I was 15 hours into labor with my first son and we ran into some minor complications.
My mood turned dark.
There was little old me with my big belly, monitors all hooked up. Exhausted and depleted, I started to thought-spiral with gems like:
- “Why isn’t my body doing what it’s supposed to?”
- “I’m not meant to be a mother.”
- The completely logical, and my personal favorite, “I want to go home.”
This is when, during a particularly painful contraction, I yelled to my husband, “Tell me what I am!” He yelled back, “You are capable and lovable!”
The ridiculousness of shouting that particular sentence in the middle of such an intense situation made us both laugh. It also did its magic on me. I was able to focus again. Our baby made an appearance about 20 minutes later.
The “you-statement” is one of the odder psychological tactics we were taught by the nurse leading our childbirth class. We never dreamed of actually using it because it seemed so silly. But I’m nothing if not a diligent student.
How to Create a You-Statement
In class, our instructor handed out a piece of paper printed with a long list of complimentary adjectives. She told all the expectant mothers to circle the two words that jumped out at us as positive. Mine were “capable” and “lovable.”
She had us write them into this sentence: You are capable and lovable.
She gave the sentence to my husband and did the same to all of the other husbands, partners and birthing coaches in the room. She instructed them to use this statement when we needed encouragement.
“How dumb,” I thought.
Fast forward to that moment in labor and the “you-statement” worked like a simple yet powerful incantation. The laughter it created was a crack in a dam through which a rush of love, support, and connection washed away the despair that had been creeping up.
It also worked on a deeper level: I believed it.
I must have chosen those words because I knew they were knotted up with my scariest doubts about myself.
I was reminded of this recently when a friend who is expecting asked if I had any tips for laboring. I encouraged her to try that odd little “you-statement.”
I still use it if I’m facing something difficult—yes in motherhood—but even more often with work.
Being Capable and Lovable
What’s funny about this now is how well those words capture the doubts of many professional women.
In my work career coaching I have found that many women, including me, feel a tension between those words. The more capable we become, the less lovable we feel, causing many of us to shrink away from bigger opportunities. I hate being the “bad guy,” yet my childbirth class “you-statement” has helped me reframe that feeling over the years, reminding me that capable and lovable are not mutually exclusive.
So you’re next. I’ve listed 26 adjectives below. Choose your two or add your own. Write your “you-statement.” Share it with someone you trust or write it as an “I-statement” and share it with yourself.
Next time you’ve got a hard conversation, meeting or assignment coming up, say it to yourself out loud in the mirror or ask someone to shout it to you.
You’ll feel dumb. And then you’ll surprise yourself.
If you’re looking for more structured support in you career (or for someone to shout out your “you-statement”) set up a complimentary session with me.