women

Say It Ain't Flo

When you think of your period, what’s the first word that comes to mind?

For me, that word used to be ‘gross.’ I remember my very first period…my stomach hurt and I felt nauseated because I was so grossed out. I felt dirty and like my life had been interrupted by this inconvenience. Those feelings stuck with me. For nearly a decade, I took a birth control pill that suppressed my cycle so I wouldn’t have to deal with a period, even when I wasn’t sexually active. My doctor said, ‘There’s really no reason that you need to have a period.’

Fast forward to 2013. My husband and I were talking about growing our family. I dreaded going off the pill and having to deal with periods again. I also felt embarrassed because I didn’t really know how to get pregnant. Before you freak out, I was well aware that sex was the answer. I also knew that ovulation was a thing, however I didn’t really understand the timing of it. Possibly as a result of the abstinence education program at my high school and the conservative values of the community in which I grew up, I had this vague idea that any time a woman had intercourse, she was liable to get pregnant.

I felt embarrassed that I didn’t know more about my body. I did some research and I found a book called Taking Charge of Your Fertility Naturally. This book was a game changer for me. It taught me everything my health class didn’t. I learned about the physiology of the menstrual cycle as well as how to tell where I currently was in that cycle.

As you can imagine, after a decade on The Pill, my hormones were all over the place. I had terrible hormonal acne and PMS. Here I was trying to get on better terms with my body and my cycle and it was just making me a hot mess. One friend recommended acupuncture (I tried it; it was awesome.) and another told me about a book by Christiane Northrup called Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom. This book introduced me to the wisdom of the menstrual cycle and the parallels found in the lunar cycle - another game changer. Tapping into this wisdom, I discovered how I could sync up my lifestyle (and even my social calendar) with my cycle. As a result, my PMS symptoms decreased. I felt more comfortable and at peace with my body and good ol’ Aunt Flo.

This process of getting to know my body and learning more about my menstrual cycle has helped to instill a great trust in myself and my body. It’s taken me from ‘gross’ to ‘magical.’ On a physical level, this knowledge helped me see the imbalance in my hormone levels, to seek help, and then to conceive a child. On a deeper level, this journey into myself has helped me hear my intuition more strongly and has given me permission to let up sometimes. (Like we really even need permission to take breaks and rest!) I have discovered how I wax and wane with regards to my energy levels, sex drive, creativity, and more. I even feel more connected with nature, which is a big part of my spirituality.

In all my searching, I found quite a bit of material on what yoga poses to do while on my period and even some on using yoga to help with PMS. However, I couldn’t find much information about how to sync up my yoga practice with my cycle as a whole. That led me to develop my first Yoga for Your Monthly Rhythm series. I had fun with this series but every woman was in a different part of her cycle. This made sharing yoga sequences for each phase difficult. I also tried presenting the material in a workshop but I found it was just too much information for one sitting. I even worked one-on-one with women in private lessons but they needed more instruction on the yoga practices than a typed out sequence could offer. So now, I’m trying another approach.

In my upcoming Yoga for Your Monthly Rhythm series, we’ll meet in the studio each week for four weeks to share information, discuss, and meditate. Then, you’ll receive four, 15 minute videos (one for each phase of the menstrual cycle) so you can practice at home in conjunction with your cycle. I’m not promising that your PMS will evaporate or that you’ll suddenly create an altar out of tampons and menstrual cups. I hope though, that you can get some helpful information, learn about your body, and connect with other women in the process. I would love to work with you! If you have any questions about my journey or my upcoming series, please drop me a line.

Birth Story

Here's the tale of how my daughter landed earthside. It's a magical story full of heart, humor, and humility. I share it because so much of what our culture presents regarding birth is negative and full of pain. My yoga, meditation, and breathing practices, as well as Hypnobirthing, helped me have a positive birth experience.

At 3:15 the morning of December 23rd, I woke up to some contractions. They kept happening so I timed them and saw they were all over the place in terms of duration and time apart. I wasn’t sure if this was the real deal or just more practice. They were a bit uncomfortable so I tried to center by visualizing myself sitting comfortably at the bottom of the ocean, where the water is calm but flowy. There was some seaweed around me that swayed a little, as did my hair. For some of the surges I got on all fours. Worried that all my moving around would wake up Travis, I went out to the couch around 6am and the contractions spaced out to twenty minutes apart. I assumed this was practice labor and was getting pretty grumpy about my interrupted sleep. When Travis woke up I told him what was going on. I was glad that we both had the day off. We planned to just stay home and chill out except for an appointment I had with my midwife in the afternoon.

The contractions kept coming all morning. I texted Kimberly, my doula, and let her know what was going on. We still weren’t sure if this was just practice or early labor. Travis and I went for a walk and they got closer together, about 6 minutes apart, but still lasted for only 30 seconds. I managed the contractions by swaying my hips and breathing. I was surprised by how much sensation I experienced around my sacrum with each contraction.

My appointment with the midwife was at 2:40. The car ride there was not very fun. I think I was still tense because I wasn’t really sure what was happening - practice or not? I was hoping I could be taken back to a room soon after arriving so I wouldn’t have to work with the contractions in a waiting room full of people. Forty minutes later, we finally got taken back to a room. Manola was the midwife on call and when she checked me I was 3-4cm and 70% effaced. She seemed confident that this was it - just knowing that made me feel better and really excited. She gave us the choice of going over to the hospital or going home to see if things would really get going. We chose to go home and agreed we would get back in touch when contractions were 3 minutes apart. Again, the car ride was not very fun but I was in better spirits about it and was excited to think that I could meet my baby that day. We stopped at the store to pick up some dinner on the way home because we were both starving.

We decided to eat some pizza and watch a Christmas movie. By the time the pizza was ready, though, I really wasn’t hungry anymore. The contractions were getting stronger and closer together. I was using a heating pad on my sacrum and all fours to cope with the discomfort. Travis was really great at applying counter pressure…it felt so good. About 10 minutes into the movie (A Muppet Christmas Carol), I started to feel that both the movie and the pizza were annoying distractions. Travis helped me get set up in the bath tub so I could focus. I turned off the lights and listened to the Hypnobirthing Rainbow Relaxation CD. I really got in the zone and the water felt so good.

Travis came back to check on me part way through the movie and I was ready to get out because the water was cold. I was tired from not sleeping much the night before so I decided to sit upright in bed and relax. I found I was able to doze a little between each surge. Here I just continued to use my breath. I visualized myself at the bottom of an ocean cave whose wide mouth was above me, widening more and more.

After the movie was over Travis came back in and I let him know he should start getting our stuff packed and tying up any loose ends around the house. I really lost all track of time because I was so in the zone. I know that at 8:15 I saw my contractions were between 3-4 minutes apart. I told Travis that we would need to leave whenever he was done. I called Kimberly, pausing to breathe for the contractions now lasting about a minute to 90 seconds, and told her we would be going to the hospital as soon as everything was ready and asked her to meet us there. I also called Manola and let her know we would be coming in. Then there was another car ride. It was much easier to manage because I was so relaxed.

We got to the hospital at 9:45pm. Thanks to my hands on knees squatting, we got to skip triage at the hospital and got taken straight to a room. One of the nurses asked about the pain scale and I told her to pick a number for me - it really wasn’t pain. I laughed to myself when she rolled her eyes at me. Shortly after the eye roll, I got checked and was 5-6cm and 90% effaced. Then my water broke…it really just felt like peeing my pants, which, in that moment, was an oddly satisfying sensation.

Once they got me all hooked up and whatnot, they noticed the baby was having some extreme heart rate fluctuations with each contraction. They gave me IV fluids and had me labor on my left side for a while, which was more intense, but helped her stabilize. I was expecting to labor in the tub but wasn’t really given the option because the way her heart rate changed with each position I was in. I did get in the shower for a while but my legs were shaking so much I felt really unstable. I also labored on the birth ball but found just sitting up in bed to be the most sustainable position for me and my energy level. I kept falling asleep between contractions and even burped after many of them, which we all thought was hilarious. I told myself that an hour would last only ten minutes and I really lost all track of time. At various points I felt my water release again and again, still oddly satisfying. One time the nurses noticed a bit of meconium. Nobody freaked out but they were on watch.

Eventually, I started to feel a little pushy and I was at 9cm with just a little lip of my cervix holding me back. I got on all fours and Manola applied pressure to the lip while I pushed some. That was really intense and made the contractions stronger. Still, I didn’t have the “overwhelming urge to push” I’d read about, probably because of that lip. I pushed sitting on my heels, on my left side, and on my back with my knees at my chest. All totaled, I pushed for an hour and a half, roaring with each push. There was so much pressure!

I started to feel afraid that I wouldn’t be able to get her out. I was giving it all I had but it didn’t feel like enough. Manola told me to reach down and feel my baby’s head - that was so surreal! Her heart rate was doing more crazy things so Manola said I needed to get her out with the next round of pushing. I was so tired and I roared and squeezed Travis’ hand like mad. It wasn’t enough. Manola did an episiotomy, which I felt thankful for - I needed some help! - and Kimberly said it was the smallest one she’d ever seen.

With the next round of pushing my baby’s head was born and Manola said, “Whoa! Whoa! Don’t push!” I was out of it and didn’t really know what was going on. Travis told me later that she had both hands up at her face and the cord was wrapped around all that. He said Manola worked so fast to free things up and with the next push, my daughter was born at 5:42am on Christmas Eve. She was immediately placed on my stomach where she pooped all over me! Everyone commented that if her hands would have been down she probably would have come out a lot faster. She was 7lbs 10oz and 20 1/2 inches long.

Because of all her crazy heart rate acrobatics, the NICU team was in the room just in case but she started screaming before her feet were out so they weren’t needed (her Apgar score was a 9). She was so alert and her eyes were really wide. As I looked at her in shock and awe, I noticed some hair on her lip and said, “Is that one of my pubes on her mouth?!” Manola responded by saying, “Well I’ve never heard anyone say that before but yes, it probably is.” Then I apologized to my baby for not trimming things up in anticipation of her arrival.

A little while later the placenta was born. My only regret is that I didn’t get to see it before they took it to the freezer. Travis didn’t want to cut the cord so Kimberly did it. I remember thinking the cord was so thin and long. I was at risk for a hemorrhage due to my bleeding disorder and I felt a gush of blood as the placenta was born. Manola said it wasn’t a hemorrhage but we still went through the protocol we had talked about in the past to be on the safe side.

I felt so proud and strong (and tired!). Travis told me all the nurses were impressed with how calm I was throughout the whole thing. Kimberly told me later that I seemed annoyed that each contraction woke me up. What an empowering birth experience - I pretty much felt like a badass!


Changing, Learning, Growing

Some of you rather astute and intuitive folk have started asking about my growing (albeit still rather small) belly. And yes, there’s a bump in the making (and yes, I’m super pumped about it)! This is one of those times in my life where I think, Holy cow, what would this be like with out my yoga?! I’ve never experienced such a rapid and constant rate of change; add hormones to the mix and a girl’s bound to feel crazy at least once or twice or ten times.

I shared this crazy change feeling with a friend and she offered an idea I think works for all people, not just the pregnant ones. Think of a mountain. Each season, the mountain looks a little different – vibrantly green in the Spring and Summer, burning with oranges and reds in the Fall, and a little bare in the Winter. Different people and animals visit the mountain at different times as well. Despite the constant change, the mountain is still the same mountain. It might get worn down in a few places but its essence is unchanging. We are in the same boat as the mountain. Even as life happens, even as we grow and develop new skills and perspectives, our essence remains unchanging. We acknowledge this same essence in one another when we say Namasté at the end of a yoga class.

I’m joyfully managing this pregnancy due mainly to the skills I’ve gained from my yoga practice (think: self-care like a panda). Deepening connections with other women has also been an integral part of my process. Over the past year and a half, through focused study and personal experience, I have absorbed some pretty vital information I can’t wait to share with other women. The Yoga for Women’s Health & Healing training I attended with Dr. Saraswati Markus in May served as a capstone experience for me, validating several ideas I’d intuited and providing a more cohesive framework from which to present those ideas.

As a result, this summer is full of special offerings for women: another Yoga for Women series and two workshops, Yoga & Your Fertility and Yoga for Your Monthly Rhythm (details below). I’ve also planned my workshop calendar through November, which includes another Target Practice focusing on hips, a Down Dog Clinic, and a super special Self-Care Retreat co-taught by the lovely Sarah Fields. Keep your eyes peeled for more information on those offerings in the future.

I’d love to hear from you! Drop me a line and let me know how you’re changing, what you’re learning, and where you’re traveling this summer.

Namasté,
Jen