Saturday, December 3, 2011


I used to be a yoga teacher. I taught people how to breathe.
I was that kind of yoga teacher.
In my most tranquil, calm, yoga teacher voice.

Breathe deeply, smoothly, and evenly.

I would say,

Observe the quality of your breath.


Are there any points
in your breath cycle
where you feel a hesitation?

Or a pause?

Don't worry about trying to control the breath.

Simply allow your natural breath to move through you.

As you breathe, notice if your breath cycle changes,

or if it stays the same.

Notice the length and quality of your inhale

Notice the length and quality of your exhale

Is your inhale longer than your exhale?

Is your exhale longer than your inhale?


I said these words while I was pregnant, before I knew that Nathaniel was going to die. I sat in the front of the yoga studio and said these words. Or I would slowly walk around, and watch students as they focused, sometimes too intently, trying to find their breath. I would watch frustration arise and fall in my students' bodies. I would watch awareness shift from the world outside to inner worlds. Brows furrowing. Sighs. Facial muscles relaxing. Twitching. Fidgeting. Restless minds. Restless bodies. Slowly unraveling toward slow, deep, even breath.

I could teach about breath and abide with my own breath. I felt content in my smooth, even inhale and exhale, mine from years of practice and training. As I taught, I would touch the shimmer of the present moment. My hand rubbed my swollen belly. Nathaniel rolled and kicked.    

I started maternity leave from the yoga studio the first week of June. On June 13th, I first learned of Nathaniel's diaphragmatic hernia. On June 14th, we learned of Nathaniel's brain malformations. About June 24th, we learned of the chromosomal abnormality that informed it all, and that he would not likely survive for long outside of the womb. He was due to come July 8th. 

After Nathaniel was born and died, my own breath was one of the first places I started to understand my loss. A completely new world. A new landscape. I saw and felt it with a sharpness on my inhale: the essence of life skimming across shards of broken glass.

Yes, here, there is a new hesitation, a new pause. A deep breath is not available. There is a sharp pain, about 2/3 the way up. I have to stop. 

And my exhale has a hollow, whistling quality. Like through the broken window of a vacant, haunted house.



Like an injured animal.

God hates me.

And for no reason. All is well. Everything is peaceful. Nathaniel went peacefully.

But according to my breath, the elephant, animal part of me, all is not well. My clinical mind can not reason with my breath. The nerves that carry my animal self scream WHERE'S MY BABY WHERE'S MY BABY WHERE'S MY BABY a million times in an hour. My spirit knows that he's gone. 

When Nathaniel died, he couldn't breathe. He came out, and he couldn't breathe. Given his prognosis, we decided ahead of time that we would not interfere with his breath, and that if it did not come naturally to him, if he could not do it, we wouldn't force him.

He told me that he didn't want us to stick a tube down his throat. He told me that he didn't want to be poked.

I nag my 16 year-old living son relentlessly. I nag him to do his homework. Clean his room. Eat his vegetables. Pick up his clothes. Talk to me. I love it. I love nagging him.

But I did not nag Nathaniel for a moment. I didn't say, come on kiddo. Try. You've got to try. You've got to put a little bit of effort into this world here. Come on, little one. Do it for me. Try to breathe. Try.

He came out and I held him, skin-to-skin, and I told him how proud I was that he made it out alive. He couldn't breathe, and I only told him that I was so proud of how strong and brave he was for making it here alive. And the fact that I didn't nag him still bothers me. My clinical mind understands that, by not nagging him, we practiced ahimsa, or non-violence. And the truth is, no matter how much we tried to get him to breathe, he probably would have never been able to get it going on his own. But my animal, mothering self protests, rages, and wails to *make him breathe*. 

My breath is still not the same, and I'm starting to realize that it may never be.  A massage therapist works with my ribs, and tells me that in Chinese medicine, grief is held in the lungs. I can take a deeper breath, but I have needed outside help and hands other than mine to push on my lungs and manipulate my ribcage. 

I still have not been back to the yoga studio.


  1. Oh. Oh. I can only speak from my own experience but I can only say that I think you did the right thing. I hope he felt your pride and your love. In his strength. In his bravery.

    When my daughter died, I felt that I had my foot caught in a snare. I don't feel quite that same way these days, it's been over three years now. But I still don't breathe like I used to. It seems to catch in my throat now.

  2. I couldn't eat for two weeks, nor breathe properly for months after Seamus died. There was a tightness in my throat - a horrible, physical strangling about my neck that just wouldn't budge. I think it was the anxiety of it all... It's still not back to normal, and perhaps it never will be...

  3. I get it. I get all of it. It aches - so much - so deeply - that it's hard to breathe. I don't know if I will ever breathe the same again.