To bookmark:

Login or Sign Up

Embracing the Spiritual Journey of Motherhood

By Ashley Elmer, DC

Motherhood is a profound physical, emotional, and spiritual journey, brimming with opportunities for inner growth. Our purpose becomes clearer. Our capacity for love expands. Our ability to handle difficulties deepens. Each joy and challenge that motherhood brings can lead us to a more profound understanding of ourselves and the world. The day-to-day realities of being a mother, however, can seem less like a self-actualizing journey and more like a stressful slog, especially when we’re depleted and isolated. But I’m here to say that you can do more than survive motherhood—you can thrive in every single stage of it. The key is learning to embrace practices that foster health and vitality, especially a practice called self-compassion. Let me share my story with you, and you’ll see what I mean. 

My initiation into motherhood began unexpectedly when my son arrived prematurely at 32 weeks. That night, the streets of Minneapolis flooded as thunderstorms raged, bringing down trees and causing widespread power outages. The setting was far removed from the serene birth I had imagined. 

Yet amid the chaos, I found solace in the techniques I had learned. Tuning into my breath, I rode the waves of labor, anchored by the support of my doula. My beautiful son made his entrance into the world on the summer solstice, illuminating our lives like the brightest ray of sunshine. 

Hours later in the NICU, our fingertips brushed against his tiny hands through the confines of an incubator. Tears blurred our vision as we struggled with the reality that our baby, who needed the shelter of my womb a little longer, was going to spend his first weeks in a hospital. 

The early postpartum phase challenged me. Anxiety and self-doubt clouded my days, as I questioned past decisions and worried about the future. I tried to control everything for his safety, and it led to living in an overwhelmed place. But it was this adversity that prompted me to seek support and helped me grow in many areas of my life. 

Self-compassion is comprised of three pillars: mindfulness, self-kindness, and acknowledgment of shared humanity.

This motherhood journey, unique in its course but shared in essence by mothers everywhere, brings us to the concept of Matrescence. Introduced by Dana Raphael, this term encompasses the journey of becoming a mother. It is more than just a physical transition—it spans the emotional, spiritual, and social dimensions of our lives. Matrescence is full of joy and promise; it can also be overwhelming. But thanks to self-compassion, we can better navigate the transition to all the stages of motherhood. According to Dr. Kristin Neff, Ph.D., self-compassion is comprised of three pillars: mindfulness, self-kindness, and acknowledgment of shared humanity. 

Mindfulness 

When we are mindful, we are present and attuned to our internal state and surroundings. We moms can step into the present moment by practicing mindful breathing or simple body awareness—or, if time allows, by doing yoga or spending time in nature. Even daily tasks, such as doing laundry or making meals, can become mindful moments when we fully engage our senses. 

By linking mindfulness with our daily rhythms, we can re-center ourselves. And when we choose to practice it consistently, mindfulness can reveal the underlying beauty in adversity. 

Our nervous system plays a pivotal role in mindfulness, too. For us moms who find it difficult to be present, chiropractic care can be most beneficial. It can help the nervous system become more adaptable and foster an environment where presence is more naturally achieved.

Self-Kindness 

We will inevitably encounter challenges along the motherhood way. In these moments, it helps to be gentle, treating ourselves with the warmth and kindness we would extend to a dear friend.

Acknowledgment of Shared Humanity 

It’s helpful to realize that struggles and hardships are universal, and that at our core, we all share a basic goodness. Regularly connecting with other moms and undertaking practices like the Loving Kindness Meditation, which I’ll introduce you to later in this article, help deepen this sense of shared experience. We are not alone. 

As I prepared for my next pregnancy, I decided to invite more self-compassion into my life. Drawing inspiration from Ina May Gaskin’s books, I envisioned a beautiful birth. I made a conscious effort to slow down, nurture myself, and bask in the present moment during my pregnancy. When the time came to give birth, I trusted and allowed my body’s wisdom to take over. My labor was a profound experience that spanned a day and a half, but it was also void of discomfort, and only brief pressure as I went through transition. In a moment that can only be described as healing, blissful, and powerful, I brought my daughter into the world. 

Years later, another chapter of motherhood pushed my resilience to its limits, as one of my children underwent—and is still undergoing—a lengthy and challenging healing process. It required me to lean even more into my self-care and my community. In short, practicing self-compassion became not just useful, but also essential. 

When we embrace self-compassion in challenging moments, we stimulate the release of oxytocin. This “love hormone” enhances bonding and equips us with greater resilience against stress. Tara Brach, Ph.D., utilizes an approach called RAIN to help us find the way to self-compassion. 

We need to: 

  • Recognize our emotions and bodily sensations.
  • Allow them to be, without judgment.
  • Investigate their nature.
  • Nurture ourselves with kindness and understanding.

The RAIN approach helps us foster inner harmony. Within this sanctuary of self-acceptance, we discover fertile ground for personal growth. RAIN reconnects us with the present moment, where we can hear our inner wisdom. It empowers us to discern our needs and take proactive steps toward fulfilling them. 

RAIN also bestows another blessing on us. When we nurture our own well-being, our compassion naturally extends to our family, our friends, and our community, too.

Each addition to the family opens a new chapter in the journey of Matrescence. As families grow, we mothers navigate joys and challenges that are both familiar and novel. And given the complexity of parenthood at times, moments of self-doubt, frustration, and criticism can overshadow our loving intentions. 

We might also find ourselves resisting our current realities, yearning for an imagined future where things are easier or more manageable. 

In these moments, we might lose our cool, or seek solace and escape from our digital devices. We might also find ourselves resisting our current realities, yearning for an imagined future where things are easier or more manageable. 

Yet, deep within, many of us hold a profound aspiration: to grow, to remain present and regulated, and to hold plenty of compassionate space. We aim not to just cope, but to thrive, grounding ourselves in a state of coherence and wholeness. 

Which brings us to another practice that cultivates self-compassion: the Loving Kindness Meditation. It encapsulates the essence of mindfulness, self-kindness, and shared humanity, and it asks us to extend good wishes and grace: 

Loving Kindness Meditation 

For Yourself: “May I be safe, healthy, happy, and live with ease.”

For a Loved One: “May you be safe, healthy, happy, and live with ease.”

For Someone Neutral: Extend the same wishes.

For a Challenging Person: Extend the same wishes, which are a testament to our shared journey and humanity.

For All Beings: “May all beings be safe, healthy, happy, and live with ease.”

It takes only a few minutes to complete this exercise, in a quiet, comfortable place. Just relax, close your eyes, and recite the meditation. You will feel your heart open, your mind calmed, and your inner spirit warmed by love and kindness. 

In my decade as a mother, self-compassion has nudged me toward prioritizing my well-being and has inspired choices that promote holistic health. I choose to eat nourishing meals, get ample rest and exercise, practice meditation, seek the support of my communities, and embrace chiropractic care. My goal isn’t to be a self-compassion perfectionist, but to be ever more aware of my well-being and to use my nurturing practices as consistently as I can. 

Self-compassion has made the difference in my journey as a mother, and I know it can do the same for mothers everywhere. It is a powerful tool to help us moms recognize our needs and seek essential support for our well-being. 

When we choose to lean into wellness and nourish ourselves, the motherhood journey becomes less about surviving and more about thriving. It’s in this nourished state that we truly experience the magic and wonder of motherhood.