With eyes closed and paying gentle attention to the breath, eight pregnant women and their partners sit silently in the Oakland, California, living room of certified nurse midwife Nancy Bardacke. For a few moments, they let go of the anticipation of labor, delivery, and their babies to sample the present moment.
These expectant parents are preparing for childbirth, mindfully. Drawing on Jon Kabat-Zinn's Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction technique and her own yoga and meditation experience, Bardacke offers meditation instruction along with birthing biology in her eight-week course (called Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting Education). Participants practice various pain-coping techniques—meditation, partner massage, saying "ah" or other easy sounds—and breath awareness.
"By staying with my breath and not moving beyond the very moment at hand, I was able to have the most amazing birth experience," says Victoria Tyra, a course graduate. "Now I use the techniques when my kids are screaming or when I'm caught in traffic. It has done great things for my marriage too." Clearly, such results are Bardacke's intent. "The work not only teaches you how to deal with the contractions of labor," she says, "it teaches you how to handle the contractions of life."
Classes based on Kabat-Zinn's mindfulness technique are offered in a variety of formats all over the world. To search for a program in your area, visit www.umassmed.edu/cfm/mbsr/.
Linda Knittel is a nutritional anthropologist and freelance writer in Portland. She is the author of Soy Sensation (McGraw Hill, 2001).