Exercise

A Changing Body: How Pregnancy Has Taught Me More About Yoga

I started practicing yoga over twenty years ago when I found a copy of B. K. S. Iyengar’s book Light on Yoga on a sale cart at a local bookstore. I’ve been practicing, at various levels of commitment and in various styles, since then. In fact, when Dan and I first became friends, one of the first things we did together was to start going to a yoga class together on the weekend (he fell over in downward dog during that first class!). So I’ve been practicing yoga for more than half my life now, and through my practice I’ve not only gained flexibility and strength, but also a deep understanding of my own body.

As I’ve aged, I’ve noticed my body going through changes. I’ve lost some flexibility. As I’ve grown softer with age, certain postures have changed, and I’ve found myself more willing to embrace props and assistance. I’ve also noticed changes in yoga culture in the States (why does no one do hands-on adjustments anymore?). But pregnancy has given me even more to ponder as I learn about my rapidly-changing body. It is an odd paradox that pregnancy simultaneously makes certain parts of your body more flexible, while restricting your mobility in other ways. For example, I’m very careful when I do side stretches these days but I can’t do as deep a forward fold as my growing belly gets in the way.

That said, I’ve found that yoga has been one of the best ways to keep me feeling good during my pregnancy. Even when my nausea was bad, I would modify my way through the weekly class a colleague of mine teaches at my office because I knew I’d feel better afterwards than when I started. And since my nausea has abated and my energy has increased, I’ve started looking at ways to modify my own home practice for pregnancy. While I typically do a blend of Ashtanga and Iyengar yoga that I’ve developed for myself over the years, I no longer feel the desire to do strenuous vinyasas or standing poses, in addition to the general prenatal yoga guidelines of avoiding closed twists and positions that compress the belly. So I’ve started looking around for guidance on prenatal sequences.

That was when I found this sequence from a blogger I follow. Apart from the graphic just being adorable (I have a poster print of it to hang in my yoga room), the sequence is a lovely blend of restorative, but still effective. I already walk a fair amount and have even started up my barre classes again, so I don’t rely on yoga for aerobic exercise, or even rigorous strength-building, but the suppleness and mobility is key for both keeping my body limber as it changes, and preparing me for labor. Of course, I can never leave well enough alone, so I don’t just do this sequence.

The first time I did Tris’ sequence, I realized two things: one was that I did not focus as much on warming up in my yoga practice as this sequence allows, and the other is that I would prefer to do things in a slightly different order. Plus, I missed lunges. So I tweaked the sequence a bit to arrive at my own prenatal sequence:

  1. Hanging forward fold
  2. Neck release (Right & Left)
  3. Arm cross (R & L)
  4. Squat
  5. Cat/Cow (10 rounds)
  6. Melting heart
  7. Low lunge (R & L)
  8. Lizard pose (R & L)
  9. Half monkey stretch (R & L)
  10. Downward Dog
  11. Side stretch (R & L)
  12. Reverse side stretch (R & L)
  13. Downward dog
  14. Seal
  15. Squat
  16. Half butterfly (R & L)
  17. Straddle
  18. Butterfly
  19. Ankle stretch
  20. Cat pulling tail (R & L)
  21. Swan (R & L)
  22. Child’s pose

I hold each pose (on each side, if indicated) for ten deep breaths, which takes me about a half an hour or so. I generally use a couple blocks as props, especially for the lunging sequence (I do low lunge, lizard pose, and half monkey stretch as a sequence on each side before switching to the other). The sequence requires very little space to do and I can even roll out a mat in my office and do this sequence during my lunch break when I feel creaky. If I have the time, I like to set up my bolsters and prop up into a supported reclined bound angle pose for five minutes at the end in lieu of Savasana. If not, I just hold Child’s Pose for as long as I need to close my practice.

I think the best thing I’ve learned from pregnancy is echoed in this sequence: I’ve learned to listen to my body and back off when I need to. I don’t always need to push and excel and sweat to feel like I’ve done something good for myself. Sometimes I just need to gently stretch my body and then have a nice cup of tea and a rest.

NB: I am not a certified yoga instructor and cannot give advice on your yoga practice. This post is intended as a description of my personal practice, which you can use to build your own practice, but if you’re unsure or new to yoga, please talk to a qualified teacher first.

Second Trimester, Weeklies

Eighteen Weeks Pregnant

I’m eighteen weeks pregnant today! It’s been an interesting week, starting with some lovely cooler weather, but also the return of some of my nausea. I think I got a bit cavalier and paid for it at the beginning of the week. It’s also the first week that I feel like I’m starting to really look pregnant (or, as my gym buddy said, “You look pregnant, not just bloated.” Thanks.). I even had my first “spotting” in the wild when the woman who was doing my eyebrows noticed my belly when I needed to sit up for a minute in the middle.

I’ve started talking about things even more at work and am finding out all sorts of people in my life are also expecting, or have advice. So far, I’ve only gotten advice from people who aren’t annoying about it, which is a plus, and I’m enjoying the sense of “tribe” more than I thought I would, since I’m a bit of an introvert. I’m also working on prepping for our babymoon coming up in a week, and we finally started working on cleaning out the space that we’re going to use as a nursery! Plus, I treated myself to a manicure along with my eyebrow wax, so my perpetually-dry hands are a bit softer and my nails look nice.

How I’m Feeling:

Like I mentioned, I had some more nausea and even a little more early this week. Monday was rough with nausea and Tuesday night I ended up losing my dinner, which made Wednesday start off a bit low because I just felt empty. And as the week went on, I noticed that, while I’m hungry and feel good early in the day, the feeling of not wanting to eat later in the day has gotten worse. So I’ve had to work on getting more food earlier in the day while I’m hungry rather than waiting to eat my largest meal of the day for dinner, like we usually do. I did have a serious craving for waffles the day I worked from home, so I was glad I got to indulge that. I ate two homemade Belgian waffles for breakfast that day and felt amazing afterwards. But dinners are a little dicier and I’ve actually been skipping my evening bowl of Coconut Bliss because I find I feel too full for it.

My belly has definitely popped, and with that, I’ve noticed more lower back pain and pain in my ligaments connecting to my pelvis. The latter are especially noticeable when I’ve been walking for a while, like when I’m walking from the metro station to work. The doctor suggested that this soreness might actually get better later on, as the uterus builds up a better support system, so I’m hoping I won’t have to modify my commute anytime soon. I do still feel like regular movement and exercise helps my energy levels and just general feelings of well being. I’ve been doing my prenatal yoga routine, which I’ll probably talk about in more detail in a post next week, and I definitely think it helps. Last weekend I ended up overdoing it while cleaning the bedroom and my upper back and shoulder were killing me for a couple nights, but yoga and relaxing seems to have worked that out.

This is the first week that I definitely think I’m feeling movement! And it happens most days at various points throughout the day, rather than maybe feeling something one day and then not feeling anything for a few days. At first, it felt like a fish flopping over in my lower abdomen. I get a few of the “bubbles popping” or “muscle twitch” type of movements, but mostly it feels like flipping and flopping. When I’m quiet at my desk, I’ll often feel something, especially if I’ve just had some water, and I also tend to get some movement when I’m sitting in bed reading before turning out the light at night. It’s pretty exciting. Obviously, there’s nothing that can be felt from the outside, yet, but Dan has taken to putting his ear on my belly and “listening to the baby” in the evenings, which is adorable, even if he is mostly hearing my digestive system.

Emotionally, I’m definitely noticing that having more concrete, outward signs of pregnancy is helping me feel more confident about the pregnancy. I’m looking forward to things. I probably won’t feel totally secure until after our anatomy scan next month, but I’m feeling better and better every day.

Exercise: 3.5 average miles per day walking, barre three times, yoga twice

Current Cravings: waffles, avocados, eggs, beef (cheesesteaks and burgers)

Fruit Comparison: Sweet potato (also not a fruit)

Reviews, Trying to Conceive

Review: Circle + Bloom Natural Cycle Fertility Meditation Program

I’ve mentioned before that I used this meditation program while we were trying to conceive after my miscarriage last fall, but I’ve never sat down and written out my thoughts on the program. I thought I’d share that here.

I first started my meditation practice in college, over ten years ago, when a course I was in led me to join a local Zen Buddhist group. I maintained a semi-regular zazen practice from that time on, even meeting up with a couple Zen groups in the DC area after I left college and moved back for grad school. As a practitioner of zazen, I always kind of looked down on guided meditations, but when we first started trying to conceive, I found I was having trouble sleeping and turned to guided meditations on the Insight Timer app to help.

After my miscarriage, we spent a couple months trying in a more casual way, but after a few disappointing months, I was starting to find myself in an odd mental space. So I started looking into ways I could feel like I was taking control of the process. I started tracking fertility signs again, I found an acupuncturist, and I decided to try the Circle + Bloom meditation program. The program is normally $59 through the Circle + Bloom website, but I found it through this site for $34. It’s 29 recordings, one meditation per day for a 28-day cycle, plus one extra for right around ovulation. The Circle + Bloom website also offers a free fertility relaxation meditation so you can see the approximate format and quality of the meditations before paying for any of them. The free meditation is about a half an hour long, while the program meditations are 15-20 minutes each.

Each meditation starts with a guided relaxation. One of my favorite things about this program is that the guided relaxation was different each time. Throughout the 28-day program, it seemed like they cycled through about half a dozen different guided relaxation visualizations. One of my favorites was the visualization of a screen passing through your body, filtering out things that weren’t serving you, whether mental or physical. But I mostly enjoyed that I didn’t get too “used” to any one relaxation visualization as it was a different one each time. The relaxation was my favorite part of each meditation, as I really did feel totally relaxed. I tended to either lie down to listen to the meditation, or else recline in a comfortable chair or on the sofa. I usually covered myself with a blanket, at least loosely, especially if I was on the sofa and wanted to make sure my cat didn’t try to steal my earbud wires while I was meditating.

From there, each meditation is distinct, focusing on a new process in the body as you progress through the month. At the beginning, when you start out on Day 1, the program focuses on the hormones that are being produced in your brain to regulate your menstrual cycle, and later signal ovulation and other processes. I really liked these visualizations, as they gave me something concrete and even scientific to focus on each day, rather than some vague affirmation about my body. As the 28-day program goes on, you learn about how the different hormones effect different physical changes in the body, which I found fascinating.

Each meditation closes with a mental component of addressing something that could be affecting your emotional or mental health as you go through the month. These include general anxiety about the process of trying to conceive to feelings of closeness with your partner. It’s a nice way to close each meditation and left me feeling relaxed and hopeful. I found that I always felt better ending the meditation than I did before I started, and even found that the level of relaxation could help get rid of a mild headache or even mimic the effects of a nap when I was feeling tired that day. I didn’t always have time to do my meditation first thing in the morning, so it was nice to have the break in the middle of my work day, or even in the evening between work and rehearsal.

One thing to note about this program is that it is very obviously intended for people with no known health problems. It was great for me because the meditations encouraged you to think of your body and strong and capable, without any physical impediment to conception, but this seems like it could be a problem for anyone who knows they have a physical issue with fertility. They do offer separate meditation programs for people with PCOS or people using assisted reproductive technology, so perhaps those programs are more considerate of the fact that the “my body knows what to do” affirmation may not work for everyone.

Finally, the one thing I cannot speak to is how the program would work if I hadn’t conceived right away. I happened to conceive the first month I used the program, though I doubt it was because of the program. I don’t know how I would have felt to have gone through the visualizations of conception and implantation if I had ended up getting my period that month. I do know that the meditation helped me not obsess over conception during my two-week wait that month because it gave me a set time to meditate on my fertility, and then I was more easily able to let it go for the rest of my day. If you’ve tried this program and not conceived right away, I’d definitely welcome any comments about how you felt in the months when you didn’t conceive. I do feel like the program meditations are good at providing empowering visualizations without being judgmental about your body, so I don’t think I would have felt like I’d “failed” to visualize things well enough if it “hadn’t worked.”

All-in-all, I found this a thoroughly worthwhile purchase, even just for the one month. I considered purchasing the meditation program for pregnancy, but my inherent fear of another miscarriage made me nervous about buying anything for my pregnancy before I felt like I was “safe” and at this point, I’m nearly halfway through and it almost seems like a waste. But I do really enjoy Circle + Bloom’s meditation programs and would recommend them to someone thinking about a mindfulness program for fertility or general health.

NB: I am not affiliated in any way with Circle + Bloom and have not been provided with any incentive to give this review. The program was purchase out of my own pocket and all thoughts are my own.

Food and Drink

How I Stay Hydrated in Pregnancy

Before I got pregnant, I was an obsessively hydrated person. For health reasons, I found that I functioned optimally when I get about 100 fl. oz. of plain water daily, not including any other beverages (mostly tea, if we’re being self-aware). But all that changed when I got pregnant. All of a sudden, my first-trimester nausea meant that plain water tasted bad and I had trouble getting down enough. So I thought I’d share some of the things that I found helpful to keep myself hydrated without fighting my body.

My first step was to step back and see how I could be gentler to myself. First, I realized that I wasn’t keeping up my normal level of activity while I was feeling sick, so I made the conscious decision to change my water-tracking app settings from “Active” to “Regular” to account for the fact that some of my lower intake was probably self-regulation because I needed less water. I kept an eye on myself and made sure I didn’t notice any adverse effects, but this has been a pretty solid choice for me. Then, I decided to start counting fluids other than plain water as “water” in my app. I found that I could drink flavored liquids much faster and in greater quantities than plain water, so I started counting all non-caffeinated liquids in my intake. Eventually I started sometimes including a cup of tea in that total, though I would be conservative and call an 8-oz. cup of tea 6 oz. of water in my totals.

The next thing I did sprang from this, as I learned what I did and did not want to drink quickly and in quantity. I learned that a small amount of juice added to a large glass of water was enough to make it taste good enough to drink quickly. I realize this is something that a lot of people do to make themselves drink water, but it had never been an issue for me. I started out with just a little orange juice that I bought with my breakfast sandwich and added about 4 oz. of juice to my 16-oz. jar of water that I keep on my desk throughout the day. Eventually, I switched to other juices, especially Honest Kids drinks, and Lakewood lemonade, both of which are only sweetened with fruit juices. I still like to add an inch of lemonade to the bottom of a glass of water when I need to drink a few more glasses for the day and don’t feel like forcing down plain water.

One final thing I’ve found helps me drink more fluid faster is to drink cold liquids through a straw. I have a glass straw for my jar at work and a set of steel straws at home. I used to only use them when I needed to drink while sheet masking, but lately, I find that drinking through a straw helps me get through a glass of water faster than drinking it without a straw. And since I’m adding acidic juices to flavor my water sometimes, it has the extra benefit of helping keep the acid off my teeth.

So, yes, I am consuming more sugar than I would be if I stuck to plain water and unsweetened tea. But I’m getting more hydration than when I was forcing myself to stick an ideology that my body didn’t want to support. At this point, I have no reason to believe that a little extra sugar is going to be a problem for me, and it’s more important to stay hydrated, especially as I gain weight and my water needs increase (also since it’s getting hot around here and I need more water just from my normal walk to work). So if any other pregnant ladies are having trouble staying hydrated, I’d suggest you consider flavoring your water and even letting yourself count that can of soda as a glass of water every once in a while when you’re having a really hard day. Be easy on yourself and work with your body to keep things good.

Second Trimester, Weeklies

Seventeen Weeks Pregnant

I’m seventeen weeks pregnant today! I had another prenatal appointment on Thursday and [insert appointment stuff here]. Things are moving along and I’m starting to feel more pregnant. My friends still tell me I don’t look pregnant, and while I notice the difference, it is a little bit of a toss-up whether I look pregnant or just like I’ve been eating too many donuts. I found myself rubbing my belly more, partially because it is starting to stick out more and partially because I’m starting to feel a bit of a bond with the little being inside.

How I’m Feeling:

Physically, I’m feeling much better this week. Nausea is way down, and I just get a little woozy and queasy in the evenings. I think screens make it worse, so I’ve been trying to limit phone time, and take breaks at work. I’m starting to feel more going on in my abdomen, including some muscle pulling in my groin/hip region whenever I stand up after sitting for a while. The doctor says it’s totally normal, although Dan is still concerned every time I wince while standing up. My energy is up. I found myself getting up and getting ready for work more easily this week, which is nice, and I haven’t been crashing as dramatically in the middle of the day.

I’ve also noticed that my mobility is changing. In barre, I can tell my belly is starting to be more noticeable when I’m doing stretches bent over my leg or legs, especially when we’re at the barre. But I think stretching and exercise are helping me feel better physically. I’ve been trying to get back into my yoga after a couple months of illness and insecurity about the pregnancy. But I found a prenatal yoga flow sequence that I like, and I’m going to try to get back into my home practice. And my meditation practice. I’ve found that sitting and watching my breathing for just five minutes each day has been helpful at quieting my mind, and it may have even helped my physical health because my blood pressure was slightly lower at the doctor this week, too!

Emotionally, I was kind of a wreck for much of the week, leading up to my appointment. It’s tough when you’ve experienced things not going as you expect them to. I keep anticipating that this appointment will be the one where I get the news that this pregnancy is over, too. It’s not a coincidence that I wrote about pregnancy after loss this week; it really has been on my mind more this week than it had been since my last appointment. I will say, I’m glad I had a couple weeks of reprieve from the anxiety. Now I have a five-week wait until my next appointment, which is also my anatomy scan, so that will probably let my anxiety build up nicely again. But I felt a little flood of relief when the doctor found the heartbeat with the Doppler.

With that, I’m going to end with my current most bizarre pregnancy symptom: I’m apparently unable to spell the word “definitively” correctly on the first try. Every single time I type it, I end up adding an extra “in” in the middle and have to fix it. And I’ve only noticed this happening since I’ve been pregnant. Weird.

Exercise: 2.7 average miles per day walking, yoga once, barre three times

Current cravings: Chocolate Hazelnut Fudge Coconut Bliss, avocados, seaweed, eggs, carnitas tacos, cake

Fruit Comparison: Onion (wait, that’s not a fruit…)

Maternity Wear, Second Trimester

Maternity Wear: The Transitional Phase

At 16 weeks pregnant, I’m not really big enough to look pregnant, but I don’t really fit into most of my pants and skirts. At about 10 weeks, I realized that my normal work skirts and my jeans were both uncomfortable by the end of the day, so I started looking at maternity wear. Right now, I’m wearing a mix of maternity wear and regular clothing that fits my body right now. Here are some of my favorite pieces:

  1. Bras: The first thing I noticed when I got pregnant is that, almost immediately, my boobs got bigger. I went from a scant 34C to either a generous C or maybe D. At the same time, in the first trimester, they were sore pretty much all the time, and I knew they were not going to tolerate being squished into my normal bras. Luckily, my mother-in-law has always gotten me something called a Coobie Bra for Christmas each year. It’s a cute, soft bralette-style bra, but with cup inserts so it gives a little more shape. I looked at the Coobie website and found out that they have a wider-strapped version, called the Coobie Comfort Bra, that comes in S-M-L sizing, instead of traditional band-cup sizing, so it’s a bit more forgiving. I could wear the same size for my original breast size as my new, larger size. So I got two of those and have pretty much been wearing them exclusively.
  2. Roll-waist black maxi skirt: I seriously live in this thing on the weekend. It has so much cat hair on it that I tend not to wear it when I’m going out with people unless it’s freshly washed. I’ve actually had this skirt for years and it’s getting a bit threadbare. I got it from Target, but it doesn’t look like they have anything similar right now, so I’ll probably get something like this to replace it.
  3. Yoga pants: When I think of yoga pants, I don’t think of leggings. I think of flare-leg black pants with a waistband that can be rolled down or worn high. The pants I have now are the Athleta High Rise Chaturanga Pant and I’m pretty much wearing them if I’ve been in the house for more than five minutes, unless I’m already wearing the skirt I mentioned before. I change into them every evening after work and tend to wear them on lounge-around-the-house days.
  4. Maternity jeans: I’ve always kind of hated jeans. I’m just not a fan of the feeling of the waistband, plus the style for jeans these days is tighter than I like. I started wearing maternity jeans practically as soon as I got them at 10 weeks and haven’t looked back. I have the Motherhood Maternity Secret Fit Straight Leg Jeans and they’re pretty comfortable, for jeans. As the weather warms up, I’ll probably switch to skirts, dresses, and linen pants, though, as I generally boycott jeans in the summer.
  5. Dresses: While a lot of my dresses have defined waists and/or are made of materials without a lot of give, I do have two styles that I’ve been loving. The first is an A-line dress style from Land’s End that I’m pretty sure has been discontinued, but is great for work. For weekends, I like Uniqlo Bra-Top dresses.
  6. Maternity pencil skirt: I got a black maternity pencil skirt from Motherhood when I was around 10 weeks and it was probably my smartest purchase yet. It’s professional, but it doesn’t get pinchy after a day of sitting. I wear it at least half the time at work, paired with a flowy tunic blouse and an open-front cardigan.
  7. Flowy tunic blouses and open-front cardigans: The blouses mentioned above are ones I got off Amazon, here, and because my office is perpetually freezing, year-round, I bring one of these to work to keep warm.
  8. Workout gear: I’m lucky in that I’m not big enough to need new workout clothes yet, but I have to make a special shout-out to the Athleta Salutation Tights, as they’re my favorite bottoms for barre and yoga.

These are the pieces I’ve been relying on to get me through this phase. I can still wear most of my t-shirts and blouses right now, though I’m sure that will start changing quickly soon. I’m definitely wearing more maternity clothing that many people at this point, but I work in an office and can’t just rely on my lounge clothes all the time, and I find that when I try to stretch a lot of my non-maternity clothing, I end up uncomfortable by the end of the day. In the end, I’ve decided it was worth it to pay for a few early maternity items for the sake of comfort, but I’m still pleasantly surprised by how much of my regular wardrobe is flexible, given my love of fit-and-flare silhouettes.

NB: Links are provided for reference. I don’t use affiliate links on this blog, nor is this post sponsored or influenced in any way by any relationship with any of the companies mentioned. All thoughts are my own.

Miscarriage

On Pregnancy After Loss, Part One: Pre-Quickening

NB: This post discusses pregnancy loss. If that will upset or trigger you, please enjoy this photo of my cat instead.

I wrote a while ago on my original blog about my missed miscarriage last fall. If you’re interested in all the gory details, I spared very little in writing that post because I firmly believe that pregnancy loss should be talked about and I felt up to writing about it at that point. But one thing I wasn’t prepared for was the feelings that would come up after getting pregnant again. At the time I wrote that post, I had just barely gotten my first period after my loss and wasn’t sure how I felt about trying again right away. I wanted to try again, but at the same time I was scared of having to go through that again.

As the months went on past that, we did start trying again, pretty much right away, and I found that the fear faded a little. I realized that I got through my miscarriage once and I could probably get through it again. But none of that prepared me for the level of fear that would bubble up again once I got pregnant again.

When I first got a positive test, I spent the first weekend convinced that it was going to end in an early loss. When that didn’t happen, I relaxed a little, but I made sure to schedule my first ultrasound for after my show closed, just in case. Just in case I got news that might make me not feel like going on stage the next weekend. I waited for the other shoe to drop. And I’ve kind of spent a lot of this pregnancy waiting for the other shoe to drop.

When the nausea hit me, early, fast, and hard, I was miserable, but also kind of relieved. It was much worse this time around. Dan even commented that he was glad I was so miserable because it was a sign that maybe things would be different this time.

And they were. I think I was holding my breath when the ultrasound tech started my scan the first time. When the screen showed a baby in my uterus, and then movement, and then a heartbeat, I cried tears of joy and relief. When I had my NT scan at 12 weeks, I felt the same way, and when the doctor first measured the heartbeat with Doppler later that week.

The ultrasound technician at my NT scan warned us that the scan would reassure me, but the fear would set back in eventually, and she wasn’t wrong. Now, at 16 weeks, with a doctor’s appointment later this week, I’m finding myself back in the mindspace of setting myself up to deal with potentially finding out that something has gone wrong.

I think the main thing I’ve realized about experiencing loss is that now I know what can happen, even if it’s not statistically common. By interacting with other women who’ve had losses, I did find support, but I also found out even more ways things could go wrong. I wish I didn’t know about these things, or at least I wish I could still rely on the statistics to reassure me. But I can’t.

I’m trying the best I can right now to just breathe and not look to a bleak future before it happens. I’ve started meditating a bit, and I’ve even let myself get excited about baby stuff a little. I wonder what will happen when I get to the point where I can feel the baby move, if that will help reassure me more. But for now, I know that I’ll be able to breathe a little easier after my appointment this week, if only for a little while.