I Was Depressed & Barely Functional After Childbirth. How Yoga Helped Me Heal
Four years ago, I gave birth to a healthy baby girl after what can only be described as a textbook pregnancy and, on paper, a dream birth. My labor was quick and natural with minimal intervention. And yet, unbeknown to everyone, something was deeply wrong.
It turned out that I had retained products of conception, which means part of my placenta decided to stick around after the birth instead of vacating town with the rest of it. And it turns out that’s quite a big deal.
For the next six weeks, I bled a lot while my body tried to expel what it knew didn’t belong there. I became progressively weaker, physically and emotionally, but put it down to new mother fatigue combined with an avalanche of post-natal hormones. I was depressed, barely functioning and completely out of touch with what felt "normal."
It wasn’t until a freak-hemorrhage at home, in which I lost four liters of blood in my dining room (thankfully in the company of my breastfeeding nurse), that I realized something was amiss. I admitted myself to hospital for an emergency dilation and curettage (D&C) — severely underweight and more psychologically fragile than I’d ever been. I emerged to the news I’d flatlined during the procedure.
Aside from the obvious need to rebuild my "broken" body, which was already experiencing frighteningly early signs of menopause (it would be another 18 months until I had a period again), I had to deal with the emotional impact of this trauma.
Really, the experience was a blessing in the truest sense. But it was also fraught with painful reflection. I was questioning the choices I’d made about my birth and my body. Was there anything I could have done to prevent the complications? Had my rigorous adherence to exercise in pregnancy weakened my body to the point where it had struggled to recover? Had my vanity and need for control almost cost me my life?
But understanding why would never give me back those precious few weeks with my first, and possibly only, child. So, ever the pragmatist, I realized that if I wanted to start enjoying motherhood, and my baby, I had to get well.
Determined to feel better about, and in, my body again, I turned to the same spiritual salve that had supported me through the physical transformation of pregnancy — yoga.
This seemingly simple practice of stretching on a mat began to teach me some achingly profound truths about forgiveness, self-worth and hope. How so? Here are a few of the essential things I gleaned about healing from trauma with yoga:
1. I loosened my grip on controlling my body.
Specifically, I realized that I could prepare my body for certain tasks, but couldn't necessary control it. In other words, there was only so much I could do and the rest I had to surrender to. My yoga practice reaffirmed that my body was worth more than its performance, which helped dissolve some of the self-blame and guilt I was feeling about my birth choices.
2. I realized that my body really was capable of doing incredible things.
But incredible might look and feel different day to day. Yoga rekindled the deep respect I’d once had for my body that had since been replaced with anger towards why it had failed me in childbirth (the main task for which it was allegedly designed).
3. I learned that thought, reflection and analysis will only get you so far in healing.
Your physical body retains traumatic memories and physical movement helps release them.
4. I regained a compassionate connection to my body.
Incidentally, and contrary to the expectations created by the media, the body can become quite fractured after childbirth. The act of birthing a child can be so overwhelming that it’s not uncommon to disconnect from your physical body as a result. Yoga got me and my bod jivin’ again.
5. The respite of my yoga space is a seemingly effortless way to carve out "me time."
In amongst endless hours of giving, my own self-care took a back seat. Simply the devotion of turning up to class was enough to make me believe “you’re worth it” (cue husky L'Oréal voice-over). I was a happier, calmer and more present parent as a result.
6. I internalized lesson of flux, impermanence and seasonality.
We all know that our yoga performance is never fixed and for me this provided a live example of “This too shall pass." Just as my physical practice evolved, so too did my mindset.
Above all, my yoga practice invited me to realize that it wasn’t the birth that was haunting me, but rather the story I’d attached to it about myself. And I've learned to leave that story behind.