Not every pregnancy is a welcomed miracle at first. For some women, the daunting task of motherhood is faced with a sense of burden and sadness. Yet, in this piece, Corinne Andrews, founder of Birthing Mama® Prenatal Yoga and Wellness, shares how she transformed this feeling into freedom and joy. Through her story, we learn about the deepest feelings some women face upon their pregnancies, and how we can support them to embrace the journey to motherhood as an opportunity for personal transformation and self-discovery.
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The only thing I cared about during the last two years of my UMass college adventure was practicing and studying yoga. There was nothing I wanted more than to surround myself with these teachings, so upon graduation, I headed off to the Mount Madonna Center in California, and eventually got certified as a yoga teacher, and started teaching in peoples’ living rooms, schools, gyms, and studios. I read yoga books and listened to yoga music and wore yoga clothes and spent at least three hours a day meditating, breathing and dancing through postures. I loved the entire yogic lifestyle, and I loved the depth-seeking aspirations of the ancient yogis that dove into the human body and psyche looking for answers.
I loved that yoga was a quest for freedom. All my life I had lived by other peoples’ rules, and felt smothered by other people’s expectations. Fear and anxiety had been constant companions through my whole life, growing up the first grandchild of Holocaust survivors in a cookie cutter suburban town. The anxious lives that I saw people living around me was not the life I wanted. I wanted to be free to redefine my destiny, shatter barriers, and to help others discover inner freedom too. I dreamed of one day creating “The Center for Freedom”
In 2005 I was teaching regular yoga classes, working for an acupuncturist, and patiently waiting for “a letter to arrive in the mail from God” letting me know it was time to kiss my family and boyfriend goodbye, pack my bags and head off to India. It was just a matter of time. And that’s the precise moment when I got a message of a different kind.
At 25 years old, I found that cheery pink plus sign staring up at me from the end of a pregnancy stick. I couldn’t breathe. I think I vomited (would’ve been par for the course at that time – it’s why I took the test to begin with).
I couldn’t believe it. I had never wanted to become a mother. I wasn’t destined to be a wife or own a home or commit to a life that would tear my dreams of freedom from me. I didn’t even want to use the word ‘boyfriend’ because it felt too heavy and suffocating. Babies and marriage meant commitment, burden and responsibility. I wanted freedom, not responsibility.
What I didn’t yet know was that motherhood was just what I needed in order to learn that freedom and responsibility are like day and night: you don’t get to have one without the other.
Months later, there I was in our small rental apartment processing the homebirth that I just had. Yes, it was earth shatteringly beautiful but also long, hard, scary and dare I say it, traumatic. And every day, when my new husband went off to work for 8-10 hours a day, I was alone with this new tiny person. It was impossible at first. Unbelievably hard. The isolation, the endless crying, the endless needs that I felt incapable of meeting were all just too much. I knew I couldn’t do it. I was too small, too weak, and by no means ready for any of it.
As a joke, my mother-in-law gave me a magnet that said, “I wanted to change the world, but I couldn’t find a baby-sitter”. I would look at it and cry. My dreams of healing myself so that I could truly help others and change the world were drowning in a sleep deprived pile of dirty cloth diapers, wool covers and breast milk.
But over time, as I bonded deeply with my baby and other new mamas who were also struggling, I grew up. Every hour sitting in my mama nest on the couch literally having the life sucked from my withering body, strengthened me. Every sleepless night was an opportunity to discover my inner reserves, which turned out to be much deeper and richer than I could have imagined. And every screaming need that I felt I couldn’t satisfy humbled me and taught me patience and it rose, creschendoed, and passed away into five minutes of peaceful silence that were worth more than a hundred trips to India.
My heart began to open in a new and profound way. I experienced an expanded capacity to love, feel empathy, and hold the suffering of those near and far. I’d even go so far as to say that I felt an identification with the Mother of all, as She nurtured deep within me a profound love for all of humanity.
My baby grew, I grew, and at some point I found myself open to having another baby. I was ready to make a choice that had felt unfathomable to me just a few years ago. The running story in my head that went “Poor-me, my life got taken away when I had to become a mother” shifted, and a new one emerged that said “I take responsibility for my life, and I’m grateful for its richness and beauty”. Slowly I began to let go of the idea that something bad had happened to me, that my real life was taken away from me – in fact it had been given to me in the fullest way possible, through the experience of a surprise pregnancy.
Day by day I realized that the freedom I was so desperately looking for through all those years was happening. Running away and not committing to “regular life” was not the way to freedom. As I accepted my life and took responsibility for it, leaving behind victim mentality, I could see much more clearly the self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviors that were the real chains of bondage.
I found that through committing to my husband and children I was inviting accountability that would continue to illuminate how I was keeping myself small, broken, and chained. And with their support and love I could trust the vast and limitless spirit that has always resented being suppressed. I could begin to set that spirit free.
Today, I continue to dance this dance, even now that my babies are 6 and 10. I search for quiet moments and freedom, and then I remember that if I’m not free inside, no outer forms will take me there. And if I am free within, nothing can hold me down. Through the constant everyday chaos of raising children and managing societal obligations, I find a quiet ashram in India inside myself and commit every day to seeing the truth, working through the difficulties, accepting life as it is and rising up to the call of motherhood.
The irony is that by deeply struggling through two hard pregnancies, two amazing but challenging homebirths and the ebbs and flows of motherhood, I have discovered not only my Self, but my life’s work. Supporting women through pregnancy, postpartum and motherhood through yoga and spiritual healing has become my vocation. Along with teaching weekly prenatal and postnatal yoga classes at the Yoga Center Amherst in Massachusetts, that my husband and I co-own, I also founded Birthing Mama®.
Birthing Mama® Prenatal Yoga and Wellness is an ONLINE holistic pregnancy program that I poured my heart into to support women just like myself, to see that pregnancy and motherhood is just another path to discovering the layers of who we are and ultimately, the deepest Self.
Now I have the privilege of walking next to many women locally and virtually as they move through the transformational passage of pregnancy, birth and motherhood. I hope and pray that what I’ve learned and gained through my journey is a support to them along theirs.
Corinne Andrews is the founder and head author of Birthing Mama® Prenatal Yoga and Wellness, an ONLINE holistic pregnancy program. Corinne has been teaching yoga since 2003 and is a senior Embodyoga® teacher. Along with her husband, she owns the Yoga Center Amherst in Massachusetts and is the lead teacher for the 200 Hour Embodyoga Teacher Training. In September 2016, she will be holding the first Birthing Mama® Prenatal Yoga 90 Hr Teacher Training. Corinne is the mother of two children who are her greatest spiritual teachers and the focus of her life when she is not practicing or teaching yoga.