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Prenatal Yoga and the dark side of motherhood

Woman performing downward-facing dog with child
Down dog with Aidan

At Yoga and Pilates with Everyone, we hold a Prenatal Yoga class on Mondays at 7pm. While these classes started (and for a long while, continued) with very small attendance, and partly online because of various lockdowns, now they are flourishing and always in-person (thankfully!)

I find this practice has a special feel to it, as all these women are carrying magic inside them and there is something about them – a vulnerability, but also a secret strength, an assurance – that changes the atmosphere in our cozy little studio. I do not burn incense for this practice, because pregnant ladies are particularly sensitive to smells, and the music is gentle. The mums use this hour to connect with their babies, to move, improving circulation and relieving aches and pains, and to get to know each other. I am constantly suprised at how strong, resilient and determined they are.

I owe this beautiful practice to the amazing Melissa Curtis, my own teacher and an incrediby passionate advocate of women´s empowerment. I cannot thank her enough for all she taught me, and continues to teach me still.

As I am sure most people know, as I am constantly telling tales about them, I have twin boys. They are nealy ten now, but in my mind, for some reason, they are still three years´ old. I did go to Prenatal Yoga when I was pregnant, but the class I found was not suitable for me. People chatted for about 45 minutes, and although the subject was very interesting, as it touched on all things connected with giving birth, I really badly needed to move and relieve joint tension. I ended up leaving that course and going swimming and walking instead (the two of them always fell asleep in my tummy when I swam, which was lovely). That is why, in our classes, we dedicate the last 15 minutes to relaxation, but before that, we MOVE! Movement is a balm for your joints, circulation and mood. Being of a Vata constitution (read more here) I experience a constant need to move, but everyone can benefit from gentle movement. Pregnant ladies can often feel pain or discomfort because a hormone called relaxin causes laxity in their joints, muscles and ligaments. Their lower back might ache because of the increased weight of their baby. They might have some swollenness in their feet and hands due to sluggish circulation and the body holding on to more fluids than usual. And the remedy often is ... movement!

It is lovely to see the wonderful pictures of new babies appearing in the chat as women in the class give birth. I am always in awe of how much life affirming these women are.

On the other hand, I also want to mention that not everything, in pregnancy and motherhood, is this luminous, this easy, this beautiful.

After birth is when the hard work really starts, and as a new mother, I had no idea about the dark side of motherhood. My mind was geared to help me and my babies survive birth, but after that, I had no idea. I thought it would be all very instinctive and full of love and light. And while perhaps for some this is true, a lot of us struggle. Unfortunately, this information is not easy to come by because we are shown all of these perfect images of motherhood in the media and movies, and if our lives differ from them, we are ashamed and want to hide it. If we are not perfectly blissful in motherhood, we feel like maybe there is something wrong with us – that we are inadequate, bad mothers. Monsters.

I hope you will read this and understand it is all a lot of rubbish and has absolutely nothing to do with your love for your baby. You love your baby, just as I love my little guys. But things are not like in movies. It is hard to go through so many sleepless nights (for me, over 5 years of them), to accept the changes in your body and your relationships, to give up on all free time, to constantly struggle with feeding your baby properly; to become, basically, a different person. And one more thing: you might not "fall in love" with your baby straight away. Even if you loved them when they were in your tummy, you might not experience that perfect love when they come out, for a while. Why? Well, let´s see. Your body has just gone through the incredibly intense experience of birth. Your hormones are all over the place. You are absolutely wrecked. And you have never seen that baby before. How is that? Why do we not give ourselves a chance?

Of course it can take time to connect with your baby. Of course you are a good person. Just give yourself time, do what your baby needs, and that feeling of love will come. We are only human beings, and I feel that the more we share this information, the more we can support each other´s mental and physical wellbeing.

So when you hear nasty comments about someone not being “a good mother”, or being “too fragile” or “too lazy” to cope with the demands of motherhood, and so on, please cut them down (politely. Karate moves are not permitted, even though you might feel like it... ). Educate people about being empathic and compassionate and understanding that it is actually impossible for us to really know what other people are going through. We can only be there for them, hold space for them, lend a sympathetic ear.

Melissa, my teacher, always says, “If someone is coming to your house to see the baby, then they can change a couple of nappies and why not, bring a meal.” YES! Let´s give people a hand. A newborn (or two, or more!) in the house means that nutricious meals are a luxury. So let´s start helping each other!

And mothers, please, please, accept the help. It does not diminish you in any way and it is good for your baby in the long term. We were NOT meant to do this on our own (or even in pairs); things just went all wrong when we lost our support circles.

One of the best gifts I received when my children were babies in Southampton was a dear friend of mine, Giulia P., appearing unannounced one morning I was on my own with them, and sending me upstairs to have a shower in peace. This is all it takes to lift someone´s day.

And it often comes down to the little things, because, when you have babies, you really can only take it day by day. I remember wearing the same clothes every day until they got dirty, and then hurriedly rustling out another set of clothes that I would wear for days on end. I remember being hostile to the midwives who were coming to help because I knew they would wake up the babies and I had only just got them to sleep. And yes, there was a time when I felt helpless and useless and worthless, so sleep deprived I could barely think, and not really myself any more. Everything had changed so much that it seemed my path was irremediably lost (I then discovered that I had not even found my path yet!). My body was shattered and it took me two years just to feel I had a core again (thanks to Meeta Raichura´s super-physical classes!) And then, unexpectedly, just when I was as lost as one can be, I found my way, my dharma ...

And remember, no matter how long they last, things are always temporary.

Having said this, if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, thoughts that do not seem to be yours, or you feel like you might be endangering your life and/or that of your baby, please do talk to your GP ASAP and know there are resources, such as Postnatal Depression Ireland, in place to help you. Everyone can get better. Please reach out!

Let us end the stigma around mothers experiencing difficulties once and for all. Postnatal depression is very common but only about half the mothers seek help because of people being judgemental. The myth of a mother always being radiantly happy with her baby in her arms, perfecly able to understand and satisfy her baby´s needs and just completely grateful is what is hurting us. It means that anything different must show the mother´s weakness, maybe even wickedness. That is what keeps us from seeking help and getting better. And it is so, so widespread. Family members (including partners) can perpetrate it without even noticing, and worse still, it is in the mother´s head, like a berating voice telling her she will be seen as a failure.

It is time to change our mentality about parenting. It is time to become informed and dispel ignorance around this subject. And it is time mothers (and parents, in general) had more support so they can sleep and take care of themselves. That would be a huge step towards improving mental health. And it starts with all of us!

I have heard again and again about partners not believing their baby´s mother when she expressed her difficulties, or even blaming her. Please, if you are going to be a father, read more about this so you can see the signs, believe, help, be there for her.

I feel like Prenatal Yoga is part of this journey, so, in my classes, I promote connection with the baby, but also talk about the time needed to bond.

Let us help one another thrive!


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