Telling Her Story: Kristi, Mom to Anna (4.5) and Giorgia (2)

Kristi and her daughters in Hertfordshire, UK

I met Kristi when we were living and teaching yoga in Hong Kong. We both came from much more laid back lifestyles in New Zealand and California, respectively, and found ourselves in this incredibly fast-paced city. Even teaching yoga in Hong Kong felt like an endless rat race. We taught at the same studio franchise and would sometimes teach five classes in a row, the majority of them in heated rooms in an already hot and humid subtropical climate.

Our paths have crisscrossed at pivotal points in our lives: we both met our husbands in 2010, we both left Hong Kong for the UK, where she currently lives, and we both had our second babies in 2020, during the pandemic. But where I had my baby several months into the pandemic, Kristi had hers right at the beginning, when everything had locked down and nothing was predictable.

One of the most profound truths I have ever heard about bringing a child into the world was said to me shortly after I’d had my first, in the middle of the night as I was weeping from the physical and emotional trauma of a very complicated birth. A midwife had come to help and she sighed compassionately and said, “Birth is unpredictable.”

Never was that statement more true than for the mothers who found themselves at the end of their pregnancy just as the pandemic was beginning.

New hospital rules were implemented overnight. I myself was early in my second pregnancy and I was closely following any and all news pertaining to maternity, childbirth, and the potential impact of Covid on newborns. In New York, there were a few days where expectant mothers were not allowed to have birthing partners with them when they were delivering their babies, until an executive order was passed that no woman would ever have to give birth alone. Things were similarly unstable in the UK so Kristi quickly made plans to have a home birth, not wanting to risk being separated from her husband. She thankfully had a successful though rushed and largely unsupported home birth, the baby already on her way out by the time the midwife arrived, in full hazmat gear, departing after a quick check of the baby.

There’s an inherent isolation that often accompanies the birth of a new baby, whether that isolation finds a mother in the middle of the night desperately trying to soothe and settle her crying baby or presents as a deeper feeling of disconnection with a mother's sense of self. The literal forced isolation that came with lockdown was nothing Kristi could have expected. To this day, her family back in New Zealand have never met her youngest child.

The question of the tree falling in the forest comes to mind as I think of Kristi being unable to share her new baby with anyone outside of her immediate household. On the one hand, there’s a liberation from not having anyone question or criticize how you might be mothering but on the other hand, there was no one to share in her joy, no one to provide support to her new family of four. To call upon another adage - it takes a village, but Kristi had no semblance of a village to rely on.

Even the basic postpartum care schedule that everyone in the UK had been entitled to pre-pandemic was no longer available. No midwife home visit, no followup doctor visit, no real mental health checks. There were no medical resources Kristi could access as everything was focused on Covid, and Kristi herself felt that she should just be grateful that her family was not sick amidst a global pandemic. So much so that she has still not had any doctor visits since the birth of her child over two years ago.

During one of the absolute most vulnerable times of a mother’s life, Kristi had no one to lean on.

Kristi shares that she did spiral, experiencing waves of anxiety and sleeplessness as the months went on. It all culminated in a literally debilitating moment where Kristi’s back went out in the early morning hours after tending to her baby. For several days, she couldn’t move.

All of this would be deeply confronting and challenging for anyone but there is a unique pressure we yoga teachers seem to put on ourselves. We should have the answers to keeping our bodies healthy and well. We should know how to manage our mental health through breathwork and meditation. We should be able to figure it all out on our own.

As Kristi laid flat on the floor, pumping out the milk she could not nurse her baby with due to the strong pain medication she had to take, she decided something had to shift. She decided she was going to reach out to others and find a way to create her own support system. She needed to figure out how to fill herself up again, how to come back to herself.

What called to Kristi was her love of learning. She sought trainings in supporting mothers and understanding the body more deeply. She studied deep into the night while her daughters were asleep, forgoing her own sleep to tap back into finding her light. This process grounded her, reminding her that she was still here, that the spark was still within her. She jokes, “I realized my brain still worked!”, something I think all moms can relate to when there starts to be space in your brain for something outside of only thinking about your kids’ needs.

Both Kristi and I have experienced a similar monumental shift that becoming a mother has had on our yoga practice and teaching. Where we once concerned ourselves with handstands and arm balances, we found ourselves simply wanting to stretch and release tension. Neither of us could find the energy to teach class after class anymore, nor did it logistically make sense to pay a babysitter while we went to teach, which often resulted in barely breaking even or losing money.

Beyond the logistics, Kristi found that her priorities had deeply changed. “I simply could not ask a class to lift their leg one more time!” she says with an exasperation I can relate to.

Kristi: mama, yogi, teacher, coach

Kristi’s sense of self has evolved and her work has followed suit. She still teaches yoga, but in a more limited capacity through mentorships, workshops, and retreats. She runs regular women’s circles, something she feels deeply passionate about: holding a safe space for women to come together in their raw truth, messiness, and magic.

I am immensely inspired by Kristi’s ability to look within for the strength and wisdom to reach out and create a system of support for herself. Where she lacked support from family or caregivers during lockdown, she found support through joining courses and building upon her existing experience with yoga as well as her psychology degree. Where there was no access to mental health resources, she took matters into her own hands, slowly and gently, and reignited her own light within.

What Kristi did was figure out how to take her power back.

Many people agree that motherhood is the hardest job of all. Mothering - not to mention bringing a child into the world - during a pandemic is next level. I am in awe of the grace and honesty with which Kristi has moved through this immeasurably challenging period of her life. Her resilience speaks to her genuine yogi nature, as much as her identity as a yoga teacher may have changed from pre-motherhood.

Yoga has never been about those handstands and perfectly scheduled practices anyway. Finding your way back to yourself through the messiness, the anxiety, the pain… allowing for things to look different than they looked before… this is the heart of what it means to be a yogi.

Find Kristi on her website and join her mailing list:

I am a mama, writer, yoga teacher, and mental health advocate.
More posts by Leah Kim.

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