Baby In the Balance

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From the moment of her birth, my daughter was affectionate, good-natured, and easygoing. I, however, was a wreck—a 10-car pileup kind of wreck. Yes, I was one of those hypervigilant mothers who cosleeps, breastfeeds every few minutes, and wears her child in a baby sling. I panicked when she hiccoughed. I woke myself several times a night to check that she was still breathing. I wouldn't let my husband hold her because I was sure he was crushing her tiny bones. This wasn't just "attachment parenting." This was Krazy Glue parenting.

Becoming a new mom involves a steep learning curve, and only a very brave or very foolish person would tell a woman she is doing something wrong. Fortunately for me, a good friend recognized the problem and gently suggested a bit of exercise. Unwilling to leave my baby at home with her clearly incompetent father, I signed up for a Mommy and Me yoga class.

Things got off to a rocky start. As the instructor moved us into Dandasana (Staff Pose), I tried to balance my four-month-old on my legs. She whimpered in protest. When the instructor asked us to put our babies down for Sun Salutation, the half-dozen other women in class calmly placed their children on blankets at their feet. But the instant I released my daughter, she began to shriek like a deranged monkey. Sheepishly, I picked her up and spent the rest of the class cross-legged on the floor, breastfeeding.

But I didn't give up. The next time I came to class, I resolved to put my baby down like the other mothers, if only for a few minutes. This time, as I placed her on the blanket at my feet, I noticed her eyes widening at some astonishing and mesmerizing vision. I looked up. It was the ceiling fan. The gently whirring spokes captured her attention for a full 15 minutes, allowing me time to stretch out my sore back.

Every week I returned to Mommy and Me yoga, and every week my daughter seemed to notice a different feature of the studio. The melodic, trancelike music; the statuette of Ganesha by the front door; the pink lotus flowers stenciled on the yoga studio's purple walls—each new discovery was enchanting. Over time, it was the other children who piqued her interest. They burbled at her, and she cooed back.

As my daughter started to get acquainted with the world around her, I became reacquainted with the world within. As I assumed Ardha Chandrasana, (Half Moon Pose) I was able to feel myself in balance for the first time in months. Moving into Tadasana (Mountain Pose) with arms stretched up, I reached my hands over my head. The instructor approached and placed her hands on my shoulders, adjusting them down and away from my ears. We exchanged brief smiles: it was safe to let go.

Before and after class, I bonded with the other students. Most of us were first-time mothers. As I observed the myriad ways these women loved and cared for their babies, I relaxed even more. There was no such thing as "perfect" parenting. My daughter and I would be just fine.

Mommy and Me yoga brought me back in touch with my pre-baby self. It reminded me of my yoga practice, and then my prenatal yoga practice, in those earlier times. Although my day-to-day focus was now on my daughter, I realized I hadn't lost the ability to find joy in physical challenges, and to discover a place of peace within. My change in identity from single woman to married mother may have mattered to the outside world. But deep inside, I was still me.

When she was about a year old, around the same time that she learned to walk, my daughter learned to do Downward Dog. She was proud of herself, and I was proud of her, too. With my daughter exploring the world at my side, I felt something else: pride in the mother that I had become.

Katherine Stewart is the author of The Yoga Mamas from Berkeley Press..