Thank you Frances Graham for sharing your experiences with yoga and your birth story.
Getting Over the Hump with My Belly Bump
By Frances Graham
I had never participated in yoga. I was scared and intimidated. I didn’t know downward dog from cat cow. And I most definitely didn’t feel like a warrior. But in my gut, I knew prenatal yoga was something I wanted to do.
After returning from a leadership retreat at Knoll Farm in Vermont where every meal was entirely local, we practiced daily meditation, and spoon carving was a daily activity, I wanted to continue my meditation practice and the amazing connection that I felt to my body and to the land. I wanted to explore prenatal yoga, but I was extremely intimidated by a yoga class. My perceptions were that I would not have the right clothes, say the right words or be able to get into pretzel-shaped postures, even though I was 22-weeks pregnant (I was thinking, was I supposed to be able to still contort my body?).
A friend of mine who was also pregnant, Kris, had heard about a prenatal class taught by Gloria Overcash. Kris sent me Gloria’s information, and I immediately picked up the phone and called her to see if there was space in the class. I told her my intimidation. I told her I’d never done yoga or been in a yoga class. I told her I had just returned from Vermont and had an amazing week of meditating in a yurt. And, I told her my first daughter died after two days of birth less than a year prior. I needed support for this pregnancy.
Gloria’s response was immediate compassion and care. She also explained that her class was based on Kundalini Yoga, potentially different from other yoga I may have seen or heard. When she described it, I knew it was what I wanted. And, I knew I wanted to start the practice with her as my instructor.
I attended my first prenatal yoga class with much anticipation, nervousness, and delight. During that first class, I felt something new. I became more alive. More connected. More invigorated. More in tune with my body, my breath, and my baby. I felt like I could conquer the world. I left that class thinking I had found the perfect program for me – from a spiritual practice and health perspective. On my drive home, I sang the chant and the closing song over and over. I felt like a woman! Who knew that it would change my life forever.
I continued going to prenatal yoga every week until the birth of my baby girl. After each class, we gathered for tea and snacks, immersing ourselves in conversation. A community of friendships was born. It was a weekly ritual that I cherished.
At any point if I had any hesitation, I felt comfortable sharing with Gloria. For instance, one of the sessions was themed “trusting our ability to birth.” I knew I was going to have a scheduled c-section. So, I didn’t want to participate if the class was focused on a vaginal birth. Gloria assured me that the class would still be appropriate for me to attend. Amazingly, that is the class that held me through my c-section!
Keep up exercises are practiced during each class. These “keep up” exercises are designed to take you past your comfort zone in labor and birth. Although I knew I was not going to labor for this birth, I knew deep in my soul that I needed to have the strength and wisdom within me to birth our second child.
Prior to the scheduled c-section, Gloria had the class experience a group meditation specifically for my strength and the birth of my child. It was one of the most moving, profound and inspirational moments of my life. I felt the love, strength and honor of the women surround and embrace me. I was truly humbled. I also felt complete and prepared for the days ahead.
On a Wednesday afternoon, my husband and I went to the doctor’s office for a prenatal stress test, which I had been doing twice a week since 30-weeks pregnant. After about an hour on the monitor, my ob-gyn thought we should have the c-section that night, rather than wait until the scheduled surgery for the morning. It took us all by surprise, but we trusted her judgment. We went home, gathered our bags for the trip to the hospital, and anxiously and nervously returned to Labor and Delivery at Bozeman Deaconess Hospital.
Upon arrival, we checked into L&D and settled into our room. I changed into the oh-so-lovely hospital gown, turned the lights low, put on some lavender oil, and turned on some very calming music, all to set the stage for a pleasant birth. My husband and I turned to one another, holding hands, and began a meditational breathing exercise learned in prenatal yoga. Our doctor came in along with the anesthesiologist, and together we all walked to the operating room.
I felt calm. I felt strong. I felt centered. I felt at peace. And, I felt connected.
On November 18, 2009 at 7:53 pm, Chapin Lorae Graham was born. She was perfect in every way. We were thrilled and almost overwhelmed with how calm everything was. On the second night we realized it had been a calm before the storm. It was clear that Chapin had jaundice, the form of jaundice that occurs when O blood-type enters baby’s blood-type (in this case, A), and O begins to break down the baby’s blood cells, causing a bile build-up (the yellowish coloring). It was scary. We didn’t want to go through trauma again. For four nights and five days, we were tested at every turn – when things got better, they got worse again. Our time with Chapin was brief and scheduled – not how we wanted it. Although there were daily challenges, ups and downs, and a physical disconnect from our baby, I felt centered, connected, and calm. Although anxious to be with her and be at home, we knew that time would come. I am confident that this patience and peace of mind was due to the hard work and dedicated practice of prenatal yoga for weeks leading up to this time.
Our world has not been the same since Chapin’s birth. She was a little fire-cracker from the start. My patience was tested, and time and time again, I found myself continuing the meditation practices learned during prenatal yoga. I even began singing the closing song, “May the long time sun shine upon you, all love surround you, and the pure light within you, guide your way on” to calm Chapin to sleep (and quite possibly remind myself to stay calm). I also sang a meditation for hope and healing, “Ra ma da sa, sa say so hung” – the reverberations when she is lying on my chest continue to help calm her to this day.
About a month after Chapin was born, I was eager to see the other mama’s who had ventured on this journey with us. We all got together with the babies and enjoyed sipping tea, nursing our little ones, sharing birth stories, and capturing the hearts and souls of one another once again. We agreed: we wanted this circle of friendship to continue. We began meeting once a week to gather, play, walk, support, and love each other.
For the months after Chapin was born, Gloria wasn’t offering a post-natal Kundalini yoga class, so I resorted to DVDs. It just wasn’t the same. Thankfully, Gloria recently began offering a post-natal Kundalini yoga class. It seemed to provide a complete circle. Postnatal yoga offers a different kind of strength and recovery. And, it allows the friendships and bonding that occurred during pregnancy to revive and flourish, along with our babies.
When I say that Kundalini yoga changed my life, I am not being facetious or creating hyperbole. It is the truth. I am a different person. I live my life with more purpose, more spirit, more energy, more strength, more compassion, more love, more grace, and more honor. This was a gift. This was the gift of Kundalini yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan and passed on by Gloria Ravi Inder Overcash. Gloria has a presence that is full of peace and calmness. She is confident in her practice and wants to share her wisdom (in a very non-threatening way). She fosters openness and truth. And, she embraces you with open arms, truly allowing you to be yourself.
I am truly blessed and eternally grateful.
Sat nam, mamas.
Read more about Frances, Todd, and Chapin’s journey through pregnancy here.