Continuing on with this series where we explore pregnancy body changes, we bring you Mikaela's story. As an artist, dancer, choreographer and pilates instructor, Mikaela is about as wise and cultured as she is creative and beautiful. Her profession has anchored her in understanding the power of her body in incredible ways.
Originally from Texas, she lives in Cleveland, OH with her husband (who is also an impeccable dancer) and their newborn baby boy. Mikaela is the co-founder of Elu Dance Co, a dance company which creates visceral experiences and paths of healing through movement.
1. How would you describe the state of being pregnant?
Both incredibly mystical and quite mundane. After the initial shock/excitement of discovering you are pregnant sinks in, you continue to live your life...for nine long months. Not a lot changes on the outside at first. But feeling that first flutter of movement or taking the time to pause and remember what is being crafted inside of you reminds you of the mystery and wonder of it all. You are a carrier and sustainer of new life - it's mind-blowing to try to process.
2. Before you became pregnant, did you feel as though you were mentally and emotionally prepared for the transformation that was about to unfold?
Because pregnancy was something that would greatly impact my career as a dancer and choreographer, it was something I really had to weigh and think about. Pregnancy can take you out of performing for at least a year, and many dancers end up never returning to performance after pregnancy for one reason or another. My husband and I talked about it for years, but the timing never seemed right.
I was afraid that my career would be over once I became pregnant. But as we began to try and plan the most ideal time to conceive, we came to the realization that it was more about surrendering to this mystical opportunity of forming a human. There are so many unknowns with pregnancy. I knew that the odds would be that I would be able to return to performing after my child was born (with time, healing and work). But I also knew that maybe I would not be able to, either due to physical factors, or financial constraints. I had to come to a place where I was okay with either outcome.
There were so many things we wanted to do that we knew would become more challenging or perhaps wouldn’t happen after having a child. The process of letting go and surrender started before we decided to try to conceive, and continued through labor and delivery and into every moment of the present with a newborn. It was difficult, and at times felt like dying, but I am so grateful for that process.
3. What were your greatest fears related to pregnancy and your body changing?
One of my greatest fears was that my body wouldn't be able to handle pregnancy without being in pain. Due to scoliosis as well as a spinal injury, I have dealt with back pain and spasms for most of my adult life. I was worried that the extra pressure on my spine from the pregnancy would cause my back to spasm again.
It turned out that the body is much stronger and more adaptable than I thought. Throughout pregnancy, I was focused on caring for my body in order to maintain alignment. And it amazed me that through these practices, my body was able to stay mostly pain-free, strong, healthy and thriving while I carried the extra weight of a new life.
4. How did your view of your body and the skin you were in change as you entered the first trimester to second and third trimester?
My body felt more weak and fragile during the first trimester. The nausea and fatigue made it difficult to move through the days, much less move and create with my body in the way I was used to. As the nausea faded during the second trimester, I began to eat better and exercise more. So when my first ultrasound confirmed I had a healthy baby inside, I began to grow more confident in my body.
As the second trimester faded into the third and I continued to grow both bigger and stronger, I again started to feel truly good in my skin. Though in some ways it was more and more difficult to move my body in the way I was used to, I was surprised by how strong I felt and how much I was still able to do. I was also surprised at how beautiful and sexy I felt with this huge belly!
5. How did touch play a role during your pregnancy and afterwards?
Hormones during pregnancy sent me all over the map when it came to my desire for or aversion to touch. At times during the pregnancy, my husband’s touch would make me cringe inside. This was strange to me because touch is often something I need and crave. I would wonder, “Am I ever going to desire physical intimacy again?” But hormones during pregnancy shift like the wind, so there were other times when I felt quite the opposite.
Feeling the touch of my baby against my bare skin - especially for the first time - was not only magical, it was incredibly calming. After the trauma of birth and while there was still much commotion and pain due to hemorrhaging and birthing the placenta, having my baby on my chest gave me great comfort. His tiny body curled up on mine reminded me that we were both home and safe.
6. Were you aware of self care practices before, during or after the pregnancy?
It's difficult to find the time for self care, but it's even more difficult to convince myself that I am worth it. Though I have long understood intellectually the truth that if I am not healthy I will not have anything to offer anyone else, my emotions still run to the martyr's method of operation first. The ability to prioritize rest is a lesson I've been learning and re-learning for years now, but having an infant is taking that understanding to even greater depths. I want to have the best of me available to offer him; that best will never be present if I don't believe I am worth the time and care it takes to bring it forth.