Movement After Miscarriage – How to reconnect with your body after the loss of a baby by Ali Handley
I write about it, it’s part of my teaching mantra and it’s the mission of my online studio BodyLove Pilates that safe movement and effective strengthening can make a huge difference to your pregnancy, labor and postpartum recovery. That connecting with your baby and your body through Pilates has so many wonderful benefits - both physically and emotionally. But I never thought I would be writing about my first hand experience of how much it would mean to me when I recently lost a baby this summer. It’s been both cathartic and very emotional for me to write this article and share something so personal but I felt such an overwhelming swell of love, support and sisterhood from all the women in my life - family, friends, clients - women I didn’t even know, reaching out to me with stories of their own loss and heartbreak, that I wanted to give back some way - make a negative, a positive. A very dear friend encouraged me to use my knowledge and experience to make my loss something that might make a positive difference in another mamas life that needs it. So here is my story.
As a mother of two toddlers, with no complications in my history, the third time around was like no big deal. I’d been teaching, working out almost everyday, running around after the kids and feeling good. At 17 weeks I went to see my OB and heartbreakingly we found no heartbeat. I’ll never know the reason why. Initial shock fell quickly into complete sadness and as many moms who have experienced miscarriage, there was a bottomless feeling of emptiness. In my 2nd trimester, and being the 3rd time around I had already begun to show but very quickly after the procedure I started to shrink back into my pre-pregnancy body. Sadly it didn’t feel like my body. I went through so many emotions over those first days and weeks, ranging from numbness, gratefulness for the short time I had with the baby, to in the shower, full body shaking cries. The one thing I kept coming back to was a cycle of shame and blame of my body. What went wrong? What wasn’t my body giving my baby that it needed. How could I not know something wasn’t right? The mother inside me couldn’t get past it. Then slowly the quiet inner voice from my teaching started to come through. I had to reconnect with my body, honor my body and find joy in movement again.
To break the cycle I knew the first step was to find full body release.
Fetal position was my go to - lying down, standing up, walking. I felt like I couldn’t lift my heart, straighten my back, take my gaze forward. I was in protection mode. Our muscles hold memory and emotions, to start the healing process I had to release them.
1. Foam Rolling- Foam rolling, or self myofascial release works on the connective tissue of our body. By foam rolling certain parts of the fascia in the body you can provide widespread release. For me, I knew I needed to roll out my the muscles of spine that had been locked in a rounded position.
Step 1. Place the foam roller length ways and lie your spine down. Make sure your head is one end and bottom on the other, both supported by the roller. Reach arms wide out the side and allow your the muscles of the chest to stretch and release, and feel the spine relax into it’s natural curves - head, ribcage and tailbone sinking down into the roller. Breathe. Spend time here. Inhale and expand the lungs, filling them with air. Exhale, release and let go. You can do slow arm circles here too. Feels so good.
Step 2. Place the foam roller across the mat, then lean back so that your mid back is on the roller, your head is supported in your hands, knees are bent with your feet and bottom on the mat. Pull your belly button all the way into your spine and lift your bottom off the mat. Make sure you are supporting your head well, your abs are pulling in before you very slowly roll up and down your thoracic spine. Go super slow. Roll back and forth over spots that are really sore. Be sure to keep the range of rolling to just the ribcage/thoracic spine.
2. Stretching - Both emotionally and physically I felt locked. Locked, tight, hard. Finding length from stretching provided me with space in both my mind and body to start the process of healing and loving again. I’m going to warn you - for me I found these stretches brought out a lot. I cried, sometimes I still cry. If you feel, it let it out.
Step 1. Psoas Stretch. The Psoas (SO-as) muscle group is part of the deep core. It provides the body with a column of support and is linked to your reproductive system by nerves. It is also called the Flight-Or-Fight muscle and it is the main muscle that responds to the sympathetic nervous system. When we experience some kind of trauma, anxiety, stress, sadness, the psoas muscle curls and contracts. If not released, it will be stored as a charge of energy from the nervous system in the muscle tissues of the psoas. According to a psoas specialist, Liz Koch, author of “The Psoas Book” - “it is an organ of perception.. composed of bio-intelligent tissue.. that embodies our deepest urge for survival.” The Flight-or-Fight position mimics fetal. Releasing my psoas was deeply emotional and uplifting at the same time. Insert tissues here!
Psoas stretch - Kneel on the mat and step your right foot forward. Place a yoga block or a stack of books beside the foot. Gently lean into the right leg as the knee bends. You should feel a stretch in the front of the left hip. Reach the left arm up in the air, finding length in the body. Place the right hand on the yoga block and side stretch over to the right. Breathe. Hold it for awhile. Release. Repeat on the other side.
Spinal twist - There are so many wonderful benefits to spine twisting but in my case it was for my aching low back and the wonderful detoxification results deep twisting can provide. The twisting of the abdominal organs can help expel waste, both digestive and emotional. Importantly it is when you release the twist that fresh blood can circulate, providing healing and nourishment where I needed it most.
Lie on your back with both your knees bent. Cross your right leg over your left. Reach your arms wide out to the sides. Release the knees over the left as you rotate your head so you are looking down your right arm. Breath. Hold this twist for a long time. Quieten your mind as your low back releases. When you’re ready, very slowly come out of the twist back to the start position. Hug your knees into your chest before you go to the other side.
The second part is to reconnect to your body and your muscles. I knew from my training I had to find deep core activation. Whilst I had not gone through an entire pregnancy, my abdominal muscles had experienced change. I had to go through the challenging process of engaging the muscle that once hugged my baby into my body, and discover how now it could help me find a sense of stability and strength.
Step 1. Transverse Abdominis (TVA) activation exercise - Bellybutton to Spine.
When I have a client who has had a baby we strengthen her TVA in stages. This is an abbreviated version but the goal remains the same - to find a reconnection to the wrapping of the TVA to stabilize the pelvis and spine, cinching, lengthening and flattening the belly. It’s emotional but your TVA activation sends oxygenated blood in and around your uterus, speeding up the healing process.
Do this exercises in 3 different stages - progressing as you feel more connection and strength.
Seated - All Fours - On your back, knees bent - On your back - legs in tabletop.
Whichever position you are in - place your hands on your belly. Allow the feelings to wash over you like waves.
Inhale - through your nose and fill the lungs with air.
Exhale - out your mouth like you are fogging up a mirror as you pull your belly button to your spine then zipping it up the spine. Imagine the TVA wrapping around your midsection like a corset. Don’t allow anything else in the body to change. Just feel the connection.
Do 10 breaths in each position.
Step 2. The Pelvic Tilt
Now time to connect to the pelvic floor - our root Chakra. This is also known as the first Chakra and yogis believe emotionally it relates to security, survival, power, courage and resilience. I needed all of that! Energetically the Root Chakra relates to the archetype of the Mother. Cue tears. Remember let it out. The Pelvic Tilt begins with pelvic floor activation..
Lie on your back with your knees bent. Pelvis and spine in neutral. Place your hands on your low belly. Create a triangle shape with the heel of your hands on your hips points and your index fingers reaching down to your pubic bone. They should all be in the same plane.
Inhale - through your nose and fill the lungs with air.
Exhale - out your mouth like you are fogging up a mirror as you first feel the lift of your pelvic floor, then the TVA pulls the belly button so deep that you gently rock your pelvis toward you. Imagine someone got an ice cream scoop and scooped out the space between your belly button and your pubic bone.
Do 10-15 reps
There is obviously so much more that goes into the healing process after you lose a baby to miscarriage, and every woman will feel differently. For me these exercises and release work was building the foundation, the first bricks in my path back to my body and finding happiness again in movement. I hope my story can provide even just one mama with some comfort and tools to help her recover.
ALI HANDLEY - BODYLOVE PILATES FOUNDER
ABOUT ALI/ Ali Handley is a New York based Pilates instructor, mother of two young children, and the founder of BodyLove Pilates. BodyLove is a dedicated online studio with a growing library of 250+ video workouts for pregnant and postnatal women to ensure they work out smarter, safer and more effectively during this important time in their lives. BodyLove-Pilates.com