by Elise Bowerman
If you think birth is more about athletic ability - think again. Heather from Livonia, MI shares her testimony of being physically active and fit prior to two pregnancies/births, and how her focus would shift as she honored the pregnancy timeframe and mentally prepared for unmedicated childbirths. Plus, she shares what worked best for her to heal postpartum to re-start her active lifestyle again.
At the time of this interview, how far along postpartum are you? How many children do you have?
One year postpartum after my second. Two children.
How did prenatal yoga with Sweet Momma Yoga support your pregnancy?
Where do I start. I took prenatal yoga with Elise for both of my pregnancies and I expected to gain some breathing and stretching exercises, but what she provided was more than I could have ever imagined.
She not only gives you the tools to become curious about your body during pregnancy as it grows/changes/adapts, she gives you the confidence that you CAN be more than what society pressures you into.
She has created a safe space where you can have 10-20 pregnant women all in one place sharing stories, experiences, fears, joys.
Walking back into the yoga studio during my second pregnancy (at about 16 weeks), it was like being welcomed home.
My body instantly relaxed and went into a mindset full of love and acceptance. I’m a very active person and running was always been “me time,” but prenatal yoga became the time for me to slow down and connect with my pregnancy and unborn child. It fostered this deep connection that couldn’t have been cultivated anywhere else.
The breathing techniques and movements were essential during both of my labors (natural and unmedicated). Elise also instilled the confidence that while I trusted my midwives, doctors and hospital to do everything that was necessary, I could do my own research and learn how and why to advocate for the things that were important for me. She shares so much knowledge throughout her classes and dangles the carrot just far enough for you to want to explore on your own – both mentally and physically.
Prenatal yoga was also essential in cultivating my awareness of my body in a way that I never imagined. This became very important during the early days of my second pregnancy. While I was able to still run at 36 weeks during my first pregnancy, my body shifted early on in my second pregnancy and forced me to back off my running very early on.
I could have fought this, but instead I leaned into my knowledge and understanding of the marathon my body was about to embark on again. I made space and channeled my energy into other activities that weren’t as strenuous (e.g. walking, MUTU).
Another key discussion point that SMY focuses is on is your pelvic floor. It doesn’t matter if this is your first or fifth kid. During my second pregnancy another student, having her fourth or fifth child, mentioned that NO ONE had ever talked to her about her pelvic floor; which are the muscles that do all the work during labor and delivery, and long afterwards in postpartum.
The pelvic floor is literally the muscles that hold everything in. Forget what you know about kegels, pelvic floor awareness, exercises and strengthening is so much more. I was so grateful for the knowledge provided on learning to engage my pelvic floor properly that after my second birth, and realizing how weak my pelvic floor had become, I was able to roll right into a MUTU routine to strengthen my core and pelvic floor (again at the suggestion of Elise who had just become a MUTU Pro when I rejoined her classes for my second pregnancy).
Knowledge of my pelvic floor became essential a year post-partum when I was diagnosed with a mild case of cystocele (a version of bladder prolapse), even though I didn’t have any typical prolapse symptoms. My doctor indicated this could be corrected with muscle strengthening exercises and NOT surgery! So I’m back doing my daily MUTU core exercises and have seen improvement in just a month of consistent exercises.
Did you practice yoga before attending Prenatal Yoga with Sweet Momma Yoga?
Before Prenatal Yoga with SMY, I had attended 5-10 yoga classes in my life. As I mentioned, I’m very active in general so I do a lot of other activities like hiking, biking, canoeing, four-wheeling and of course, running. I approached my first time in SMY as more of a stretching supplement to my active lifestyle during pregnancy.
What I gained, as I mentioned, was so much more knowledge, mental strengthening, mindfulness and awareness. In addition to the yoga positions that helped immensely during labor and delivery.
One objective of Prenatal Yoga is preparing for childbirth - no matter how one births. Describe how the practice helped you in your birthing experiences:
For both of my labor and deliveries I desired a natural and unmedicated birth. I will reiterate the knowledge I gained from Elise and my fellow students in SMY classes was crucial to this. Preparations only get you so far, then you are left to get yourself to the finish line. So make sure the team you surround yourself with knows your wants/desires and is willing to help you achieve them.
During my first labor and delivery, I used a snoogle pillow as a great alternative for sitting on the bed and relieving some lower back pressure because I didn’t have a yoga bolster. Various other yoga positions helped me to stay loose and relaxed (cat cow, child’s pose, etc). The nurses were also accommodating and provided me a telemetry monitor so I could walk the halls and move about my room as I wanted. After my water broke the contractions became much more intense, and finding a relatively comfortable position to labor in was difficult. However, this was the time I went into myself and focused on my breathing. Just like Elise preaches in class - you need to relax, maintain focus and breathe through the contractions. I trusted my body to accomplish this incredible task and did not forcefully push my baby out. I breathed her down gradually and this allowed me to avoid any tearing of the perineum.
My second labor and delivery was much shorter, but much more intense. However, my dedication to myself and my baby through continual attendance of SMY classes, allowed me to focus on my breathing, use many different yoga positions (table pose became my preferred position), and once again breath my baby out to avoid any tearing.
The first year postpartum is statistically the most challenging on many levels for birthers. Did your experiences of prenatal and/or postnatal yoga offer preparation for, or a sense of ease in this phase of life for you?
Yes, circle time during prenatal yoga classes were amazing to hear about life after pregnancy from other moms that already had children. Society as a whole focuses so much on pregnancy and delivery, which is such a short timeframe compared to postpartum. Just like with labor and delivery, you need to have a team to help you get through the first weeks, months and years of parenthood. It’s not easy.
I mentioned previously about the MUTU program, recommended by Elise, has helped me personally with my core and pelvic floor postpartum. I had assumed that with my active lifestyle, my body would bounce back a second time, but it didn’t. After my second pregnancy I had a two finger diastasis recti and a very weak pelvic floor. But many of the positions/moves used in MUTU mimic many positions used in prenatal and postnatal yoga classes, so I felt almost like I had a leg up when I began the program.
Also, postpartum depression is real, common, and nothing to be ashamed of. Hearing other women’s experiences during circle time really helped understand something that society makes confusing and shameful. They also helped show that women experience it very differently. It took a long time after my first pregnancy to finally reach out for help. I went through a number of counselors until I’ve finally found one (reset brain + body, llc in Plymouth) that is holistic and incorporates yoga, breathing, meditation and mindfulness as just a few of the tools to help you cope and overcome this life-changing time and everything that comes after labor and delivery.
Hindsight and personal experience help us open to new ideas. What is one piece of advice you'd like to gift another birther?
Of course, take a prenatal or postnatal class with SMY! But also, if you are considering even trying to breastfeed, ensure you take a quality prenatal breastfeeding class AND have the lactation support to help with nursing during the FIRST week.
The first hours, days, week is the crucial milk-production time and hospitals provide minimal education/support to new moms to actually succeed in this. Breastfeeding is an amazing and natural experience, but it does not come naturally. It takes time and effort for you and your baby to establish a groove. Having the proper support to succeed is essential.
I was fortunate enough to find Successful Breastfeeding LLC (a Michigan-based lactation consultant) who provides online classes, virtual support (not as scary as it sounds) and access to an incredible online community. I was able to establish a successful nursing relationship with both of my daughters, who each nursed for just over a year until they self-weaned.
Thank you, Heather, for being open and honest of the qualities you found most helpful in becoming a parent. Your dedication to the yoga practice and honoring yourself with each pregnancy was a gift to witness.
Keep reading on to hear more parent stories right here.