I make a living holding space for people to take time for themselves, guiding people –women especially – to listen to and to honor their own deep inner wisdom. I advocate for self care. “May you give not from an empty well, but from a well that is overflowing” is my tagline as a teacher and a healer. It is what I remind my students of, what I encourage my clients to realize in their lives.
Sometimes I forget that it also applies to me.
When I got pregnant and started setting money aside for “maternity leave,” I gave lip service to the idea that I would stop teaching if and when baby needed me to. But really, I planned to keep teaching until baby arrived. I mean, I teach gentle yoga. And prenatal yoga. And women have been working and having babies for millennia. There’s no reason I can’t continue – mindfully and gently, but pretty much as normal – until this baby arrives, right? Wrong.
For the most part, this pregnancy has been a beautiful experience. Emotionally, spiritually, energetically, creatively. Pregnancy looks beautiful on me. It feels beautiful on me. Except for one thing. One at times excruciating thing. I’ve had the *ahem* opportunity to experience pubic symphisis pain for the last several months. (For those of you unfamiliar with what this is… basically: The pubic bone is actually a joint. Pregnancy floods the body with relaxin hormone to help pelvis open for birth and body to be able to grow with baby. One of the places where pelvic opening happens is at the pubis. Sometimes the two bones get out of whack with one another and it hurts a whole lot.) I made it a priority to take good physical care of myself through this pregnancy: regular chiropractic, massage, Arvigo Mayan abdominal massage, acupuncture. But none of it helped the pubic pain for more than a few hours.
I powered through. Taught class. 8 of them a week. I had a commitment to my students, right?
But I found myself dreading the next class, sitting in my car outside the yoga studio unwilling to go in. Finally one class I shifted position while guiding a meditation and literally started crying – in the middle of class! On the teacher’s mat! – from the pain in my hips. I realized that I had to stop teaching. I needed rest and space more than I needed the money or the extra month of connection with my students. I’m so grateful to my fellow yoga teachers, to the owners of the studio where I teach for swooping in and supporting me in this decision.
It was really really difficult to give myself the permission to take the time and the space and the rest that my body, and this baby, were demanding. I felt guilty. I felt selfish. It’s amazing how pernicious the ego can be. Expecting and demanding I live up to some standard that I’d not fully consciously set for myself. When I made the choice to start my babymoon nearly a month earlier than I’d planned? Full-body sigh of relief.
And let me tell you, it has been the right choice. It has been a couple of weeks now since I taught my last class. My energy is better. I’m able to take things at my own, slow, baby-induced pace. I’ve been spending so much time at home. Making things in the studio. Rearranging the downstairs living space. Sorting baby clothes. Nesting. I needed this time. This space. This rest. And you know what? My hips hurt less. Because I’m no longer tempted by all the inappropriate-for-me yoga poses I was teaching my students. No longer running across town to get to the next class. No longer requiring that the deep inner rhythms of pregnancy modulate themselves to those of the external world.
I’m a huge advocate for parental leave policies that support the realities of life, pregnancy and birth. Scandinavia is on the right track, y’all. So is Italy. Minimum 6 months paid leave for moms? Should be standard. Current US practices? Ridiculous.
And yet, somehow, I felt guilty giving myself the same time and space I advocate for others to have. Felt guilty for my privilege of having a supportive working spouse and just enough money set aside that we won’t default on our mortgage for me to take a few months off. Because I know there are women who work up to the day they give birth and are back at work 2 weeks later. My heart bleeds for them, and for their children. I cringe at the reality of the toll that takes on their bodies, on their physical and mental health for the rest of their lives. And so I felt guilty for giving myself time off not only after the birth, but during this last month of pregnancy. I’m endlessly thankful for good friends who call me out on unreasonable guilt. Who remind me, if not in so many words, to be the change I want to see in the world. How is it helpful to the cause of reasonable maternity leave to push through my own need for leave? And you know, I am a teacher. I’m a teacher of prenatal yoga, and as such a model for how to use yoga to support the journey of pregnancy… what am I saying to my students if I deny myself the space and depth of connection I hope to guide them towards finding?
Baby may still be on the inside, but I’m a mom now. And it’s as true for moms as it is for healthcare workers… you cannot pour from an empty cup.
“May you give not from an empty well, but from one that is overflowing.”
-ancient sufi prayer