Jemma Nicholls shows us how crafting can support wellbeing and relaxation during pregnancy
The sun streams through the window where I sit, hessian on my lap, a bag full of old fleece scraps within easy reach and a pen lid in my right hand. My three-year-old has built a den with a sheet and the dining chairs and has become the big, bad wolf or one of the three little pigs, depending on how the mood takes her. I have decided to sit on the sofa and continue with a rag rug that I started over a year ago. I haven’t made space for crafting for a very long time but this is easy – no pattern to follow, no counting, just prodding scraps of fabric through an old sack. Every so often I receive instructions to exclaim, “I’ll huff and I’ll puff…” or, “Not by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin,” which I am more than happy and able to do. My mind floats around, my hands are busy and I can entertain my firstborn at the same time. Bedtime is just as easy as the afternoon has been – maybe we can both feel the oxytocin beginning to flow. As I get up and go to the bedroom door, I look back at the sleeping big bad wolf and know that this is her last bedtime as an only child. My labour starts and her baby sister is born the next day.
Two and a half years later I sit at the same window, on a different sofa, alone. The children are out and I’m trying to relax. I go to an appointment with my midwife, decline an induction offered because I’m ‘overdue’ and spend the rest of the day crocheting a simple circle pouch bag. That night I go into a fast and intense labour and my third baby is born in the early hours of the morning.
I’m not saying that crafting should be up there on the list of induction methods together with prostaglandin pessaries and cervical balloons (although in my own personal trial, two thirds of labours have been shown to start naturally with judicious application of fibre craft!) But, since we generally try to encourage those due to go into labour to relax, I think craft is well placed to help people at a time when they may be worrying about a variety of things.
When we think of meditation, we often imagine a person sitting, upright, eyes closed trying to empty their mind. This is something that I, and many others, have difficulty doing. My mind wanders. I’m supposed to ‘notice’ my thoughts and let them pass without judgement, but in the absence of much else to do I grasp at the idea of letting the thought go! It’s stressful to me – I don’t like it.
But there is another and even more ancient technique: you can access this state through simple, repetitive activity. Practised by the Norns of Norse mythology to the Fates of Greece, weaving in particular is filled with myth, magic and the ability to enter other planes and create new lives and new futures. Isn’t that what pregnancy and birth is all about? In much European folklore, weaving is positively encouraged as an activity to undertake in pregnancy, while other crafts, such as spinning, are discouraged or taboo. I include peg loom weaving in my antenatal classes because it is simple to learn quickly, meaning those taking my classes can relax sooner and more easily. You do not have to choose weaving; if you’re proficient in another craft and can relax completely into it then please choose that one instead! However, it is helpful to choose a craft that doesn’t include frequent pauses, counting or pattern following, if you would like to be able to enter your relaxed state and stay there for some time.
I would like to share with you some of the ways in which you can use craft activities to enhance your pregnancy journey and prepare for labour and the birth of your child.
Craft for your Mind
If you’re feeling conflicted about an element of your pregnancy, set some time aside to craft on it. Your hands being busy and working rhythmically will free your mind to flow around the challenge you face. This is perfect for someone who finds that they think too much when trying to meditate, because in this kind of meditation you are aiming for contemplation. Being engaged in an activity allows your stream of consciousness to flow more naturally. Don’t expect yourself to come to a conclusion or a decision – you might, but that is not the focus. Relax into the craft and let your thoughts lightly float over the subject. If you find that you are becoming distressed or anxious, just focus back on your crafting: change colour or make a new pattern – something that requires higher attention. When you feel ready, you can let the craft take you again. The beauty of using craft in this way is that it is simultaneously a distraction and a way of allowing yourself to come up with new ideas or settle on a decision. Craft and creating are well known for being uplifting and for improving mental health, so even if you don’t find the answer you’re looking for straight away, your lightened mood will certainly help you go about your day.
Craft for your Body
We can all get to know our bodies better! When you are pregnant this is especially important, as a good knowledge of your body will be your greatest ally as you enter your labour. When you start to craft, pour your attention into the different areas of your body. Notice how your body feels and let yourself be curious about why this may be. When I craft I often notice that, over time, my shoulders start to hold tension. Having noticed this, I can then release that tension and relax again. This is a fantastic awareness to cultivate before your labour starts. Storing tension in your face, shoulders and pelvis can have an impact on the progress of your labour and your ability to ride the waves. If you are well-practised at noticing tension in your body and releasing it while your concentration is elsewhere, you may find that you are able to manage the strength of your contractions more positively.
Craft for your Postpartum Wellbeing
Baby groups can be difficult to navigate and even more difficult to enjoy if you value time to yourself and doing your own thing. I particularly remember, after having my first baby, worrying that all my hands would ever do again was change nappies and unclip my nursing bra. Baby groups didn’t offer me the chance I needed to be me again; I wanted to do something. Some areas have baby-friendly craft groups where parents can try new crafts or work on a project. Brand new babies often sleep more soundly and are more content with the hum of other people around, or you can carry them in a sling, leaving yourself free to do more of your crafting. If there isn’t a parents’ craft group in your area, try asking around to see if people would be interested in getting together. Crafting in groups has such an amazing impact on wellbeing. Making friends who have a shared hobby is valuable, and people often find that they can open up about themselves and also listen to others more fully when they are engaged in a craft activity.
We are creative beings. Creativity feeds our bodies and our minds. Go and weave some magic as your body weaves your baby!
Jemma Nicholls is a doula and antenatal teacher who home educates her three children, tries to make things from wool as often as possible and runs Avalowa Pregnancy and Birth in Plymouth, Devon. Find their updates on Facebook and Instagram.