The Yoga of Birth
It has been said that our yoga practice can be considered “one long breathing exercise” and that “luck” is defined as the meeting of preparation and opportunity. After the birth of my son three months ago, I say the same is true of the process of labor and delivery.
Two years ago I found myself suffering my first miscarriage, which completely devastated me. However, this put me on the intentional pursuit [to have a child], the same pursuit I have helped guide others through as a teacher of Strong Yoga®4Fertility.
One of the beautiful things yoga has given to me is the practice of not being attached to an outcome. Sometimes that is easier in theory. But when I finally got past the first 12 weeks of my pregnancy and began to believe in what my doctor kept reassuring me, that this was a healthy pregnancy and that I would have a healthy baby, I began to think about my impending labor and delivery.
Any woman who has given birth will tell you that her ‘A plan’ had to compromise with her ‘B plan.’ However, the bottom line is that labor and delivery is always unique to that individual and her child; they are unpredictable and filled with unknowns.
Embracing the unknown can be a hard concept. Most of us like the predictable, the known and the things that make us feel secure. However, the one constant in life is change and change can happen in an instant. That instant is usually rich with the unknown.
So, yes, I had an “ideal plan” for my labor and delivery. Although it was my first birth and I was told to expect a long, drawn-out labor, I hoped for a short, fast, natural, drug-free birth that included laboring in the comfort of my own home as long as I could. I wanted to feel it all and remember it all.
And so, determined to feel ‘prepared’, I dragged my hubby to childbirth classes where they taught us breathing exercises, how to shift the focus of your eyes to help quiet the mind, and massage techniques to use while in the throes of a contraction. In addition, during my pregnancy I continued doing yoga with a practice specifically for my quickly changing and expanding prenatal body. Connecting with other women on the same path, we shared in class how many weeks gestation we were, how we were emotionally, physically, and what fears might be arising while the exciting progression of human life grew in each of us. I was always amazed that although we could all relate so deeply with one another with what we were feeling, each of us had our own individual experience of pregnancy and therefore each woman would also have a unique childbirth.
Learning ‘the breath’ and focusing the mind were by far the most helpful tools for me. But it wasn’t the breath I learned in the childbirth classes, it was the breath I had learned in yoga. These techniques I learned in prenatal yoga included repetitions of postures and movements like a contraction, as well as how to soften and breathe through moments that felt extremely uncomfortable. We even learned specific breathing techniques which would occur during the final stage of childbirth: the pushing.
As we moved almost two weeks past my son’s due date I had still not had a single contraction or any signs of baby making his way down. My doctor knew my wishes but when he checked me once again, my cervix was 100% effaced and completely “shut down”, as my doc put it. After that “induction talk” I went home and cried, feeling completely defeated and convinced that if I was induced it would end up in a C-section.
The next morning I woke up determined to get that baby moving downward and out. In the shower I swayed. I did a ton of squats. I danced. I prayed. I breathed. And I walked. In fact, that day I went to a place in Los Angeles called the Peace Labyrinth. I set my intention and began walking with a deliberate, slow focus. I visualized the labor experience I wanted all the way from the beginning through the baby being laid on my chest for the first time. I felt in my heart space the joy I anticipated. And I had conversations with my unborn baby: I explained to him that I needed his help in order to make this happen, that we were a team. And then I felt my first contraction. In the next several hours things started progressing quickly.
I labored at home as long as I could stand the pain. When I arrived at the hospital, I was told that I was 10 cm dilated. The preparation had gotten me to that point and yet I still needed to maintain more focus to get through the final pushing. I have a vivid memory of that stage. As I began another contraction, the intensity moved into my face and throat. The nurse said, “Take it out of your face and put it in your butt!” With that cue I shifted the energy into my pelvic floor. My doctor said, “Whatever you just did then, do it again!” In two more pushes my son, Henri Bennett Carriere, made his way into the world, his cries like music to my ears. As they laid him on my chest, I panted like I had been running for miles. My body was in shock and yes, it was painful. My first thought when I saw him was, “Who are you?”
The ultimate outcome of my childbirth was ideal. Once the first contraction started it took only 10 hours and 7 pushes (my husband counted) for my son to make his way out.
Everyone’s story will be different but will ultimately be perfect once that perfect baby arrives. I approached childbirth with an open mind, open heart and a willingness to get an epidural if I really needed one. But I also was armed with the practice of conscious breathing. This is something I teach to my yoga students on a daily basis. Our breath is everything. It is our guide. It is our strength, and also the vehicle to our capability in softening.
I wasn’t convinced I ever wanted to bear a child myself.
I am now convinced that I must be the luckiest gal on earth.