cafe mama

entering the mind of the married mom

baby mama yoga - August 18, 2005

I've been wanting to try out mama-baby yoga for a while, and finally, this week, I did it. Yoga Shala Southeast has a class on Thursday mornings (which, notably, is changing to Wednesdays August 31). Truman and I dropped Everett off at preschool, hung out at Mabel's to kill 20 minutes or so, then headed over to Yoga Shala.

It was really nice and not at all relaxing, and as I was sitting in class an essay was building in my head. The rest of this post will be just a sketch, an outline, of that piece.

We were all late. Well, a few of us had showed up two or three minutes before the 10 a.m. start time, but even we were late - we hadn't taken off our shoes, or written our checks for the drop-in fee, or remembered our yoga mats. The instructor had only just arrived, and she checked us in leisurely, beaming at us all. We sat on the floor, the lone bench, with babies still strapped in car seats, and circled each other like kindly lionesses.

If it wasn't the smiles of the babies which broke the ice, it was their names. We offered them as lovingly hand-knitted gifts, products of a thousand yards of experience and personality and creativity and meaning. "Truman," solid, voice lilting at the end, redolent of crooked giggles and calm steadfastness. "Sophie," dark-eyed, tuft-haired, like a thousand Sophies before her. "Emmett," built to withstand the indignity of tummy-time, round-faced.

We sat, and waited, and changed diapers and shook off the haze of a late morning when none of us sleep. We thought about how our backs ached, and how good it would feel to set our babies down in that calm high-ceilinged room. And finally, it was our turn. We filed in, first preparing the way for our babes. Blankets piled on blankets, garish quilts and jewel-like cabled afghans. Babies in car seats waited next to yoga mats, and the older ones pushed up on their elbows, wobbling, and tumbled over. Fists were stuffed in mouths while mats were rolled out, bolsters gathered, toys arranged.

In minutes, the empty zen room was filled with primary colors, armloads of gear, crying and gurgling and slurping and high-pitched chatter. We all sat, un-mindfully, and I tried to breastfeed Truman. I wasn't the only one, but he sucked loudly and pulled off, gazing around. I stood him on my crossed calves, looking out at the other babies and mamas.

It was circle time, and we told each other the most intimate details, as if we were talking to God. One baby was starting solid foods, avocadoes and bananas, and his stunningly-slim mom had designed a nursing top over which all of us drooled. Three moms in a row were starting work, and dealing with child care and an imminent ramp-up to full time. This was the only day off for the last working mama. Everyone was ambivalent, about work, leaving children, pumping. We talked about plugged ducts, and tantrums from older siblings. The woman next to me, with a round-faced boy, had a two-year-old. I listened to her story of a five-block walk, a "sit-in" that lasted 20 minutes. "You just have to get through it," I said, remembering the day I'd pulled Everett's arm out of socket 40 yards from our front door, inches from traffic, because he was lying on the neighbor's browned-from-sun lawn.

I wished I had something prepared, some anecdote or advice request that would demonstrate my commitment to this community. Instead I talked of the possibility I might start work soon, how much I loved the nanny share I'd had with Everett. "I have a pretty easy baby," I said, and knew that it was true.

"So we're changing to Wednesday mornings in September," the instructor said brightly, as if it was not at all a problem. She asked us a logistical question, and I wanted to scream. I couldn't take my eyes off the mom whose only day off was Thursday. What was she thinking? I could feel the tension radiating off her. I worked so hard to plan my schedule around this, I imagined her thinking. I begged for Thursdays off, everyone bent over backwards to accomodate me. Now she just laughingly changes the day? And I won't ever be able to come again. I wondered if it had been a bad idea to do announcements first. Change isn't good for us. This is all that remains constant in our lives, the schedule, the one printed in the most yogic colors available on the studio's inkjet. It was on the web site and emblazoned in our mental calendars and mentioned off-handedly to friends and colleagues, symbol of our ability to cope, secret to our last shred of inner sanctity. Thursday at 10 a.m. That cannot, must not, change. But it had, without argument or opportunity to appeal. It was done.

We started yoga in chaos. The moves were simple and hardly at all relieving of the tension that has lived in my upper back for the past eight months. My shoulders screamed out for cleansing breaths, for presence, for downward dog. When I did cat-cow, it had no rhythm, no coordination. After downward dog I had to pick Truman up, try for a feeding. Still no go.

The instructor, a glowingly happy woman, would go around the room picking up babies, enjoying them and giving mom time for a few solid poses. But every few minutes, someone would drop out to breastfeed or shush a baby. During Warrior Two, Emmett wouldn't let go of his mom's pants drawstring, and when he did, he grabbed her pant cuff and sucked as if he might inhale the entire garment. She laughed gamely, and I looked at another mom in the opposite corner. Her baby, the youngest present, was breastfeeding on and off, off and on. Her eyes were dull, and she looked as though she might cry. I wanted to run across and cry with her, to tell her that it would get better, to hold the baby for an instant, to let her inhale deeply. Instead I smiled crookedly through my own belly-extending breaths.

At some point, babies were building in frustration to a fever pitch and several of us decided to breastfeed at once. And the next poses could be done with the baby, so three of us held our babies to our breasts while we held one leg off kilter, knee above the floor, strengthening our hips. As we switched from side to side, and stood, and knelt, our babies became calmer as our shoulders gathered the tension. The deep breath was impossible, but I did have presence, I was there in mind and body and that was something.

Then, suddenly, all of our babies feel asleep, on my half of the room, and we Warrior-ed and ashtanga-ed in unexpected freedom. I revelled in the pool of quiet spilling out from the corner, felling babies and giving quiet to mamas' souls. In the 15 minutes that remained, we all filled every square inch of our bellies with that wonderful quiet breath, we all lowered ourselves into impossibly strong and balanced Warrior 2 poses, we r.e.l.a.x.e.d... all the while mourning the inability of the moms on the other side of the room to join in our shared holisticness.

And, it was over, we were namaste-ing, sadly, folding our blankets and rolling our mats. I stood over Truman, mourning the loss of my time here, not wanting to sling him and end it. But I did, and we all did, and as we tripped out into the anteroom lugging our unkempt gear, I suddenly realized how stained were our sweatpants, how creased were our t-shirts, how straggly we all appeared. For 90 minutes, alone in the room with other new mamas, our appearance had no bearing. Now we were in the company of those who shower, people who had done far more than run fingers through mussed hair, pull shoes on feet, people who had not slept in their yoga wear for the past two nights.

The mama who had parked near me was packing away her car seat and slinging her baby, and walking bravely down the street as I nosed my unwashed car out into the street. I mourned for her alone-ness, for each lonely mother going back deeper into her life, digging into the anti-zen, the state of not being present. Only one hundred sixty-six hours more.

On Saturday, I saw one of the yoga mamas and her baby at the farmer's market, and they seemed happy. The yoga instructor was nearby, chasing after her two-year-old. Everyone was eating organic produce and drinking market coffee, and the weekend was full of promise. And I thought, next week, I'll invite someone out to coffee after class.