What do birth, parenting and yoga have in common? They are not easy. They are powerful. They change us forever.
My husband and I attended NCT and hospital antenatal classes when we were expecting our first baby. If hypnobirthing has been around then I’m sure we would have learned that too. And all that preparation was incredibly important and helpful. Yet nothing can fully prepare you for the sheer power of labour.
I’m not going to lie – labour is intense. I’ve had seven children myself and supported numerous birthing women as a midwife, and I have never seen a completely painless birth. But it’s also true that there are massive differences in how women experience birthing their babies.
What makes a “good” birth?
Sometimes a birth can be accompanied by lots of interventions – maybe artificial hormones are used, or even a c-section – yet the parents still feel calm and in control, able to welcome their baby into the world. But equally some medically “straightforward” births can leave mothers and fathers terrified and traumatised. What makes the difference?
I have heard birth described as a journey. A birthing woman discovers inner spaces, remarkable powers she never knew she had. With the right support she will find her own strength, ready to be a mother. But if she feels that choice and agency have been taken from her, there is a risk she might feel she has failed. The right preparation and support is crucial. Then birth can be a new beginning – for the new parents, as well as for the child
What happened to my life?
Life with a small baby, like birth, happens at an instinctual level. From the outside, it can look easy. If you’ve held down a demanding job and maybe managed a team of tricky people, surely sitting at home all day cuddling a baby can’t be very hard? But babies live in the moment. They can’t be reasoned with or scheduled. Their needs are powerful, biological, immediate.
Many women struggle to adapt to motherhood because our culture has taught us to bypass biology. We tend to live in our heads, not our bodies. We are great at planning for the future and analysing the past. We are bad at being in the now. Babies live totally in the present moment. There is a serious mismatch. Tuning into a newborn’s needs can be excruciatingly difficult. It can feel like a loss of identity. Becoming a mother involves a whole change of pace and focus.
So where does yoga fit into all this?
I am still learning how unexpectedly demanding yoga can be. Yoga is often slow-paced, with lots of focus on breathing and spirituality. And it’s non-competitive. But none of that makes it easy.
Balance isn’t easy. Holding a position for several minutes can be surprisingly intense. Focusing on the breath can seem almost impossible when your mind goes racing off to the oddest places. Being present in the moment and accepting whatever your body will or will not do today can feel like a real struggle. A struggle to let go. But when we finally begin to learn to accept where we are, the rewards are enormous.
I wish I had learned yoga before I had my children, because I’m sure it would have helped me. Yoga is a great antidote to our modern obsession with trying to live in our heads and control everything. And it’s precisely those urges to control which make birth and early parenting so challenging. Learning to accept things – and people – outside our control is actually a massive source of strength.
Yoga can certainly help you become stronger and more flexible. But it is also a powerful teacher of of presence and acceptance. Learning to breathe calmly through labour surges is wonderful. Being able to bend and squat is incredibly helpful. But learning to be fully present for your loved ones and for yourself is priceless.
Karen will be teaching yin yoga, pregnancy and postnatal yoga in Billericay, Essex from October 2018. For more information, go to www.thecalmspace.co.uk