Change for the Better: An Expat-Mommy’s Path to Sophrology
March 1, 2016
Here's an article I wrote while living in Paris, France, where I completed my sophrology training. It was published in the Summer 2014 edition of Message Magazine. Message is a Paris based parent support network.
Change is good; Getting through change can be challenging to say the least. As a mother and expat, I’m beginning to accept change as a permanent fixture in my life. I moved to Paris almost four years ago for my husband’s job, with my two-and-a-half-year-old in tow, and became pregnant within the first couple of weeks of our arrival. Not only did I have to get my head around building a new life for my family away from home, but I also had to quickly figure out how I was going to greet our new baby into this foreign land, including finding the right doctor, mid-wife, maternity…
A familiar story in the halls of Message no doubt, and the friends I found through Message during that time definitely made life easier. That didn’t mean, however, that I breezed through the whole experience, far from it, actually. Much of my pregnancy was difficult for me emotionally and physically. The post-partum depression I’d suffered from after the birth of my first daughter came back full strength and without my friends and family near by to help me out, it felt insurmountable. How many times did I cry over the phone to a dear friend in Canada about what I was going through, only to be left feeling like my situation felt so alien to them? To top it all off, I developed a strange and incredibly itchy, red rash that covered my entire body during my first trimester. Conventional doctors couldn’t figure out how to help me and one finally just told me that I had to live with it for the remaining six months of the pregnancy. This left me virtually hopeless.
That’s when I finally decided to give alternative methods a try, beginning by ayurvedic massage. For the first time since the beginning of my pregnancy and my arrival in France, I began feeling better. Then through the amazing care of my mid-wife, Pamela Igwe, I began receiving treatments in reflexology, essential oils and Bach flowers. In a very short time I could see and feel the results as the rash cleared up and I was feeling so much better than before.
During this time, one practitioner told me that red, itchy rashes often presented themselves when someone was carrying around a lot of pent up anger and frustration. This made perfect sense to me, once I started reflecting on my emotional state during the previous months. I was angry: Angry to be taken away from my previous life in Canada, my family, my friends, and even my job. I was angry that I had to embark on a second pregnancy feeling very alone, especially after the first had had it’s challenges. And I had wallowed in this anger, letting it consume me. My body had given me a clear sign that this couldn’t go on. With this realization, something began to change in the way I was seeing myself. The relationship between my emotions and my body’s health began to be incontestable.
All this helped me prepare for the next challenge that living in France pregnant had in store for me, which was my conversion to toxoplasmosis positive in the 5th month of my pregnancy. In Canada, and most countries outside of France really, doctors don’t even test for toxo during pregnancy because the risks of contracting this parasite are so low. The shock and stress of having this announced to me was immediate (the nurses’ “freak-out” style delivery didn’t help either.) For days, I couldn’t stop crying and imagining the damages that could result for my future child, while guilt and panic welled up… but, then something different happened. I snapped out of it and my perspective on the situation began to change. I collected myself and called on my newly founded support network, who immediately went to work finding ways for me to proactively cope with this new, and unpleasant situation. We worked on positive visualizations, looked for the right essential oils to accompany the heavy dose of antibiotics I would have to take for the remainder of my pregnancy, and prepared for the very invasive amniocentesis at 7 months, which would tell me if my baby was affected, or not.
I had no choice but to put complete faith in my conviction that my baby would not be harmed. Imagine the French doctor’s smirk and surprise when during a conversation before the amnio, I held his gaze and told him clearly that I would take the test, but that I was certain that my baby was unaffected. I’m very happy to report that my second daughter arrived in this world "toxo" free and in the end the lesson I learned was all about the approach. The way I see it, I had two choices: to panic and play the victim of a bad situation, or to do everything in my power to believe in the relationship between my positive outlook and the final outcome. Once I did, I realized that the outcome became less important than the approach. By approaching a situation with positivity, the outcome inevitably became easier to deal with. If the worst happened, I had a pre-established positive framework to deal with it better.
All this left me feeling like I wanted to explore the mind-body connection further, and thanks to an inspired suggestion by my husband, I turned to Sophrology as a tool for doing so. What is Sophrology, you say? (And you wouldn’t be the only one, trust me.) If you’ve been in France for a while, you may have heard of it, or maybe even practiced it with your midwife during prenatal classes, which is common practice here. Broadly, Sophrology is the science of human consciousness. In everyday language, that translates to relaxation, breathing and meditation exercises through simple guided techniques. With practice, these techniques can help us deal with all those stressors encroaching upon our existence by reintegrating positivity into our lives. For example, working with a sophrologist during pregnancy is a great way to connect with your baby, manage difficult moments during pregnancy and learn tools that will allow you to have a positive influence on your labor and delivery.
When my daughter was 5 months old, I decided that I wanted to share this technique with others, and signed up for an 18-month program to become a certified sophrologist here in Paris. With a breast-pump in hand, I embarked on a life-changing journey towards a calmer, and happier version of myself. As the only French-speaking Anglophone in a class of thirty French people I was learning as much about cultural “experiences” as Sophrology itself. My journey through training was littered with laugh out loud moments, even if sometimes it was just me doing the laughing at the sheer novelty of my experience.
I guess what I’m saying with all this is that you never know where challenge and change is going to lead. Who would have thought that a lonely and angry expat mom would end up in a room full of French people learning how to expand their consciousness? When beginning a new adventure, whether motherhood, life in a new place or any other life-changing event, it is plain impossible to predict the end of the story. I’ve noticed that, unfortunately for all those crucial life-decisions that keep popping up, a life-story always seems to make more sense in reverse. I truly believe that it’s how we approach change that defines our moment, and ultimately how we live our lives. I’ve learned that putting positivity, where there might otherwise be negativity, can make all the difference. And now, thanks to this amazing life changing experience of moving to France, I’ve discovered a tool to help me help others accomplish this.
What remains is taking care of yourself so you can take better care of your loved-ones, being thankful for the positivity already present in our lives and staying open to the possibilities ahead.