Enter the Dharma

The old me is gone.

My old body is gone.
My old practice is gone.
My former life is gone.
My mind is gone. Literally. Mommy brain is a thing.

1-16-16 was the birthday of my son and when everything changed for me significantly. It was the death of my old life…

and that’s not a bad thing.

As I reflect on this past year, the preconceived notions of what I thought motherhood would look like didn't even come close to the reality of just how difficult, complex and imperfect the whole experience has been. Every plan, every outline of birth and motherhood has been thrown out the window and replaced with whatever was needed in the moment. My life is now a continuous adjustment of expectations.

Photography by Holly Andres

Photography by Holly Andres

Becoming a mother was something I always wanted, and yet, it was not on my radar. The news of the pregnancy was a total surprise for me and my husband as we hadn’t planned on having children together. He already had three grown kids and I enjoyed being a stepmom to them. In May of 2015 I had just finished leading a 200 hour yoga teacher training and another one was on the books for 2016. I was researching where I wanted my next destination retreat, while preparing for one in Ojai, and teaching a modest 10 classes per week. On top of that, I had a daily practice. I considered myself fortunate to have a teaching career, and turns out, I am deeply attached to that career and my freedom.  My mindset was around daily practice, and what I had to offer as a teacher.  I liked having flexibility and didn't realize how much of a luxury saying yes and/or no to work or leisure was. Now, I would have nine months to totally reprioritize, accept the impending changes to come, and enter the world of pregnancy, birth, and motherhood.

Spontaneity gone. Freedom redefined. 37 years of things my way.

Now I had to think of and care for someone else, everyday, for the rest of my life, and once Julien was here, this felt a bit foreboding.

What they say about labor is true. I went elsewhere, but somehow was more in my body than I've ever felt in my life. Every muscle in my body engaged, summoning strength and holding my breath to push as hard as I possibly could. A focus so intense. 4 hours and I barely escaped an emergency C section.

Julien arrived 'sunny side up' with his heart rate down and the cord wrapped around his neck twice. He didn't cry. He didn't make a sound. In those moments I distinctly remember preparing myself to have lost him, and I cried. As the NICU doctors and nurses took him to stabilize him I sat up trying to listen for the slightest sounds. "Is that him!? Is that him!?"  

2 hours. I passed out and couldn't feel my legs. Part of having an epidural. I wanted to see my son but I didn't want to get up. I hadn't eaten in...almost 24 hours. Only ice chips during pushing. My mind was in a fog and my body broken down. Thank God my husband was with him. Stiff and sore all over, I was confused: blindsided actually. Why did we have a complicated birth? Did I do something wrong? Was my son ok? I'm a yogi, that should have gone smoother, no? I failed. My yogi friend just gave birth at home and it only took 6 hours. Me: 22 hours. I failed. I want a do over. My doctor should have known. And why hadn't more women talked about birth trauma? Why was birth painted as such a beautiful experience? Transformative is what I'll call it: long, drawn out, and traumatic...

and everything is never the same again.

Photography by Angela Strassheim

Photography by Angela Strassheim

Sleepless nights and a gassy baby who seemed to cry for two months straight, proved to be frustrating, mildly speaking. At the time it seemed like it would never improve. Trying to establish breastfeeding was tedious and required more energy than I felt I had. Again, "why don't more moms talk about this?" Why didn't I know newborns wake up every one to two hours in the middle of the night?

The hormones are real and so are the night sweats and mood swings that come with them.

With no family around, I didn't have help. My husband had to go to work and I spent my days alone feeling isolated, lonely, and exhausted. I went back to teaching yoga a few hours a week after two months of maternity leave, so I would be mostly a stay-at-home mom.

A surprise pregnancy, a birth plan gone, a drastic change of life, a lack of self care, a series of losses, and the unimaginable stress that came with new motherhood stacked one by one on top of each other until I found myself angry, depressed, resentful and ungrateful around six months postpartum. Totally unhinged.

I couldn’t go out to take class, or meet friends for lunch, or say ‘yes’ to teaching opportunities...those little things I had previously taken for granted...and it was painful.

"They're going to forget about me," a repeat thought.

I felt imprisoned in my own home with my baby and I wanted to burst out of my skin. It's disturbing to not feel gratitude. I didn't feel it. I couldn't feel it. Intellectually I knew I had a lot to be grateful for, but it wasn't there in my heart. I felt like a shitty teacher and a shitty mom. When I confided in my husband that I couldn't feel gratitude, he replied, "That's depression."

“I can’t do this, I can’t do this, I can’t do this;" I cried on the bathmat on the floor.
Mild postpartum depression.

I slammed my fist into the wall at 3 am, yelling at my husband during a routine diaper change.

Late onset.

I literally didn't recognize myself, and was running on fumes and reactive. I found myself slipping, almost daily, into fits of anger. Being constantly sleep deprived dissolved any patience within me. I was unable to find the 'pause' that would otherwise provide ground or softening.

And I wasn't breathing.

Photography by Holly Andres

Photography by Holly Andres

"Struggling is the act of looking for an alternative to the present moment. The instruction for 'not struggling' is to stay...and move in closer to yourself."
--Pema Chodron

Acceptance. Yoga = Acceptance with what is.

I was constantly searching for alternatives to the present moment. I definitely wasn’t in my practice, and I wasn’t in acceptance..

Not like I wanted to be.
And I teach this. All the time.

Photography by Cig Havrey

Photography by Cig Havrey

Julien stripped me down and shook me to my core until I was exhausted and raw. It’s a sort of human-ness that felt a bit wild. A lot wild.

My saving grace, however, was returning to my mat shortly after the 6 month postpartum meltdown, thankfully in part, to a job that provides childcare while I practice yoga. It didn’t matter with who, or where, it just mattered that I got ‘me’ time, away from my baby, to connect with my breath, body, heart, mind, all of it. I didn’t care about my alignment (well, I sort of did), I just cared about breathing as deeply as I could and moving. Just moving. Connecting with my body that had changed so much. My bones felt different. My weight felt different. Everything was different.

“Patience and presence, patience and presence”, was a common intention. I didn’t want my son to feel like a burden; I wanted him to feel loved, confident and free. I wanted to be present with him and learn how to take deep breaths when I was in the mama trenches. When things felt hot and sharp, I wanted to find softening.

The ego has to dissolve for the mama to come forward.

Enter the dharma.
Embrace this new life. His. Mine.

Photography by Rina Castelnuovo

Photography by Rina Castelnuovo

Somewhere around ten months I finally felt like I was ‘getting this mama thing’. My instincts were starting to supersede the 'shoulds' and unsolicited advice. Confidence in myself and my ability to care for my son grows continuously. And an epic sort of love hits when you least expect it. It sounds like one of those things all parents say, but it's true, and I didn't understand it before, but I have never known a love like this. It's super-rich. And maybe those hormones were now balancing themselves out. Gratitude has returned to my heart.

Falling into the flow of motherhood presents all sorts of opportunities for awakening. My son asks me to look at my personal samskaras daily...I've been getting into the habit of telling Julien to take a deep breath in, and a deep breath out when I'M feeling overwhelmed/stressed/reactive. So we do this together.  

Living the domestic life IS yoga. Learning how to take seemingly mundane tasks and make them meaningful IS yoga. This is the art of 'chopping wood and carrying water'. Staying present with what is IS yoga. I mean, this is why we get on the mat in the first place: so we can have meaningful and rich relationships with ourselves and others.

I do wish I could teach full time, however I do enjoy the routines and adventures I have with my son.

It goes by fast.
Another thing they say. But it's true. It's bittersweet.

Photography by Jock Sturges

Photography by Jock Sturges

Enter the Dharma


Nicole Riviere

Cover Photography by Sacha Riviere