Highlights of the First-Ever Mindful Mothering Conference
(Photo above: Karen Brody of BOLD and FEAR2FREEDOM; Lisa Reagan, Kindred Editor; Cassandra Vieten, PhD, Institute of Noetic Sciences Research Director; Jeanne Ohm, DC, International Chiropractic Pediatric Association, Executive Director; Joy Rose, MOM Executive Director. Over a thousand viewers joined the online webcast. This event was co-sponsored by Kindred’s parent nonprofit, Families for Conscious Living.)
Why do some people conjure an image of a mother and child floating effortlessly through a field of daisies when they hear the phrase, “mindful mothering”? In daily reality, the practical tools of mindfulness are designed to bring us full into the moment with an open mind and open heart, ready to accept the endless laundry, exhaustion and loneliness, as well as connection, tenderness and joy we find on our brief journeys through motherhood.
I say “brief” because the 18 years of hands-on care for our children is now a fraction of our total lives, especially since most of us will be active into our senior years and are living longer. Put into perspective, most parents agree that, despite the stresses of modern parenting, we don’t want to miss a moment with our children. So how are we to stay awake and aware through the greatest adventure of our lives?
The first-ever Mindful Mothering conference, held at the Museum of Motherhood (MOM) in New York City on November 7, 2011, set out to answer this question; its presenters shared their integrated insights developed through professional training and mothering experiences, and opened the floor to interactive audience discussion. Cassandra Vieten, Ph.D., author of the research-based book, Mindful Motherhood: Practical Tools for Staying Sane During Pregnancy and Your Child’s First Year, shared mindfulness basics before moving on to the more serious implications of her three-year research project.
“Mindfulness is a practice of being aware of your experience, from moment to moment, allowing it to be just as it is without evaluation or judgment,” said Dr. Vieten. “Over time, mindful awareness of your experiences as a mom, whether they are internal (mental, physical, or emotional) or external (situations with your baby or others), allows you to more and more often approach each experience with curiosity and compassion, for yourself and for others.”
Dr. Vieten explained to the MOM audience that, “Mindful awareness recognizes that each experience is temporary, and with practice, you can learn to ride the waves of everyday life, allowing each one to arise, peak and pass away, as all experiences do. Mindful awareness can help you notice and derive greater enjoyment from the simple, subtle pleasures of life as a mom—the way the light shines on your little one’s fuzzy head, or the grasp of his hand on your finger—no matter what else may be going on.
“A large body of evidence in both animal and human studies indicates that stress and mood disturbance experienced during pregnancy increases the risk for preterm birth, low birth weight and other pregnancy-related complications, and may adversely affect the developing fetus,” explained Vieten. “Postnatal mood disturbance can interfere with attachment, quality of mother-infant interactions, healthy parenting behaviors, and child development. While a wealth of evidence supports all these facts, surprisingly little information is available to women and clinicians for reducing stress and improving mood in pregnancy and postpartum.”
Audience members at the conference found the information and presentations exciting and “unique.” The one male participant in the audience, Michael Chase, exclaimed while watching Jeanne Ohm’s high-energy presentation, “This is worth the price of admission alone!”
“Jeanne was very insightful. She’s really made a business to educate people about birth and how it is meant and supposed to be. She has a great perspective,” he said. “I thought it was interesting to hear what women are thinking during pregnancy and birth. As a man, I am exempt from all of that.” But Chase, who is a talent acquisition specialist for Goodwill Industries during the day and a personal chef for the elderly by night, said he was now more prepared for his future, which included getting married in 2012.
Janae Shields, M.S.W., the green initiatives coordinator for Goodwill Industries, attended the conference with ten single mothers sponsored by GWI. Shields, who runs the Beyond Jobs program at the Goodwill Center in the Bronx, wanted to expose the mothers to the idea of mindful mothering.
“I actually think it is a great thing to share with mothers,” she said. “I was already familiar with the practice of mindfulness. It was my hope that the moms there would find what they need. A lot of people we help are in survival mode and just trying to get food on the table, and don’t get to enjoy mothering. I was hoping that they would find something to help them manage their stress a little bit better as they manage their children.”
In a post-conference discussion, Shields said, “Everyone said they wished they knew about mindful mothering before they had their kids, not after they were five years old, or more. My daughter is four years old, and my son is ten months, and that was a completely different experience, with paying attention to my son consciously instead of just getting through. It was much more of a struggle with my daughter.”
“All of the mothers who attended the conference with us said they wished more people knew about mindful mothering. How do we bring other people to this? That was our underlying thought,” said Shields.
In the coming months, the online Mindful Motherhood program will be available to professionals and parents alike. The book and program is based on a three-year intervention development project and at the California Pacific Medical Center’s Research Institute. The study showed that participating in the eight-week program reduced negative effects and anxiety during pregnancy, and held the promise of reducing depression and increasing positive emotion through pregnancy into the postpartum period.
“This pilot study showed that it was possible to learn mindful awareness during pregnancy and early motherhood (even with baby in tow!), and that women who engaged in mindfulness training during pregnancy had fewer negative emotions and anxiety during pregnancy compared to women who did not participate in the training,” said Vieten. “There were also trends toward reduced symptoms of depression and increased positive emotion. The women in our courses were from all walks of life, and most found it an enriching experience.”
The first-ever Mindful Mothering Conference brought together activists whose life’s work expands on and demonstrates the possibilities for wellness through mindfulness in pregnancy, birth, motherhood and conscious parenting.
Presenters at the conference included Cassandra Vieten, Ph.D., who is a licensed clinical psychologist, and director of research at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, IONS; co-director of the Mind-Body Medicine Research Group at California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute in San Francisco; and co-president of the Institute for Spirituality and Psychology. Dr. Vieten’s Mindful Motherhood program will be released in February 2012.
Lisa Reagan, Pathways associate editor and co-founder of Families for Conscious Living, connected the dots between our cultural stories of motherhood through her training in IONS’ Worldview Literacy Project. Surrounded by displays and images of Victorian and suffragette women who railed against misogynistic cultural “stories,” the Museum of Motherhood was a perfect setting to encourage mothers to personally and collectively use mindfulness skills to become aware of old stories and to write a new ones that support personal and planetary wellness. Lisa also encourages families to read and share these “new” stories as they are told in Pathways and Kindred, of course!
Lu Hanessian’s presentation, The Gift of Mindful, Imperfect Mothering: How Our Mistakes, Fears, and Conflicts Can Help Us Raise Authentic, Connected and Resilient Kids addressed self-acceptance for our imperfections in the journey. Hanessian is the founder of Parent2ParentU. She has written three books, including Let the Baby Drive, for new parents.
Karen Brody addressed Mindfulness in Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond, and asked, “How do you find and keep your internal power switch on, no matter what, from pregnancy, birth, and into motherhood?” Brody is a mother of two boys, one with severe learning challenges. She is the author of Birth, a critically acclaimed play performed around the world since 2006 as part of BOLD, a global movement to make maternity care mother-friendly. She is also the founder of the My Body Rocks Project and FEAR to FREEDOM Birth, a new groundbreaking childbirth preparation method.
Jeanne Ohm, D.C., executive director for the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association, ICPA, and executive editor of Pathways, presented the meta-view of mindful mothering with the philosophical chiropractic tenet, “Get the Big Idea and All Else Follows: Awakening Our Inner Guidance for Mindful Living.” “From conscious pregnancy to daily family living, mothering is our greatest opportunity to discover our personal paradigm for living,” she said. “With continued connectivity to this major premise, we are able to receive clear guidance and trust that we are making the best, mindful choices for our families.”
Participants in the conference also enjoyed a free session with Jessica Zucker, Ph.D., Kindred blogger and mothering expert and a clinical psychologist based in Los Angeles specializing in women’s health. Jessica is a contributor to The Huffington Post, PBS’s This Emotional Life and Kindred’s online magazine.
Families for Conscious Living and Pathways magazing are happy to collaborate with the Mindful Motherhood project to bring this online program to Pathways Connect groups. Wellness practitioners can earn continuing education credits through the facilitator-training portion of the program, while parents may take the online version of the program individually or with a group. If you are interested in sponsoring or participating in the eight-week program, contact Lisa Reagan for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Webstreamed Video of Lisa Reagan at the Museum of Motherhood
Karen Brody of BOLD and FEAR2FREEDOM; Lisa Reagan, Kindred Executive Editor; Cassandra Vieten, PhD, Institute of Noetic Sciences Research Director; Jeanne Ohm, DC, Pathways to Family Wellness, Publisher and Editor, International Chiropractic Pediatric Association, Executive Director; Joy Rose, MOM Executive Director. Photo above by Karen Brody. Over a thousand viewers joined the online webcast. More photos of the live event coming!
Listen to Kindred’s Executive Editor speak at the Mindful Mothering Conference at the Museum of Motherhood in New York City on November 7, 2011. Lisa believes parenthood can be a call to adventure as epic as a hero’s journey and shares her own adventure in the last 14 years of working as an activist and investigative journalist for conscious parenting. She shares her discoveries in the Worldshift to Wellness through the emerging science of a global shift to a holism and her daily work with the growing numbers of families creating their own conscious choice communities. Lisa believes when we become mindful of the stories we live by, we can then claim authorship/authority in our lives and own our ability to consciously write a new story for ourselves. As in every hero’s journey, it is the parent who, by transforming themselves, transforms the world.