A few years ago, I facilitated a four-day yoga retreat off-the-grid in Northern Ontario. During our opening circle, one of the generous participants shared how she was eager to learn some techniques for staying present. She was a mom to two teenage boys and she was desperate to slow down the hands of time. Teary-eyed, she confessed, “we spent the whole summer together and I can hardly remember it. I’m missing out on my own life”. This was an experience that stuck with me. From that retreat on, I have focused time and energy towards cultivating an awareness of and appreciation for this present moment and it has changed my life. It connects me sincerely to the people around me, it keeps my thoughts focused, and infuses my work with energy. I have been most grateful for these practices in the last 14 months – since we brought our daughter home from the hospital in late December, 2016.
Before I go any further, a little background: my husband and I are in the process of adopting our daughter. We are working with our local Children’s Aid (now called “Family & Children’s Services”, or FACS) as “foster-with-a-view” parents. Without getting too much into detail, the intention of fostering with a view is to place children who have come to be in the care of FACS in what may be their permanent homes as quickly as possible. Prior to this system, children in the custody of FACS were placed in a foster home while birth parents were supported in gaining the skills they need to provide a loving and safe home for their child. If they were not interested or unable to do so, fostered children would then be transitioned to their forever homes, oftentimes months after first being placed in care. As a result, children who are vulnerable to attachment disorders would be taken from the foster families they called home for months and placed with a new family (for at least the third time) whom they were expected to re-attach and form healthy relationships with. In this new system, children under the age of two who come into care are placed with foster-with-a-view families in the hopes that they will only ever make that one move or, if birth parents can create the homes these children need, return to their birth families. FACS calls this "co-planning"; on the one hand, supporting us to raise a healthy and well-adjusted child and, on the other hand, supporting her birth parents to bring her back home ... It's been an emotional rollercoaster to say the least. In our case, this is a process that has drawn out for over a year and the baby we’ve had in our home since she was born won't be officially adopted until her case goes before a judge who will make a ruling one way or the other. Though this hasn't happened yet, I call myself a Mother and she my daughter because, short of carrying her in my womb and birthing her from my body, I have been the only Mom that my daughter has known since her birth. She was born on a Sunday, we got a call to let us know the following day, and, early Tuesday morning, she was in my arms.
Over the course of this year, I have been responsible for caring for my daughter in the same ways that any new Mom does and was tasked with the additional expectation of bringing the baby to scheduled two-hour visits with her biological parents three times per week. Try being anywhere on time as a new parent with a baby, let alone three times per week! Nonetheless, this was what we have had to do as part of the process; however, as she and I became more and more attached, it became increasingly difficult to leave her for the two hour visits. As her nap times shifted with every growth spurt, visits often cut naps short or happen right during her usual naptime. She has never been able to settle well for her birth parents and these visits are supervised by Family & Children’s Services, so she is usually one of many children in a playgroup with a dozen or so other families like ours – not the ideal naptime setup. Needless to say, I often pick up an anxious, tired, and overall unhappy baby who is too young to understand why her Mommy left her there and didn't come back when she cried for her. To make these drop-offs a little more emotionally manageable for both she and I, I always reassured her that, if she needed me to, I’d spend the whole rest of our day holding her (as she often napped twice as long post-visits). I made her that promise getting ready for our first visit when she was just three days old - the first day in our home - and, since then, most visit days, she takes me up on this offer. I have to reconcile this stillness with the productive, multi-task-aholic side of me. But I am reminded of that woman at the retreat all those years ago and I know that this is the most important “To Do” on my list.
While you may not be able to relate to that particular situation, I think most parents still experience this dual pull: one towards your baby, who loves nothing more than being in your arms and another towards the dishes, the laundry, making dinner, heck, some days, just a shower! I find a lot of parents (including my husband) often look forward to the next stage in my daughter’s development or ponder about her future, whereas, after years of practice, I mostly sit with her real-time. Whether it’s their first steps, starting school, or graduating from college, virtually every parent I have met has uttered some variation of “they grow up so fast” or “where did the time go?” Well, that’s a good question … I mean, a year is a year. There are the same amounts of hours, days, weeks, and months. A minute is always 60 seconds and an hour is always 60 minutes. Yet to so many parents, it feels like everything happens overnight. I am so grateful to the practice for arming me with the tools I need to stay present, but especially in this role as a Mama. It doesn’t feel like these 14-months have gone by “so fast” … it feels exactly like 14-months. I spent my days holding my infant, then watching and supporting my baby, and now playing with my toddler on her level as though there was nothing else I had to do. I know that I can set aside time for other work when she is napping or on the days that she is at daycare. Sure, I had to cut back on my teaching in the studio, my email can pile up, and I have spent far too many late nights trying to catchup on my work. But, I have no regrets knowing that I have been fully present for every smile, clap, hug, and milestone. Yoga is what gave me this perspective and skill.
When I became a Mother, I was struck with the sense of responsibility that this role requires. Especially in these formative first years, we are shaping a person (whether we’re conscious of it or not)! I’ve realized that presence isn't just about remaining in the moment. It’s also about being aware of your words and actions. My daily meditation practice has supported me to remain self-aware in all of my conscious communication. What we say to our children becomes their inner voice and our words and deeds help shape their understanding of the world and their role within it. This is a huge burden to bear. I turn inwards to my mediation practice to keep my vision for her future clear when seeking the right intention, right words, and right action.
As well as giving me the skills to stay present, yoga has given me the physical strength and mobility to raise my daughter. It has been in these last 14-months that I added a strength training component to my regular yoga practice and my body has never been more stable, strong, supple, or more taxed! My daughter has grown from 6.6 to a whopping 23 lbs. When you factor in the diaper bag and car seat, I’m loading 50-100 extra pounds daily. Add the 43 foot plunge into her crib (at least it FEELS like 43 feet), hauls into and out of the car seat, and the strain put on my erector spinae as those little hands grip my fingers and take step after tentative step, and my. body. is. SORE! Here’s the conundrum: never has my physical body needed yoga so badly in my life, yet never have I been so exhausted. Every yogi has been there – knowing that we’ll feel so much better post-practice, but too busy, sore, tired, or stressed to think about taking that time. After we chose the mat, every time without fail, it seems like such a no-brainer, but that’s post-practice! That’s after you’ve taken the time to connect inwards. That’s 60 full minutes of consciously removing yourself from the rat race and taking control of your life again. As a Mom, my practice is not a hobby or pastime, it is as necessary for my wellness as water, food, and air! Without it, as a sufferer of chronic pain, I would miss out on time with my daughter as I immobilized myself in bed or I would be unable to fully participate in our lives - to squat down, to run after her, to sit on the floor, or slide down toboggan hills. My physical body has never been more grateful for my practice than in these last 14-months. There is nothing that motivates me to come to the mat more than days spent trying to keep up with that energetic little girl.
Mamas, come here. Let me hold you for a few minutes because holy shit does a baby take what you thought you knew about the world and flip it upside down! Physically, emotionally, mentally, financially … it’s stressful. Would you trade it for anything in the world? Hell no! Are you blown away on the daily by the magic and wonder that this love of your life brings you? Yea huh! AND whether it’s sleep deprivation, tests to your patience, disconnection from your body, confusing and contradictory advice (sought out or - more often - unsolicited), a redefinition of your relationships with your parents, your partner, and yourself, that pinch in your neck that just never seems to go away, the tribulations of putting your career on the backburner … the only constant that has always been there (pre- and post-baby) has been my mat and this practice. Yoga is my doorway back to my Deeper Self and this practice restores and solidifies a much-needed sense of trust. It’s this trust that allows me to persevere, even when things are at their hardest.
We often think of “yoga” and “motherhood” as nouns – things that we do. They’re our pastime and our role; our hobby and our duty; our escape and our stressor. But, as seasoned practitioners will describe over and over again, after a time, “yoga” becomes an adjective – interwoven into your ‘you-ness’. I’ve come to realize that Motherhood is just the same. With practice and mindful connection, yoga and motherhood both become more than just things that you do – they define who you are, create a blueprint for your life, and reveal the gifts of your dharma.