Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
For psychotherapist and international yoga teacher Coral Brown, yoga played a major role in her pregnancy from conception to the birth of now seven-month-old Seamus. “We’d tried to get pregnant for a very long time,” Brown says. “We’d put off in vitro fertilization, since as a psychotherapist, I’d seen so many people struggle with the loss, grief, and anxiety around IVF. I’m very holistic and didn’t want to add those stresses to my body and marital relationship.” But, once she’d turned 43, Brown and her husband opted to try IVF. Though their chances of success were just 8 percent, “I was told that acupuncture doubles that, and I was healthy, so we went ahead with it,” she says.
To save money on IVF medication, Brown opted to purchase the required drugs during a pre-planned retreat in India. While there, she visited with an Ayurvedic doctor-friend who told Brown, “We’ll chant for you,” she says. “I was moved to tears. Ayurvedic priests completed a mantra for me 108,000 times.” Shortly following her IVF procedure, while traveling and teaching throughout Europe, a pregnancy test turned up positive. “I really couldn’t believe it,” she says.
While fear is normal in any pregnancy, Brown, who was facing extra tests associated with IVF and added health risks associated with her age, says “I couldn’t live with that kind of mentality—I wouldn’t thrive and neither would my pregnancy.” So instead, she relied on a deep sense of faith and trusted that “it would be exactly how it was supposed to be. I felt it would be okay,” she says. “I practiced mantra, visualization, and spent time in nature by the ocean. These things helped to keep me calm and ready to receive him.”
But while she set a positive intention, Brown’s first trimester proved challenging. “I had significant nausea morning until night for 16 weeks,” says Brown. “I tried to do asana, but even smells were too much.” She tried everything (mint, ginger, small meals) but papaya enzyme tablets helped the most. Ultimately, the nausea stopped on its own.
Later, at six months, her pubic bones and ligaments started loosening. “Walking became painful. I couldn’t do Warrior or lunges without pain,” says Brown, whose physical practice changed to restorative and subtle poses. Letting go of expectations helped her shift her yoga practice to become more based in meditation and mantra. “I’d expected I’d do asana throughout pregnancy, but couldn’t and didn’t. I didn’t get down or depressed, though. I was so internally grateful, which was a buoy for all of the other negative things. Though I’d never been that tired, I was so mystified by what the body does. I knew I was so lucky—that this was probably the only time this would happen to me, and I wanted to be present with it.”
Though she’d hoped for an at-home birth, “I knew it wouldn’t fly with my OB-GYN practice and safety was the first priority. As much as it was my labor and delivery—it was for Seamus. I had to release that story about wanting it to be a certain way,” she says.
As she geared up to give birth, “I tried to do what felt right for me. My yoga teacher told me that just as a marathoner trains for a race, I had to prepare for labor and delivery. I tapered back my yoga practice and was able to be at rest and be prepared with all of the stuff we had to put into place—like a Pack ’N Play!”
Four days prior to her due date, “I started having contractions,” says Brown. “My water broke and I started laboring.” As Brown’s contractions grew more intense, every two minutes, she then stalled at four centimeters for 14 hours. “I began passing out in between contractions, due to pain and exhaustion. I was losing my faculties and was unable to connect to my yoga practice and my breath,” she says. “Something was taking over my body. I remember calling it an ‘it.’ I was fully out of my body at that point. I remember pulling my hair and biting bed sheets. It was very primal, guttural, insane,” she says. “That was complete disassociation. The psyche knows that the body can only handle a certain amount of pain. There’s an amnesia quality to it, too—we quickly forget it. It’s a survival mechanism. Or else, we’d never have another baby.”
In the end, Brown pushed for an hour and just as Seamus was crowning, she says, “I put my hand down and felt his head—and the difference between his body and mine—it blew my mind. This isn’t me. It’s him now.”
Brown credits her ability to heal from her childbirth experience and lack of sleep in the weeks that followed to her yoga practice, as well as additional strength training she did to help her to get her functional anatomy back, she says. “I had some tearing and recovery time there. I’m still nursing and have some pubic discomfort. Luckily, my body type is athletic and strong, but more than the physical practice—the philosophic, deeper dimensions of yoga I practice have helped me to see the healing capacity of the body and mind working together.”
While regular asana is still challenging, Brown has since resumed a physical yoga practice. Today, she says her physical yoga practice is not as important as being a mom, but “at the same time, it’s more important—not that I get certain poses, but that I enjoy what I do.”
Her parting advice to those preparing for the pregnancy journey? “You can’t expect that it will only be good if it goes a specific way. If you do, you’re limiting yourself and setting yourself up for a lot of potential pain. It’s the baby’s journey—not yours. Acknowledge this little soul and support it,” she says.