Every once in a while in a challenging asana I am reminded of childbirth. As I hold my
pose, I focus on a point ahead and on my breathing remembering that if I could naturally give birth to each of my children, then I can certainly maintain this pose, whatever it may be. I try to find that deep meditative state I attained only during labor in hopes that it will shine on me again.
I had only done yoga a couple of times before having children and none of those sessions were anything enlightening. The class I attended was in a dingy back room of a gym and I had no idea what I was doing, so I spent half of the class looking around without any assistance from the teacher. I left feeling unsatisfied and decided yoga was not for me; that I am one who likes to sweat while running or lifting weights.
While pregnant with my daughter, I planned her birth and wanted it to be drug-free with little medical intervention. The fact that I was considered high-risk during my pregnancy made this intention a bit difficult but being the stubborn mule that I can be, I stuck to my guns. Not knowing anything about what childbirth would entail, just as I had no understanding of yoga, I blindly wrote my birth plan and looked to others for tips on how to go about the whole thing, the best advice being to “just focus on your breath”. I read hypnotherapy books and studied the Bradley Method but did not actively practice either and just set my mind and hoped for the best.
One week before my due date, I went in for my weekly ultrasound and was told I needed to go to the hospital to be induced because my daughter was not moving around enough. I told them I thought she was sleeping because she had been active earlier that day. I still believe that was the case but off to the hospital I went. I was induced and in labor for 7 hours before my sweet baby girl arrived. During those seven hours, my husband massaged my back until his hand was cramped and swollen and my lower back was rubbed raw and felt like chicken flesh the following week; and I focused on my breath and that is it.
Those seven hours went by in a swift blur because I was in the most meditative state that I have ever been. The contractions were intense but I would deepen my breath to match them. I kept my eyes closed for those seven hours even as I pushed. They were closed as my daughter entered the world. I felt more connected to her and to myself, who had been one and the same for so long, that I did not want to open my eyes to break that concentration. Yet, when I did, the gift awaiting me was enough to take my breath completely away.
Pregnant with my son three years later, I attended prenatal yoga weekly. I wanted to exercise through my pregnancy as I had through my daughter’s but found that I peed myself every time I ran or briskly walked… good stuff. So, instead I chose yoga to stretch and center myself. I went to a yoga studio this time rather than a gym and it made all the difference in the world. Yoga is drastically more than stretching, as I say on a regular basis, so the environment where you practice is greatly enhanced by a studio and instruction that includes the whole package: instruction, music, meditation, low lighting, and healing scents.
One particular practice solidified my growing love for yoga. It was the beginning of class and I was sitting cross-legged with my swollen belly hanging over my pants taking deep breaths and goose bumps covered my body. Allowing myself to stop and pay attention sent a vibrant energy all over my body. After this particular class, I began opening up more and more and the goose bumps continued.
I labored at home with my son as I was deemed only moderately high-risk with him. My daughter was home with us and though my mom came over to help, I was still tending to her and how she was going to handle all that was going on. I played with her and gave her an activity bag filled with goodies to play with while I was at the hospital. I eventually went to my bedroom to handle the challenging contractions on my own. When I felt they were getting close together, my husband and I went to the hospital. Labor was much faster with my son, in part I believe because I was not induced but also because my body knew what to do. Therefore, I had less time to deepen my meditation but I still maintained my focus especially during the more challenging contractions. It was most intense when my son was ready to emerge but the doctor had not arrived yet so I was told to wait so she could catch the baby and hence, get paid. I did as I was told and thankfully my doctor arrived within minutes. My son was one pound bigger than my daughter so helping him into the world was harder but again, with eyes closed and mind focused, he arrived and when I opened my eyes, again, my breath was taken away.
Since the birth of my children, I liken life to labor. Everything passes with time and if we breathe through those moments with focus, the difficulty ultimately passes and we can enjoy reprieve until another challenging situation occurs. There is never an end to struggle or suffering in our lives, just as a baby being born is certainly not the end of the journey though the labor is over.
For me, searching for that deeply meditative place that I have only to be able to find during childbirth encourages me that all difficult moments pass, I am strong, and I CAN get through anything. How a woman births her child may be one of the most profound, life-changing moments in her life. It can often come to define her in many ways or how she views the world. It may have been difficult, painful, sad or heartbreaking if it did not go how she planned or took turns that left physical and emotional scars. While my children’s births went as planned, my life certainly does not always do the same. The lessons I learned during labor and delivery have forever defined me. As I have done before, I thank my children for teaching me so much about myself and life. They have taught me to focus, to take care of myself alongside them, to appreciate the small moments and to try to forget about the trivial ones. They continually teach me how to be a mother and forgive me when I don’t always do my best. Most importantly, and through continual practice, they each taught me how to breathe and accept all that life presents. With my children in mind, I release my pose, bring my hands to heart center, bow my head and whisper “thank you”.