Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Six weeks after the baby was born, I went to a real (not postnatal/mommy-and-me) yoga class, and I had vagina farts. I had never had this particular problem at yoga before, but giving birth had obviously made some serious rearrangements in my pelvic region, because with the very first downward facing dog, air began to squish out of me, accompanied by exceedingly rude sounds. I couldn't stop the air and I couldn't stop the sounds, and I knew that my only choices were to leave or to brazen it out. So brazen it out I did, and the horrendous PPBBBBBTHHHHTBBBBB noises emanating from between my legs began, after forty-five minutes or so, to quiet down, and had disappeared entirely by the last plow pose. To their great credit, not a single person in the room giggled, commented, moved away from me, or did anything at all to indicate their awareness of the REALLY GROSS SHIT going on with that lady in the corner, and I left the class feeling oddly at peace, refreshed and realigned and ready to move forward.

I am telling this story not so much to utterly humiliate myself with the memory, but more to demonstrate how profoundly (and bizarrely) motherhood changes one's body, and how difficult it is to even know these changes have occurred. It is a commonplace that The Modern Lifestyle leaves us sadly disconnected from our bodies. Between sedentary pastimes and overloaded social/professional schedules, as popular wisdom would have it, we simply do not have the opportunity or motivation or context to properly interact with and nurture our bodily selves. True as this may be, I am here to tell you that The Modern Lifestyle has nothing on motherhood. Beginning with pregnancy, your body's function is entirely hijacked. It is no longer simply a tool for your own pleasure and pain, no longer simply your personal interface with the world at large. Instead, it gives itself over to developing and feeding a being that is not you. And all of this happens WITHOUT YOUR KNOWING IT. That is, your very own body gets busy building loosening your pelvic ligaments and building a placenta and an umbilical cord and a nose and fingers and so on without ANY of your conscious input. I know that this may seem incredibly obvious to you, but I want you to take a moment to really think about it. A pregnant woman's body is entirely devoted to something OTHER THAN itself, and once the ball gets rolling, she has absolutely no concrete, specific knowledge or control of what it is doing. And that, my friends, is disconnection. (And that is how you end up carrying stale air around in your pelvis for six weeks without even knowing it.)

This phenomenon, however, does not end when the baby is born. A mother's body remains a tool for the survival of her child. All of her bodily resources - the water she drinks, the food she eats, her muscles, her bones, and her flesh - are devoted to her child, just as sure as if her child were still inside her. I squat to the floor, I lift my child to my hip, I hold him to my breast to nurse. At night, my sleep is not like it used to be. I curl around my child, and when he wakes and cries, I roll to my side and offer him milk. Of course, my husband, too, squats to the floor and lifts our child and sometimes wakes in the night with his cries. He is an attentive father who works hard to care for his son. But it is not the same thing. Partly, it's not the same because I am a small, light person with a horrifically, maladaptively fast metabolism who can hardly stay fully hydrated and nourished in the best of circumstances. But mostly, it's not the same because I am the mother, and my bodily ties to my baby are all-encompassing. The mother's body builds the baby, the mother's body births the baby, and the mother's body sustains the baby. My body has become a strange, crabbed thing - a locked left hip, a tingling spot between my shoulders, a frequently-aching head, and skinny, skinny, skinny - and, just as when I was pregnant, I barely know what it is doing or what it is for.*

I used to go to one or two yoga classes a week, but in the twenty months since my baby was born, I have gone to maybe six classes all together. The obstacles seem insurmountable - find a good class at a good time, have enough money to pay for it, be sure that husband and/or babysitter are available and willing, don't feel cripplingly guilty for going even though I may be inconveniencing other people, don't get immobilized by sheer inertia and end up sitting on the couch watching CSI: NY. This morning, however, for the first time in months, I managed to jump through all of these hoops and get myself to a class in a sun-warmed studio on 105th St.

The thing about yoga is that it makes you do things with your body that you wouldn't necessarily do in the course of everyday life, and thus helps you think thoughts about your body that you wouldn't necessarily think in everyday life. (Or helps your body think about itself, as in "Wow, there's a lot of old air in here. I better just squeeze it out the nearest hole.") As I moved through the asanas this morning, I felt more and more conscious, more and more inhabited by my own self. I found a small sore spot on the right side of my sacrum; I found that my left hip was not quite as intractable as I had thought; I found that my neck has become too weak to allow me to look up comfortably in a side bend. In headstand, my head felt unusually heavy, my brain pressing downwards on my eyes, and the sensation was too unpleasant to allow me to stay in the pose for more than a few seconds. In plow pose, my back began to warm, as though under a heat lamp, and continued to get warmer and warmer until I rolled out of the pose to finally rest on my back in savasana.

By the end of the class, I felt as though I had come up from under water for the first time in a long time. My eyes felt keener, my gaze stronger, my body more tightly knit. On the way home from class, I ate a raisin-walnut bun from the Silver Moon bakery; when I got home, I sat down and wrote this.

*If you are thinking I should just wean and sleep train my kid, go on ahead and think that, but I don't want to hear A WORD about it, because I AM NOT GOING TO DISCUSS THOSE THINGS WITH YOU. Come to think of it, though, I would like to discuss those things with my mom friend HA. Those things and many other things. HA, call me. No, wait. I'll call you, as that is far more civilized than hailing you via blog.