Tapas – (literally – heat) Austerity, Discipline, Dedication to Practice
“A better way to understand tapas is to think of it as consistency in striving toward your goals: getting on the yoga mat every day, sitting on the meditation cushion every day—or forgiving your mate or your child for the 10,000th time. If you think of tapas in this vein, it becomes a more subtle but more constant practice, a practice concerned with the quality of life and relationships rather than focused on whether you can grit your teeth through another few seconds in a difficult asana.” ~ Judith Lasater
How do we, as pregnant women, dedicate ourselves to our pregnancies, our births and our babies? How do we dedicate ourselves, and not lose who we were before we became pregnant? Where is this balance, this center?
Tapas is being conscientious and aware. It means acknowledging the little one growing inside, and taking their physical and emotional well-being into account when we go about our daily lives. That means when we, as pregnant mothers, eat a meal, we do it with the understanding that the food we eat is the food that nourishes our baby. We are conscientious and eat with care that food that is healthy and in appropriate quantity.
It means that when we watch a movie, listen to music or other forms of entertainment, we understand that baby feels what we feel. Babies react to loud angry music with fear, anxiety and increased heart rate. When mama is angry or afraid, she releases adrenalin which then crosses the placental barrier to affect her baby. When we take sensory input that is happy or pleasant baby reacts in the same way. By practicing Tapas, we skip that sensory input that would harm baby.
On Discovery Chanel’s “Curiosity”, they spoke a bit about the sensory input affecting baby:
There is also an excellent TED talk by Annie Murphy Paul on “What we learn before we are born”.
I’ve seen some mothers take this dedication too far, to the exclusion of all other people and activities. I’ve seen pregnancy and birth become all encompassing, even to the point of obsession. This is not Tapas. When a mother neglects her husband or partner because of the baby, this is not Tapas. When a mother restricts her activities because they are not “safe” for baby such that she becomes fearful of normal daily life, this is not Tapas.
This, of course, goes back to finding balance – balance between the woman a mother is before she becomes pregnant and the woman she is transforming into as a mother. It means understanding that she will change. Some aspects of her life are irrevocably gone, to be replaced with new and more appropriate ones for her role as a mother. Her core self, her Atman, remains intact. She will always be who she was and who she will become. Acknowledging this is a key to achieving this balance.
How do our care providers dedicate themselves to supporting and protecting our bodies and our babies? Our spirits?
From the care provider’s perspective, Tapas is a bit different. I speak here more about dedication to practice and to patient (Though, I dislike that word since it gives the connotation that a pregnant mama is sick, when, in fact, she is healthy… but I digress.). When the care provider is dedicated to caring for the pregnant mama, he will take the time to truly listen to her. He will put her physical and emotional needs above his own needs, desires, protocol and policies.
When care providers don’t do this we see instances of labors being induced on Dec. 23rd because the care provider is going on vacation for the Christmas holiday. Sadly, this is not a myth. Inducing labor or scheduling a c-section for care provider convenience is far more common than you’d imagine. For more details – I wrote an article entitled “Scheduling Birth, is this a good option for me?”
Care providers can also look to the prenatal tests performed and the standard procedures during labor and birth for ways to better dedicate themselves to the individual mother. What are the risks and benefits to both mama and baby? Will a test cause fear, more testing, more fear all for naught because the test has a high inaccuracy rate? Are you, the care provider, working to prevent a potential problem or working to solve a problem presently occurring? Is the test or procedure being done simply because it’s “always done” or is it because there is a presenting risk factor?
Looking at labor; as a care provider, are you watching the clock? Are you watching the fetal / contraction monitor instead of looking at the mother in front of you? Do you offer pain medication because you feel that she is in too much pain? Do you offer pain medication because she is asking for it and do you give her all appropriate options? Did you discuss her pain medication options thoroughly during a prenatal appointment? Are you aware of the mother’s desire (or not) for pain medications?
When performing the newborn examination, and administering medications to the baby do you take into account the baby’s needs and feelings? Do you practice skin to skin contact, delayed cord clamping and breastfeeding initiation before any procedures are done (barring medical complications)?
There are more questions to be explored. However, what it boils down to as a care provider is – do you put the health, safety and emotional well being of mother and baby before your own? Are you dedicated to your practice?
This is not to the exclusion of the care provider’s personal life. Care providers need to go home to their own families for dinner. They need to take vacations. Heck, they need to use the bathroom and get some food during a mother’s labor! Taking personal time makes us not only better people, but better care providers. That whole work / life balance thing… Ensuring that, as a care provider you have appropriate back-up for when you are gone; informing a mother, fully, about that back-up; and keeping your back-up informed about the mother’s pregnancy and labor will allow for a smooth transition.
A care provider also can practice Tapas by keeping up to date with the current studies and medical advancements with regards to his scope of practice. Dedication means ongoing study, professional improvement and flexibility to change practice with the evidence indicates change is necessary.
Tapas for both mother and care provider is dedication to the pregnancy, the baby and the emotional well being of all involved parties. It is achieving balance between self and the role in which we are cast; a work / life balance and a woman / mother balance.
Up next: Svadhyaya (Study of the Self)