By Kim Lachance Shandrow
I gave birth to my second son, Kade, naturally at home in my bed. He was born adrift a rush of amniotic waters, a peaceful finale to 12 manic nights of on-and-off contractions and 29 hours of labor. Just before the final push, I flooded my lungs with prana and focused on a picture on the wall that I’d drawn of a wild-haired pregnant woman firmly grounded in Tree Pose (Vrksana). At last, after nine months of gazing into the feathered green marker curves of her silhouette for inspiration, I became her: a balanced, rooted, brave birth warrior. It worked.
Prenatal yoga gave me solace when I expected chaos, even in the most jagged moments of active labor. A new life unfurled safely in my home, and I drew on months of melting into the mat to give birth without pain-numbing drugs or medical intervention. If not for regular yoga and meditation throughout my pregnancy, I likely would have delivered Kade terrified and numb, beneath the fluorescent glare of delivery room lights in an epidural and Demerol haze, similarly to how I delivered my first son, Aiden, nearly 12 years ago. Instead, I was graced with one of the greatest gifts a mother can receive: the fulfillment of her right to labor in peace on her own terms in the privacy of her own home.
Crawling Toward Yoga
A nagging need for calm brought yoga into my life around the time my first son learned to crawl. I spent most of a high-risk pregnancy with him in bed, depressed, and bleeding heavily, all while anchored to my couch on strict, obstetrician-ordered bed rest. I was diagnosed with “placenta abruption,” a condition that could have been fatal to us both. Narcotic painkillers left me weak, traumatized, and utterly powerless during Aiden’s 12-hour hospital labor. The entire experience was like having a baby during a bad trip, hallucinations and all.
My first child survived the pregnancy despite the poor odds and continuous bleeding throughout the pregnancy. He was healthy in every way and thriving on breast milk, yet I continued to mother him as if he were still in danger. I was too tightly wound from constant worry during the pregnancy. I couldn’t just let go and enjoy motherhood. A family friend suggested anti-anxiety medication. I knew there had to a better, more holistic way. Healing had to come from within, not in the form of a pill. My search led me to bi-weekly classes at Omadawn Yoga Studio in Seal Beach, California, where I eventually learned to relax a little — at least while I was on the mat.
Over time, I was able to relax for longer and longer periods, inside the yoga studio and out. When I became pregnant with Kade, I knew for the first time in my life exactly what I wanted to do: to labor at home, instinctually and intuitively, in tune with my baby and body. My first act as Kade’s mother would be to protective him from an invasive, impersonal hospital birth. No needles. No drugs. No doctors.
After rewriting what my body and mind knew about birth, Kade spent the first moments of his life nestled in my arms, naked, unbound, and nursing. No one poked or prodded Kade, as they had done to Aiden in the hospital. We were home together, not separated for hours on end. No one could tell me I couldn’t sleep next to Kade because I might suffocate him, like they told me with Aiden. We slept side by side for days. He wasn’t too drugged to properly latch on and nurse. Instead, he was an eager little nurser and seemed to know just what to do.
Asana: Potent Postures For Pregnancy And Childbirth
Lonne Dickerson, who taught me and hundreds of other moms-to-be at FreeSpirit Yoga in Long Beach, California, views prenatal asanas as great practice for the real thing: labor and delivery.
“Each asana presents a new opportunity to better know your body, your pain threshold, your strengths and weaknesses,” she tells her students as they curl up on their left sides in Corpse Pose (Savasana) for final relaxation. Her bristly gold dreadlocks brush the tops of her heels as she kneels in Thunderbolt Pose (Vajrasana). “Take this body-mind awareness with you in the delivery room so you can isolate and relax any areas of tension that may block the flow of your body’s natural birthing process,” Lonne says. “Trust that your body knows what to do.”
Bound Angle Pose’s (Baddha Konasana) dramatic, space-making upward sweep of the heart center was one of many asanas that made extra space for Kade to roll around in when he was still in my belly. This subtle yet powerful hip opener also prepared my pelvis to make way for his sturdy eight-pound, four-ounce newborn body.
Reclined Hero Pose (Supta Virasana) was the antidote to my pregnancy-related heartburn. Persistent acid reflux plagued both of my pregnancies, but this pose made all the difference my second time around. I found its backward tilt so cozy that I nodded off one night while still in the posture. Reclined Hero can also curb the nausea of morning sickness and has been said to help relieve constipation, a common side effect of iron-packed prenatal vitamins. I was careful to lift up out of the pose using my arms, not my abdominal muscles, which were stretched to capacity in the later stages of pregnancy.
Cow Face Pose (Gomukhasana), named for its resemblance to cow ears (the raised arms) and lips (the crossed-over legs) is a challenging chest opener. I treasured this posture when Kade grew big enough to occupy my upper rib cage. The extra space helped me cope with being painfully jabbed awake during his nocturnal kicking sprees.
On the days when I chased my first son around while carrying his brother in the womb, my left hand resisted meeting my right in the hand-clasping portion of Cow Face Pose. Exhausted and irritable, I pouted like a baby when I couldn’t quite complete Gomukhasana behind-the-back handclasp. In this pose, I realized that my hormonal moodiness could really put a dent in my yoga practice. But then I would remind myself that yoga isn’t about competing, not even against ourselves.
My first son loved to practice Triangle Pose (Trikonasana) with me in the morning before breakfast. I wonder if he sensed that these special moments alone with me would end for a time with the arrival of this little brother. He rubbed my pregnant belly as I twisted my hips and chest open, and reached my hand toward the ceiling. I was lucky if I could get 10 seconds in the pose without him knocking me off balance or hanging from my tops of my legs like they were monkey bars.
Some women actually find that they have better balance when they’re pregnant, while some say they get clumsier. I ended up in a goofy purple leg cast during my second pregnancy thanks to a bum ankle and bad balance. I recovered quickly and returned to yoga with little modification. Still, the added weight of pregnancy threw off my center of gravity and made for wobbly balance poses.
Someone once told me that the degree of balance you achieve in Tree Pose (Vrkasana) is an indication of how balanced you are on the inside, or psychologically. My instructor sometimes asks her pregnant yogis to come together in a circle to practice Vrkasana. With our arms linked and feet grounded, we supported each other and swayed.
Two Key Poses For Every Pregnant Woman
If I had to recommend only one posture to expectant moms, it would be the least glamorous of them all, the Squat (Kata). Once I discovered Kata’s hip-strengthening power, I gave up sitting on chairs for most of my pregnancy. I squatted in my living room, even when guests came to visit, even as they looked at me as if I’d totally lost it. Squatting for 20 minutes at the foot of my bed (yes, Kegels and all) became a nightly ritual.
Midwife and freebirth pioneer Jeannine Parvati Baker refers to the squat as “bio-energetic, the natural grooving position” in the 25th anniversary edition of her classic guide to yogic childbearing titled Prenatal Yoga and Natural Childbirth. Baker recommends practicing Mulabhanda Root Lock, the rhythmic squeezing and holding of the PC (pubococcygeus) muscles during asana. It’s basically yoga’s equivalent to Kegel exercises. However, the ancient Mulabhanda technique is much more than a rote contraction of muscles. It boosts and stores energy in the first and second chakras, channels dormant energy from the base of the spine, and purifies the mind in preparation for higher states of consciousness.
I burned precious energy while pushing out my first son. I hadn’t done a single Kegel or asana the entire pregnancy, and I was too numb from an epidural-Demerol cocktail to recognize the right muscles to push with, let alone control them when the time came to push.
The second time around I knew better. I practiced Mulabhanda often, especially in Kata pose. Maybe this is why I didn’t so much as tear when Kade was born. Credit is also due to my midwife, Anne Sommers, who gave me a protective perineal massage when my son’s head crowned. This particular bhanda (Sanskrit for “to hold” or “to lock”) can be done in any posture, and is especially restorative in the days, weeks, and months after childbirth.
Another pose also helped directly while giving birth to Kade. My doula, Candace Leach, suggested that I modify Cat-Cow Stretch (Marjarasana) by leaning on a birthing ball from a kneeling position with my arms dangling down over the top. The ball relieved pressure in my lower back and took weight off my wrists, which finally gave out after supporting me on all-fours for three hours straight in the shower. I tilted my pelvis back and forth in the pose with piping hot water running over the small of my back. In this final, most painful hour of labor, I pressed my face into the center of my husband’s chest — the only place I felt safe to be in that moment — while slowing rocking my hips to cope with the burning downward pull of Kade’s body descending into and through the birth canal.
Seasons Change — Yoga To Go
Kade is now seven months old, cutting his first two teeth and crawling. We recently moved two floors above the apartment where he was born. Every day I pass by the bedroom where he drew his first breath and wonder who sleeps there now. They’ll never know that a baby boy was born there in the comfort of his mom and dad’s bed at 9:33 p.m. on June 24, 2003.
Now that I’m raising two boys full-time while freelance writing, I often spend more time daydreaming about yoga (and maybe one day becoming a certified yoga instructor) than actually doing it. I’ve traded sun salutations at the local studio for bobbing along with my three-year-old son to his favorite YogaKids DVD. On those rare afternoons when my boys miraculously nap at the same time, I retreat to my mat for a brief moment of peace, solitude, and sometimes sleep.
Editor’s note: Kim gave birth to her daughter, Solenne, also at home in bed, on Oct. 25, 2004. She lives with her three children and her husband, Adam, in a big city by the sea in Southern California. Photo by jami Saunders/Flickr.