When I was 20, I discovered the practice and study of yoga. I surrounded myself with its teachings and eventually became certified as a yoga teacher. 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 who 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 people’s rules and felt smothered by other people’s expectations. Fear and anxiety had been constant companions, as I grew up the first grandchild of Holocaust survivors in a cookie-cutter suburban town. The anxious lives that I saw people living around me were not what 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 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, 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 a cheery pink plus sign staring up at me from the end of a pregnancy test stick. I couldn’t breathe. I think I vomited. (That 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—the opposite of freedom.
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.
THR REALITY OF BABY
Months later, there I was in our small rental apartment processing the beautiful home birth of my baby. Yes, it was earth shatteringly beautiful, but it was 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 help others and change the world were drowning in a sleep-deprived pile of dirty cloth diapers, wool covers, and breast milk.
I GREW UP
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 at it crescendos, 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. The 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 my real life was taken away from me — in fact it had been given to me in the fullest possible way.
Day by day I realized that the freedom I was so desperately looking for was happening. As I accepted my life and took responsibility for it, leaving behind my victim mentality, I could see much more clearly the self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviors that were the real chains of bondage.
I found that by committing to my husband and children I was inviting accountability that would 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.
I FOUND AN ASHRAM WITHIN
Today, my babies are 5 and 9, and I continue to dance this dance. Through the constant everyday chaos of raising children and managing societal obligations, I find a quiet ashram 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 struggling within 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. Now I have the privilege of walking next to many women as they are transformed by pregnancy and motherhood. I hope and pray that what I’ve learned and gained through my journey supports them along theirs.
A version of this article previously appeared on Recovering Yogi.
Corinne Andrews is the founder and head author of Birthing Mama—an online holistic pregnancy program for each week of pregnancy. A subscription to Birthing Mama includes 30 prenatal yoga videos (over 6 hrs!), 6 audio recordings of guided meditations, and over 150 pages of inspirational writings, developmental benchmarks, nutrition and herbal recommendations & recipes, self-care suggestions and creative projects.Corinne has been teaching yoga since 2003 and is a senior Embodyoga® teacher and is the co-founder of Birthing Mama Yoga. In addition to teaching weekly classes, Corinne teaches private yoga sessions at Atkinson Family Practice. She 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. Find her at Birthing Mama or on Facebook.