Rachel Brathen, aka @YogaGirl, is a New York Times best-selling author, motivational speaker and international yoga teacher with over 2 million Instagram followers, and since March also mama to baby Lea Luna. In the middle of an especially busy travel period and just as construction was beginning on their Island Yoga studio in Aruba, where they live, Brathen and her husband of three years, Dennis, learned they were expecting a child. That’s when she admits she had to shift her mindset. “It was a big change for me. I’m a super control freak and had a hard time, as I was not in control of my own body. I decided to go with the flow, surrender, and let it happen how it would happen,” says Brathen.
Creator of the now common #yogaeverydamnday mantra, Brathen maintained a “super beautiful and dynamic” practice until the end of her second trimester. “I was able to sweat and move and wasn’t tired,” she says. But after seven months, “I experienced really intense pubic and pelvic pain. The more physical my practice was, the more intense the pain would become,” says Brathen, who then scaled back her routine. “I transitioned my practice to something more meditation-based. The last six weeks, I had no practice at all. It was almost a release to melt into my couch. Allowing myself to stop doing and to let go was really beautiful.”
Though she’d expected her baby may come early due to pre-contractions, “She went two weeks overdue. I felt I’d been pregnant for years after her due date passed. It was mentally the most challenging thing I’d ever been through,” Brathen says. As the deadline for being induced at the hospital loomed, she says she grew “panicky.” “It was harder in a way than giving birth. I was so dead set on a natural, at-home birth with a doula, and having a candle-lit, calm and sacred experience.”
Interestingly, Brathen suspects that events unfolded as they did, due to an emotional blockage she was bearing. “My due date was the death date of my best friend, who passed away in March of 2014,” she explains. “An acupuncturist I’d been seeing throughout my pregnancy asked whether there was anything that wasn’t healed for me yet. She said that she felt the baby was ready to come, and was sitting beneath my heart, which may still be carrying pain. I told her about my best friend and she worked on me, which led to a huge emotional opening. I cried for hours. There was a block there, and I had to open-up the floodgates. I felt so calm that night. There was a different energy in me. That morning, at 4 a.m., my labor pains started,” says Brathen, who went on to endure 18 hours of laboring at home.
At that point, “The baby was coming out with her head tilted, as it had not dropped far enough into the birth canal,” she says. “I wasn’t dilating, hospital was recommended and I didn’t want to be home anymore.”
With no other births occurring at the hospital that evening, “We had a private room, and we brought candles and lavender oil. It was just my husband, myself and our midwife. It ended up being what I’d wanted, just not in the same location,” Brathen says.
As for physical pain, “It was much worse than anything I could have imagined,” says Brathen, who didn’t receive any pain medication throughout the process. “My contractions were only two and a half minutes apart—it was like one neverending contraction for four hours. I was at a point where yoga didn’t help any more, nor could any amount of pranayama in the world. If they had offered me an epidural, I would have taken it. If they had offered me heroin, I would have taken it! But they’re not as liberal here with pain meds, as they are in the States.”
Today, the exhilarated new mom says her daughter’s birth experience was empowering. “I feel a little high. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, but her personality and the time with her now is life-changing,” she says.