Emotions come and go. They are just feelings, and they should be paid attention to. Not clung to, as I have for many years, but felt and released. I am thinking about this as I have my morning cup of chamomile tea. I’ve always loved this herb, as it is good for its calming effects. It is one of the gifts from the Universe I have used to bring myself back into balance. This calmness that I have cultivated is one of the biggest reasons I love to serve women in childbirth and their health. As a woman, I have been expected to be emotional, hysterical even. That has been a double edge sword because while I am aware of my emotions, the world we live in chastises women and the feminine energy of deep feeling. Women have a delicate system of hormones at work throughout their lives and our emotions are affected by its ebbs and flows. I am particularly interested in the messages these emotions carry for us in our menstrual cycles and as I head into my midwifery training, pregnancy.
Our monthly cycles come with a lot of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual fluctuations. In paying attention to the rise and fall of our subtle energy, we discover a lot about how interconnected our bodies are. After reading the chapter on the menstrual cycle in Dr. Christiane Northrup’s book Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, I began to observe how my body was like the moon. On Day 1 of my cycle, which is when the menstrual flow begins, I would feel not just the physical release from me but also a mental and spiritual one. After menstruation, my body would steadily wax, become full of ideas, creativity and energy as I approach ovulation. When I would feel a strange prick in my lower abdomen that I later learned was my ovary letting an egg start its journey to my uterus, I would also notice how I became more receptive. Ovulating made me more likely to want to dance, desire to be touched, and make love. Post ovulation, I began to feel my energy wane as I looked up at the sky and saw the full moon was waning gibbous. I was more quiet and to myself, not desiring to be in touch with many people. I call this part of my cycle the magical time – my intuition was heightened in the way my breast would become sensitive to the touch. I dream more and would have emotions come from the depths of me. This part of our cycles is usually referred to as PMS. Women are expected to be completely irate and moody during this time. I have learned from studying my cycle that I was prone to this moodiness because of the changes in my body and also because this pre-menstrual time was a way for me to connect with what those emotions needed to communicate. Then around new moon, these emotions and my blood would begin to flow out of me, and the cycle starts again.
Working with pregnant women at various stages of their journey has made me realize how the complex changes of hormones in her body also affect her emotional state greatly. She is at her most receptive, a 10-month full moon of a woman open to her body and psyche. I have witnessed women have strong memories, hopes and fears come up during her pregnancy; some are unpleasant. What I find missing from our growing understanding of what a woman experiences while expecting is a special attention to her emotional state. I have not been able to physically attend a birth since the end of 2011 but have provided phone and internet support to dozens of women. I tend to focus on asking them about their mental and emotional state of being. I gently let them know that though pregnancy is thought to be the happiest time of a woman’s life, it is also wrought with many feelings, some of which may be disconcerting and difficult. Our emotions, especially at the heightened level they come up during pregnancy, are messages for some psychological and spiritual gifts. A woman can be prone to becoming depressed during this time because she can begin to have memories of her own childhood, mother and family life. Additionally, any mental or emotional issues that she has had in life are also at the forefront. I feel deeply that pregnant women should be encouraged to release and speak on all their feelings, not just the physical symptoms they have. I often come across women afraid to feel because they don’t want to upset the baby or affect the child’s development. Surely, the emotional and mental state of a mother can influence the child but things that go unspoken and are thus bottled up are much more harmful. Furthermore, I am beginning to see a link between a lack of emotional, mental and spiritual support and postpartum depression, especially when a woman’s body and hormones drastically change once again.
I think of how I have been able to heal from debilitating anxiety and spiritual distress. I consider my tribulations with coming back into balance as a gateway to how to best support women in their reproductive life and pregnancy journeys. What I have been able to use to facilitate the much needed releases have been some things I can share with you all as we sift and drain the emotions:
- Therapy – Spending 2 years in intensive therapy was one of the best things I was able to do for myself. It took me longer to finally go to a therapist because of the stigma that exists towards mental health and wellness. I was scared to be seen as crazy but with the help of supportive sisters, I finally reached a point where it was no longer an option not to go. I recommend therapy to anyone who feels they should seek help to sort out their memories and traumas. I found it useful to have a space to completely unload without having to worry about an emotional bond to the person. Often, we can hold back our deepest emotions from close friends and family out of fear of their reaction or feelings; therapy removed that barrier for me. Additionally, having someone with experience processing emotions was very helpful.
- Meditation – My mind is used to always racing. It is this racing of thoughts that can produce anxiety. I have taken up meditation for at least 30 minutes to an hour each day to connect to my breath and calm down my mind. Of course, my mind wanders; the meditation is a practice in learning to let those thoughts and emotions come and go. During the menstrual cycle, I have found it useful in relaxing during the pre-menstrual time and for accessing deeper messages from my moodiness. For pregnant women, I recommend meditation as our breath is very important during our labor and birth process. Connecting with the breath and deepening it is great practice for staying with our bodies and breath when birthing is at hand.
- Creative expression – Keeping a journal for the majority of my life kept me sane. I have also found joy and release in painting and dancing. Expressing ourselves creatively helps to access our unconscious mind. It is an integral part of my healing practice because of how private the process is. I share about 10% of my writing with the world and the rest is me working out my thoughts. I’ve often said that writing was a release valve for me; it was a way to siphon thoughts out of me. Ask yourself what medium works best for you and create something.
- Diet and exercise – When I speak of diet, I don’t mean to lose weight. I mean eating in a way that makes your body feel at its optimal health. Processed food and sugar in excess can lead to the feelings of sluggishness; I have found that changing my diet to include more water, vegetables and fruits while cutting back on junk food helped change my mood. Water helps not only flush out your body but also emotions. I know quite a few folks who walk or jog daily. Moving our bodies helps to keep us overall balanced and can give us a place to let emotions flow out of us.
- Energy work – Reiki has helped me balance my subtle energy field as I continue on my healing journey. It can be very soothing for pregnant women and help with the processing of difficult emotions and thoughts. Reiki is gentle for mommy and baby. Menstruating women can also benefit from energy work for the same reasons.
- Bodywork – I am a huge supporter of massages. Be it a professional full body massage or a back rub from a loved one, the power of touch is underrated. Massages can help women release tension that stays in our bodies from past and present trauma, as our bodies record the imprints of those experiences. Prenatal massage can be particularly helpful for the extra aches that a woman has during her pregnancy. It feels great to be rubbed down and have a relaxed body. Relaxed body makes it easier to release emotions.
- Cry, Scream, Yell – Many of us don’t scream nearly as much as we need to. I learned during my time at a woman’s healing space how great it felt to scream and yell out emotions that had no words. Crying is a wonderful way to release emotions as well. If you don’t feel comfortable screaming out loud, I suggest grabbing some pillows and screaming into them. This extreme expression of emotions may feel foreign to some of us but they help get things flowing out of us.
Paying attention to our emotional and mental health work to create balance physically and spiritually. It is different for each woman and her journey is unique to her life. There are various types of therapies and tools available to us. While one thing worked for me, it may be different for any of you. Let those emotions through through you and out of you. It will help free up space for healing and reprogramming your self.