by Shiya Furstenau
Bodhi Blessing, On Infant Loss and Yoga
It's been nearly 3 years and every day it still hurts. I never thought I would personally experience a mother's worst nightmare.
On Halloween of 2013, I gave birth via emergency c-section to my oldest son, Jackson, after an extremely long labor that ended at 8 centimeters when I spiked a fever. As I lay on the operating table, exhausted and terrified waiting for my husband to come in, my midwife held my hand and promised me I was a great candidate for VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean).
One week after Jackson’s first birthday I found out I was pregnant again. We were thrilled, we had always planned for three babies and we wanted them close together in age. I had a remarkably easy 2nd pregnancy. I was so active, running around after my toddler. I walked everywhere, I taught prenatal yoga and practiced yoga right up until a day to two before I went into labor. At 40 weeks my midwives and I were getting anxious. Everyone agreed my best chance for a successful VBAC was if I went into labor on my own. Hoping to avoid an induction or a scheduled c-section they stripped my membranes and sent me home to wait.
I woke up on Sunday, July 19th at 41 weeks, I was leaking the tiniest bit of fluid, but it was my husbands birthday so we decided to have a birthday celebration and go to the hospital if things progressed. Around 1 am the next morning I woke up with intense labor pains, my contractions were coming fast and furiously. I got to the hospital around 3 am and was already at 5cm. By 9 am I was 10cm and ready to push, I pushed for over two hours before it was decided that another emergency c-section was necessary, this is when the wheels began to come off. Our precious boy Bodhi was born at noon on July 20th weighing 9lbs and not breathing, I never saw or held my son while he was alive. After they finished up my c-section I was taken back to labor and delivery. An hour later a doctor from the NICU came up to tell us that after an hour of trying to resuscitate him my son had passed away. They brought this gorgeous blond little baby up for us to hold and say goodbye to. How do you even in that moment say goodbye? Not just to the son you have grown and carried in your body for ten months, but also to the baby brother you had promised your twenty-one-month-old, to the family you had been dreaming about?
I kept thinking this can't be my life. For the first few days afterward, I kept waiting to wake up from the nightmare. Somedays I still don’t believe it’s my life, that I have to choose to actively speak about my sons in vague ways, never my first and my second born because that takes away the reality that I have given birth to three boys, always my oldest and my youngest. At Bodhi’s memorial, I read the Elizabeth Stone quote “Making the decision to have a child - it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body,” and talked about how losing a child is like having a piece of that already vulnerable heart ripped away and it will never grow back.
As a Yoga practitioner for 20 years, and a teacher for 15 years, yoga has gotten me through breakups, heartache, job changes and more but when I needed yoga the most, I just couldn’t get on the mat. I felt that my spiritual practice had failed me. People would tell me it was the baby’s karma or God’s plan and I would cry. My sweet innocent son didn't have anything wrong with him prior to my labor and he surely didn't have any karmas that prevented him from being in my arms. I’ve heard many yoga teachers say the universe gives us the lessons we need to learn. For the longest time, I couldn't see what my lesson was.
My way of moving forward, of putting 1 foot in front of the other was to get pregnant again, to have another baby, to try and complete our family. About 3 months later I was pregnant again and rolled out my yoga mat and began a prenatal yoga practice. For the first time, my practice was only for exercise, for the baby, for my body. My heart, my soul, still wasn’t on my mat. One year and a day after Bodhi was born I gave birth to our rainbow baby Shepard. Slowly the clouds started to part.
Last March I took Jackson and Shepard to a Krishna Das Kirtan (http://krishnadas.com) that my family’s yoga studio had sponsored (http://www.shantiyogashala.org). It started late and it was way past their bedtime. The boys eventually fell asleep basking in the peacefulness of hundreds of voices chanting. Suddenly something within me let go, my heart opened up for the first time in so long, I knew Bodhi was there with us. I felt the magic of my spiritual practice for the first time since we lost him.
Slowly I began to develop the idea that I could use my loss to begin to help other women navigate similar experiences. There's so little discussion about pregnancy loss and infant death. It's almost as if we don't talk about it then it isn’t real. The reality is it is very real and whether we are aware of it or not we hold onto the grief in every cell of our body whether our baby was eight weeks, 20 weeks or full-term when we lost them. I've come to truly believe that we become a mother when we see that positive pregnancy test. A loss is a loss, it's all heartbreak. I slowly began to practice yoga again with my heart and soul open because I needed to move my grief so that I could begin to figure out ways to help others move theirs. I don't like to use the word heal we never really heal from these experiences. Losing a child isn't something that gets better. We get stronger, we open up more, we develop a support system, we have more babies, our hearts grow.
I'm currently working to develop a website called the Bodhi Blessing. I will offer short yoga practices and meditations that will offer ways to help open our hearts, to help us forgive ourselves and others, to help us begin to recreate ourselves, our lives after our loss(es). I hope that eventually, this website will lead to many workshops where women can do this practice together in person, creating a community and a support group. It took me a very long time to become vulnerable enough, open enough, to even imagine stepping into a yoga studio and taking one of these workshops. I hope to begin building a community to start the process of creating new freedom, new growth, and self-expression for those who need it. This is my way of honoring Bodhi, I may never have known him alive in my arms, but I felt him every day in my body, my heart and soul knew him well. I know every woman's heartache is different and yet every woman's heartache is the same. These losses that we keep hidden behind a forced smile, behind closed doors, deserve to be out in the open, they deserve to be honored. We owe it to ourselves and our babies to begin to move forward with open hearts and open minds. To once again develop the strength, love bigger than we ever imagined. To be mothers.
Please visit my new site/blog, thebodhiblessing.wordpress.com, the blog is under construction, new content and videos will be added weekly.
Here are some wonderful online yoga resources for grieving families dealing with pregnancy loss and infant death:
Let It All Go: 7 Poses to Release Trauma in the Body
Yoga After Miscarriage: A 6-Pose Healing Practice
Healing Grief Through the Chakras
Healing After Loss: Meditation for Grieving
The Yoga Sequence for a Healing Heart