Using Yogic Tools To Calm and Center at Childbirth

My friend's newborn at the Birthing Center in Bryn Mawr

My friend’s newborn at the Birthing Center

At the ladies dinner I just attended in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, there was a definite vibe of appreciation, gratitude and loving release. We were just grateful that it was over, appreciative of the mercy of mother nature on us in our little hood, and thankful to have escaped our homes after two days with kids home from school and the whole family hunkered down in hiding. Over the meatballs, quinoa salad, chocolate covered toffee apples and warm banana bread, there was joy in our togetherness and palpable sense of relief. This storm had left its mark though, we were all wearing it just beneath our skin, even as we laughed and enjoyed the sweetness of friendship, wine and good food, there was a wondrous vibe of survival in the air.

 

It felt like a new kind of experience as we relayed stories to each other… what we heard, felt and saw, who we knew who had been badly affected.  We talked about how humbling it is to be hammered by a storm, fallen trees, no power, no heat for so many people. The impact, like Katrina in some areas, just so powerful to absorb and process.

Then as my friend Karen and I were nibbling cake, speaking of stormy weather, she asked about my trip to California a couple of weeks back and whether I had seen the birth of my friend’s baby.   My answer was “Yes!” I did catch the actual birth, just in time.   I miraculously walked into the birthing center room and she delivered within minutes of my arrival.  We smiled and ultimately we both knew that birthing is just like a storm passing through a woman, its natural, wild and unpredictable, and no matter how frightened you might be about the unknown of this process, there is one thing for certain– its coming and there is no turning back. The blessing, of course, is that unlike a hurricane the obvious reward is the baby that you hold in the end.  Finding the reward of Sandy? Not as easy to accomplish.

 

When I saw my Lori on her bed in the Birthing Center, I saw she was in the thick of her labor, full on and she told me to sit down on her bed.  Ryan was there and took the minivan keys from my hand and handed me his truck keys in exchange. I got a thank you for the car swapping favor and a BIG hug for the gallon of milk and three Hershey bars with almonds that I brought for him.  Then I looked into my sweet dear friend’s eyes and felt so blessed to be there in that moment with her.

I had immediate flashbacks to her lying in bed 10 years ago with  Benjamin in her womb, laboring like a goddess and blowing me away with her resolve to flow with acceptance and grace while nature passed through her body.  I bowed my head to our clasped hands and closed my eyes, grateful for this bond, this dear, sweet, loving connection to my sister-soul, that we do this birthing thing for each other.   What else is so perfect and beautiful as the birth of a baby? How inspiring and life changing it is to witness it with a dear friend and receive it as the flow of life itself.  I was just in awe of my timing and good fortune. I had not known if I would be there for this special moment because when I got to Cali I determined I was needed  most at Lori’s house to help her older three boys.

After three days of on and off laboring I understood her choice to get an epidural, her first time with pain relief at a birth of a child, and I must say she seemed very happy about it.  Suddenly she told me to get Ryan, she knew the baby was coming, and due to her calm voice I was a little confused but of course complied. I knew he was outside placing the infant car seat in the van so I called down, “Loris having a baby now apparently,”  and he said that he’d be right up.  The nurse called the doctors in and very joyfully, they donned their doctor garb to prepare for baby.  There were smiles everywhere, the moment we had all been waiting for.  It was very mellow for Lori with an epidural (I’ve seen the opposite with Benjamin’s birth) but I was freaking out with excitement, the anticipation was giving me chills.

 

Unlike me, I could see how Lori was fully in the moment with her baby. As the minutes ticked on, her eyes went blank and I could see she was hunkering down, deep within that primal space of a soul where no words make sense and no actions can be done.  Like your own personal hurricane, everything whipping around and shifting through you, the final stage of birthing leaves you with little else but the breath. The connection to the happenings within the breath is the only life jacket around, and tuning into it is the key to survival.  I see her connect to that and all seems to evaporate away. Her face shimmers, eyes close and then the deepest breath emerges.

At that point, I came around to one side to hold a leg up, and the time was now,  the intention to bring forth the baby.  During the breaks in contractions I looked at monitors and listened to the doctors talk about the numbers.   I was aflutter with thoughts like, “how will she know when to push with an epidural? How long will the pushing take? Will she tear?”  Yet, Lori was immersed in her perfect storm continuing through like a warrior.   Within 40 minutes from the moment I entered the room, baby Mac emerged and was being held in Lori’s arms, staring up at her and finally wearing a little tan hat.  Just in time for me to give a kiss and run out the door, grab their truck and meet up with the big boys after school.

 

In major storms and natural disasters like we just experienced with Sandy, just as with bringing a human life into the universe, we are very much pushed out of our mental comfort zone.  We are not given the choice of planning exactly how it will go, only how we will brace ourselves for it.  For no matter how much we predict or prepare there is no guarantee how the events will unfold.  We lose our autonomy and the sense of security that it brings us because we don’t know what will happen or how we will feel.  Once in motion, and with so many variables along the path,  we are compelled to summon our deepest mental resolve and do what we can to stay stable.

Being mindful and calm during childbirth

Being mindful and calm during childbirth

Since there is really NO way out sometimes, no pause button on the progression of labor, no magic carpet ride out of the hurricane, the best thing to do is have a tool which is ready to help calm the mind.  This is the gift that yoga has given me and the force which drives me to teach.  Yoga is a practice that develops focus, awareness and balance.   While moving through poses in optimal alignment the body flows with the rhythm of breath. The connection between the movement and the breath hones the focus and quiets the mind.  Meditation is simply the breathing without the postures but is the ultimate purpose of doing the physical postures, sitting quietly with yourself, being at peace.

The positive effects of yoga on both the body and mind are an invaluable resource when the going gets tough.  Since no one escapes life’s little setbacks, I feel passionately that cultivating this type of tool is just being prepared to whether the storm.