Many of us appreciate that each pregnancy and birth is unique, whether it’s a woman’s first, second or fifth baby! With each pregnancy we’re carrying a different set of DNA, it’s a different time in our lives, and our physical, hormonal, mental and emotional wellbeing can fluctuate accordingly.
Sometimes we’re so busy being pregnant or meeting the demands of daily life that we forget that pregnancy and birth is as much about the baby as the mama. Counsellor and best-selling author Naomi Stadlen notes:
“Every time a woman has a baby she has something to learn, partly from her culture but mostly from the baby”.
As much as we may wish otherwise, we can never be fully in control! It’s not surprising then that there’s a myriad of prenatal experiences, as well as birth stories.
Through our work here at Bliss Baby Yoga, and our collective experience as prenatal and postnatal yoga teachers, we are privileged to hear numerous birth stories. Whilst we firmly agree with the likes of the famous, pioneering midwife, Ina May Gaskin, that “Women’s bodies still work”, we are also very aware that what’s deemed a ‘good’ birth sometimes has very little to do with what interventions take place, how long labour lasts, or how baby is eventually brought earthside. More, it is about how the woman leaves the experience: did she feel empowered, respected, heard and supported?
In Australia, one in three women experience some kind of birth trauma postpartum, and one in 10 women emerge from childbirth with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We also have a national caesarean rate of 29.3%, significantly higher than the WHO’s (World Health Organisation) ideal rate of 10 – 15%.
These are important statistics for pre and postnatal yoga teachers, and other ‘birth workers’ to understand. A traumatic birth experience can lead to an inability to bond with the newborn, as well as emotional and physical scars.
So, how can we help?
We’ve long known the benefits of prenatal yoga. These range from strengthening and toning the physical body, helping women to release stress, preparing the body for birth, and shorter labour times. But, a lesser talked about benefit is yoga’s ability to mentally prepare us for labour, birth and motherhood through the art of surrender. By this I mean the ability to let go of a fixed idea of how things should be, face any challenges with courage, and adapt to the situation however it presents. This may be a missing ingredient in what makes a positive rather than traumatic birth.
With the birth of my first child I had on the face of it a ‘great’ birth: We birthed at a local birthing centre, there was no intervention, and I had a supportive doula and midwife. But the experience of labour was far from what I had rehearsed or expected.
My daughter turned posterior as I went into labour so I experienced it as one continuous, and very painful sensation across the lower back. There were no spaces to rest and recover and the urge to push came far too soon. I remember being overwhelmed and scared as it was so different to how I imagined. This was not in our very thorough and immaculately designed birth plan! Luckily, our support team held the space and kept me relatively centred. But afterwards I felt shocked and bewildered, and the experience took time to unpack. I do think it affected very early bonding and breastfeeding, but I denied my feelings as I kept being told what a great birth I had. By the time I was pregnant with my son, the experience had taught me to have a preference rather than a fixed plan.
Bliss Baby Yoga Graduate Mattie shares her story of surrender:
“Our little lady came 2 months early, so it’s very unsettling thinking about what might have happened if we didn’t have medical intervention. I never had time to create my birth plan, I just went with the flow as this was our reality. I am sure that my experience and training of yoga certainly helped overall in the way I dealt with it… Just being able to surrender and allowing the process of what was unfolding, and also to just be present in the moment.”
As prenatal yoga teachers, we can powerfully assist with birth preparation through consciously weaving in an understanding of surrender— from the grounding meditation at the start of class we can encourage our students to surrender to this time and space, right through to cueing them to be present with the Asana (postures).
In our Pranayama (breathing practices) we can remind students to come back to the self, and release mental and physical tension through the breath. We can also use the breath as a tool to soften and stay present as we practise the Stabilising Postures (e.g. Chair pose at the wall, One-Leg Cat pose, or Modified Warrior poses).
As we embody ahimsa in our practice (kindness towards the self as well as others), we learn how to harness a form of mental resilience. We practise the ability to adapt to any given day and situation, and also learn to surrender to higher energies (ishvara-pranidhana) and recognise something bigger than ourselves.
Bliss Baby Yoga graduate Laura (@yogi_wellness_mumma) tells us:
“I had an emergency c-section as bub was breech and they didn’t realise until I was about 6-7cm. Since practising yoga and deepening my learnings even more so by doing my teacher training I was able to feel more connected to my higher self, knowing that I simply had to just be, there was nothing else I could do… I was able to trust in the process”.
Bliss Baby Yoga Senior Facilitator Rosie Matheson also shares a story of empowerment:
“My birth didn’t go according to plan. Roughly 15 hours into my gentle planned home birth I needed to be transferred to hospital. Yes, it was not my dream. Yes, my last 3 pushes happened in hospital, and yes, I was assisted on my final push with a suction cap and decent sized episiotomy, and no, that was NOT my dream… But I was listened to, I was educated on my choices, I declined some of their suggestions, and I was met with kindness and respect every step of the way”.
Thank you to all the women who have shared their stories with us as we explore this powerful topic. As a community, this sharing helps us to both normalise different birth experiences and teach us that there is no one way to have a ‘good’ birth. This can only help us to better support one another and grow in our understanding.
And this highlights the importance of using all the yogic tools at our disposal to manage the challenges of whatever ‘kind’ of birth we end up having, as well as to process the experience afterwards.
As Ina May Gaskin is famously quoted:
“Wherever and however you intend to give birth, your experience will impact your emotions, your mind, your body, and your spirit for the rest of your life”.
Alcorn K, O’Donovan A, Patrick J, et al. A prospective longitudinal study of the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from childbirth events. Psychological Medicine 2010;40(11):1849-59.
 In our Bliss Baby Yoga Online Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training Course we introduce the 5 Bliss Baby Yoga Prenatal Posture Groups as a balanced and integratated way of teaching and sequencing your prenatal classes. The Stabilising Postures are Posture Group 5.
Beth Ivy Buxton joined the Bliss Baby Yoga team as Social Media and Marketing Manager in 2019. She has a dual passion for both marketing and women’s wellbeing, and has worked to support mothers and children for over 15 years. Beth teaches women’s and prenatal yoga classes in Auckland, NZ (find her at Moon Mamma).
If you are passionate about nurturing women during pregnancy and postnatally, and offering holistic yoga classes with safe, appropriate and nourishing practices designed specifically for pregnant women and new mothers, you may be interested in our Bliss Baby Yoga Online Prenatal & Postnatal Yoga Teacher Training course. We also offer Online Extension Modules to enhance and further your learning in this area, covering topics including Perinatal Nutrition & Ayurveda, Prenatal & Postnatal Anatomy and Physiology and Pelvic Floor Anatomy and Physiology for Women’s Health.