Parenting and Practicing Yoga: How I Almost Became a Yoga Addict by Pascaline Perdikas

Pascaline has been practicing yoga for almost 10 years but she doesn’t talk about yoga a lot, doesn’t think yoga, doesn’t wear yoga clothes, never was a vegetarian, and never did a workshop.   She moved from Paris to China in 2008 and since then a lot changed.
How I Almost Became a Yoga Addict

Yoga helped me get through my pregnancy with minimal discomfort.

Every time I am asked about my pregnancy, my answer turns a simple question into a long discussion about the benefits of yoga during pregnancy.

Let me say first, that I never took yoga seriously before my pregnancy. My practice through the years was quite scattered, sometimes it was once every 2 months and sometimes 3 times a week. I practiced with friends, or because I had found a good teacher, and at some point in my life it gave me something to focus on when everything else seemed out of control. I never took it seriously, never pushed myself to go to class – except, when I was pregnant.

During my pregnancy, yoga became a serious matter. I was already in my 8th week when I found out I was pregnant. A few weeks before that I felt my body & ligaments were more flexible; suddenly I was able to go deeper into postures and it made me feel good but I didn’t understand then why I was so dizzy and tired after each class.

Pregnancy caught up with me and I had to stop yoga almost immediately after that. Basically I stopped going out of the house until my first trimester was over. Being in bed with morning, afternoon and night-sickness, made me feel awful. I refused to accept the situation, I was almost angry at my body for making me so sick. I promised myself that as soon as I felt better I would do something about it.

So as soon as my first trimester ended, I started practicing yoga. Religiously.

Going to yoga classes was challenging: a 30 minute walk, a 7 storey trek without an elevator up to the studio, 1.5 hours of yoga and then 7 floors down (sounds easy but try doing that with a watermelon in your arms), and then of course, the 30 minute walk back home.

My teacher Judy. and friend Natasha both took the time to show me modified versions of the Ashtanga Vinyasa postures, to work with me on a self-practice, advise me, correct me, inspire me. Next to Judy’s yoga studio there is a nice little farmer’s market. So on the days I lacked motivation to go to class, hunger and cravings for fresh fruits and vegetables (especially avocados, my special thing during pregnancy) pulled me out my door.

Yes, I did eat before classes, actually when you are pregnant you shouldn’t practice on an empty stomach; and you should drink small quantities of water during practice to prevent dehydration and uterine contractions.

Yoga was not a painful activity anymore; it had become something I desperately needed in order not to BE in pain. The benefits were amazing: Being healthy from yoga practice gave me self-confidence; I was at peace with my body going through all these changes.  Doing my pranayama almost every day made me feel calm, and relaxed. It helped me breath through back pain and deal with shortness of breath.

Two very common feelings during pregnancy are fear (the fear of something going wrong, the fear of pain for example) and stress. Meditation techniques helped me deal with this. Closing my eyes and putting my hands on my belly, breathing and emptying my thoughts, focusing, all this brought me awareness and helped me connect with my baby in a way that is impossible to explain.

I felt calm and confident.

The Triangle pose helped me build up strength and removed tension from the lower and upper back. The Cat and Cow Pose did wonders for my back. The Pigeon pose was my favorite hip opener; something in this posture was just wonderful. And of course, I loved Child’s pose. I used to spend several minutes just breathing in this posture.

I felt prepared for the birth.

Yoga helped me bring awareness to my breath and body, it reduced my worries and I felt like I could adapt quickly to a new situation. I managed to go through the contractions without drugs, just by using my breathing exercises. The conditioning gained from mula bandha (like Kegel exercises) and breathing techniques helped me a great deal when it was time to push the baby out.

Did I become a passionate and devoted yoga student after this positive experience? Well, to be honest, not exactly.

After birth, I just didn’t have the time between feeds, naps and diaper changes. The me time was barely enough to have a shower, brush my teeth and call a friend (or two if the nap was long enough).

Then 3 weeks ago, my baby turned 1 and showed me in her cute little way, she was actually OK with me not being around all the time. So, this week I’ve attended 2 classes. A small victory. A sort of declaration of independence on my side too.

I also found my way back to the farmer’s market, so once again, my baby and I enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables.

For more info about yoga during pregnancy: http://www.ashtanga.com/html/pregnancy.html
http://www.babycenter.com/0_great-pregnancy-exercise-prenatal-yoga_7862.bc

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NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit)

My friend’s wife, Maria, was on bed-rest for the last few months of her twin pregnancy. They live in Cyprus. I’ve been checking in with them on Skype, every other Thursday. It gets down to numbers – be it weeks, days, weight, length, or contractions.

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“30 weeks. Woooo hooooo!”

“So far so good! Maria is doing well. Bored, but fine.” he replied.

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“32 weeks – great news! What’s the latest?”

“Doctor says all is good. We’re aiming for the 22nd of December; 36 weeks.”

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And last Thursday: “34 weeks, how’s it going?”

“We’re scheduled for a C-section in about 3 hours.” They were at the doctor’s clinic, waiting. “The smaller one has plateau’d at 1.7 kilo; the bigger one is 2.4 kilo. The smaller isn’t growing anymore.”

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Friday on the phone with my friend: The little one is doing well. It’s the bigger one though, he cried when he was born, and then suddenly stopped breathing. I was asked to leave the delivery room at that point. They held him upside down. He was blue…I panicked.

I remember the worry that gripped me every time I was asked to leave the NICU. Either Rahul had gone into yet another sleep apnea; for what seemed like a little too long, or they had to set, and then re-set an IV into an already rebellious Leila’s miniscule, 1.2kilo body-weight, hand or foot. The screaming, the suffering you hear from a creature as tiny as she was, through the thickest hospital walls, is heart-wrenching.

My friend and his wife seem to have their emotions under control. I clearly remember that it wasn’t easy to stay level. But I had to, no matter what. I seemed unemotional, distant, “strong”, because otherwise I would break down. That meant I barely spoke to anyone, other than minor, somewhat polite interaction with the medical staff and with my parents and mother-in-law, who had moved to Hong Kong to help me during those 6 weeks, and after. I managed it the best way that I could. That’s it.

I hated my phone more than ever before. I couldn’t stand to see Maher on his. It had to be off in the NICU. And if I wasn’t at the hospital, and it rang – it was one of 3 options: Maher, someone I didn’t really want to go into any detail with, or the NICU. Luckily for us, it was never the last option.

Regardless of the calm my friend has portrayed, I’m contacting him daily, but apprehensively. You never know with this: one day the milk feeds are up, the next day they’ve been stopped because it seems there is a fatal infection brewing in the intestines. One day Twin 1 is moved out of the NICU into the slightly bigger babies room, the next day the baby in the bed next to Twin 2 dies.

One of my initial, harder moments was on a Wednesday afternoon, the third day after the birth. It was the day I left the hospital. I walked out, free after months of bed-rest; but I was leaving my babies behind.

Maria will only see her babies on Sunday, after she is discharged. On Thursday, she gave birth at the clinic, and the babies were rushed off in an ambulance, to an NICU. I realized that what my doctors did, what seemed obvious then, makes much more sense – they put me in an ambulance at the private hospital where I’d spent the last two weeks of my pregnancy, waiting out contractions, so that I could give birth at 31 weeks, at a major, public hospital, that had a state of the art NICU on its 6th floor.  I didn’t see my babies until they were 17 hours old, but they were in boxes, safe, somewhere in the same building.

In the hour after I saw them for the first time, when I saw and heard Rahul cry out – in pain – and I couldn’t do anything, not even just pick him, I realized that I would have to find the deepest of my strengths, love, and compassion to get through this.

She was 2 weeks old when we saw Leila’s face for the first time; Maher and I happened to be next to her incubator when a nurse changed her sunglasses. Both babies had jaundice when they were born, which is quite normal. Leila’s dragged on for a while though. It is treated by phototherapy – a light that shines on the babies – front and back. The babies wear a white mask to protect their eyes. On most babies in this ward, the patches are as big as their faces.

I tried to spend every moment possible with my babies, visiting hours for parents only, were from 9am to 12:30pm, and then from 2pm to 8pm. I spoke to L and R, sang to them – out of tune, and during the week, when Maher was back in Chengdu I played an Mp3 of him singing for them. I caressed them, and when they were stable enough, I clumsily changed their diapers, and even attempted to breastfeed them.

The medical team of this hospital, The Queen Mary, HK, knows what it’s doing. From the moment we arrived – me contracting and making guided decisions in labour, Maher figuring out the administrative details, we knew we were in good hands.

But the NICU staff didn’t always explain a lot to us, nor were they particularly nice. Of course the team is very busy giving life to babies; giving them a second chance. They don’t have time for frantic, lurking parents; at least that’s how we felt at our NICU. They deal with immense fragility scientifically; they attach ventilator’s to tiny babies, insert IV’s, measure and inject milk feeds into a tube that goes straight into the baby’s stomach, and then suck out and measure the undigested material through the same tube, they monitor and record every minute change on a tight, 24-hour schedule. Not easy for any parent to handle. And oh yeah, they let the babies cry.

There was one nurse though, who made the difference. She always smiled. She not only encouraged me to breast-feed, but she also advised me and gave me pamphlets about it. She’s the nurse who organized a parent support group one Sunday afternoon. That meeting opened us up. Her kindness and compassion made my visits a little easier.

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At the NICU in Cyprus, my friends are only allowed to see their babies between 1 and 2 pm, and then again between 5 and 6pm.

A friend of mine had to send her 2 month old baby to an NICU in Chengdu, for pneumonia. No one was allowed in. Full stop.

On the other hand, a friend of mine in the UK would go in to see her baby in the middle of the night be it because she was gripped by anxiety or because she had a strong urge to stay close to her baby.

The NICU rules everywhere seem to differ. What was your NICU experience like? What were the visiting hours? Was the staff pleasant, and helpful towards the parents? Did they encourage breastfeeding? Who was allowed in?