Question: “I am pregnant for the first time and overwhelmed about becoming a new mother. Despite the support I have in my life, I am feeling isolated and nervous about how my life (and my body) is already changing and especially related to the inevitable experience of giving birth. Do you have any suggestions on how I can cope with this huge adjustment in my life?”
Motherhood is an intense and deeply personal experience, no matter how “normal” it may seem. Birthing a child and mothering one, is wildly transformational. The overt changes that occur; like the physical ones in the body, schedules that shift, demands that increase, and of course the fact that there is this new human in your life that you’re now responsible for raising. The subtle changes can be even more challenging and more difficult to notice. The way in which a mother’s worldview and the view of herself changes, what she believes to be true about herself, the childhood wounds that can re-emerge from her own experiences growing up unbeknownst to her, and ultimately the way in which most American mothers mother in isolation. We deem this as “normal” but is very much the reason why mothers struggle so much with the process of becoming and then being a parent. Motherhood can be a beautiful time in one’s life – filled with presence, joy, and healthy growth; but oftentimes because we are trying to do it without the right support and with an “empty cup,”putting everyone’s needs before our own, it can be downright traumatic. But let’s be clear that this is not what is “normal” for motherhood.
The role of support and community is vital to the mental health of a mother. And we know that movement of the body is one of the best ways to maintain a healthy mind, body, and spirit.
I am focusing this article on a practice called “Prenatal Yoga,” because it encompasses both strategies of community and movement as a way to grow within the changes you are experiencing right now and soon to come. I interviewed Michelle Vondrak who is a yoga teacher in our community that specializes in bringing practices of movement to mothers who are pregnant or have recently given birth. I hope this helps encourage you to engage with a community of people who can understand what you are experiencing and gives you space to explore your body through movement as you transition into motherhood.
What is Pre/Post Natal Yoga?
Prenatal yoga is a connection to your body and baby through movement and breath. It provides a space to prepare your body and mind to journey through pregnancy and labor. Our bodies were made to give birth to babies and prenatal yoga gives you the ability to do so confidently. It also brings together women at a very transitional time, maybe it’s their first baby or their fifth, but they are moving into a new time of their life. Being surrounded with support, knowledge and divine feminine power creates a bond that follows them into motherhood.
Postnatal yoga is an opportunity to reconnect and rediscover your body. Practices are rooted in movement to strengthen the pelvic floor, build strength across the chest and shoulders, and most importantly, give new moms time to themselves. It’s also coming together in a circle of women who are in the early days of motherhood. It’s a place to share joys, tears, frustrations, and laughs. Essentially, it’s a safe space to land.
What are the benefits of coming together to practice like this as a group as opposed to just practicing from a video at home?
There is nothing more powerful than being in a room with pregnant women doing a prenatal “keep up” and hearing the sound of their breath in unison. Without saying anything they are encouraging each other to move through the sensations they experience. Keep ups are rooted in kundalini yoga and are used to mimic a two-minute contraction. They ride the wave of the feelings together knowing if they stay focused and trust their breath and their body, they can move through the sensation even when their mind might say that they can’t.
Check ins are another benefit to practicing in a group. It’s a time for moms to share how they are feeling or anything happening with their bodies and babies. It’s a place to feel seen and heard by women going through the same experience.
What are some of the challenges/barriers you believe there are to mothers accessing community and this kind of practice?
If they have not done yoga before they may feel like they can’t go, which is so unfortunate, because you don’t need to know anything about yoga to practice prenatal yoga. Second is with the way our world has been in the last couple years, moms are concerned about both the health of themselves and their babies. I know firsthand how scary it is getting back into the world, but I also know how important pre/postnatal yoga is for our community.
How has both community and the practice of movement/yoga supported you in your role as a mother?
Moms need moms. Doing prenatal yoga through both of my pregnancies made me feel better and encouraged a healthy pregnancy. It also gave me the confidence to face labor without fear. I knew my body, trusted my breath, and followed my intuition. It is something that I use on a daily basis as a mother.
What advice do you have for mothers who have children beyond the infant stage that are looking for community and movement to help their mental health?
There are many amazing offerings in our community: yoga classes, women’s circles, and workshops. Carving out time for yourself is so vital, we can’t pour from an empty cup. It can feel scary to reach out and try new things or make new friends, but we need to be brave and just do it because motherhood was not meant to go through alone.
Whatever else you think you might want to answer or highlight about what/how you teach?
When I teach I focus on empowering moms through their breath. I believe your breath is your superpower, it births babies and can get you through stressful times as a mother. I also encourage moms to do research, know what’s happening in their bodies throughout pregnancy, understand your options around labor and delivery, be your biggest advocate, and most importantly, trust your intuition.
If you would like to learn more about what Michelle offers, catch her on Instagram as @yogawith_michelle or “Yoga with Michelle” on Facebook. You can also contact her via email at email@example.com.