What Having a Baby Taught Me About My Core That Pilates Teacher Training Never Did
I felt very prepared heading into labour. Having been a Pilates instructor for over 16 years, I was confident this would serve me well and result in a smooth, complication free delivery. My super strong core would take control and I would push out a baby in no time, why wouldn’t it? And I was excited to attempt a natural delivery so I could feel what was happening muscle-wise in my body to learn from it. I was thinking of birth as my own private muscular science experiment.
My contractions were strong and fast, right from the onset of labour. We went to the hospital early because of this, just in case. I was admitted. By using my breath I worked my way naturally through a very a painful 10 hours of labour. At the 10 hour mark I had been stuck at 6 cm dilated for a number of hours. We tried different things. Still no further. My body couldn’t let go. Something was wrong. Fear set in. Fear intensified the pain. We elected for an epidural (thank you God, natural? What was I thinking?) followed by induction to help things along. Shortly after my epidural took effect our baby’s heart rate plummeted. She was stuck. My body was pushing but not releasing. I was rushed into an emergency c-section: the scariest 10 minutes of my life.
I remember saying to the surgeon, “I’M A PILATES INSTRUCTOR, THIS IS A DISASTER”, as she prepared to cut through each and every layer of my precious abdominal core. To which she very clearly and effectively responded, “Eden, your baby could die”.
Right…stay focused on what really matters here Eden.
Our daughter, Sydney Liv Haugland was born healthy and happy, 7.1 lbs on May 31, 2014. My world was turned upside down in the most wonderful way imaginable.
I got my science experiment; but it certainly wasn’t what I expected. I have learned more about my body from having a baby than 16 years in the fitness industry ever could have taught me. Labour and delivery lead me on the steepest learning curve of my life. In the moment before surgery when I gave my husband a terrified kiss and told him I loved him, I knew things were no longer in my hands. I had to let go.
My story of evolution begins here. And with trying to stand up post major surgery and realize that because of that surgery, for the first time in 16 years, I had to try NOT to use my abs. But wait… is that possible? Aren’t your abs the center of all movement like we learned in Pilates? How can I take a step without using my core to help me balance? And thus began a spiral of questions (and corresponding epiphanies) that began a bit like this:
“I am a woman, one of my body’s functions is to give birth, and my body couldn’t do that, what have I been doing wrong?”
“What have I been doing all this time? Building core strength or core tension? And WHAT THE HELL IS THE DIFFERENCE?”“I am supposed to be improving body function not creating body dysfunction.” Click To Tweet
“And furthermore… If my abs aren’t the core center of all movement then what is?” (a question for another day)
As you can see, professionally speaking, my birth experience forced me to reevaluate everything I had come to know about core strength and how I worked to develop it in myself and others. As a Pilates instructor, this is everything I do.
When teaching the basic Pilates principles of core connection and breath I would teach clients (as I was taught), to contract their abdominals inwards and hold them in and tight while breathing in and out. Training your abdominals to stay engaged at all times to “protect” your spine. “Pull it in and keep it in”, I used to say this!
But the birth of my daughter taught me that the years I spent strengthening my core, I also spent creating tension. TENSION is strength that can’t be released.
I’ve spent so much time in my life thinking the strength I was building was helping me look better and feel better that I neglected to take the time to realize that a huge part of helping my muscles get stronger was letting my muscles relax. Muscles aren’t meant to contract and stay that way. Muscles are meant to contract and lengthen/release and then contract again. The release part isn’t just about flexibility, nor is it just about rest. Releasing your muscles helps them contract back more fully and with more power. Realizing this gave release a greater purpose for me.
I workout very differently now. I teach very differently as well.
If you want to get somewhere new with your body, you have to go somewhere new in your mind. You have to explore. Be brave. Let go.
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