Spirituality Transformed My Postpartum Mental Health

Photographed by Eylul Aslan
Being a new pandemic mum means my motherhood journey has panned out a little differently. I gave birth at the peak of the second COVID-19 wave, having been bed-bound with coronavirus just a few days beforehand. Deflated, weak and an emotional wreck in the run-up to my labour, I was scarred before my birth experience even began.
Then, without warning, I felt traumatised as I became a mum for the very first time. My beautiful, healthy baby girl was placed on my chest and I felt numb and confused. I said hello, told her I was looking forward to booking a spa day together and swiftly spiralled into a state of shock. Head giddy, heart racing and belly pulsing with emptiness, it had just hit me that I had been pregnant and now had a baby. That night, it took a few hours to sink in that I was responsible for the angelic girl peacefully sleeping next to me. 
The reality of being a pandemic mum hit hard when we returned home. My family were too nervous to hold her, my friends met her through a window and the baby blues arrived right on cue. Exhausted and daunted, trying to make sense of the world I had brought a baby into, I wondered whether I’d ever find my sanity again.  
Nine months on, I’m still trying to navigate the maze of motherhood, new stressors, sleep deprivation and heightened anxiety. On a normal day, I feel overwhelmed and burned out, my brain in constant overdrive to the soundtrack of CoComelon. You know you’re living the high life when the screaming with fear face, SOS button and pile of poo are your most frequently used emoji.
I’m not the only one who feels lost and helpless as a pandemic mum. Earlier this year, the Maternal Mental Health Alliance found that pregnant women and new mothers were three times as likely to suffer from poor mental health in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, with six in 10 mums having substantial concerns about their mental health.  
In a bid to feel myself again, I found Kaylo, a new platform dedicated to healing, health and personal growth. Kaylo was holding a spiritual healing retreat that aimed to awaken, connect and transform the soul through everything from sound baths to movement medicine. Sounding apt for a pandemic mum in need of some TLC, I packed my bags and left. 
I was curious to see if spiritual healing would work for me, having had unfulfilling experiences with therapy for my general anxiety disorder in the past. My latest endeavour, cognitive hypnotherapy (a mix of CBT and hypnotherapy), had left me disconnected as I struggled to see past the therapist's monotonous hypnosis readings and unenthusiastic manner. I vowed never to see a therapist again.  
On the contrary, spiritual healing is known for using different forms of energy and practices to treat the mind, body, spirit and heart. This holistic approach can empower people to live happier, healthier lives and target trauma, stress, mental illness, insomnia and grief. 
Arriving at the retreat I was greeted by Natalie Munk, founder and powerhouse behind Kaylo. She circled me with her incense stick and smudging feather, cleansing me of negative energy, a practice thought to act as a doorway into the spiritual world. I was told to wave goodbye to the human world as I knew it and thus my spiritual healing journey began.  
Nature therapy 
"Come, let’s walk to the forest," beckoned Natalie as the group gathered outside like jittery, first-time Hogwarts students. "Leave your shoes here – it’ll help you connect with nature." A ritual called earthing, walking barefoot outdoors is thought to connect you to the Earth’s natural healing energy. I took my shoes off and felt the sharp pebbles beneath me press into my skin. As we made our way through the forest, slugs crept between my toes. Yes, it was gross – but strangely therapeutic.

Natalie led us to a majestic tree, its roots twisted and mystical. We were instructed to embrace it and be still for a few minutes, sharing our thoughts and emotions.

"Trees are universal therapy," said Natalie. "Whether you’re in a garden, park or forest, being close to a tree is a powerful experience." Tree hugging is known to boost levels of oxytocin, the same hormone that stimulates childbirth and is released when a new mum interacts with her baby, according to an International Journal of Nursing Sciences study from 2019. It fascinated me that even though I had never talked to a tree before (and never planned to), I felt connected and understood. It was the best listener I could have asked for. 
Sound bath  
Next on my agenda was a sound bath. I walked into the dimly lit room filled with yoga mats, blankets, gongs and crystal singing bowls. Believed to combat anxiety, negative energy and sleep deprivation, sound baths originate from ancient Greece and use sound vibrations to heal. The experience can shift you into a deep relaxation or altered state of consciousness (which triggers the body’s healing response).  
I struggled to unwind from the get-go. Relaxing was such unfamiliar territory to me that it created a tension in the pit of my stomach. I could feel the powerful vibrations, especially in my temples, but after a while it shifted into my periphery as I let go and was lulled into a drowsy slumber. As I woke, I felt like I’d had a deep tissue massage. Would I do it again? Absolutely. I can’t say it felt very spiritual but I definitely caught up on some sleep. 
"Sound baths are great for new mums," explained Natalie. "They’re an invitation to do nothing, for once. As most of our body is made out of water, the vibrations really get under the skin’s armour and create a calming ripple effect. It’s easy to do at home if you have a crystal singing bowl and someone to guide you."  
Cold plunge  
My alarm the next morning was set for 6 am (a lie-in) for my first ever cold plunge. A favourite among celebrities like Lady Gaga and Nicole Kidman, cold water therapy can boost your immune system, deepen sleep and lift your mood. On this occasion, we were using an outdoor swimming pool but other forms include ice baths, cold showers and natural water swimming, as long as the temperature is below 15 degrees Celsius.  
"It’s a form of spiritual healing," said Natalie as she gracefully dived in. "Not only does it activate your body’s healing powers but you’re also doing it among nature, so no one is judging you." I descended into the piercing cold water, swearing under my breath (which seemed to help). As I started swimming it was as if I’d just woken up. I’d never felt so alive and present.  
Movement medicine 
I was most nervous about the movement medicine class. Described as finding ecstasy without drugs, it’s a form of artistic meditation that involves dancing from the soul. The practice reconnects you to yourself and can help release trauma from the central nervous system without having to relive it.    
We stood in a circle and were asked to invite the spirits to dance with us. Then the rave commenced. The DJ? A movement medicine guru. The playlist? Spiritual gratitude songs with house beats. There was no alcohol, no dressing up, no selfies – just seeing where your body took you in front of a group of complete strangers. 
At first I kept my gaze to the floor but as the spiritual bangers played, I found my body swaying to the beat. Jumping, spinning, leaping and lunging, the stage was all mine. I was 10 years old again at my local ice rink, dancing the waltz and gliding around in circles. It was just me and authentically me, able to enjoy my own company in a deeply relaxed mental state. 
It was then that I realised such an important part of my postpartum spiritual healing journey was self-expression, self-acceptance and being myself. 
"The most beautiful thing you can do as a new mum is dance, breathe and move with your baby," said Natalie. "Stick a gratitude playlist on or just your favourite song and dance – your baby loves movement too."  
As the experience drew to a close, it dawned on me that I had been my own healer all along. Yes, I was guided by practitioners but I was never actually taught anything new, from tree hugging to listening to a sound bath. I simply had to be. It was my choice if I wanted to commit fully or just skim the surface of spiritual healing.  
Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting a walk in the forest as a replacement for valuable mental health services like therapy or medication. But for me, the retreat prompted me to see that the medicine I needed was right in front of me: nature, sound, water and movement. How simple?
Most importantly, the rituals left me grounded, more connected to the world and with a clear head. Everything seemed more in focus than before, as if I had been living life behind cloudy lenses.  
When it comes to spirituality, I’m no more spiritual than I was. But my soul has been blessed with self-care, nurture and nourishment. The beauty of spiritual healing is that it doesn’t make you feel like the patient; instead it empowers you.  
I’m still finding my feet with this new mum thing. But I’ve finally woken up and given myself permission to accept my next chapter. Oh, and dance out my stress to my heart’s content. 
If you are experiencing postnatal depression, please call PANDAS Foundation on 0843 2898 401.

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