April 18, 2012. The best day of my life. At 9:23am in a very baby friendly hospital in Elmer, New Jersey, John and I welcomed Lorraine Devi Vitarelli into the world. My Dad once told me that after my Mom had me, she said it was as if something had always been missing from her life but she didn’t know it until I arrived. That’s exactly how I felt. Raine was our little puzzle piece, the one that brings the picture into focus.
It surprises people when I tell them I had a C section. Since we are both Yoga teachers and all about being natural, everyone expects that I had my baby in our living room. I wish! But the process of pregnancy and childbirth is the first lesson in parenting in that it lets you know you are no longer in control of timelines and planning. You do your best and surrender to reality.
Around my 40th birthday, I went in for a regular visit to my OB/GYN and mentioned that we were trying to get pregnant. She said, “don’t waste any time, I’m referring you to a fertility specialist.” I rushed to the fertility clinic immediately and met this great doctor, Dr. Jain, who has since moved to Ohio, and they checked to see if I was ovulating. Good news! They saw that I had 11 eggs, 7 in one ovary and 4 in the other — great for any age they said, but especially for a 40 year old! The doctor explained all the possible procedures we would go through to get pregnant with his help, but basically sent us home with instructions to have sex, and then call the office on the 3rd day of my next period so they could start the blood work they needed to do to advise us on next steps. We happily went home…and I never had to make that call. Instead, I called a few weeks later to tell them I had missed my expected period date and tested positive on an at home test. John and I were positively giddy! We had been wanting to get pregnant for a year, and finally, we were! The power of a little attention and intention, right?
The follow up blood work confirmed my pregnancy but then, to my surprise, it was recommended that I remain at the fertility doctor’s office for my check ups due to my “Advanced Maternal Age.” Advanced Maternal Age was a phrase I would hear over and over again for my entire pregnancy. Every sentence seemed to begin with, “Due to your Advanced Maternal Age, we recommend…” or end with “…so exercise caution, you are of an Advanced Maternal Age.” Oh my god. Am I old? Have I been living in a bubble? A Yes. And another Yes.
I’ve been doing yoga for awhile, and for the past 11 years my whole life has been centered around Dhyana Yoga, which is a really fun place to be! We’re just a bunch of big kids rolling around on Yoga mats in our pajamas laughing and farting and then laying down for a nap. I didn’t notice the years going by. This week a student in my Restorative class asked me how long the Haddonfield studio has been open and I said, “let me think, well, it’ll be 3 years on December 3rd…” and she looked at me funny and replied, “that’s today!” I had to laugh at myself, I’m aware of time but it passes in a weird sort of elastic way. I can’t believe it was 3 years ago that John opened that studio, it feels like we’re just getting started! And I couldn’t believe I was of an Advanced Maternal Age… but the calendar is a thing people make a silent contract with the rest of the world to agree upon.
I often say I’m the Poster Girl for “Hang In There Ladies!” because I was such a late bloomer. It always felt like everyone else had life figured out except me. I was 31 when I listened to the little voice inside me that said “open a yoga studio” (and it was mainly because I was so tired of running around from place to place teaching. I remember thinking it would be so great to just be able to leave all my CDs in one place…I already told you my age so I don’t mind how that dates me!), I got engaged at 37 and married at 39, and in a blink, I was of an Advanced Maternal Age.
The really cool thing about having an Advanced Maternal Age is that you get lots and lots of extra sonograms, which equal a visit with your baby when you’re pregnant. I was excited every week to go see the baby’s progress and John came to every appointment. As we approached my final trimester, the doctor (and our midwife) started getting concerned that the baby wasn’t flipping over. First it was just a comment, then it was a bit of an issue, then it became a THING. We thought for sure she’d flip! We did everything to encourage her to flip around. John and I are pretty weird on a regular day, you can image what we tried doing to rotate this baby. Headstands, inversion tables, music and mantras, moxibustion, acupuncture, chiropractic adjustments, pellets, talking to her, meditating, warm baths with a pack of frozen peas on my belly… she moved around a lot, but she would not flip. The doctors encouraged us to schedule a C section. One day they almost forced us to schedule it. We just really believed she would dive when the time came. Finally we went to another special doctor called, “The Baby Flipper.” He’s famous. He goes in and manually flips the baby over and he has a very high success rate. When we arrived for our flip, they did a preliminary ultrasound before the procedure to give the doctor a clear view of what he was working with and, upon doing so, found that the umbilical cord had wrapped itself around the baby’s neck like a scarf. I was 39 and a half weeks. The little bun in my oven was fully baked and the timer was sounding. We had to get her out.
And so we ended up in a cold, bright operating room in the South Jersey Hospital instead of the warm, water filled tub we had reserved in the birthing suite. A nurse let me lean on her while the anesthesiologist worked behind me. I felt really alone at that moment. Then I felt nothing! I was laid out in a T shape on a table with both of my arms and my legs strapped down and a drape across my chest so I couldn’t see my body. John came in the room looking like a hot doctor but bawling his eyes out. A nice lady I had never met said she was my doctor. My midwife, Karen Shields, was there, and everyone else was named Tracey. I was floating! The doctor said, “my goodness, I’ve never seen such strong abdominal muscles! You must tell me your secret!” as she sawed away at my body and I can’t remember if I answered but John and I laugh about that all the time. There was lots of tugging and pulling and talking and I think the midwife leaned on my belly to help move the baby. John and I kept eye contact and repeated “Om Ganesha Sharanam” over and over and then suddenly, angels sang, everything else went out of focus, and all I saw flying in the air was a beautiful baby! She was here, she was healthy, she was gorgeous, she was making cute sounds, and she was perfectly clean! I thought they must have had a stunt baby waiting on the side to show me or something, but within seconds that very same little baby was placed on my neck and John held her to my cheek while it felt like a horse sat on my torso and the nice lady put my guts back inside of me.
It was the best. It was not what we planned. It was not what you’d expect. But it was perfection. It was the most epic, operatic moment of my life. And then life, redefined, began. In my new life, at my even more advanced age, I “Hang in There” a lot. Through the painful recovery from that abdominal surgery, through the shifts and negotiations (and fights) in my changing relationship with my husband, through the post pregnancy hormonal weirdness and hair loss, through the feeling that the walls of my house are closing in on me, through the confusion about whether to work or not and if so how much, through the attempts to get back on the mat, through the probably well meaning but often offensive comments from others about our parenting choices, through the feeling that I need to keep cleaning but nothing is ever going to be clean enough, through the nagging shoulder pain and the sleepless nights of early parenthood, through the baby’s first cold…I’m hanging in there.
There’s a great saying, “Bean by bean, the bag gets filled,” that runs through my head a lot. Life isn’t about gobbling everything, every pose, every relationship, every job, every experience up. You can go at your own pace, take detours, circle back, climb mountains, admit mistakes along the way, you can pause and start again. It’s not about going fast, it’s just about going. It doesn’t matter when you bloom, you’ll bloom when it’s your time. I’m glad I learned how to stay the course in life. Yoga taught me that. No matter what’s happening, or not happening, just keep putting one foot in front of the other, taking one breath after another, reminding yourself that you’re doing everything right, and surrounding yourself with good hearted, inspiring people who love and support you. After all, life is happening, so Enjoy the Hang!