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Learning from Labor by Jamie Walski

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Written by Jamie Walski, one of our wonderful yoga instructors.   We are lucky to have someone with her reverence and knowledge of pregnancy and yoga combined, teaching  Pre-Natal Yoga on Thursday evenings at 5:30pm.  It is truly a labor of love for her!

I was fortunate to have rediscovered yoga a few years before starting a family. I relished my time on my mat for both the physical and mental release that yoga provides. When I became pregnant, I knew I did not want to give up that valuable time. What I did not realize at the time were the added benefits that a prenatal practice can offer the pregnancy, the mother, and the child. I look back upon my three pregnancies and I realize how essential yoga has been to me and my healthy deliveries and how much it taught me then and continues to teach me now. These truths have become clearer to me since I have been teaching prenatal yoga, as I seek words to convey the relevance of asana to my students I recognize the changes my yoga has created in me.

I confess that my pregnancies were, perhaps, the happiest periods of my life; I realize that not every mother has that good fortune, but for me, I felt healthy, alive and filled with purpose. And good thing I was enjoying myself so much, for all three babies stayed over 40 weeks! My births had no major complications, and my children were healthy.  I know how fortunate I am. That said, and before you write me off as one of those disgusting made-to-birth women, I will tell you that the pregnancies and deliveries were not without any strife – nausea, swelling, weight gain, carpal tunnel, sciatica, round ligament pain, hip aches, sleeplessness, breech and transverse positioning, posterior labor, one child with hip dysplasia, and plenty of “oh my, I’m having a(nother) baby!” For all of these issues and more, a yoga practice offers relief as well as builds the strength and stamina that will sustain.

My first gift from yoga was confidence. Despite the fear of change -body, role, lifestyle- or giving birth, I felt, “I can!” I was strong, healthy, able. I planned for a birth without drugs, without intervention, confident that I could handle that (I even skipped the birthing class on pain relief and epidurals). Sat Nam: My Truth is My Identity. Inhale Sat, exhale Nam. Yogi Gurmukh states that this phrase added to the breath during pregnancy can help you realize that “where there is truth, there is no fear, and where there is no fear, there is only love.”  It was this confidence that empowered me at 42 weeks to refuse, albeit quaking and in tears,  the induction my doctor was insisting on and let my child come into this world on its own terms.  And it was this confidence that let me labor on with a babe in posterior position- also known as a back labor – monitor free, drug free, overnight at 8 centimeters because that same doctor does not report to delivery after midnight without full dilation (I did not know this would be the case or an issue, of course). In the morning, once my water was manually broken, a new nurse took over who had years of experience, who reminded me of my yoga, guided me to rally and to get back on my knees, to swivel my hips in a figure eight style and move that baby. In fifteen minutes, my daughter was born.  The second gift that went in hand with confidence was acceptance – acceptance that pregnancies, labors, and births do not always go as expected or in our chosen frame of time. My yoga teacher, Anna, taught me – later – about the beauty of perfection; everything is perfect because it happens as it is supposed to, at any given time and circumstance, we do what we are able to in that moment, perfectly.

Confidence also led me to switch to a group of midwives for my second pregnancy (I could go on and on about the benefits of that!). Through the midwives I found a prenatal yoga class. A new experience for me, different from my regular classes because this one was filled with other pregnant women! I didn’t have to discover my own modifications.  I learned more about moves relative to pregnancy and birth, and there was a natural camaraderie among the group that I had not encountered before. We did more squatting and breath work. This go-round brought a new challenge to my natural birth plan – Baby 2 gravitated between breech and transverse positioning. Determined to move this child, I turned to yoga. I spent as much time as possible on my hands and knees to provide the baby freedom to move, inverting multiple times a day: either on an inclined plane, draped off of a chair, in down dog, or in a headstand or handstand (these already being apart of my practice). By 40 weeks, the child was bumping between head down and transverse – much better odds for delivery. Another change: this time I was strep B positive, which meant an IV during early labor(acceptance).  At 42 weeks, my water broke with meconium evident which meant no water birth (acceptance), labor came on hard and fast in the early morn. A very different experience from my first, it shook me up with its urgency but when I took a moment to pause on my way up to the birth center (a forced pause due to a contraction), I employed my breath and turned my gaze inward visualizing my body opening, my baby moving and the pain dropped away, leaving a wonderful sense of calm. Contractions became harder and stronger and the calm sustained. I was able to listen and communicate clearly and it was soon evident that there was not time for meds and a son was born within an hour and a half of  labor starting. My biggest baby came quickly when he was ready and my body was strong and ready to do its job; I still marvel over that.

fam picPreparing for baby three first required a bit of seeking understanding of that idea of perfection again, for it was a surprise pregnancy, and in doing so I found acceptance, and with that, joy. Finding time for my yoga practice was a little harder with a 5 year old and a 2 year old, and sometimes looked a lot like kids’ yoga, but when I was able to get away, my prenatal practice was a sanctuary. It was time I could devote solely to connecting to the new little life in me, as well as ensuring that my body would be ready to do this birth thing again. This pregnancy was similar to my second in that the baby remained transverse and I was Strep B positive again. I was prepared though and employed the same techniques. Again, they worked. When it came time for labor (only a few days “late” this time), it was a much quieter event than the last, in fact is was rather fairytale-ish. It began quietly; recognizing the signs, I was able to rest and stay at home for the early hours, at the birthing center, we had time for the first round of meds for Strep B, and then – heavenly – I was able to enter the birthing tub.

Kneeling/squatting and listening to the gentle bubbling of the warm water, my husband beside me, I found that zone of peace, the soothing breath, the acute awareness of the moment. I am not sure I have ever been so present in my body; it was that place that is the goal of our practice. In that still place, a baby emerged, so gently, so peacefully, and so amazing.

Prenatal yoga was a foundation for growth and change – body , mind, and spirit. Yoga changed me, mothering changed me, yet I am still me, and still changing at the same time. The learning hasn’t stopped. There is a lesson, a truth, a consolation, or a revelation every time I step on my mat, which is not often enough with a busy family, but a blessed relief when I do. I continue to practice listening more and leaving my heart open to the moment at hand; I continue to practice f inding strength and range of motion in this body; my practice grounds me and lifts me up in a way nothing else does, and it is always a gift.  I am thankful for my yoga, for this body that moves, for three beautiful children, and for the chance to share these things I have learned with other mothers. Namaste.

I mentioned that yoga offers solutions to all of my “issues” but may not have addressed each in turn; here are just a few tips…

  • nausea – gentle breath, accupressure (and chest openers to ease heartburn)
  • swelling – heel raises, legs up the wall
  • weight gain – this is to be expected, but regular activity keeps it in check and your careful practice can help you adjust to your changing center of gravity
  • carpal tunnel – adjusting wrist/hand positions, gentle exercises, accupressure and massage
  • sciatica – forward folds
  • round ligament pain – right angle folding, moving with purpose (especially sitting to standing)
  • hip pain – strapping, propping, side-lying leglifts
  • sleeplessness – alternate nostril breathing, legs up the wall (helps with headaches too)
  • breech and transverse positioning – hands & knees, inversions, clockwise belly rubs, diving
  • posterior labor – cat/cow, polar bear, figure eights
  • child with hip dysplasia -well, this may not have been preventable but bracing and gentle hip exercises benefit the child, and for the pregnant mother who is experiencing greater hip release due to relaxin, we work on gaining control in the hip socket and even release through leg lifts and adduction/abduction motions
  • plenty of “oh my, I’m having a(nother) baby!” – breathing, deeply and fully, svasana

and these are only a few of yoga’s offerings…    pren y2

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