I have been filled with gratitude this past week. I was thankful for several beautiful sunny fall days, two little girls that I get to spend my days with, thoughtful and supportive friends, and getting a peek at our sweet little baby on Friday.
I had been anticipating Friday’s appointment from just about the moment we discovered we were pregnant. It was our “20 week” ultra sound to check out how baby is doing and find out if we have a little boy or girl cooking in there. I was nervous and anxious to see our little mango and make sure everything was well. I’m sure every mom-to-be goes through the same thing–Am I doing everything I can to grow a healthy baby? What if there is some horrible fluke? Is the baby growing properly?
All these worries were put to rest on Friday as Josh and I sat and stared at a perfect little person wiggling around in my womb. I didn’t want to take my eyes of the screen in fear I would miss something spectacular but every once in a while, I stole a side glance at Josh. I was overwhelmed with the realization that we had created this little one. That the Creator of everything was using me, just as he had used the bodies of women for all of human existence to create new life. I felt an incredible bond to Josh, this baby, women throughout time, and to all of Creation. I felt humbled to be part of the insane process that allows life to continue.
I knew almost immediately when the ultrasound came onto the screen that my intuition had been wrong. There was our baby, laying on his side, with his little boy parts out in the open for all to see. Before I could say anything, the midwife typed on the image, “It’s a BOY!” I laughed with joy (of course I would have either way) and stole a peek at the man next to me who was smiling. We then went on to learn more about our little boy–he has my toes (2nd toe longer than his big toe–a genetic trait which I’m pretty sure represents royalty), he is 11 ounces (right where he should be), and falls in the 50 percentile in every area of development. His heart is strong, his ears adorable, and he has plenty of fluid in there to keep him safe and developing correctly over the next 20 or so weeks.
As the midwife shared all this fantastic news with us, I couldn’t help but feel proud. Proud of our little boy, but also of myself for sticking with my convictions about eating a plant based diet and continuing to exercise as much as I do–despite the criticism of some. I also felt blessed. I know that I can only do so much to grow a healthy baby–sometimes shit happens and the processes that need to happen for a baby to thrive just do not occur, despite a woman’s great choices. I was beaming when I went over the results of the ultrasound with another midwife at the office. She shared my excitement with me and gave me a little squeeze.
We left the appointment and went straight to dinner with my family to share the news. We then drove down to the beach house with some friends for the weekend. On Saturday morning, we were surprised with some sunshine so we all headed to the beach for various activities. I went for a run and as I went, I heard a line from the doxology playing in my head, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow, praise him all creatures here below…” I felt as though my body was joining in chorus with the roaring ocean and the beaming sunshine to sing of how wonderful it is to be part of the process of life. I was full of a pure and genuine gratitude.
All this gratitude has left me reflecting on how powerful our minds are and how, with practice, we can control them. There have been days, weeks, even months, where I felt as though I was in a fog of sadness, controlled by my negative thinking. Some of these darker moments I can easily associate with a life circumstance while others just seemed to be a rut like state of mind. These days were filled with negative thoughts that used one another to snowball into an “I hate my life” attitude, leaving me feeling desperate. Not only did I feel emotionally down, but the negativity manifested itself physically in the form of exhaustion, illness, general pain.
I don’t know when the last time I felt like this was. Sure, I’ve experienced sadness in the last year…I’ve even had days or weeks when certain life circumstances just felt like “too much.” But I feel that my attitude towards gratitude has been greatly altered. My friend, Julie, has really been an excellent teacher in thankfulness. Julie is constantly reminding me to stay in the moment, embrace the flow, and that I have the power to control my mind. She recently shared a tedtalk with me about smiling and told me that she was meeting every negative thought she had (for a day) with a smile. I tried this, and it worked WONDERS! Smiling actually helps your body fight off negativeity by releasing feel good endorphins. It also makes you prettier (happy people are more attractive).
John Tierny, from The New York Times, writes, “Cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” has been linked to better health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression, higher long-term satisfaction with life and kinder behavior toward others, including romantic partners. A new study shows that feeling grateful makes people less likely to turn aggressive when provoked…” Those are all REALLY great side effects of gratitude, but we can take it even further… Since gratitude counteracts anxiety and depression and offers us sounder sleep, it must also reduce the levels of the stress hormone cortisol which is linked to a weaker immune system and chronic illness. Cultivating gratitude will not only make you HAPPIER, it will also make you HEALTHIER.
But you say you don’t have anything to be thankful for? Your life sucks, eh? Trust me, I’ve felt this before and I know others who have felt this way too. But here’s the thing– maybe you are experiencing a very difficult life circumstance, or even a string of them, we can all find at least one thing to be grateful for. Maybe it’s something small–like a really delicious piece of fruit–start from there. Catch yourself when you feel that, “Why ME?” cry that feels victimized by the world, take a deep inhale and exhale and SMILE! Try it for a day. It might feel funny at first, but I think you’ll find that being grateful is a wonderful step toward healing–both emotionally and physically.
How do you cultivate gratitude in your life?