Mindful Pregnancy Epilogue: The Fourth Trimester

Equinox Firestorm*

The usual narrative is usually that newborns are helpless. Growing up, I was repeatedly instructed, “Make sure to support her head!” whenever I was trusted to hold a baby. For the first three months they’re still supposed to essentially be fetuses; many people call them blobs. This was not my experience with Equinox Firestorm.

I don’t get ethereal often, so grant me this one paragraph. I’ve always found it a little woo woo when people say they’re “old souls,” but I’m going to say it about Equinox anyway: when she was born there was a wisdom, purposefulness, and fearlessness about her. As I’ve watched her develop from that newborn sage into a cute, pudgy three-month-old baby, it’s seemed as if she had to slowly forget her innate understanding of her place in the universe in order to learn how to smile, babble, and bat at her hanging toys. It’s like she’s doing the eight limbs of yoga backwards: letting go of samadhi (transcendence) so she can learn how to do asana (poses). Before she was born, I bought her a copy of, The Little Soul and The Sun, and this heartwarming children’s parable has come to my mind many times over the last twelve weeks. My hope for Equinox is that one day she will remember who she is; she is an ember with the potential to one day ignite a Firestorm.

During pregnancy, when the baby kicked strangers told me she would be a soccer player, but friends suspected she was actually doing rock-n-roll vinyasa in my belly. Turns out my friends were right: from our first days home she was already doing a perfect locust pose on Daddy’s tummy as he reclined back on the couch, and now she is weirdly comfortable resting in sphinx pose for several minutes at a time. I tried to lovingly support Equinox’s head when she was born, but she wouldn’t have any of it. Although her movements were uncoordinated at first, she’s always had control her head, and resists restraint. From day one, if she was hungry she would repeatedly thrust her gaping mouth against the chest of whomever was holding her making primal “gnar” sounds until she was lined up with a source of milk. All we could do was try to spot her. If I were to get a stick figure family for my Subaru, I’d get a mommy, a daddy, and a little tiny velociraptor.

Baby Locust

Equinox, my little yogini, doing locust pose at two weeks.

Motherly Love

The big feelings of pregnancy have nothing on the big feelings of the postpartum period. I expected to feel warm, fuzzy motherly love the moment my little one was placed on my chest. But, as I mentioned in Equinox’s birth story, that moment was completely overwhelming for me. I don’t think I began to feel a soft, glowy, buttery type of love until six weeks when she started smiling at me; before that I felt an uncomfortable psycho-stalker infatuation type of love. One of the first of many sleeping arrangements Richard and I tried was to take two-hour shifts with the baby. I didn’t sleep during my shifts even though the baby did; I just stared at her, obsessively counting her breaths. Finally I bought a meticulously-researched mesh-walled co-sleeper that sat on the center of the bed, and was finally able to rest lying face-to-face with her.

To keep my epilepsy at bay, in Equinox’s fourth week, Richard began taking the her to the guest room all night long with a bottle of expressed milk on hand so I could get a solid seven hours of sleep. However, I had been feeding the baby on demand for a several weeks and our bodies were so in sync that, despite wearing earplugs and being on the opposite side of the house, I’d wake up at the same time as she did, literally (my breasts were engorged with milk) aching to be near her. Richard made me promise to stay in my bedroom and get some much-needed sleep. I was so drawn to the baby, that most nights it took every calming pranayama and yoga nidra practice I know to keep me in bed. Some nights it took half a tissue box worth of tears. And some nights none of that was enough: before the baby woke up, I’d tiptoe into the guestroom without waking Richard just to check on Equinox. If I was gazing at her with heart-melting motherly love this would have been sweet, but it wasn’t that; I was staring at her with compulsive, overly-obsessed mama bear love.

Overly-Obsessed Mama

Overly-Obsessed Mama

The weirdest thing that happened in that first month was that every time I woke up, I would think I was holding her nestled in my arms. My visual cortex would very clearly morph a fold in the quilt in my peripheral vision into the image of her face. If I didn’t know from studying Cognitive Science that peripheral vision is almost completely fabricated by the brain, I would have thought I was going nuts (most of the rest of the time she was in my arms, so my brain made a reasonable guess). For weeks, I lived out the first verse of You Are My Sunshine every time I woke up.

Thankfully, as the post-pregnancy hormones dissipated and I settled into motherhood the craziness subsided and was replaced by the type of love they portray in Similac commercials. Her smiles bring me endless joy, and I will do the most ridiculous goofball things to get a laugh out of her (she just laughed for the first time this week *melt*).

Mommy Tummy

I thought I would be at least a little upset about my mommy tummy, but I wasn’t. I had realistic expectations, so when I still looked six months pregnant after giving birth it didn’t phase me. For the first couple days postpartum, my belly felt weirdly empty and I felt bizarre shifts as my internal organs began returning to their rightful places. When I laughed, my belly jiggled like one of those jell-o cakes a neighbor would have brought to my door had I given birth in the fifties; the appearance and sensation made me want to laugh harder, but I had to resist for the sake of my stitches down below.

With the industry built around losing baby weight, I thought it would be much harder than it actually was. I gained thirty-seven pounds during pregnancy, which is slightly above the “ideal” range. A big chunk of that was just water, which I sweated, bled, peed, cried, and lactated out quickly. Without doing any exercise, within a few weeks of giving birth, I hovered at eight pounds above my pre-pregnancy weight (which I probably needed for breastfeeding), and by three months I was back down around my pre-pregnancy weight. I don’t have a celebrity-grade, airbrushed flat stomach or anything (I never have), but I really don’t feel like I have much extra fat to lose.

That said, my abdominal muscles became weak and overstretched during pregnancy, so I started going to mommy and baby Pilates when Equinox was six weeks old. Also, my skin is a little worse for wear: I’m now sporting my fair share of stretch marks and the fading remnants of a linea nigra. During adolescence, I got stretch marks on my hips, thighs, and calves, so these new ones are just another addition to the collection, and I know from experience that they will fade. I think now I actually might be more likely to wear a bikini than I was before to make a body-positive statement that I shouldn’t have to hide my normal, healthy mommy tummy.

Postpartum Recovery

(This section may be TMI for some readers. Consider yourself warned, and skip it if you’d rather not know).

I’d always heard Cesarean births were tough to recover from, but I was not prepared for how long and frustrating the recovery from a vaginal birth would be. I think women don’t talk about this because chatting about the recovery process is unglamorous and low-priority; by the time we’re done telling postpartum guests about our unique birth story and about how our precious baby is doing it’s time for them to go home. I had no clue what I was in for.

Between the tear, catheter (I was too swollen to urinate after childbirth, and I needed another dose of fentanyl to stop sobbing, “No, please just let me try to pee on my own one more time! I can do it!” long enough for them to painfully insert a catheter), and painful varicosities (a common aftereffect of pushing), my “bottom,” as the nurses called it, was a disaster. My expectation was that it would kind of hurt to sit down for a couple days after birth, I’d bleed for a week or two, and then I’d feel all better. No. It took six weeks for the lochia (bleeding) to stop and to just be able to imagine that one day I might feel normal again down there. For the first day or two, my crotch was so sore that just getting up out of bed took several excruciating minutes and instead of walking around our hospital room, I shuffled around like an ancient mummy.

Sitting was surprisingly painful for the next two or three weeks, which made breastfeeding uncomfortable. Frustratingly, I couldn’t go from sitting to standing or vice versa while holding the baby, which made me feel helpless and dependent on others (although, why shouldn’t I have been? American culture has weirdly unrealistic expectations of new moms). What used to take two minutes in the bathroom took ten, and involved heavy-duty maxi pads, anesthetic spray, and a squeezable water bottle the hospital gave me to use a poor man’s bidet. They tell us that it’s safe for to have sex after six weeks, but for the record, “safe” doesn’t necessitate that one will be able to fathom attempting it so soon after pushing a human out of one’s body nor that it will feel good.

But, as we tell our postpartum guests if we do mention our discomfort at all, it was all worth it for my beautiful baby. And, as far as newborns go, I really do feel like I won the baby lottery. That’s not to say it’s been easy—we have all the typical newborn challenges (sometimes I can’t fathom baby care is just a normal, natural, no-big-deal thing humans have been doing since the dawn of our species), but that’s the thing: they’re typical. She’s the baby they write the books about. Harvey Karp’s Five S’s worked on her in the early weeks, she went through all the weird skin phases Baby 411 warned me about, and she hit her Wonder Weeks (i.e. the most non-wonderful weeks you can imagine) right on cue. She even speaks the Dunston Baby Language.

Postpartum Bliss

I’ve spoken with two camps of people: those who say, “Stay in the hospital for as long as they’ll let you and enjoy the ’round-the-clock care and free meals,” and those who say, “Get the hell out of that God-awful place as quickly as you can!” It turns out Richard and I fall into the latter camp. Although the midwives were wonderful and the lactation support I got was amazing, we couldn’t wait to escape being disrupted at least every two hours ’round the clock (especially since they inexplicably chose midnight as the ideal time to whisk the baby off to be weighed and measured); the cramped room alive with annoying indicator lights; and the suspiciously geometric food (although, admittedly Stoeffer’s and DiGiorno were staples in our diet for many weeks after the baby was born). Also, to protect their liability, the hospital staff was obligated to overreact to my epilepsy; At 3 a.m., one nurse took it upon herself to coerce me into interventions that I’d previously declined when I was too groggy to stand my ground. However, our first few days home were total bliss.

Throughout pregnancy I’d had debilitating hypermobility issues, but childbirth turned out to be the best chiropractic adjustment ever. I’d worked hard to build the strength to carry thirty-seven extra pounds on my hips, so my pelvic stability was better than ever when I instantly dropped a significant amount of that weight. During pregnancy, I was sure we’d bought a defective mattress for our new bed, but my first night home from the hospital I laid down sans the pile of pillows I’d needed to support my pregnant body, and it felt like I was sleeping on a wonderful, billowy cloud.

When I read stories about women who just loved being pregnant while I was waiting for Equinox, I rolled my eyes so hard because it wasn’t like that at all for me. This part of the story is going to be like that for parents with anything but the easiest of babies. If you had issues with breastfeeding or a sensitive baby (links to blogs by friends who dealt with these experiences), you may want to skip the rest of this section.

I have the type of good problems that they tell you not to confess to other parents: My breast milk fountains out so quickly and easily that it’s embarrassing to breastfeed in public: Equinox pulls off coughing loudly as milk jets uncontrollably all over her face (I did not know this was even possible). Needless to say, my clothes, sheets, furniture, and floors are all spattered with milk and my freezer is overflowing with full medela storage bags. I used to worry Equinox slept for too long of stretches, and I woke her up periodically to eat. I also used to think she was dangerously subdued (she nearly never cries inconsolably); I’ve accepted that she is just a good-natured, soothable baby.

A friend attributed her chill baby to having a chill pregnancy, and I took that to heart during my own pregnancy. So—sample size two—it’s worth taking those warm chamomile-lavender epsom salt baths if you are privileged enough to have the time and means.

My first few days at home with the baby were so joyful it was surreal. We could have been on the cover of a Hallmark card: we would take family naps with the baby in a cosleeper in the middle of the bed, and Richard and I spooning it on either side, our ankles intertwined with each other’s as if our bodies were forming a heart around the baby.

In the first week of breastfeeding, the hormones sent me into a state of euphoria. The day my milk came in, I felt like I was back on the fentanyl. Nowadays, I’ll catch up on the world news, apply filters to the daily baby photo I send to my mom, or even make a phone call while breastfeeding, but in those first couple weeks all of that just felt wrong. All I wanted to do was gaze down lovingly at the baby and marvel, Wow, she’s the most beautiful baby in the whole wide world.

Granted, the extreme highs were complemented by heavy lows. From about halfway through my first week to halfway through my third week postpartum, my “baby blues” (experienced by 70-80% of new moms) were like clockwork: I’d get inexplicably sad from about seven to nine in the evening, and cry over nothing, which was hard on both Richard and me, especially before we recognized what it was, that it was okay, and that it was temporary.

Postpartum Doula

A huge reason the first days went so smoothly was because we hired, Melitta Hoder, a postpartum doula. I cannot recommend her—and postpartum doulas in general—enough; she worked with me for nearly fifty hours over the first six weeks, and it cost less than what I paid my birth doula. She stopped by the hospital while we were there to make sure breastfeeding was going well, came over on our first night home to get us settled, and helped us get out the door with a packed diaper bag for our first pediatrician appointment (which neither Richard nor I would have even thought to bring at all). She taught me how to tie a Moby wrap, use my breast pump, and introduce a bottle without causing nipple confusion. She told me when to expect growth spurts so the all-night feeding frenzies didn’t come as a shock. When I worried about my milk supply (which I did constantly), she brought a scale to weigh Equinox before and after breastfeeding to find out exactly how much milk she was getting.

New parenthood is an incredibly sensitive, challenging, emotional time, and postpartum doulas are trained (and in Melitta’s case, experienced) in supporting this transition. My mom and sister graciously calmed the baby when she was fussy while they were in town during Equinox’s third week (not to mention that they concocted homemade granola bars and cleaned my toilets), but most visitors will thrust a baby back into his or her parents’ arms in horror the moment he or she begins to cry. Melitta let me feed the baby and have some precious bonding time with her while she was contented, then took her when she needed to be burped, soothed, or changed and urged me to go take a nap. When I woke up, the dishes had been washed, the laundry had been done, and there was a plate of apples, almond butter, boiled eggs, oatmeal cookies and cheese for me to snack on next to my breastfeeding spot. I began watching Melitta carefully to learn how she managed to care for the baby and do all of that at the same time.

Melitta was compassionate and supportive of me being where I was in my process of learning how to be a parent, but she gently and constantly lead me toward the next step. For example, while I ate lunch she would talk to the Equinox, saying, “I’m going to hold you for a bit so Mommy can eat lunch. One day, Mommy will learn to breastfeed with one hand, and you’ll both be able to eat at the same time!” I hadn’t been around enough breastfeeding mothers to know this was the next step.

Then Things Got Hard…

One of the things Melitta repeatedly warned me about was that babies get progressively fussier until six to eight weeks, and then they plateau (and maybe get better). It took at least eight weeks. Because I have what I would still consider to be an easy baby, I can say with some authority that when parents of older children tell you, “Cherish this time, you’re going to miss it,” they either think your newborn baby is a joyful, curious three-month-old who smiles and plays or they completely repressed the newborn stage. Once the initial bliss and novelty wore off for us, shit got real.

Although Equinox slept well (a couple four-hour stretches at night), we didn’t. When she was a newborn she had a repertoire of sleep sounds from humming to croaking, which made it nearly impossible to sleep in the same room as her. Then, when she had the odd segment of quiet sleep I compulsively checked her to make sure she hadn’t suffocated. Richard was less paranoid, but he started developing nervous tics from listening to the obnoxiously loud white noise the baby needed to sleep all night long. Every few nights we changed sleeping arrangements, trying to find a configuration in which everyone could sleep. There wasn’t one.

When Equinox was about a month old, she went through a phase in which she would only sleep while we were walking her around in the baby carrier. I don’t know what we would have done without Melitta coming by with knowledge and energy (which we definitely lacked after a few days of this) to teach us how to get her to nap in our Rock N’ Play (a rocking bassinet).

When Richard was heading back to work and Equinox was an alert and awake one-month-old (meaning less nap time for me when sleep deprivation is my main seizure trigger), I listened to some early signals from my body and begrudgingly went on epilepsy medication. I cried the last time I breastfed the baby without traces of the drugs in my milk (even though my doctors and lactation consultant say there’s no evidence that what I’m taking is hazardous to her). I was meticulous about prenatal nutrition, and choose to believe that made her resilient enough to handle a little bit of medicine. Going on medication was heart-wrenching at the time, but it’s improved the quality of my life and relationship with the baby so much that I have let go of much of the guilt I initially felt. Before I was on the medication, I needed the baby to sleep at certain times so I could catch up on my own sleep, and looking back over the commitments I made to my daughter reminded that this was not who I wanted to be as a mother. Months ago, I wrote:

I hold onto no disillusion that I possess you, control you, or am entitled to anything from you.

It feels good to not need anything from my little one.

I still exclusively breastfeed Equinox, and hope to continue breastfeeding her for as long as there are proven benefits. Breast milk advocates will tell you that it is a beautiful, amazing bonding experience with the baby—and it is. It is also one of the most isolating things I’ve ever done. Once the initial novelty and gaga hormones wore off, I realized I was spending a third of my day in a dimly-lit nursery with no other adults to talk to, my only company a tiny human leaching nutrients out of my body. When I started breastfeeding in public, many people avoided looking at me. I was eager to introduce bottle feeding so Richard could give me a break, but for every bottle I have to go back to my lonely glider chair and have a robot leach nutrients from my body (side note: I laughed out loud the first time I used my breast pump. It is so weird).

I am thankful I found the New Moms’ Support Group at Natural Resources in San Francisco around five weeks postpartum. Nursing alongside other mamas brought a social element and a sense of solidarity to the experience. Having a supportive community where I could vent without judgement and be reassured that it would get easier as the baby developed was relieving and helped me recharge. (Sure enough, breastfeeding sessions are now a third as long as they used to be).

A friend of mine had a baby after she’d been with her partner for ten years, and she reported that it hadn’t shaken their relationship because after all those years together they were totally in sync. Richard and I have been together for seven years, and I thought we’d be the same. Nope. Babies are warm, soft, squishy wedges that drive themselves between partners, and we had some pretty brutal fights in the first six weeks. Long before I got pregnant I read Misadventures of a Parenting Yogi by Brian Leaf, and a quote from him came back to me many times in the early days:

I don’t think couples with small children should be allowed to divorce. With no time to connect, lacking sleep, and always feeling overwhelmed parents of very small children, it seems to me, are not of sound mind to make such a life-changing decision.

Things never got that bad, but reflecting on this quote helped me keep the experience we had in perspective. As time went on, the intensity of our arguments dropped off as we relearned how to communicate and were able to spend more alone time together as Equinox’s sleep patterns became more predictable.

…Then Things Got So Much Better

For the first eight weeks I was in survival mode, and I had to really try to be present and cherish the joyful moments. At three months now, we’ve hit a sweet spot in which Equinox constantly draws me into presence, so many moments are unforgettable, and time is starting to move too quickly. Although she has her occasional regressions that have me up every hour all night, her sleep is becoming more manageable and predictable. Every morning when she opens her eyes and sees my face, she breaks into big gummy smile. When I play with her she discovers exciting new skills she integrated overnight. Sometimes she’s energetic and will let out guttural laugh when the dog licks her face. Sometimes she’s mellow and wants nothing more than to cuddle up with me all afternoon, nursing and sleeping.

My biggest challenge lately is giving her the space to explore her independence. For example, she is now learning to soothe herself to sleep, and it takes all my effort to resist swooping in at the first sign of fussiness. I thought empowering her would be my forte, but it is surprisingly hard for me. Lately I’ve found myself drawing strength from one of the commitments I made to her before she was born:

I give you enough structure for you to develop security and trust, and enough freedom to explore, express your creativity, and make your own mistakes. I allow this balance to shift as you grow and develop.

It was worth it to write these commitments down before I moved into the alternate dimension of motherhood.

Equinox is not a newborn any more, and it’s exciting, and overwhelming, and amazing, and terrifying all at the same time. Every day requires me to take another step farther outside my comfort zone, and every day I manage to meet that challenge. All the techniques I learned for childbirth (cleansing breaths, letting go of control, trusting my instincts, integrating with my partner, etc.) have turned out to apply even more to parenthood than it did to the birthing process. I’ve only practiced yoga in a studio once since I gave birth, but somehow I don’t feel like I’m missing out. I’m still practicing the eight limbs of yoga on a daily (or hourly, or minutely) basis but in a different form. If yoga class is the “practice,” then motherhood is the real thing.

13 Weeks

Equinox at thirteen weeks with Foxy. #thatdimple

*Name changed.

11 Weeks Pregnant: Hypermobility and Pregnancy

September 1 – September 6: 11 Weeks 0 Days – 11 Weeks 6 Days.

When we measured hamstring flexibility in high school gym class, I blew past the end of the gauge on the sit-and-reach box (which was about the only thing I was good at in P.E.). At 19, when I first set foot in a Bikram Yoga studio, I was already one of the most flexible people in the room. I often had yoga teachers ask me if I was a gymnast or a dancer—I wasn’t; my bendiness is mostly genetic. Needless to say, I’ve always been flexible in certain directions; however, I don’t know if I’ve always been hypermobile.

Flexibility is mainly a function of how long and pliable your muscles are. Hypermobility relates to different tissues. If you removed all the muscles from a human body (don’t try this at home), the bones would maintain a skeleton shape because of tiny straps called ligaments that hold the bones together at the joints. Ligaments have some elasticity, but unlike muscles, they don’t contract and relax. If you work diligently to build flexibility in a muscle, you may quickly lose your flexibility if you stop your stretching regimen. However, if you stretch out your ligaments, they stay that way for a quite a while. Some examples of actions that stretch ligaments:

  • Twisting your ankle
  • Pushing your elbow to straighten as far as it goes
  • Making sudden stops or pivots while running
  • Sinking into yoga poses as deeply as you can rather than maintaining integrity

If the ligaments get so lax that the joints are no longer stable (e.g. the shoulder easily comes out of place in its socket), it is called hypermobility. For people who get to this point, it’s of utmost importance to strengthen and refine control of the muscles around hypmobile joints as a second line of stability.


A view of the pelvis from the front.

All of this matters when you’ve got a baby on board because pregnant women’s ligaments become more pliable. Especially during the first trimester, pregnant women’s bodies release elevated levels of a hormone called relaxin. Bear with me for some anatomy: everybody knows that the hip joint is where the thigh bone attaches to the pelvis, but the pelvis also has a couple less illustrious joints that maintain its structure and don’t move that much under normal circumstances. The pelvis is made of two large irregular bones called the coxal bones (the iliac bone labelled in the diagram is part of the coxal bone), which come together in pubic area in the front and wrap around the sides and to the back where they join the sacrum bone, which (along with the coccyx) is the bottom part of the spine. One of relaxin’s function is to relax the ligaments of the joint in the front of the pelvis between the two coxal bones—the pubic symphysis—and of the joints between the coxal bones and the sacrum—the sacroiliac (or SI) joints. It makes birth a heck of a lot easier if the pelvis is mobile.

Because relaxin is released systemically, not just to those few pelvic joints, it affects all the ligaments in the body. People who have tight joints tend to enjoy this period of relative mobility. By the time I got pregnant I’d already been working with a couple hypermobile joints (including my SI joints) for two years. I had worked with a physical therapist to rehabilitate my body enough that I could teach yoga regularly and practice a couple times a week on top of that, but there was definitely a limit on how much stretching I could do before destabilizing my joints. My favorite classes became the ones that prepped the body for inversions, because they usually focused on strengthening instead of stretching. I kept telling myself, Before I get pregnant, I have to get back into doing my physical therapy exercise daily, start doing Pilates three times a week, and maybe even get back into weight training to stabilize my joints. But I didn’t get around to it, and I got pregnant a lot quicker than I thought I would. When I found out I had a baby on the way, I knew I was in trouble.

I’ve never striven to be that mama who’s 36 weeks pregnant doing a one-legged wheel through an Instagram filter (No disrespect intended—you are amazing and gorgeous; thank you for sharing what’s most authentic to you during pregnancy). However, I visualized myself continuing to work through pregnancy. When I was a lifeguard in college, there was a diving coach who worked at the pool named Betty-Sue, or Anna-Jane, or something like that. She was tall and boisterous, had pixie-cut stark red hair (before it was cool), and a giant pregnant belly. Fueled by the only images we had of pregnancy childbirth—the hectic emergency situations portrayed on TV and in movies—the other lifeguards and I were horrified that she was still working. We were sure we’d have to deliver a baby on the pool deck, armed only with the three-minute section about emergency childbirth we’d discussed in our first aid course. Years later, I think back on that diving coach as a powerful role model. During pregnancy, I wanted to be out there fulfilling a purpose greater than my own needs right up until my contractions started.

Needless to say, giving up a big chunk of my teaching was a tough choice, but it came down to the question: “Would you rather have the physical integrity to hold and carry your future child or to continue to practice contortion?” For me, there is no contest. As soon as I found out I was pregnant I stopped practicing yoga in public classes. My home practice has consisted almost exclusively of low lunge, legs up the wall, and savasana. Within a week of finding out I was pregnant I gave a month’s notice on the public vinyasa classes I’d been teaching. In that month it became clear that I’d made the right choice. After sitting cross-legged for long periods my ankles feel kinked. If I go to my full depth in a forward fold (let alone doing it repeatedly in a series of several sun salutations), my SI joints ache like never before until I can do some of my rehab exercises. After samokonasana (side splits), I feel pins and needles in my pubic symphysis for the rest of the day. Even in gentle back bends I feel sharp discomfort in my upper abdominals. Twists make me nauseous. In short, vinyasa yoga is not therapeutic for me at this time. I’ve had several pregnant women practice in my vinyasa classes into the third trimester, but it just isn’t meant to be in my body.

Last week, was my last week teaching vinyasa. I’m continuing to teach Seniors’ Yoga, yoga and meditation to people with chronic pain, and a couple private classes, which has been lovely and soothing for my body this week.

For others who have (or think they may have) hypermobile joints (during or not during pregnancy), here are some yoga-related insights I’ve gleaned from living in a similar body:

  • The cues in yoga classes don’t always apply to you. For example, a common cue in yoga is to tilt the pelvis forward (or reach the sit bones upward) during forward folds. If you’re already flexible this may destabilize the SI joints. Ask an anatomy-focused teacher for tips to suit your specific body after class, or sign up for a private session!
  • Yoga not just about softening and relaxing. The dialog around softening to intensity is one of the reasons yoga is so healing, but when you have hypermobile joints, there’s an art to it. With practice, you can learn to completely relax and release in one area while engaging the muscles to stabilize another. For example, in frog pose, can you soften your inner thighs and groin while engaging your core so your spine doesn’t hammock down? At first it can be like patting your head and rubbing your belly. Anusara-inspired yoga teachers often include great cues about stabilizing the joints.
  • Being hypermobile doesn’t necessarily mean you’re flexible. For one, muscles can automatically tighten up to protect hypermobile joints. Also, sometimes areas of immobility can actually contribute to hypermobility. For example, due to very mild scoliosis my upper back is less mobile than average. Above and below that immobile area, I have developed hypermobile joints that have compensate so I can approximate fun, sexy positions like wheel pose. Relying on hypermobile joints to achieve yoga poses is not a sustainable practice.
  • The posture should be steady

    The posture should be steady, comfortable, and grounded in joy – Patanjali (This photo was taken long before I was pregnant)

    You may not be able to feel your edge. You can easily and comfortably press hypermobile joints into unstable positions that may continue to stretch or damage surrounding ligaments. Because the ligaments are long, you don’t feel pain until the joint is really out of place. The cue, “Breath into the discomfort” in the absence of cues and enforcement of alignment did not serve me as a developing yogi. When I didn’t feel discomfort in a pose, I’d go searching for it. In some directions, the only discomfort available was achieved by destabilizing my joints. I used to hold resting pigeon 6 minutes each side per day because it was so beautifully intense—as if it was stretching the fibers of my soul. Turns out it was so intense because the way I was sinking into it was pulling apart the tissues that stabilized my SI joint. That sounds like it would be painful, but it’s important for other bendy yogis to know that it never felt bad or destructive to me; it felt transcendental. Now, my personal rule of thumb is that the stretching part of a pose should be comfortable and pleasant. Don’t worry, in most styles of yoga, there’s still tons of uncomfortable strength work as an arena to develop equanimity.

  • You may not have the strength to do the poses that most people don’t have the flexibility to do. The typical class that works up to wheel as a peak pose focuses on flexibility. This isn’t enough prep for me. Because I have the hypermobile segments in my spine, it takes an incredible amount of core/abdominal/back muscle control and strength for me to bend evenly in my spine instead of just collapsing into those “easy” joints. To do wheel comfortably, I need to spend a good chunk of time priming the strength component of the pose. (Actually, this is good advice for anyone. Doing wheel without engaging the abdominals to control the back bend is a really effective way to develop painful hypermobility issues).
  • Typical sequencing may not work for you. For me: Ashtanga and other sun-salutation-heavy styles—yuck, too repetitive and extreme-to-extreme to keep my joints in place. Sequencing that’s so focused on the peak pose that is sacrifices balance—ick, imbalanced muscle groups can easily pull unstable joints out of alignment. Hamstring stretches until the sacred cows come home—my SI joint says no thanks. Yin yoga—Oh God no. Those long holds are designed to get into your connective tissues, that’s the whole point of them. I don’t need my ligaments to be any longer than they are. It’ll be different depending on what you’ve got going on in your body. It’s okay if not all styles of yoga resonate with you. It’s okay if no style of yoga resonates with you.
  • Yoga is not a cure-all. Anyone who tells you otherwise probably has a financial interest in you continuing to practice yoga exclusively. There’s a glaring (but sometimes hard-to-accept) difference between a practice that’s therapeutic and one that’s only tolerable; just because you can do all the typical yoga poses doesn’t mean they’re improving your physical state (or improving your ability to sit in meditation). Check in with your body. You may have incorporate other types of exercise or therapies into your regimen to restabilize your joints. I’m not qualified to give medical advice, but for my body, seeing a physical therapist who could specifically evaluate what was going on in my body, give me physical hands-on adjustments, and assign homework exercises to keep those adjustments in place worked better than anything else. Pilates with an experienced teacher is also great. Since I’ve been pregnant I’ve been taking Preggo Pilates with Stephanie Forster. Update: Nearing the end of my second trimester, I swear even more vehemently by prenatal pilates. When life has painfully kinked my joints, pilates has snapped me back into place.
  • There are seven other limbs of yoga, all of which you can still practice, even with hypermobile joints. Let your asana be a practice that serves you—not a practice that adheres to what other people tell you that you “should” be doing (Prenatal yoga is such a staple in San Francisco that not one doctor, midwife, or acquaintance could resist telling me I should try it even after hearing about my joint issues. You know your body. You know what’s right—that knowledge just may be hiding under a couple layers of ego). I’ve been using the Hypnobabies home-study course (see my review of it here) as a form of meditation and connection to my baby.

Having hypermobile joints can leave us feeling lonely and judged because there are relatively few of us out there, people don’t have much compassion for us (“You’re too flexible? I’d love to have your problem!”), and sometimes we’re even shamed for succumbing to our challenges (yoga teachers may tell us to “let go of our ego” when we’re sinking too deep into yoga poses rather than helping us find alignment in the lax joints we have a hard time sensing). My hypermobile sisters and brothers: know that you are not the only one. It’s okay to have the body you have—just because certain things don’t work for you doesn’t mean your body is bad or wrong or broken. If a teacher makes you feel that way, it’s a sign they don’t have the knowledge to help you; find a new teacher. Your body is perfect, and there is a practice out there that will be therapeutic for you. Trust that if you let go of dogmas around asana, put the other principles of yoga to work, and get a little one-on-one help from an experienced teacher or therapist, you will find your way.

15 Weeks Pregnant: Beginning to Plan for Birth

September 29 – October 5 : 15 Weeks 0 Days – 15 Weeks 6 Days.

Up until this week, I haven’t had the wherewithal to think much about my birth preferences. When I was going through the first trimester, I remember having thoughts like, This is baby had better stick, because I could absolutely not start this process again from scratch, and, We’re going to have to adopt our second child, because I can’t do this again. My nausea has faded so slowly that I didn’t even notice my days getting easier, but I’m not having thoughts like that any more so I must be feeling significantly better. The only times I seem to get nauseous now are when I get hungry and when I overexert, so as long as I adequately snack and laze, I’m golden. Now I can see why people like being pregnant so much.

In the first trimester, I did enough investigation to figure out I wanted to get prenatal care and give birth at a hospital with a low-intervention philosophy, and settled on Saint Luke’s. I also knew I wanted to try for a natural birth. But that was about it. This week I started to explore my options for birth.

Doula or Do not (la)?

My doula friend, Heather Charmatz, has been incredibly helpful in giving me advice and recommending books during my pregnancy, so I was already feeling good about doulas. I want to give birth with as few medical interventions as possible. Hiring a doula increases a woman’s chances of doing so, both via the doula assisting with non-medical comfort measures and advocating for the mother in an intimidating medical setting. I reached out to friends on Facebook asking for thoughts on birth with or without a doula. There was unanimous consent among both the mamas that had had a doula (or doulas) and the ones that hadn’t: definitely hire a doula.

I searched online for suggestions for questions to ask doulas, and made a shortlist of the ones that were most important to me:

  1. What is your training? Are you certified?
  2. Can you tell me about your experience as a doula? Do you have any stories you can share?
  3. Can you give me a snapshot of the care you provide before, during, and after birth?
  4. Do you have experience attending births at my hospital? Do you get along with the staff there?
  5. How will my husband be involved?
  6. How do you feel about the use of pain medication and other interventions?
  7. What is your fee? What does it cover?
  8. If you don’t attend the birth do you have a refund policy?
  9. Do you have anyone else due near the time I’m due?
  10. Do you offer any other special services? (e.g. massage, photography, aromatherapy?)
  11. Do you have references we could talk to?

So far, Richard and I went to a Meet Local Doulas night at Saint Luke’s (the San Francisco Doula Group does a few of these around the city every month) and we also interviewed Heather and her doula partner, Joy. The Meet Local Doulas night helped us establish expectations about a doula’s scope of practice, how much they cost in the Bay Area, and what their packages typically include. We didn’t see ourselves working with any of the doulas at the Meet Local Doulas night, but Heather and Joy were great! Instead of making an automatic decision between a good choice and a bad choice (well, not bad—just not a the right fit for us), I wanted to be able to make a thought-out decision between two good choices. Based on some online research and recommendations from friends and other doulas, Richard and I have one more doula interview lined up in a couple weeks. Then we’ll make our final choice!

How Do I Know My Birth Preferences with No Previous Experience?

Heather lent me a great book called Natural Hospital Birth by Cynthia Gabriel. Even though I’m only halfway through, I’d recommend it to anyone planning a hospital birth. The book outlines some exercises that get the reader to think back to experiences planning big ritual events (like a wedding) and participating in endurance events (like a marathon), which helped me make some concrete decisions about what I want for my birth.

My number one advice for people planning a wedding is, “Get a wedding planner!” That’s what I would have done differently. I enjoyed and took pride in planning my own wedding with the help of friends and family, but on the big day, rather than relishing in the experience of being the bride I felt like I was also playing the wedding planner. As my lips parted from my new husband’s after our first kiss, one of my hands lovingly caressed the back of his neck, while the other discretely gestured to music person to start playing our exit song. When I give birth, I want to have my birth plan written up with plan A’s, B’s, C’s, and have someone else there to coordinate and orchestrate, so I can just focus on bringing my baby into the world. This is where I see a doula fitting in. Richard could be play this role too, but as much as it’s my day to experience becoming a mother, it’s his day to experience becoming a father. Also, when discussing doulas, Richard brought up a past experiences to illustrate his apprehension about supporting me through pain.

When Richard and I were vacation to Cabo San Lucas. I got stung by a horrid little jellyfish—I think it was a Portuguese man o’ war. In excruciating pain, I insisted that Richard try to suck the venom out with his mouth. In a much more rational state than me, he refused repeatedly. I was horrified to see the blue venom under my skin slowly being absorbed into my body. After enough relentless and desperate pleading, Richard caved and tried to suck the venom out. In less than a second, his whole mouth was in stinging pain from contact with the venom. Whoops. Needless to say, Richard fully supports having a third party present at all times to protect him from the ill-advised demands of a laboring wife.

Second to the man o’ war, my next most painful experience was running a marathon, for which I was sorely under-trained. My running shoes went missing the morning of the race, and I was running in an old pair that were half a size too small and slowly turning my toe nails purple. The funny, encouraging signs people held or posted along the course were wonderful, because they gave me enough of a mental distraction to let my willpower recharge slightly. However, in the last six miles, I just could not run any more and slowed down to a walk. My outer hip muscles immediately went into a spasm that wouldn’t let up unless I started running again. I was determined to finish, and I realized that whether walking or running I was going to be in pain, so laboriously, clumsily, and dejectedly, I started running again. Shortly thereafter I came to an aid station that had more than the standard water, Gatorade, and gel packs—they had RealFruit gummy candies. People emotionally eat for a reason—it works! In the short term anyway, and the short term was all I needed. That handful of corn syrup and gelatin that I savored over the next mile was all that kept me from collapsing into a pile of tears on the side of the road and calling a cab. After I ran across the finish line, I grabbed some more RealFruit gummies and continued jogging over to the massage tent to get that spasm worked out of my glutes. My take-away: I’m going to want some little treats and joys for the most challenging parts of labor to give me the emotional boost to keep going. No need for a massage as a reward at the end though, the baby will be enough!

Should I Dwell in Distraction or Awareness?

Upon the recommendation of many friends, I bought the Hypnobabies Home Study course, and have been enjoying it. The hypnosis recordings I’ve listened to have included visualizations that have helped me connect with the baby—something that’s been hard for me since I can’t yet feel the baby moving and don’t have much of a bump. The course also includes a 30 minute track of positive pregnancy affirmations, which is so up my alley. I mentioned to the doulas I interviewed that I was thinking of using hypnosis techniques, and they advised that some women like hypnosis because it distracts them from the experience of giving birth, some women don’t because they want to be completely present to the experience.

This may be committing yoga blasphemy, but I think that distraction may work by better for me than complete presence and awareness in this case. When I was at the height of my nausea, although it was hard to drag myself out of the house to teach yoga, teaching made me feel better because I was focusing on others’ bodies rather than dwelling on the discomfort of my own. After I got stung by the jellyfish in Cabo San Lucas, Richard and I somehow made it back to our hotel room where he read a book to me. It distracted me enough from the pain that I could sleep the afternoon away until the pain had softened. On my marathon, the only things that kept me going were the yummy and humorous ones that distracted me from the sensation of running. Using distraction can still be meditative—just as we may use the breath as a drishti (focal point) for our meditation, we may similarly use any of these other distractions as a drishti.

I teach yoga and meditation to people who suffer from chronic pain, and one of the most important techniques we master is to halt the pain-tension-pain cycle. When we feel pain, we automatically tense up. That increased tension creates more pain, which causes us to tense up even more, and the cycle continues. If, at that first sensation of pain we can soften instead of hardening, we stay at that base level of pain instead of initiating an ever-escalating cycle. I think little distractions like inspiring or funny affirmations, hypnotic visualizations, or gummy worms will help me do just that.

How Attached Should I Get to My Birth Plan?

Most people have told me not to get too attached to my birth plan because birth is unpredictable, and if it doesn’t go my way I’ll feel like a failure. Natural Hospital Birth gives some alternative advice that I loved. Get attached to your birth plan, the author encourages. Just as with any other goal, the clearer, more insistent, and more determined you are about it, the more likely it is to happen. “Don’t get attached to your birth plan,” is essentially saying that it’s better to never try at all than to try and fail. That’s no way to live! The book acknowledges that the risk in becoming attached to your birth plan is that you may feel disappointment if your birth doesn’t happen exactly the way you wrote it down. The author’s response is a little punch of tough love: disappointment is a part of life. Anyone who is used to setting the types of lofty goals that are worth achieving knows that some of them don’t pan out. That’s disappointing, and feeling disappointment is okay. It doesn’t mean we’re failures, it doesn’t mean we stop setting goals, it’s just a part of the process and of life. Besides, as long as nobody’s stopping by postpartum to rub the discrepancies between my birth plan and what actually happened in my face, certainly any disappointment will be overshadowed by the immense joy of holding a happy, healthy baby in my arms.

For every minute your are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness -Ralph Waldo Emerson

How do anger, jealousy, and resentment feel in your body? For most of us, they feel uncomfortable. They demand resolution and action, even if there is no possible solution and no act that makes sense. They can cause us to develop painful tension in the jaw, shoulders, and hips. They are all associated with circulation of stress hormones, such as cortisol, that wreak havoc on the immune system and the body at large. It is okay and important to feel all of these feelings. For example, many of us must experience anger in order to fully process loss. Trying to use your yoga practices to skip over anger, jealousy, and resentment entirely isn’t healthy (it’s called spiritual bypass). However, these particular emotions are addictive, and once we’ve started feeling them we tend to hold onto them for much longer than they serve us. If we indulge them over time and fuel them, they can even start to consume us. We become so attached to feeling angry, jealous, and resentful that there’s no room left for joy, friendship, and love.

For every minute your are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness -Ralph Waldo Emerson

For every minute your are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Meditation & Release:

  1. Come into a comfortable sitting position. Close your eyes and notice your breath. Take at least ten breaths here to center.
  2. Once you feel settled, turn your attention to your emotions. Notice your emotions without judging them as good, bad, right, or wrong—judgement clouds your perception. Notice the effects of each emotional experience on your body. Where is there tension? Where is there ease? How do the emotions affect the breath? How do the emotions affect chatter in the mind? Are there any recurring thoughts around these emotions?
  3. Now, take a deep inhale through the nose. Hold the breath at the top for a few moments and notice the swirling of emotions or thoughts around emotions. As you sigh through the mouth, allow anything physical, mental, or emotional that has already served its purpose leave your body with your breath. Don’t force, don’t push, just let anything that is ready to leave go. Do this three to five times.
  4. Take ten or more breaths to notice the physical, emotional, and mental effects of this practice.
  5. Repeat this practice when you’re experiencing different emotions.

Stop Procrastinating and Dive into Life

So many of us succumb to procrastination in our day-to-day lives, which is essentially allowing that which matters most to give way to that which matters least. Even in yoga class, we mull over what we should’ve said in an earlier argument, repeat and re-repeat mental grocery lists, and wonder self-consciously if anyone noticed that giant zit that popped up this morning. All of this is just procrastination that prevents us from being present to the real work: the svadyaya (self-study), the dharana (concentration), and the dhyana (meditation). Just as with any other work we procrastinate from, this stuff is often scary, uncomfortable, and exhausting. Anything that that spurs wild transformation usually is.

As Rusty Wells always said in class when I practiced with him years ago (and he probably still does): “If nothing ever changes, nothing ever changes.” Next time you’re in yoga class, your mantra is, “I prioritize that which matters most in this moment.” Mental chatter is definitely going to come up, but instead of indulging in it, you notice it as an observer rather than a participant. What do you cling to? What are your recurring thoughts? When is there the most mental chatter? When is there tranquility? Distraction is going to come up too. That’s an another opportunity for svadyaya. As one of my dear teachers, Les Leventhal, always used to point out: we never stop take a sip of water or fix our hair in the poses that we love. Notice.

Once you start diving into your yoga practice, you’ll find that the habits you develop start spilling over into the rest of your life too. You run for what matters most rather than lolling about in what matters least. You seize the day. You savor the richness of each moment.

Life is love - enjoy it. -Sai Baba

Life is a song – sing it. Life is a game – play it. Life is a challenge – meet it. Life is a dream – realize it. Life is a sacrifice – offer it. Life is love – enjoy it. -Sai Baba

On the internet, there is widespread disagreement who wrote the following poem, so if you know who the author is please let me know!

Life is an opportunity, benefit from it.
Life is beauty, admire it.
Life is a dream, realize it.
Life is a challenge, meet it.
Life is a duty, complete it.
Life is a game, play it.
Life is a promise, fulfill it.
Life is sorrow, overcome it.
Life is a song, sing it.
Life is a struggle, accept it.
Life is a tragedy, confront it.
Life is an adventure, dare it.
Life is luck, make it.
Life is too precious, do not destroy it.
Life is life, fight for it.
– Unknown