I became a mother for the first time two months ago. Having practiced yoga for fourteen years and taught for three, I was far more comfortable in the studio than in my living room with a newborn.
Motherhood was aching with newness, and I wondered how these two worlds would come to interact.
When I began to face challenges that had me questioning my ability to mother my new son, I found my feet through recalling two of Patanjali’s yoga sutras. This is how they guided me through the transformations of new motherhood.
By Zsa Zsa Power
The Confronting First Hour
I was told by lactation consultants that the first feed should be established within an hour of birth. If a mother misses this opportunity, she’s on the back foot. While I had a natural, normal birth – conditions conducive to an unassisted feed – my son simply didn’t latch.
Twenty-four hours later, I had the opposite problem: his jaw clamped on my nipple like a stapler. I yelped every time his mouth found my breast, and within days both my nipples were grazed. Despite staying in hospital for three days seeking help and being told by midwives the latch was ‘textbook’, the situation didn’t improve and my first night at home was a mess. I dreaded feeding my newborn son and felt guilty for feeling that way as I winced throughout the feed. I burst into tears that night, and told my partner I couldn’t bear the thought of feeding our son. Surely this wasn’t how motherhood should feel?
What You ‘Should’ Know
This is where the ‘shoulds’ began: If you’ve had a normal birth, breastfeeding should happen easily. Then he should sleep within an hour, in his bassinet. When he wakes again, you should follow a routine of feed, play, sleep. This is the pattern you should follow, and all will be well.
Well, it didn’t quite happen like that.
My baby was awake for hours at a time. He rarely slept in his bassinet, preferring the comfort of a human chest or our bed. He wasn’t interested in play. I wondered if I had any say in how to raise and interact with my baby.
“I handed the baby to my partner, isolated myself in the bedroom, and closed my eyes. I took a deep breath.”
The Guidance of Yoga Philosophy
As the litany of shoulds swirled my sleep-deprived brain, I recalled two particular yoga sutras of Patanjali: Ahimsa – or non-harm to self and others, the first guiding principle; and Pratyahara – sense withdrawal.
I handed the baby to my partner, isolated myself in the bedroom, and closed my eyes. I took a deep breath.
In the quiet of this Pratyahara – sense withdrawal, I heard my higher self guiding me: newborns need their mother’s love, and fear of doing the wrong thing stultifies love.
I breathed into my heart space and felt the cage spring open. The principle of Ahimsa helped me to release the negative judgements and expectations. This was the non-harm I practised toward myself.
The wisdom of my inner voice reminded me, “I am capable of establishing successful breastfeeding, even though the latch didn’t happen immediately.”
With perseverance (and the use of nipple shields, for a few days) the wounds healed, and feeding my son became a highly enjoyable experience.
The voice continued, “I’m not a failure of a parent because my son doesn’t fall asleep on cue; he has no sense of time, and with only 25% of his brain developed, is incapable of following routine. He is biologically geared to seek human touch whenever possible. Co-sleeping feels natural, for both of us – and we both sleep better for it.”
After hearing this voice inside me, I felt confident as a mother. Moreover, I felt confident to make mistakes.
There Are No Rules
Parenting is trial and error. I’m learning through experience what works and what doesn’t, rather than letting the rule book dictate. It didn’t help with the first breastfeed, and only led me to feel disempowered with every decision therein.
Deepening my practice of yoga – adopting the lens of non-violence and tuning inner wisdom through sense withdrawal – gave me the tools to voyage the incredible journey of motherhood. And most importantly, to enjoy it.