A Student's Story: Jen Lee

Jen Lee has been attending classes here since opening day. Currently, at 38 weeks pregnant with her second child, here is her courageous story of yoga, loss, and truly listening and honoring your body's individual needs. (be sure to check out her bad-ass slo-mo handstand video at the end:)

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I'm Pregnant - Not Dead

by Jen Lee

When Maile asked me if I would be interested in writing a post about my experience with doing yoga during my pregnancy, I was excited to share my story. But when I sat down to actually write about it, I struggled as to where to start.

You see, until Tula opened its doors 2 years ago, I had never actually done yoga before. I was always that girl in the camp of “yoga isn’t a workout”. I had been an athlete my whole life and felt that if I wasn’t sweating and panting, it wasn’t worth the time. 

So what made me finally decide to try it? My doctors. I have chronic pancreatitis – a disease that has caused me to lose 3 organs, to endure severe pain on a daily basis, and to spend a lot of time in the hospital. Stress makes my condition worse and the doctors thought it was worth me trying yoga. I remember the first time I went to class, I was so worried that I wouldn’t know what I was doing - and I didn’t - but Amanda was amazing and so patient with me. That next morning I could barely get out of bed. Muscles I didn’t know existed hurt. It was then that I realized that my perceptions of yoga were completely wrong, it definitely wasn’t just a stretching and meditation class.

I began going to yoga regularly and loved it. I began feeling more in control of my pain and my husband even commented on my calmer demeanor when I would get home from class. In November of that year, we found out that we were pregnant with our second child and couldn’t have been happier. I continued to go to class and all the instructors were great about showing me how to adapt my practice for the pregnancy. I was excited for yoga to be part of my journey. 

Unfortunately, for whatever crappy reasons, that January I lost the baby.

To say I was devastated is an understatement. I didn’t leave the house for 2 weeks except to go to the necessary doctor appointments. I didn’t want to do anything. Finally my husband, as harsh as it felt at the time, told me that I needed to work on moving on. He told me to just start by going to yoga. He reminded me how good I felt when I was going and I finally agreed. I think that first class back I was just going through the motions of the poses, not really putting my whole self into the practice, until savasana came that is. It was like a huge wave of emotion just hit me at once. Tears just started coming out and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I was so embarrassed, not being one for public emotion. After class Maile and Cassi, who I barely knew at the time, just hugged me and made me feel that it was ok to not keep it all bottled up. Yoga proved to be just what I needed again.

During the next 9 months or so, I kept going to class, however far less than I would’ve liked. Between work and my family, I never felt that I had enough time for everything and the natural choice for me at the time was to sacrifice yoga. Well, the stress and my health caught up to me again and in October of 2012 I was hospitalized for a month with one of the worst pancreatic attacks I had in years. After this hospital stay my husband and I had a “come to jesus” and decided that it wasn’t worth it for me to work anymore, that my health was more important. It was a tough decision, but I retired from my career in advertising.

So what does one do with a sudden surge of time on their hands? Exercise! I began running and doing yoga every day. It wasn’t about losing weight or de-stressing anymore, it was about me and just me. Me showing myself what I could do – and that my health wasn’t in control, I was.  I was setting goals and accomplishing them and felt better than I had in 10 years. I honestly had been at a point in my life that I hadn’t thought I could feel this good ever again. My doctors even said they underestimated how much stress I was under and how it was affecting my health. My pain had gone down and I had more energy – I felt amazing! 

In April of this year, we found out that we were pregnant again. As scared as I was about losing the baby again, I knew I had to take care of myself as well. I knew that I had to keep doing what I was doing.

Because of my health, I go to a high risk OBGYN and discussed with him my routine. He said that since I was in the routine already that he had no problem with me continuing it, in fact, he encouraged it. So I kept going on my daily 5 mile runs and yoga class. I felt great.

What I did find about my decision is that everyone has an opinion, and most times they are unfounded ones, but they are still compelled to share them with you. Many people have disagreed with my choice to continue my routine. I have heard everything from that I was creating unnecessary risks to that I was being selfish. I was given guilt trips like “wouldn’t you just feel horrible if something were to happen”. I was also told that pregnancy was the time to relax and take it easy, and even to the extreme that I was being ‘stupid’. But for each of these people – there was another one that congratulated me and cheered me on – so thank you to all of you. And to all the others – I’m pregnant, not dead.

At 28 weeks pregnant I stopped running, I listened to my body and it was just getting too uncomfortable. However, what it ultimately did for me was allow me to solely focus on my yoga practice for the first time ever.  I soon found that unlike running, my yoga practice was constantly evolving. In running I could go faster or farther, but that was really it. In yoga, everyday was a chance for me to do something new, or better, or longer. I never felt the need to go to prenatal classes and can honestly say that my yoga practice has considerably improved during my pregnancy.  Did I WANT to go everyday? Hell no! Anyone that has been pregnant will tell you how tired you get. But I always made myself go and told myself that I could leave the class at anytime if I didn’t think I could finish. Happy to report that I haven’t had to take myself up on that deal yet. I feel stronger than ever and my husband even commented to me this weekend that my butt looks better than even before I was pregnant (I’ll take that!) 

So here I am – 2 weeks to go until my second baby girl comes into this world – and I am doing handstands, can get into full splits, and still rocking every vinyasa. After all, I’m only pregnant, not dead.