Updated: May 3, 2021
During my second pregnancy I used a phrase I found attributed to Tich Naht Hanh as a mantra for my relaxation practice (I call these Anchor Thoughts in my childbirth classes), which I subsequently recited for much of my labor (you know, until I hit transition, when I was just hanging on for the ride!) So, when I came upon an interview with him I took some time to listen. The best part of the interview came at the end, when Oprah asks him about healing the world and cultivating compassion (paraphrasing here) and he goes over four mantras he believes are essential to end conflict and create a better world :
Darling, I am here for you.
Darling I know you are there.
Darling, I know you suffer, that is why I am here for you.
Darling, I suffer. I am trying my best to practice. Please help me.
The essence of these phrases sounded so familiar to me. They are very similar to what I studied through Birth Psychology as what is necessary for optimal human development. As parents we can understand that these same principles have incredible value in how we interact with our baby and also with each other, since our primary relationship as a couple also affects our child’s development.
Darling, I know you are there: This means being acknowledged as existing. This is a core tenet that influences behavioral and thought patterns beginning at the very start of life – starting in pregnancy and continuing on into infancy. Not being acknowledged can leave a deep wound. Acknowledge is defined as “to accept or admit the existence or truth of.” When we don’t acknowledge another, this is felt as rejection. Acknowledging another human means slowing down and taking a moment to take in their being, affirm their presence, and realize how truly precious they are to you.
Darling, I am here for you: Your baby needs you and your presence – your true presence. There is the physicality of being present and the emotional/mental component of being present. Both are important. Tich Naht Hanh emphasizes, “How can you love if you are not there?” Little human brains are wired within the context of bigger human brains. Our relationships have very real direct impacts on who we are…who we become. Relationships directly affect our health and well-being. Being there for your baby (or not) has a profound impact on the trajectory of your child’s life. You are that important.
Darling, I know you suffer, that is why I am here for you: Life isn’t easy. Babies have a lot to adjust to. They need parents to help them adjust. A crying baby should never be ignored, including at night; at that moment a baby is learning important life lessons about whether the people he cares about the most in the world, and who are essential for his survival, will be there for him when he really needs it. Be there for your baby.
Darling, I suffer. I am trying my best to practice. Please help me: By practice, I believe Tich Naht Hanh means cultivating compassion and being like the Buddha (or Christ as he also mentions in the longer interview). A mother cannot (and should not) have to do it all alone. New parents (both mother and father) need support. In a culture that has really broken down in terms of relationships and family structure (starting with Industrial Age and then getting completely done in by the medical industrialized takeover of birth in addition to the pharmaceutical industry push for formula feeding), many new parents do not have enough support structures in place and therefore suffer. If your mate has not been trained to help you, he may be clueless as to what you need, and you may suffer. If for most of your life you have been conditioned to not ask for help and have low expectations of others being there for you – it may be really hard to recognize that you need support and to be able to ask for it clearly. But this is so important – that we be there for each other. I think this also touches on the very important issue of understanding that we do not need to be perfect parents. No one is perfect. Nothing is perfect. It does not need to be.
Relationships are the essence of life. It is what will matter most at the end of our lives, when it is our time to go. It is what matters most at the beginning of life – when our precious child comes to grow in our womb, is born from our amazing bodies, and then nourished and nurtured at our breast. When we look at the natural processes that have evolved over time for birth and breastfeeding. they help us to meet the first three principles. In pregnancy, you can start this process by taking good care of yourself – by caring for yourself, you are caring for your baby. You can connect with your baby, acknowledge her presence, and listen - even in pregnancy - to what your child really needs. The last principle, requires us to have compassion for ourselves and to ask for help – and to know we are worthy of that support. As you move into your mothering role, I hope that you have around you wise and compassionate support. You deserve it.
Oh, and my birth mantra: “Breathing in I calm my body, breathing out I smile.”
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