My struggle with Miscarriages – A Yoga Mom Shares

Last year at this time, I was finishing up a month in India practicing yoga with Saraswathi Jois in Mysore. John and I were packing up the apartment we called home while we were there and saying our final good byes to friends. Our 3 year old, Lorraine, was going home with what we hoped would be lasting impressions from her experiences there, and more than a few super cute outfits! And, I was pregnant…

Blessed.

Blessed.

I have always fallen into the “late bloomer” category, but nothing bloomed later in me than the desire to get married and have a family. I was a wild teenager, a confused college student, took on the world in my early 20s, collapsed under the weight of the world in my late 20s, pooled my life’s passion into a career in my 30s, and poured every ounce of my energy into that work as a yoga teacher and studio owner from then on. Even though I had been engaged along the way, it really wasn’t until I started dating John, now my husband, when I was 38 years old that marriage truly felt like a reality. There was a certainty to our relationship from the first date. We talked about marriage and we talked about kids. I wasn’t feeling any pressure to have children, but there was something about being with John that made me comfortable talking about starting a family, and we even discussed adoption and fostering. If you know us, we are those kind of people!

After we had Lorraine in 2012, I was shocked at how many people were “on” me right away with nagging questions like, “are you going to have more?” or “do you want to try for a boy next?” I squeaked out a natural, healthy amazing baby at age 41 and it was the pinnacle of my life — but it didn’t seem to be enough! Another one? I noticed as these questions continued, from friends, acquaintances on my Facebook page, and even from absolute strangers, that I was kind of smiling and brushing it off, but John… John was interested.

When you have a new baby you can be baby crazy. You are so in love and your hormones are all over the map. In my experience, I was surprised at how naturally I took to being a Mom. I felt great and got my organizational systems locked-in, was working, meeting new “Mom” friends, and I loved taking care of Lorraine. We agreed to try again. And we got pregnant! And I miscarried. And we got pregnant again! And, keep in mind I’m almost 43 at this point, and I miscarried again. I was able to get pregnant three more times, but unable to sustain the pregnancy. The 5th time I miscarried at 11 weeks and it was one of the most emotionally and physically traumatic experiences of my life. In addition to my husband, who mainly had to take care of Lorraine while I was miscarrying, I am eternally grateful for the support of friends at The Chopra Center who kept me afloat during this dark time with their kindness and Ayurvedic routines. I was in unspeakable physical pain, ravaged by blood loss, and going through hormonal swings that made me so, so terribly sad that I told John that I absolutely couldn’t go through it again. I sought wisdom from the systems I believe in, mainly Ayurveda and Meditation. I had everything I needed to feel fulfilled, happy, and peaceful. I felt called to honor the seasons of my body. Look, no matter how well you hold it together on the outside, the years are ticking by on the inside, and although I do believe in miracles and everyone is different, when I listened to MY own insides, they said, “we are done!” And that was OK with me. I worried if it would be OK with John.

It wasn’t really. He wanted to keep trying. I reminded him roughly in a moment of frustration that he was no spring chicken either and if he wanted a big family he could have started a few decades earlier, too. This is not just on me. I reminded him of the toll the process was taking on my body and was a little jealous that he still had all that juicy energy that had been sucked right out of me. It was hard on our relationship. The truth is, if I had started having kids 10 years earlier and realized how much I love being a Mom, I would have fewer yoga studios and more children. But I couldn’t have done things any differently, and I wouldn’t change anything now even if I had the chance.

There’s a lot of talk in Mysore, India about “Mysore Magic.” Mostly people are referring to the amazing progress made when practicing yoga there, the postures able to be attained in the Shala that somehow cannot be done again upon returning home, and things of that nature. When I took test after test and kept seeing the “+” appear, the look on John’s face was pure magic, and like all happily, newly pregnant couples, we blissed out and giggled a lot and stared lovingly at each other for the next few weeks, swooning in our secret. We came back from our trip and many things awaited us at home like jet lag, some stressful work related situations that needed tending to, the struggle of getting Lorraine back into a routine, but also the comfort of home and fun reunions with family and friends. The days were filled with things to do, and at night we would whisper about things like what color to paint the nursery and baby names…

What we didn’t expect, and I know I should have after losing so many pregnancies before, was another miscarriage on the very day of my daughter’s 3rd birthday party. I wish I could say it was any less painful, any less devastating, any easier in any way because I had been through it before or because I at least already have my dear little girl, but it’s just hard. At the time, it just hurts deep inside. When the heart breaks, there is nothing else but the breaking. The landscape you looked out on the day before shatters like the mirage it was, and a heaviness settles into your cells. The ghosts of all your demons come to call, reminding you of everything you have worked so hard to stop believing about yourself. I felt lonely, foolish, old, and broken. I had 3 girlfriends who got pregnant just around this time and my happiness for them was mixed with a lot of my own grief. I found myself avoiding them, scrolling quickly past their posts, and trying to distract myself from their adorable stories about feeling fat and doctor visits and decorating plans. It was difficult to practice yoga, go to work, socialize, or even stand up long enough to take a shower. We had only told a few people of course, so mostly I suffered in silence, quietly responded to questions from people at work, and mourned alone. Last week John said, “This time last year we were getting ready to leave India,” and it all came rushing back. Grief can come back like a tidal wave. Letting it pass is a process, and a practice.

When something extremely dramatic, painful, or damaging in some way is happening, there is the tendency is to get wrapped up in a self-centered perspective and only focus on what is happening “to me” and forget that we are all connected. All of our experiences, high and low, are woven together. The pain you feel today is a point on a line that is similar to someone else’s pain of yesterday, or tomorrow. The laughter you share with a friend over dinner tonight echoes back to times we sat around fires outside of caves under the stars sharing stories constructed perhaps of fewer words but being of no lighter weight.  This story as part of the story of my life is one I know many of my sisters tell in similar ways, although each unique in experience and personal struggle. It connects me to them, and it strengthened my bond with my husband, too. Our loss after Mysore and the grief I still carry won’t be the biggest challenge of our relationship. As it turned out, though, my last miscarriage was the catalyst for a revelation that would make our future together much, much more interesting… and that story, I will save for another time.

Sisterhood.

Sisterhood.

ALTERED SPACE // I’m The Poster Girl for “Hang in there”

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.

Rainey Pants, just minutes old

Rainey Pants, just minutes old

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.

Photo by Joe Longo (you can see the baby kicking here!)

Photo by Joe Longo of me at about 7 months pregnant (you can see the baby kicking here!)

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!

Hangin' and Hoopin' on a Yoga retreat at 5 months pregnant

Hangin’ and Hoopin’ on a Yoga retreat at 5 months pregnant