Guided Self-Inquiry To Finding Your Own Wisdom, Joy, And Purpose Through Motherhood draws on the principles and practices of yoga to connect us to our wisdom, joy and purpose, and to the value of motherhood as a path offering life’s richest and most confronting lessons on love, acceptance and joy.

Here I will share something from my story of becoming a mother, followed up with a Spilt Milk Yoga practice and some self-inquiry questions for you. With intention we can begin to make choices that increase our sense of liberation and love, enable us to find value in our experience, and cultivate more of what we want in our journey through motherhood.

The shock of birth – my experience

Giving birth was a shock for me. I’d read about it, I’d heard about it, I’d even assisted a friend giving birth. In second stage she’d gripped my shoulders and shouted point blank into my face “NO ONE EVER TOLD ME IT WAS GOING TO BE LIKE THIS!” I heard that loud and clear and I got ready.

But as much as I’d primed myself physically with ante-natal classes, yoga, advice from others, and a birth plan, nothing prepared me for the psychic shock of giving birth. I couldn’t have prepared for the part I didn’t know about.

I was shocked that a person came out of my body! She was so finished and separate. I’m not sure what I expected, but her entirety blew me away. Her own lungs, ears, legs. She was an actual person.

In the first moments she was laid on my chest a new Me was also born, Me as mother, the adult half of an intertwined lifelong duo, no longer autonomous and separate. Then it hit me that I was responsible for this tiny vulnerable being and I didn’t know what to do.

My life flipped. In the following weeks I scrambled to adjust to my new reality. My life was now about another person. I forgot my own birthday. Things that used to matter didn’t matter anymore. Even me. I felt used by my biologic, tricked by society, by my feminist ideals. I was saving baby, but drowning in the bathwater.

There was joy too of course. The smell of my newborn was intoxicating. Her exquisite rosebud lips and tiny seashell ears a miracle. But I needed to acknowledge and include this part of me, forever changed, and update on what I expected of my life and myself.

Was your entry into motherhood not what you expected? You’re not alone. Read Chelsea’s thoughts on her entry into motherhood and mental health challenges.

Embracing the learning – A Spilt Milk Yoga practice

Shock. Anger. Grief. Loss. Anxiety. Self-doubt. Shame. Blame. Helplessness. Loneliness.

These aren’t words we usually associate with motherhood, and yet they may be very real aspects of our inner life as mothers. Even at its simplest motherhood is a fast track to the heart of life’s richness, as challenging and inspiring as it can be. As a mother you enter a territory where love and fear learn to shake hands, listen to each other, and converse wisely.

The Spilt Milk Yoga practice here is embracing the learning. Embracing the learning acknowledges that you are on a journey, cultivating self-knowledge as you go. You cannot know everything in advance because the learning is happening now. Having a learner’s mind is at the heart of the yoga principle of self-inquiry.

This is where you are. This is what is happening. What do you want to grow in yourself in response? What do you need in order to grow this?

Embracing the Learning: Spilt Milk Yoga guided self-inquiry

I encourage you to grab a pen and journal in response to these questions because journaling assists reflection and articulation and deepens self-understanding.

  • What did you expect becoming a mother would be like?
  • What is your experience of becoming a mother?
  • Is there a gap between your expectations and your experience? If so, have a go at describing it, and what that feels like for you.
  • What do you want to grow in yourself in response to your experience?
  • Where in your situation could you practice this?
  • What do you need in order to practice this?
  • How might you ask for, create, or do this?
  • What is one small thing you could do in your day to honor this aspiration?
  • What learning are you embracing as a result of where you are now?
  • List some aspects you are appreciating about yourself as a mother.

creating-space-to-process-motherhoodCathryn Monro lives in Wellington, New Zealand and is mama to two teenage daughters. She has adapted this piece for Whole Mamas from her book Spilt Milk Yoga – A Guided Self-Inquiry To Finding Your Own Wisdom, Joy, And Purpose Through Motherhood.