Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about a sentence that has been repeated to me through an online course I’m doing with multi award-winning photographer and educator Jesh De Rox. It goes like this: “Everything we feel and experience is self-generated … it is possible to choose what we experience by practising conscious cultivation of the perception.” In other words we are completely in control of everything we feel, because even though we may not be able to control everything that happens to us we are 100% responsible for the way in which we react to it. Every minute of every day we choose the way we perceive the people we meet and the situations we encounter, most of us are just not conscious of the choices we make. We bring our past, our judgements, our hurt and core beliefs into every situation and label everyone and everything according to the way we view the world.
Some people react to stressful situations with worry, over-thinking and a ton of what-if questions (ME!!!). Others employ a more relaxed approach and take on a let’s-wait-and-see-what-happens attitude (MY HUSBAND!!). When the two of us are in a stressful situation together we react to it in completely different ways. Neither is wrong or right. It just is! It simply is a result of years of building up coping mechanisms through our individual childhood experiences, as well as our genetic make-up and level of sensitivity. Every single person carries a different belief-system around with them that shapes the way they perceive the set of circumstances they are faced with, and because of that there are as many ways to view a situation as there are people in the world. The problems we face, the challenges we encounter, the stresses and worries of our lives are not the problem. The only problem we stand in front of is how we choose to react in each specific situation.
We are in charge of the feelings we feel.
You might say “I can’t help the way I feel,” but you can! Our feelings are a result of our thoughts and at any given moment we can bring awareness into our thinking and make a positive shift. Most of the time our thoughts run on auto pilot and of course we can’t be conscious of every single thought that runs through our mind, but we can use our feelings as a way of keeping an eye on our thoughts. Check in with yourself several times a day and ask yourself “how am I feeling?” If you are feeling good then you know your thoughts are on the right track. If you are feeling anxious and down then you need to bring attention to your mind and shift your thoughts. Yesterday I was driving with my 9-year-old to pick up our youngest from day-care. I was feeling tired and overwhelmed and became aware of this. We were driving in silence and I thought to myself “when will life calm down enough for me to have time and energy to connect better with the people close to me, when will there be time for ‘fun’?” Then I remembered the sentence “everything we feel and experience is self-generated” and I knew that I had the power to change my experience of that moment in an instant, simply by changing how I perceived it. Instead of looking at the drive as yet another thing to do in my stressful day, I could look at it as the opportunity for the perfect bonding-moment, ten minutes of pure, uninterrupted quality time with my daughter, a chance to relax and be light-hearted. I asked her “what would you do if you had a million dollars and you could spend it at your school in any way you wanted?” A silly conversation started which soon described swimming pools in every class room, lolly-machines on each table and a roller-coaster ride for each individual child from the school to their home. We then placed bets on who could guess the exact time it would take to drive to day-care. As my daughter’s guess looked to be most accurate I slowed the car right down to stop her from winning, which made us both burst out in laughter. She won and we were both huge smiles as we parked the car and went to pick up little Isabel.
Perhaps you’re thinking “sure, but how do I change my thoughts and the way I feel when I’m faced with a serious challenge?” It is not easy but it doesn’t change anything. Everything written above still stands! In my family we are currently faced with redundancy. We have just built a new house, have a big mortgage and my husband received the news that he had been made redundant 8 weeks before Christmas and with only a 4-week redundancy package. It was tough news. I reacted with my usual panic and worry and threw around a million what-if questions. I have come to realise that this is really just a record I play every time something goes wrong – big or small. My husband plays a different record. One that says “ok what can we do to fix this, how can we move forward and find solutions.” It really isn’t about the different situations or the severity of them. It is purely about your belief systems and the way they affect how you view things. If your core beliefs are that “things always go wrong, life is hard, there’s never enough time, what if I don’t succeed” then you are always going to react with worry and anxiety to any situation you are faced with that challenges you. On the other hand if your core beliefs are that “things always work out well, everything is happening for a reason, I will succeed and come out stronger and happier” then no situation will ever completely control you.
What are your core beliefs?
A way to find out is to notice every time you feel bad and listen to your self-talk. What are you telling yourself? I know I always tell myself that I don’t have enough time. But I do. I have started challenging that belief, coming up with arguments against it and proving it wrong.
I have made a vow to myself to really start listening to the things that come up when I feel anxious. What am I telling myself that really isn’t the truth. How can I challenge those thoughts and start to build a more positive belief system. How can I shift my thoughts in a positive direction when I notice I’m not feeling great. So far I have found the following steps to work the best when I need to make that shift:
Another thing that works for me is to create. I love Macro Flower Photography and when I give myself permission to just play and create for no other reason than the enjoyment it gives me I always feel better. I just need to work on giving myself permission more often.
What works for you? I would love to know what helps you shift negative feelings. Do you have any core beliefs that you know are not serving you? Make a vow with me today to change them.
Minna Burgess is a Brisbane photographer specialising in birth, newborn, baby and family photography. Contact her today to book a session, 0432 953 003, firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by Minna Burgess, Brisbane birth and newborn photographer, as part of the Remarkable Mothers Series.
Most of us don’t give much thought to the third stage of labour. The part where a woman delivers the placenta and membranes. We generally take that bit for granted and assume that once the baby is safely in our arms we are out of the woods. However, this isn’t always the case, as first-time Mum Melissa found out when giving birth to her daughter 3 years ago. I spoke to her about her difficult road to recovery after receiving surgery for a retained placenta, and the miraculous complication-free birth she had 2 years later with her second baby girl.
Since early primary School Melissa knew she wanted to be a Mum of two before she turned 21. With the birth of her second daughter just five days after her 21st birthday it’s safe to say she made her dream a reality, but unfortunately bringing her first baby into the world wasn’t as straight forward as she had hoped.
“When birthing my eldest she came out blue and with the cord around her neck. I was told within ten minutes of her being in this world that I had a retained placenta and needed to go into surgery to have it removed,” she explains. “No one was telling me what was going on, I was trying to see over the doctors and nurses asking what was going on and not getting a reply. I felt quite distressed.”
Melissa lost three and a half litres of blood in surgery after having held her brand new baby girl for only a few very short minutes. “I had a balloon keeping my bladder in and tubes coming out of everywhere, she recalls. “I couldn’t get out of the hospital bed for six days and had to rely and the nurses to help me breastfeed my precious little girl.”
For the people closest to Melissa it was a big shock. “When they came to visit us they would go pale. My Mum even fainted when she saw me. I was told I would not naturally be able to have another child.”
Most new Mums are fortunate enough to remember how they felt in the first few hours after the birth. Those moments when everything has calmed down and it’s just you and your baby, getting to know each other. For Melissa it was different. She went into shock in surgery and has great difficulty recalling what happened. “There’s a gap till the next day when my Mum was visiting. I do remember looking at her sleeping and I felt overwhelmed that I had this little being who would be 100% dependent on me, in every way. I just kept crying and couldn’t explain at the time why,” she says. “The nurse sat next to me, hugged me, and said it was ‘normal’ and they were baby blues. I was terrified.”
Bringing her new baby home was challenging and scary but thankfully the baby blues didn’t turn into post-natal depression for Melissa.
“I was angry, scared, anxious but so in love with Ava. Nighttime was the worst, I didn’t cope very well the first few nights at all. We’d gone from Ava being in NICU and having someone’s eyes on her at all times to it being just me, and if I closed my eyes what would happen then? One night in my sleep deprived state when Ava wouldn’t stop crying, I’d fed her, changed her, walked her around for an hour, I could feel I was about to snap and wasn’t coping well and had to lay her down and walk away to breathe for a minute. When I had that minute to calm down and picked her back up she stopped crying and fell asleep,” Melissa recalls.
“Sometimes it felt like it was more than just baby blues. I was reassured by the home nurses that how I was feeling would pass and it did by the second week. Even through all the sadness and worry, I still had this deep need to care for her. We were able to connect and we have a very strong bond, but I still feel sad and anxious when I think about the first day of Ava’s life in this world being taken from me,” she says.
When Melissa fell pregnant naturally two years later the doctors were concerned there would be complications and risks, but it turned out to be a completely different experience. “It was so nice to have Lara come out and be placed straight on my chest, crying the second she came out. I was so thankful and over-joyed to be able to nurture her, hold her and have that precious first time with her. There was no intervention by medical staff, we were just left to be in our own little euphoric bubble,” she says.
“Both my girls make me unbelievably happy and I’m so grateful to have my two precious, healthy, happy babies in my life. I have learnt from this how fragile I am but also how strong I can be. I now believe I can do just about anything.”
To read more about retained placenta click here
Minna Burgess is a birth, newborn, baby and family photographer based South West of Brisbane. Every month Minna donates a free photo session + images to a remarkable mother or family who has been through a difficult time. The Remarkable Mothers Blog Series aims to provide hope and inspiration to new Mums.
Contact Minna to book a photo session or to tell your story. email@example.com (tel: 0432 953 003)
Sometimes we choose motherhood, other times it chooses us. For 28-year-old Victoria it seemed that foster parenting was destined for her, despite having always dreamed of a big family of her own. I spoke to this remarkable mother about the difficult times and the wonderful rewards of being a foster mother.
Written by Brisbane-based family photographer Minna Burgess as part of the Remarkable Mothers blog series.
Victoria grew up in Brisbane as the eldest of two girls. “I remember always begging my mum to have more kids because I wanted to be part of a big family,” she says. “All I wanted was to get married and have lots of kids.”
At 23, a year into her professional life as a high school teacher, Victoria bought a one-way ticket to London and less than one month after landing at Heathrow airport she met the man that would soon become her husband. “14 months in London, 12 months in his home country South Africa and 7 days back home in Brisbane and we were married. It was December 2010 and Brisbane was about to disappear under water, my husband and I both had jobs to find, a car to buy and a house deposit to save for so despite my childhood intentions to have a baby the moment I got married it was over a year before we started to try and conceive our first child,” explains Victoria.
“Throughout this entire time however I was not on any form of contraception, choosing instead to use a natural family planning method of avoiding pregnancy so that my body was as healthy as it could be. I have always had perfect regular cycles and by the time we started to try and fall pregnant I knew my body and my cycle better than anyone” she says. When three months later there was no sign of a positive pregnancy test Victoria knew intuitively that something was wrong. “I was only 28, and ignoring the fact that it is recommended a healthy couple of that age try for at least 12 months before becoming concerned, I booked an appointment with our GP.”
Victoria’s husband started months of testing and during this time Victoria attended the Lord Mayors Christmas Carols in the city. “On the back of the program for the event was a full page advertisement for a foster care agency. This was the first time my attention had been drawn to this path and I kept the program because for some reason something was drawing me to it.”
A few weeks later the difficult news came that Victoria’s husband was infertile. “I declined our GP’s offer for IVF and other fertility information and reassured her that I didn’t need time to grieve like she said I would. I wasn’t rushing into things just because my plan was to call the foster care agency I had seen advertised the minute I got home,” recalls Victoria. “There was no decision making process. I just did it. It felt like that was what I was meant to do.”
The decision was a little less straightforward for Victoria’s husband. “My husband was slightly more hesitant, more willing to pursue fertility treatment, perhaps because he felt responsible for this circumstance that we now found ourselves in. However, he followed my lead and neither of us have ever looked back.”
The couple decided not to tell people straight away. “We waited until we found out we had been officially accepted as foster carers to share because I wanted to make a ‘pregnancy announcement’ just like every other mother.”
On a sunny Saturday morning in early September 2013 the day came to meet the little boy who would be their first foster child. “We had spent the evening before buying bed sheets, clothes and games that we thought a 7-year-old boy might like,” Victoria remembers. We were given the address of a house we were to arrive at to pick him up. We knocked on the door for ages before anyone answered, looking back now it was probably because he was as anxious as we were. I have tears in my eyes as I think back to this day and how far we have come nearly two years on. I didn’t realise at the time how possible it would be to care so deeply about someone else’s child.”
The couple’s first child is still with them and will be until the day he chooses to leave. “I am not sure how I will cope with that goodbye. We have had many other children come and go for short respite stays, so the goodbyes are different and often ‘see you next time’!”
In Victoria’s own words the key to raising children is very simple. “Strong boundaries, calm approach, choices and related consequences, love, quality time and attention, nothing much more and certainly nothing less. It is impossible not to see a positive difference in a child that lives with those things,” she says.
There have of course been many difficult and tricky situations for Victoria and her husband over the past two years. “Each circumstance is difficult ind different ways,” she explains. “There have been many days I have had to explain to my boss that I need to leave work immediately to head up to the school because my little man is refusing to come down from a fence, or throwing rocks at people, swearing at teachers or hitting people.”
“There was the Friday night when we welcomed a 4-year-old into our home and the first thing he did was grab a large, sharp kitchen knife and stab my husband in the hand with it. And the Saturday morning that a quirky 8 year old girl announced to a group of rugby fathers (who didn’t know my husband was not the dad in question) that her dad had killed her baby brother when she was a toddler.”
“There was the night I drove over to my friend’s house in tears after being screamed hatred at by the 9-year-old boy I would give the world for because his emotions were all over the place after a neighbour’s mother had let him play grand theft auto on the playstation. Then there are the moments when I think about the fact that I will never get to post pictures and boast about my kids on facebook, have a baby shower, announce subsequent pregnancies, do things without seeking permission, be my little boy’s actual mum, not feel awkward on mothers day, raise a child from birth exactly the way I want to … those are difficult situations.”
“The children that come into my care need someone who doesn’t let them down and keeps their promises, someone who will give them strong boundaries and lots of love and attention. Someone who will listen to them, someone who will tuck them into bed each night and sit holding their hand until they fall asleep. I have never found it hard to be that person,” Victoria says.
In Queensland alone around 7500 children under the age of 18 live with a foster family. To open up your home and be able to provide a secure, stable environment to children who come from very difficult backgrounds, you need to consider the following, says Victoria:
“Foster parenting is not a replacement for having your own child, nor should it ever be, you are always going to be caring for someone else’s child. You need to be strong enough to handle a child, that you would give the world for, tell you that they hate you. You need to accept that despite everything you do for them they would probably rather live with their biological family. You need to be ok with being judged, and stared at. You need to be willing to advocate for your child with medical professionals and school principals. You need to understand that, for a while at least, your life will be on hold for someone else’s. You need to realise that it’s possibly one of the hardest things you will ever do but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do it because at the same time it’s probably the most meaningful thing you will ever do. Being a foster parent has made me a passionate advocate for the rights of children and the importance of motherhood and family.”
For Victoria there is no doubt that the rewards by far outweigh the difficulties.
“My children have taught me that life is complicated but very beautiful and very good, and most certainly worth living. I am a stronger, more patient, less judgemental and more empathetic person as a result of being a foster mother. I can’t ever see myself doing anything else again other than advocate for motherhood, families and children through my life and work.”
If you would like more information about foster parenting in Queensland you can visit this website
There is a curse that seems to come with being a highly creative and sensitive person. If your life is fuelled by creativity then I bet you are familiar with its name: FEAR! If that doesn’t ring a bell it has many nick-names and especially likes to make itself known as Anxiety, Self-doubt and Panic. I wanted to write a personal blog post about this because Fear and I have been on a first-name basis for several years. In fact we know each other so well that Fear has introduced me to its special friend Depression on more than one occasion. Unlike Self-doubt and Panic, Depression isn’t fleeting. It is all-consuming. You don’t want to get to know Fear to the point where it throws Depression into the mix. Trust me on that one!
What I have finally come to learn is that Depression itself isn’t the problem. Fear isn’t the problem either or the many ways in which it manifests itself. The problem lies in the way we go to war against it. “I’m going to beat this,” we say, and we fight and fight and fight, but it will always be a losing battle … Why? … Because you cannot get to know the depths of your own creativity if you are only willing to embrace the parts of yourself that you consider acceptable. Your creativity exists in its full potential in that space between fear and inspired action. Take fear away and there is no space. If all you have is inspired action how can you recognise it as such? Like with everything in life we need to experience both sides to gain appreciation and gratitude for what is good. We cannot fully understand how blessed we are to live in peace until we hear stories of war or experience it first-hand. The further towards the extremes your experiences are, the bigger your space for learning and creating. If you have lived through war, rather than hearing stories about it, your gratitude and appreciation for living in a peaceful country is naturally much higher. Similarly your creativity comes to life in that space of awareness. When you have experienced panic, anxiety and depression you are in a much better position to recognise inspired thoughts when they show up. This is fantastic! But how do we stop fighting all the negative thoughts? This is where I have been stuck until two things happened. I read the book “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert, and I re-watched the movie “A Beautiful Mind.” Ok three things happened, I also had some personal stuff going on that spurred me into facing my deepest fears head on. I was ready for answers, ready to receive and as the saying goes when the student is ready the teacher appears. In my case the message I needed the most came wrapped in a little book that caused a big change in me.
In “Big Magic” Elizabeth Gilbert talks about fear as an inevitable part of the creative process. She writes “your fear will always be triggered by your creativity, because creativity asks you to enter into realms of uncertain outcome, and fear hates uncertain outcome.” The goal at this point isn’t to get rid of the fear, but to make space for it, because “when people try to kill off their fear, they often end up inadvertently murdering their creativity in the process.” As someone who seems to always be in a battle with fearful thoughts this rocked my world. I don’t have to fight anymore! It’s normal to be afraid! What is avoidable though is the fight. Elizabeth Gilbert doesn’t fight her fear in any way whatsoever. As mentioned she makes space for it. Lots of space. Not only that, she addresses her fear by the name of “Dude”, takes no shit from it and gives it a speech every time she embarks on a new project, which as you’ll read below makes for hilarious reading:
“Dearest Fear: Creativity and I are about to go on a road trip together. I understand you’ll be joining us, because you always do. I acknowledge that you believe you have an important job to do in my life, and that you take your job seriously. Apparently your job is to induce complete panic whenever I’m about to do anything interesting – and, may I say, you are superb at your job. So by all means, keep doing your job, if you feel you must. But I will also be doing my job on this road trip, which is to work hard and stay focused. And creativity will be doing its job, which is to remain stimulating and inspiring. There’s plenty of room in this vehicle for all of us, so make yourself at home, but understand this: Creativity and I are the only ones who will be making any decisions along the way. I recognize and respect that you are part of this family, and so I will never exclude you from our activities, but still – your suggestions will never be followed. You’re allowed to have a seat, and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote. You’re not allowed to touch the road maps; you’re not allowed to suggest detours; you’re not allowed to fiddle with the temperature. Dude, you’re not even allowed to touch the radio. But above all else, my dear old familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive.”
I just LOVE this! How freeing to know that this incredibly successful, best-selling author who delivers the most confident, well-spoken speeches, is just as consumed by fear and equally afraid of failure as the rest of us, yet she chooses to drag that fear along for the ride. This ties in beautifully to the movie “A Beautiful Mind” which is based on the true story of mathematician and Nobel Prize winner John Nash and his experience with Paranoid Schizophrenia. My point of comparison is to the way in which he eventually learns to accept his hallucinations as creations of his mind. He stops fighting them and stops listening to them. There are some powerful scenes in which he carries on with his daily tasks around the two main figures that he thought to be real for so many years and who still talk to him daily. He stops giving them attention. They don’t go away, but they no longer control his life.
All of this came together at 6am during my morning walk today. This blog post literally wrote itself in my head while I was walking, as if someone was reading it out loud to me. That in itself is a testament to how well this way of approaching creative living works because let me assure you I don’t have a habit of 6am morning walks. I like my sleep. Way too much. I struggle terribly to get out of bed in the morning, but in the last couple of days I have understood that my “I can’t” thoughts are nothing but my fear reacting to something new and unfamiliar. By recognising this I can allow space for those thoughts and put them in the back seat while I take charge of where I truly want to go. And I want to get up early. So now I do! and now I will! And in return I created a space for creativity to flourish. A blog post was written. A post that would have never existed in quite the same way had I not gotten up at 6am and declared:
“Dearest Fear, I’m starting this new morning walk thing, now you’re welcome to come along with me, but creativity and I are going to brew up some new ideas and though we welcome your input we’re not going to follow your path or walk at your speed. In fact, Buddy, we’ll soon be running and though I understand you’ll do your best to keep up, you are to stay behind us at all times.”
Suddenly fear is not so paralysing to me, more like a little pathetic and desperately attention-seeking.
What fears are holding YOU back? What would happen if you made space for that fear and allowed it to be there while you continued on with your dreams full force?
What if you stopped listening to the negative self-talk, knowing that those thoughts are not the truth? Your fearful thoughts are simply a creation of your mind as you go through the natural creative process. They arise from fear because fear reacts to change. What if you recognised this part of the process and continued on without letting it slow you down or depress you? What could you achieve if you had nothing holding you back? Make a deal with your fears today and create that important space around them so you can put your energy towards the areas that really matter.
Minna Burgess, firstname.lastname@example.org, tel: 0432 953 003
(Of course nothing is ever as simple as what can be put across in a short blog-post. If you would like to read more about fear and creativity I highly recommend the book Big Magic, more information here. )