The first time I visited my gynecologist, Mr. Z, I asked him if there were any prenatal classes my boyfriend and I could take as a couple.
He burst into laughter.
“We’re in the bush here, Madame,” he said. “The men are macho. They don’t do those kinds of classes.”
So it was an emphatic ‘no’ then.
I guess I should have known. Here, the lines that demarcate a woman’s work from a man’s are very clear: She is in the domestic sphere and he is outside it — anything to do with the pregnancy would, naturally, be up to the woman.
Dr. Z did mention a prenatal yoga class in Zone 4, the expatriate quarter. It so happened that I had already contacted the instructor of the Ananda Yoga School the week before. With Dr. Z.’s blessing, I felt compelled to go.
* * *
When I walked into Yira’s yoga studio last week, I found myself regretting two things: The croissant I had just gobbled up an hour before and my tardiness.
I crept into the room, miming an apology. Yira flashed me a wide smile and waved me into the room, where three women flanked her yoga mat on either side.
She placed my yoga mat opposite hers. Being late had earned me a place of honour in the middle of the room. Since I have the flexibility of an octogenarian and the grace of a baby hippo, it seemed fitting that I would have to do yoga poses in front of the entire class.
My last foray into an exercise class in Abidjan had been disastrous. In July, I had attended an African dance aerobics class. The only other participant was a Brazilian woman whose swiveling hips would have put J Lo. to shame. With my innate shyness and robotic movements, I had as much rhythm as the Tin Man.
Today, this lack of rhythm, coupled with my appearance, made me feel like running for the door. My hair was unkempt; I was wearing a too-small shirt and Lululemon pants covered with dog hair.
But I needed some time away from The Hive with its attendant worries (house repairs, puppy anarchy, ant-ridden kitchen). This wasn’t the time to succumb to insecurity.
I told myself: It’s a yoga class, a place to check vanity at the door.
As I shuffled toward my mat, I noticed there was a woman who was at least eight months pregnant — she had to be less flexible than me.
Incense wafted through the narrow room as Yira chanted. I sat down and began the breathing exercises.
“Breathe in — Ooooooooooooooooooooooooo….” she said. “Breathe out – mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.”
At each breath, my belly popped out from under my shirt. I tugged self-consciously at my shirt, trying to forget that each time I exhaled, the fine spray of dog hairs stuck to my face quivered.
Oooommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Her voice was soothing as she chanted.
Yira projected the kind of inner glow that made you want to overhaul your lifestyle — embark on a raw food diet, invest in some music with sitars and bells, become a morning person. (I should add that none of these things are likely to happen — although motherhood might aid me in the latter.)
We worked through five other poses, including a series of pelvic tilts.
“This one will really help you when you are giving birth,” she said as we grunted through the pose, straining our lower halves.
Gradually, I could feel my shoulders lowering, my jaw loosening; when my back cracked, Yira opened her eyes and half-winked at me. My first prenatal class was complete.
From our email exchanges, I knew she spoke English. After the class, I learned that she was from the Dominican Republic and had visited the United States a number of times.
“I’m happy to converse in French, if you want to,” I said, only half-meaning it.
“No, no, it’s good for me to practice my English,” she said. (I almost fist-pumped — it’s such a relief to speak English sometimes.)
She moved lithely to the other side of the room and gestured.
“Here’s the yoga library. You can check out a book a week. This one” — she paused to tip the spine of one book from the shelf — “will tell you absolutely everything about childbirth.”
I gave her a sickly smile. I wasn’t quite ready to check that one out yet.
But there was no question that post-class, I felt relaxed — buoyant, even. That sustained hour of quietude — the detachment from my daily life — was just what I needed. As I headed outside into the bright vagueness of the day, I made a mental note to invest in a lint roller and new gym clothes.
Did you take prenatal yoga classes? If so, did they help?