MY STORY by Sue Elkind
My interest in prenatal yoga developed shortly after I began teaching yoga in the early 1990’s. During one of my first public classes, I encountered a pregnant student who was in obvious need of extra assistance.Trying not to panic, I instinctively gave her as many props as I could find to help her modify her practice and stayed close by to remind her to breathe! After the session, I called a seasoned prenatal yoga teacher and friend, Susan Swan, to consult about what I had done. First she assured me that I did not do anything wrong or harmful. She then offered me some useful advice based on her wisdom and personal experiences in pregnancy and prenatal yoga. From that first experience, I was truly inspired to see how yoga and the state of pregnancy were deeply connected. I continued to seek out prenatal trainings over the next several years, fortunate to be in Los Angeles where prenatal yoga was flourishing. There was an abundance of great inspiration, particularly the community woven together by Gurmukh Khalsa. What I found interesting was how different each prenatal yoga class was — depending on the teacher and their school of influence. When I became pregnant and decided to teach prenatal yoga, I used this multitude of resources I had gathered to help inspire my own voice to bloom.
My hope with this book is that teachers, students, and others interested in the connection between pregnancy and yoga will gain a deeper understanding of the many gifts that prenatal and postnatal yoga offer to support pregnancy, birth, and beyond. A teacher trained to work with the specific conditions of the pregnant body — including the ability to encourage a student to really trust in her experience, can greatly help to create a safe, healthy, and empowering prenatal and postnatal yoga practice.
My greatest source of prenatal wisdom has undoubtedly come from having two very different pregnancies and birth experiences. Although both were homebirths, my first pregnancy was much more conventional than the second. Being cautious after already having had a miscarriage, I listened diligently to my doctor and the spiritual guidance of my cherished doula Anna Verwaal (a doula is often translated as “mother’s mother” and is there to support the mother during the birth process). My beloved yoga teachers offered wonderful insight into my personal practice and the best gift of all — the confidence to be my own teacher and explore my pregnancy and practice from a deep inner wisdom.
While I initially thought a conventional hospital birth would be my route, about four weeks before my first son, Luca, was born, I found a new house more suitable to do a home
birth and switched to a midwife. When the first real contractions started, I felt that I had prepared as best as possible. What I did not expect was that my labor would last thirty- two hours. I was fully dilated when my water finally broke in the bathtub. My midwife noticed the amniotic fluid contained meconium (a thick, tar-like stool that a baby typically releases after he or she is born). Luca had a bowel movement while still in the womb, which meant there was a chance he could aspirate meconium into his lungs upon arrival.Although this situation is fairly common, it was nonetheless frightening. Our pediatrician, Jay Gordon, came rushing to the house hoping to avoid taking Luca to the hospital. After listening to his lungs for a solid hour, everyone agreed it was not worth the risk. Luca spent the first week of his life in neo-natal intensive care with tubes up his nose to help him breathe and had continuous monitoring for infection. Looking back, Luca and I had extraordinary moments together the first hour of his life, and I was fortunate to avoid the higher risk of a c-section surgery, a standard procedure when meconium is detected. Even though my home birth did not go according to my plan, I had an important revelation: birth is not just about a mother’s wishes and plans. Luca’s birth wasn’t just my dance.
My second son, Milo, on the other hand, arrived while I was in a very deep state of meditation — without even pushing — in a truly bucolic birth in the comforts of our dimly lit bedroom. Both my husband Naime and I were astonished at the beauty and bliss of Milo’s sweet entrance into the world and bathed for hours in the afterglow. Reflecting on this pregnancy, I barely had any intervention, choosing instead to use a stethoscope when possible and the skillful hands of my midwives, Shelly Girard and Seannie Gibson. I stayed ‘tuned in’ through regular meditation and trusted what I heard inwardly with even greater sensitivity and awareness. My confidence to do this was bolstered immensely by having both the strength and support of my midwives who continuously guided me, along with my family and friends standing close by.
Looking back at my birth experiences, I realize how important it is for a pregnant woman to be surrounded by loving, supportive, and understanding friends.Without the emotional security of a kula (community of like-minded hearts), it is much harder to relax and trust our inherent wisdom. This is one of the main reasons why I feel prenatal yoga classes, if available, are such a powerful and indispensable part of a woman’s pregnancy for both experienced practitioners and those new to yoga.