I’m pregnant again. Very pregnant by now- less than four weeks until due date.
When you’re this pregnant, it’s hard to think, talk and write about any other topic than… pregnancy. You’re so wrapped up in the experience of carrying a fully developed human body inside you. This human is at this stage practically ready to be born ‒ he or she is just spending some extra time in there, growing a bit more. But all organs and senses are fully there and if he was to be born today, he wouldn’t even be considered premature.
So imagine that. Another human being inside your body. Giving you heartburn, hormone-craze and hemorrhoids.
The second time you know what you’re about to go through, too. What kind of an overwhelming and huge event it is for the body to give birth to another life. The first pregnancy I spent blissfully unaware; I was doing my gentle yoga every day, baking cakes, putting on a lot of weight, picking flowers, doing hypnobirthing sessions every day, Googling pregnancy developments, writing blog posts about how I felt… Being a pregnant princess, basically.
This pregnancy, I have a boss. He is 23 months old and his name is Pi. He’s up in the middle of the night and wants things from me. He wakes up at 6 am sometimes and wants things from me. And he spends all day wanting things from me. And I’m happily giving it to him, too. He is the prince of my life.
But isn’t it funny, how when you’re pregnant the first time, everyone tells you not to carry heavy stuff, to rest a lot, to eat for two, to make sure you get as much sleep as you can in preparation for those days when the baby is there and you won’t get any? And then, the second (and third, and fourth, I’m sure) time no one tells you any of these things. You just have to get on with life, you have to carry a heavy toddler who needs you to carry him because he is tired despite your huge belly and you have to skip resting and sleeping in favour of taking care of your prince.
This time has been a very different experience for me. The first time the pregnancy kind of “happened to me”. I was carried away by it, I allowed IT to take me on a journey. I wasn’t aware of how that affected my body until after having given birth.
So now to the yoga part of this post.
For my first child I was practicing yoga the whole pregnancy ‒ pregnancy yoga. Pregnancy yoga is quite gentle, quite light. Quite feminine, meditative, easy.
A lot of women who become pregnant actually take up yoga just for the duration of the pregnancy. I always thought this sounded wonderful, and such an amazing way to exercise during pregnancy. Until after I gave birth, when I realised what pregnancy and pregnancy yoga had done to my body!
I was way too flexible. I had no muscles left. I was weak, overweight, overbendy. There wasn’t anything holding me together anymore. Limbs and ligaments seemed to float out to the edges of space. Unstable and unsteady.
I started practicing post-natal yoga via online classes, and they talked about taking shorter stances in standing poses, drawing into the core, etc. Re-creating the lost muscles and the loss of strength. A few bells started ringing when I heard those instructions. But I stopped these classes soon, as it felt like I was damaging my body even more by stretching it. It didn’t need stretching at all ‒ it had already been physically, emotionally and mentally stretched as far as it could be. I needed to regain strength, and especially core, by proper muscle work ‒ sans stretch.
It took me a long time, to be precise, a year and two months, to get back to my start weight. I guess sometimes we just have to fall apart completely, then start over and build ourselves up again. It can be a very good thing, as in my case ‒ I feel I really got to know myself and my body even more. I did squats and push-ups, that kind of stuff, a lot of it, every day, still in an asana-inspired and related way, but definitely strength-building as opposed to stretching. I felt stronger than I ever have been before. That definitely is related to becoming a mother, of course, but now I’m referring mostly to my physical state. Of course carrying a baby around helped with building strength, but had I not complemented that baby carrying with real muscle toning, it would have just wrecked my body.
To compare the two pregnancies:
At the point where I am now, just a few weeks before birth, I have put on just under 10 kilos. I eat very healthy food. A pregnancy information site says, “Though you do need some extra calories, it's not necessary to 'eat for two.’ The average pregnant woman needs only about 300 healthy calories more a day than she did before she was pregnant. This will help her gain the right amount of weight during pregnancy.””
Three hundred healthy calories ‒ that’s equivalent to a normal, healthy breakfast, for example oatmeal with fruit and milk. An example of unhealthy calories would be a Starbucks hot chocolate with whipped cream, which would only make me gain weight and not give me any nutrients, and contains 440 calories.
I haven't stopped my life, as I can't stop my life to just be pregnant, because I have a family to take care of. Life just goes on despite me being pregnant. I carry heavy things, I work, I move, I exercise.
Last time I was hovering around 17 kilos right now. I was “taking it easy” literally all the time. Resting, resting, resting. Yoga once a day, with loving stretches, breathing and “connecting with the baby.” Hypnobirthing sessions which essentially meant lying down and resting for an hour every morning after breakfast. I refused to carry heavy things and I expected to be treated like a princess. I was doing long headstands every day as I loved that feeling of weightlessness.
This time I’ve been swimming regularly throughout the pregnancy, and in the water I get that desired feeling of weightlessness. And wow, what a difference it’s made. It has made me realise that maybe yoga isn’t such a good idea for a pregnant body. It doesn’t need to be more stretched. It needs strength to carry that heavy belly. The back needs to be stronger than ever, to balance that heavy, stretched out front. The shoulders need to be strong to not get too stiff from the imbalance in the body created by that heavy front weight. The hips need to be strong and balanced to hold up the belly. And swimming helps with all of that. Yoga, at least in my case, just made everything out of place, too soft, too large. And not to mention the weight of that heavy body on my neck during those long headstands ‒ I suffered from a crunched, painful and sore neck for a year after that. (Never again headstands!)
I thought I was balancing the body by practicing yoga, but I actually just created an even larger imbalance. The body produces a hormone during pregnancy poetically called Relaxin, which stretches ligaments and joints naturally from inside in the hip and inner groin area in preparation for birth. The abdominal muscles are stretched out and moved aside to give space to baby and placenta. Does it really make sense that the strategy for balancing all this would be to stretch the body even more?
I feel physically so much better this time, even though it’s been harder because of the prince. And I’m convinced it’ll be a much shorter journey to recovery after I give birth to Prince #2 as I’m strong, held together by muscles, and have less extra weight to hold me down.
Googling pregnancy yoga, I found a few quotes:
“Independent midwife Manijeh Nedas says: 'In my experience, I believe that yoga plays a very important role in pregnancy. Generally, pregnant mums who do yoga exercises appear healthier, both in mind and body. Their bodies are more flexible, which enables them to adapt to various positions when in labour and the ligaments are more elastic, which in turn can help to reduce labour pain.” Okay great. But labour is relatively short, from a few hours to a few days. What about the YEAR or so afterward?
“The most important thing to keep in mind is that anything that turns our attention to ourselves is going to be healing for the body and really good for the baby. The baby can feel when we’re really taking care of ourselves and really at ease. It happens as a chemical experience for the baby.” This quote is from Elena Brower, a popular yoga and prenatal yoga teache. I’m not so sure she is correct about the chemical experience for the baby when we focus on ourselves. Sounds like a lofty spiritual concept. But if it is indeed true, it can also happen through anything that the pregnant woman enjoys doing.
One site advises, “Set aside your ego and honor where your body is at today. Practice loving compassion for yourself and baby. Prenatal yoga is one of the best things that you can do for yourself, as well as your growing baby.” This statement sounds very hippie trippy to me. Just because I’m doing a prenatal class, does that mean I’m practicing loving compassion for myself and my baby? Has the person who wrote this ever been pregnant? Is this person aware of how irritable, angry and annoyed a pregnant woman can get at absolutely anything? How frustrating it can be to feel like an elephant? To practice loving compassion for yourself when you have the worst acid attack coming from your belly and burning your whole digestive tract can make you swear like a cowboy? In some moments of discomfort, there is no loving compassion for anything at all. There’s just pure discomfort.
“You are working with conscious breathing during each yoga pose, which may sometimes be challenging. This transfers into the time of labor, allowing one to practice being comfortable with the uncomfortable’ through our breathwork. As you inhale, you acknowledge the tension that is felt. As you deeply exhale, you let go of it more and more with each breath.” Sounds great and I really agree with the concept ‒ up to a point. Have you, who wrote this, ever been in a non-medicated labour? Have you experienced your vagina opening eight centimeters in less than an hour, all of your pelvis, lower back and bones feeling as if they are being ripped open, broken and torn apart? There’s no “letting go of it more and more” in that moment. There’s only survival.
Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE yoga. I do practice yoga up to four times a week, still, at 8 months. But I do it differently, almost without stretches at all, because I know my body and what it needs this time around. And it’s definitely not stretching and getting more flexible and loving compassion. It’s strength to be able to handle the weight, the pain, and the recovery. I have to conclude from my experience, and it may not be everybody’s, but I think during pregnancy practicing yoga needs to be done with great caution and an eye to consequences.