It’s a big practice in the yoga world to share birth stories; many “celebrity” yogis get press highlights to share theirs. Throughout our pregnancy, and now with Holly at home, my primary feeling is one of protection. We’ve waited a long time to have this sacred experience, and I feel the need to keep it relatively private. So, don’t expect many juicy details about her birth. What I do want to share, though, is how yoga played a role in bringing her into the world.
I went into early labor on Friday, March 23, around 9pm. I slept through the night and passively labored the whole next day, walking the Strand and relaxing at home. By 7pm, my contractions were 4 minutes apart, so we decided we better go to the hospital. I kept telling Reid it didn’t feel like “it” yet, and sure enough when we got there, I learned my contractions were very close together but not strong enough to get things going. We walked the 200 yards of hospital floor for 2 hours straight as my contractions progressed. I thought I was really nailing labor, as each contraction I simply leaned over, breathed, and let Reid rub my back. It wasn’t that hard!
Well, that’s because nothing was really happening … still.
We were sent home for some of the most intense hours of my life. I was told to drink wine, take a bath, try to relax, and come back when I thought I was really “ready.” I asked how to tell, since up to that point we’d been advised to use timing as a metric of when to go to the hospital. The nurse said, “I guess just wait until you’re in a lot of pain and there’s a lot of blood.”
I had the wine and a stick of string cheese. It was all I could do to get it down as my contractions progressed. I slept lightly for a few hours with my face right next to Reid’s; it is the only time I’ve ever wanted to be cuddled to sleep. I found relief in doing Warrior 3 with my hands on the edge of the bed during contractions. I’d lift a leg, breathe a few times, then put it down and lift the other. I did cat and cow, half-dog, and supported child’s pose. As contractions became closer and closer together, I managed okay.
Until I didn’t.
Around 2am, I woke Reid up and said, “We have to go to the hospital NOW.” He questioned whether we’d be sent home again as it’d only been 3 hours. I told him, “I won’t let them send me home.”
And that’s when I lost control. The poor guy who had to wheel me to L&D at 2 in the morning was trying to be nice, asking me questions about the baby, and I was not having any of it. If anyone in that lobby was considering getting pregnant, they probably thought twice after witnessing the tornado of my labor coming through.
I was “vocalizing” my contractions in the elevator. The nurse took forever to check me in from triage to our birthing suite. All the while my vocalizing got a bit disruptive. My contractions were less than 2 minutes apart, so there was a lot of it. I settled into a war chant of “HA HA HA HA” pretty thoroughly, much to the distress of my husband and the receptionists.*
Eventually, we did get into the room where we’d spend the most magical 3 days. Once I was there, I had a moment where I remembered something: contractions are the worst right before they start to ease up. If I could just make it to the peak of the contraction, which was only about 5 breaths, then it would get easier. I stopped vocalizing, held Reid’s hand, and closed my eyes. I breathed for 2 hours. The nurses commented on my excellent control.
I’d envisioned my birthing suite being full of music and dancing, chanting and essential oils, counting and coaching. Instead, it was nearly silent. I occasionally looked at the clock, knowing I wanted to make it to at least 6 centimeters before getting an epidural, and knowing I’d dilate at about a centimeter an hour. Around 5am, a nurse confirmed I was 7 centimeters. I met the biggest hero of my life – the hospital’s anesthesiologist – who gave me a gentle epidural. We slept for the next 4 hours. After that, the special, private moments of Hollis’s arrival unfolded.
I held her in my arms at exactly 1400 hours on February 25. If you don’t know, 14 is just about the only piece of luck I cling to in this world. It was my jersey number on every team and every sport I played for 23 years. Originally, I chose 28 as my jersey number for my first traveling softball team; it was my Dad’s number. I was so skinny that the uniform swallowed me up, so I had to pick a lower number. I cut it in half, decided on 14, and have taken it as a talisman ever since. Hollis knew just what to do.
The yoga of childbirth is like all other yoga: it sneaks up on you quietly. It is not the chanting and essential oils and poses you do to get you through. It is the internal moment when you realize you have the strength to ride the next contraction but decide to simply surrender to it instead. It is the 5 breaths up and the 5 breaths down when you really wish things would last only 1 breath. It is pausing and enjoying the time in between contractions, savoring the present moment of relief, without worrying too much about the next big challenge to come.
I didn’t have a big nirvana moment in childbirth. Some women say it is the purest meditation they ever achieve, some women say they see God, some women say they are born anew. Perhaps if I’d elected for the harder path without the epidural I’d have had that giant epiphany. Five years ago, I would have done just that. These days, I’m through chasing epiphanies. It’s okay with me if I never have that one “blast off” moment where my kundalini awakens and my chakras align. I’m fine with just learning a few things about myself and about life, chatting it up peacefully with the nurses, holding my lover’s hand, and taking home the gift I’ve longed for.
That’s the yoga of my birth story. May you find yoga in any path you pursue, and may you be okay with allowing the ordinariness of life outweigh the push toward extraordinary.
*The best tip I received on labor is this: do something until it doesn’t work anymore, then do something else. Try the new thing for at least 3 contractions before deciding whether it is helpful. Have a huge list of the things you can try, and just keep cycling through. You will at some point feel like “nothing is working,” and that means you just haven’t found the right thing yet.
**This is also a very good tip for life. Have a list of all the tools at your disposal to make hard times easier. If one doesn’t work, don’t quit. Just move on to the next one. You will at some point feel like “nothing is working,” and that means you just haven’t found the right thing yet.