This week I wrote a post for Inner Fire about How To Overcome The Five Most Common Barriers In Savasana. In the last year, I’ve needed these techniques less in yoga class and more to fall asleep at night. During pregnancy I had insomnia due to physical tension and an insatiable urge to fidget. I was lucky enough to give birth to a good sleeper, but that didn’t mean I started getting restful nights: at first she was an incredibly loud sleeper, which distracted me from relaxing, and then she matured into an incredibly quiet sleeper, which had me periodically checking her breathing. The technique that has helped me the most with relaxing enough to fall asleep over the last year is this:
Technique #2: Kumbhaka
Kumbhaka, or breath retention, is thought to bring calm and focus to the mind. To begin: Inhale to four fifths of your lung capacity. Then, seal the throat (jalandara bandha), tighten your abdominals, and engage your pelvic floor (mula bandha). It should feel like you’re using your muscles to hug your lungs and abdomen from the top, bottom, and around all the sides. Retain your breath for a few seconds (but not to the point of feeling panicky), then release all contraction and sigh out your breath. Reset with a couple ujjayi breaths, then repeat twice more. Over time, you may work up to practicing kumbhaka at the end of every inhale for two or three minutes.
March 9 – March 15: 38 Weeks 0 Days – 38 Weeks 6 Days.
Selfie Maternity Photoshoot
I mentioned a couple weeks ago that I couldn’t justify a professional maternity photoshoot to myself (even though I not-so-secretly would love to indulge in one). With an experienced photographer, maternity shoots cost a few hundred dollars, and I’m not sure what I’d do with the photos beyond posting them on Facebook. I’d rather spend money on a baby photoshoot, as I would use those photos to adorn everything from our walls, to my wallet, to the holiday cards we send to friends and family. (That said, if you choose to get professional maternity photos I 100% support you and would love for you to share them so I can live vicariously through you!)
Still, I wanted some sweeter photos to remember this time of transformation than the weekly side-profile shots I’ve been posting. Monday morning, Richard and I put a camera on a tripod and did a selfie maternity photoshoot. Rather than a lace gown, studio lighting, and windblown hair, it features clothes I actually wore throughout pregnancy, the patio I’ve been slowly beautifying all this time, and my bangs unceremoniously falling in my eyes. Maybe it’s imperfect and gritty, but I’m okay with taking the authentic over the idyllic.
Body and Baby Update
The baby moved around a ton this week, and when she’s in an energetic mood, she’ll even play patty cake with Richard—he’ll tickle, poke, push against my belly and she’ll kick back. My pelvis and lower belly are achier than ever before, which has been slowing me down. When I make sharp turns in the car, I feel the my uterus’ seatbelts (i.e. my ligaments) strenuously working. Nevertheless, I’ve been determined to stay active and continue adding to and checking off items from my to-do list. On Tuesday night, I was vacuuming the area rugs at 11:30pm, and Richard was certain my nesting urge—a sign of pending labor—had kicked in (usually I ask him to do the vacuuming, so this was particularly uncharacteristic for me).
With This Ring I Thee Ensnare
It’s nothing new that my hands and fingers are a little puffy, but on Wednesday I woke up with the knuckles of my left ring finger aching. The cause seemed to be that my wedding and engagement rings were so snug that they were cinching in the base of the finger. When I saw my midwife that morning, so she told me my fingers would probably get more swollen during labor, so it would be a good idea to take the rings off. I joked that they were stuck, and I didn’t realize how true that was until I went home and unsuccessfully tried all the standard techniques to remove them.
By the next morning, things had gotten elaborate. I soaked my whole forearm and hand in ice water for twenty minutes to reduce inflammation, then cut the ring off a condom so I could slide it over my finger work it under my rings to provide a sheath of protection (previous attempts at the following step had been painful, as this YouTuber shows). Then I wound dental floss over my knuckle and down through my rings (I learned from experience to wind from distal to proximal, as the video below shows, to push the inflammation down into the hand instead of painfully up into the fingertip). Then I slowly unwound the floss to work the ring off. I was so sure it was going to work, but I guess it was too elaborate to be effective. My finger ended up sore and red, and the rings still didn’t make it past my knuckle.
When I was a fitness instructor at my university, my supervisor was constantly chastising us for leaving the gym door ajar. It was an easy mistake to make—I had to put my whole body weight into slamming that door closed. One of my colleagues was a middle-aged, Eastern European woman who taught fitness on her lunch break from her job in academia. One day, I marveled at how she easily and effortlessly closed the cantankerous door. I couldn’t help but blurt out, “How did you do that??” She replied, “You must treat the door as you treat your wife,” and showed me that if you closed it with exaggerated love and gentleness the door was unexpectedly cooperative.
Well, it turns out that you must treat your stubborn rings as you treat your wife (Although, there’s a thriving BDSM community in San Francisco, so maybe the metaphor doesn’t hold up as well here). A couple hours after the Flossy Condom Caper, I started absent-mindedly working just one of the rings off (instead of both at the same time), and actually made some progress. I’d tried coconut oil the previous day, so this time I pulled out the big guns and slathered on some personal lubricant. After several minutes of slowly, gently, patiently working the ring from side to side and up and down I was able to get it past my knuckle! The other ring must be a little bigger, because it practically fell off after that. I never thought I’d be so happy to remove my wedding ring!
A candid shot from our DIY photoshoot where Foxy can’t resist licking Richard in the teeth.
What would I be doing if I Were on Vacation?
If an animal’s safety is compromised while she is in labor, her labor will stop until she can find a safer place to birth her babies. It’s the same with humans: when women’s stress hormones are running high, labor stalls. Needless to say, being in a stressed out, go-go-go state isn’t conducive to initiating labor. On Wednesday, I ran into Melitta, my postpartum doula, at a baby store I was visiting in between my prenatal appointment and grocery shopping. Also on the to-do list for the afternoon were replacing burnt out light bulbs, washing the car, and shipping my niece’s birthday present. Melitta asked me if I’d been taking a nap or two a day to practice for breastfeeding. I thought back, and realized I hadn’t taken a nap all week.
Richard also gave me a reality check on Wednesday evening when I was frustrated about my stuck ring situation. He suggested that even though I wasn’t in labor per se, I should treat these last weeks (or days, or hours—who knows) of pregnancy as the beginning of my labor. We’re ready enough (and for the things we don’t have there are Amazon Prime and the hospital’s ring cutters). Now is the time to relax, accept, and surrender. He suggested that I spend the next morning with a pot of tea sitting out in the sun on the patio vizualizing myself nursing the baby in my “special safe place” (a Hypnobabies birth technique), which in my imagination features a warm courtyard, the sound of flowing water, lush rainforest plants, comfy wicker lounge furniture, chirping birds, colorful butterflies, and (inexplicably) a lazy sloth. The fact that Richard was able to describe my special safe place to me makes me more confident than ever that he’ll be an amazing birth partner. I followed his suggestion with some red raspberry leaf tea (a natural labor inducer) Sunday morning, and it set the tone for a relaxed day.
My new mantra is, “What would I do if I was on vacation?” I’d definitely be drinking more blended drinks. After a yummy prenatal yoga class on Thursday morning I treated myself to a tropical mango, pineapple (another natural labor inducer), and spinach smoothie. In the afternoon I watched a movie and took a nap. And, in the evening, Richard and I went out for dinner and ice cream. On Saturday, I went for a leisurely swim at the pool. Richard and I regularly walk on the beach, but this weekend, we brought a blanket and lounged on the beach with lunch from our favorite cafe (well, I lounged. Richard made sure the dog got a good workout). Sunday afternoon I did only the fun part of gardening (potting and pruning plants), and left the weeding for another day. I’m on the call-me-if-any-one-cancels list for a prenatal massage with labor-inducing acupressure next week, and maybe I’ll get a pedicure too. I still want to mop the floors, scrub down the bathroom, and digitize the stack of documents on my desk, but if those things don’t get done before the baby is born, it’s not the end of the world.
My sister has mailed me some inspiring birth quotes to set the tone for labor. Here’s a wonderful one by Ina May Gaskin—although she could’ve chosen a more flattering list of animals to compare us pregnant women to.
January 26 – February 1: 32 Weeks 0 Days – 32 Weeks 6 Days.
This week, Richard and I are starting to feel like we need to have everything ready to go for the baby’s arrival. I have a couple friends who’ve given birth six weeks before their due dates, and I think I subconsciously set 34 weeks as the time to have everything ready.
I finally bought the crib mattress. It’s a foam core mattress that is so light I can lift it effortlessly, which made me feel good about myself in the store. It was so exciting to get the crib all set up! It made it feel more real for Richard too, and on his suggestion we order several starter items for the nursery (wipes, diapers, butt cream, etc.)
Woodland-themed everything ready to go for when baby arrives! Thank you Mindy for the mobile, Dad for the sheets, and Hope for the clothes.
The biggest milestone of the week was finishing our childbirth preparation class. Early on, a friend recommended I take a third-party birth prep class instead of the one the hospital offered to get less biased education. She also suggested a class that spanned several weeks instead of one packed all into one day so we would have time to digest the information and identify questions. Upon the suggestion of my doula, Richard and I chose to do Rachel Yellin’s 4-day childbirth preparation class, which focuses on the use of relaxation and hypnosis techniques during childbirth. Rachel’s class is definitely geared toward women hoping or an unmedicated birth, but more than that, it’s focused on empowered, conscious birth—on teaching couples about their options so they can make informed choices.
My doula told me that Rachel’s class was experiential rather than just providing a bunch of information about birth, and this was definitely true of the first and last days of the course. We tried out several birthing techniques that involved breathing, relaxation, visualization, affirmation, and intimacy (I wont go into specifics and give away her trade secrets). I’d already read several books about childbirth, so doing a birth prep class that focused more on practice and experience than information and facts appealed to me. Her homework assignments involved bonding time between partners, listening to her hypnosis and relaxation audio program, and checking out other resources she provided. I’d previously been listening to the audio tracks from the Hypnobabies self-study course, and something about Rachel’s tracks was more soothing and relaxing for me. I think it’s partly because her dialog moves along more quickly (without feeling rushed), which makes it easier to follow when I’m feeling restless (That said, I love some of the Hypnobabies techniques and tracks, and hope to incorporate them during my birthing time). Richard enjoys Rachel’s tracks too. After falling asleep to the Relaxation and Affirmations for the Birth Partner track, he says he “inexplicably” wakes up in the morning feeling more affectionate toward me and wanting to help me out and support me in any way he can.
The middle two days were more informational. My favorite part of these days was hearing birth stories from Rachel’s years working as a doula. We also went over many of the interventions the hospital could do, the rationale behind their protocols, what the evidence had to say about these protocols, and what our options were. To some, it may seem overly cautious to question hospital’s protocols, but historically medicalized childbirth doesn’t have the best track record. It is well known that for many years doctors routinely performed episiotomies (cutting into the perineum to make the vaginal opening larger) because there was a theory that this would reduce tearing and other complications. Then they actually did some research and found out that in most cases episiotomies don’t prevent anything and often lead to a challenging recovery.
I’d read about the big ticket items like labor induction techniques and pain medication before, but I’d never thought about whether I’d want to automatically be fitted with an IV upon arrival at the hospital (instead of waiting to see if I’d actually need it) or if I should go along with routine hourly vaginal exams (which arguably aren’t that informative and increase risk of infection every time). Rachel also talked about the interventions hospitals do with babies. Finding out that I could opt out of these procedures was less interesting to me than hearing Rachel’s suggestions for making these procedures gentler and more comfortable for the baby (e.g. have hospital staff calibrate the scale with a blanket and cap so the baby doesn’t have to lie on a cold, hard, paper-covered plastic. Or, hold a warm washcloth over the baby’s foot before the PKU test to improve blood flow enough that the nurse doesn’t have to turn the baby’s heel into a pin cushion trying to get a blood sample).
Before taking this course, I certain things as completely out-of-my-control when there’s actually a chance some of them aren’t. For example, hospitals test for Group B Step (GBS) around 36 weeks (a strain of bacteria that’s benign in the mother, but may be harmful to the baby), and the hospital tells you that you either have it or you don’t, and you can’t do anything about it. It’s true that there isn’t definitive, hard evidence that you can do anything about GBS besides taking the antibiotics they’ll recommend during labor; however, there are other things you can try, like taking probiotics or eating yogurt.
Similarly, if the baby is spending a lot of time head-up in utero (not promising for vaginal birth in the hospital), there are some easy, harmless techniques you can attempt yourself to encourage the baby to turn head down before the hospital recommends medical interventions to try to flip the baby in the last month (like walking up stairs). As it turns out, I would have to put up a fuss at the hospital to officially find out which direction my baby is facing before 36 weeks, so I’ve chosen to pick my battles and wait. I often feel kicking under my ribs and hiccups in my lower belly, so I’m fairly certain the baby spends at least a chunk of her time head down.
Earlier in pregnancy, after reading through the manual for the Hypnobabies Self-Study course (reviewed here), I felt like if I didn’t have the ideal birth situation—with the baby head-down, facing my back, and a pitocin-free labor—I could no longer expect the techniques to be successful. The Hypnobabies affirmations are specific and concrete, relating mostly to that one ideal type of birth. I didn’t get this sense with Rachel’s course. Her affirmations are more vague and focus mostly on intuitively cultivating a healthy, powerful, relaxed internal state, regardless of what type of physical birth occurs. Although it was clear which choices Rachel would make if she were giving birth (which, of course, meant the information was a little biased), I didn’t feel obligated or even expected to agree with her. She seemed genuinely interested in giving parents-to-be the resources to make their own decisions for their bodies and babies.
I may have celebrated my new figure with a mini shopping spree in the H&M maternity section. In other consumerism news, I started making my baby registry/to-buy-list, and I’m gladly accepting suggestions on products I should (or definitely should not) request/buy. Currently I’m going off this newborn checklist (minus a couple items my sister advised me not to bother with) and using BabyList for my registry so I can add items from multiple stores.
Weeks ago, a friend told me that you feel best about halfway through pregnancy, and I’m wholeheartedly enjoying that. Many of the discomforts that I had in the first trimester have faded or disappeared. But, there has been one new issue that has arisen: insomnia.
I had trouble sleeping as a kid; I used to watch the red glowing numbers on my digital alarm clock for hours trying to fall asleep. At some point (maybe when I got into fitness, maybe when I discovered yoga, maybe when I started eating less sugar), that completely turned around and I became the best sleeper ever. I could easily fall asleep within a couple minutes; I could usually drop into an afternoon nap, even if I only had twenty minutes to squeeze it in; and even after a taking a long afternoon nap, I could still sleep just fine at night. The only sleeping I couldn’t do well was sleeping-in. I have some kind of genetic mutation that makes me chipper and energetic in the morning, and I usually can’t wait to get out of bed and start my day.
A couple weeks ago, I lost my magic sleep powers. Night or day, I have trouble getting to sleep. Once I do get to sleep, I wake up frequently and have trouble getting back to sleep. In the morning, I’m groggy and lethargic, and it’s hard to drag myself out of bed (I guess now I know how normal people feel).
Over the years, I’ve offered my yoga students techniques to help with sleep with this proviso: knowing the techniques isn’t enough, you actually have to use them. It’s hard to let go of addictive behaviors like snacking right up until bedtime, reading the news on a smartphone in bed, and laying awake mentally rehashing the events of the day or making plans for the days to come. When the mind is go-go-go, it’s not immediately gratifying to stop-stop-stop—but it pays off to have the discipline to do so. I had to take my own advice. I pored over my pregnancy resources for tips on getting a better sleep, and committed to actually do them. I’m still developing new habits, but when I do several (or all) of the following in the same evening I get a much better sleep:
Bedroom blackout. No more flimsy curtains, lighted clocks, or even indicator lights on chargers. The other night, I got up in the middle of the night and turned Richard’s phone face-down to block the tiny flashing notification light.
The bed is associated only with sleeping. Richard and I are on the same page about this, so we’ve never had a TV in the bedroom; however, I am trying to kick my persistent habit of using my smart phone in bed. Also, I’ve been doing Hypnobabies for several weeks, and was listening to many of my self-hypnosis tracks in bed. Although the tracks are relaxing, my mindset was to try to stay awake for them, which isn’t the right association for bed. I now find doing my self-hypnosis session on the couch, then heading to bed helps set me up for a good night’s sleep.
Turn off electronics well before bedtime.The blue light from TV, computer, and phone screens tells the brain to stay awake. Richard swears by apps that block the blue light from his screen in the evening so his computer display looks like it’s gone through a sepia filter. I prefer to turn everything off before bed to distance myself from stimulation and information overload, and spend the hour before bed doing something relaxing instead (see some suggestions below). I became especially committed to this after watching Breaking Bad one night before bed (I know, I’m late to the bandwagon) and dreaming that my baby was born and quickly grew up to be Jane. Keeping my smartphone off before bed is my biggest challenge.
Do exercises and stretches that balance out the body (but avoid anything that raises the heart rate as this can prevent sleep). Muscle tension is one of the things I’m most aware of when I can’t get to sleep. Before bed, doing a few exercises, stretches, and massage techniques with a foam roller or pinky balls makes a world of difference. I’ve learned that if I’m laying in bed and can’t get comfortable, getting up for five minutes to address the area of discomfort with some exercises works much better than tossing and turning for hours. If you’re unsure of how to address discomfort in your body, it is definitely worth it to see someone who specializes in movement to help you out. If you live in the Bay Area, feel free to contact me about a private session.
Avoid eating a ton right before bed. During pregnancy, the digestive system becomes more and more compressed as the baby grows, so processing a bunch of food can be uncomfortable and disrupt sleep. Instead, stick to a small snack. I read somewhere that turkey is a good pre-bedtime snack because it contains tryptophan, a sleep enhancer. I tried it one night in conjunction with many of the other techniques listed here and got a good sleep, so it may have helped (unfortunately the turkey breast I cooked was so dry I couldn’t bear to choke down the leftovers on subsequent nights—cooking advice welcome).
Do down-regulating activities to wind down for bed:
Anuloma viloma (when you’re pregnant extended breath-holding is contraindicated, so practice a four-count hold at most).
Use a ton of pillows to support a comfortable position. I’ve always slept with a pillow between my knees when I’m lying on my side, and I recently added a pillow between my arms to keep my shoulders neutral. Some pregnant women I’ve talked to swear by using a giant C-shaped body pillow and I’m seriously considering getting one. Update: I got the C-shaped body pillow, and I love it! I’ve been getting a better sleep since I started using it. The shape is nothing I couldn’t make with a ton of pillows, but the support stays put instead of shifting around as I sleep. Also, the pillow can be used facing either direction (and it’s not bad for lying on my back either), so I don’t have to adjust my set-up when I change positions at night. Side benefit: since it doesn’t take up as much space as a stack of normal pillows, it’s nicer for sleeping partners—Richard and I can even semi-cuddle while I’m using it!
The insomnia did result in one cherished experience. Since my placenta is in the front, I don’t feel much movement from the baby. On rare occasions, she gets into a position where I can clearly feel her little kicks, and I relish those moments. One morning this week around 4 a.m., I woke up to some flutters and pops in the left side of my by belly. Instead of stressing about getting back to sleep, I lay happily awake for a couple hours enjoying the connection with my baby.