Maternal Movement

By Danielle Vigil

September 18, 2023, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE
Danielle holding her baby in a wrap.
[ID: Danielle, a Black woman with dark, curly hair and light brown skin, is smiling as she holds her baby in an oatmeal colored wrap. His head of dark hair is peeking out from the wrap. There is a mirror on the blue wall behind them with a lamp, cart, and stuffed toy next to it.]

Editor’s Note: Danielle Vigil is a Dancers’ Group administrative assistant, personal trainer, choreographer, dance teacher and new mother. In writing about this topic Danielle reflects, “I want to acknowledge my privilege and perspective as a cisgender woman giving birth. I use the word mother, but really I mean any person giving birth and parenthood for anyone.”

I will never forget how my baby came into this world. It took two days of endless labor. Pacing back and forth in the delivery room, finding positions to ease the contractions, making sure I stayed hydrated, controlling my breathing. Finally, my angel arrived. I knew things would never be the same, but there are many things I did not foresee.

Life has a different rhythm to it. Everything revolves around the baby’s schedule. When does he need to eat? Is he getting enough sleep? Another diaper change. Time to rock him to sleep. I’m reminded to move more slowly with things. Partly out of necessity, since I am constantly stopping to check on and tend to my baby, but also just as a life practice. Even writing this reflection has taken baby steps. Typing often with one hand. Pausing my thoughts constantly in order to tend to my little one. “Baby brain” making me completely lose my train of thought. I am exhausted, mentally and physically. Also, nobody tells you how hard breastfeeding and pumping is!

Speaking of which…time for a pump break…

Amidst these struggles, I still feel renewed.

A renewed sense of wonder as I help my baby see, hear, and experience things for the first time. I am soaking in every inch of his body and all the ways he is discovering himself and the world around him. I love our morning cuddles and our daily dance breaks. It is a joy getting to experience the world as he sees it.

A renewed way of communicating. Learning to communicate with my baby who can’t verbally speak to me yet has been the new dance I’m trying to learn.

A renewed love for my husband. After the baby was born, it felt like I was meeting him for the first time, in the best way. I will cherish being able to witness how much love and attention he gives to our son, and the bond they are creating.

There is a certain duality to motherhood. I have someone in my life who relies on me completely, which can be both frustrating and rewarding. After all, who doesn’t want to feel needed? But also, can I get five minutes to use the bathroom? I’m amazed at what my body has accomplished. I grew another human being inside of me and pushed him out. I’m amazed that any of us are here on this earth!

I also feel a little betrayed by my body. I can’t do all of the things I used to be able to do, even while I was pregnant. It’s hard to believe I was teaching classes the day before my water broke. Now attending a class feels intimidating. I can barely get up from a grand plié. How am I supposed to keep up with an entire class? Dancing feels deeply connected to my identity. I am missing that part of myself, even as I embrace motherhood. Where do I sit in between those two truths? I know that even though my body is changing, I will always find a way to dance. I just need to reevaluate what I need from my body and how I am using it.

Danielle sits back on a couch with an arm behind her head and pregnant belly exposed.
[ID: Danielle, a Black woman with dark, curly hair and light brown skin, is sitting back on her couch with her hair down, wearing a white tank top. Her arm is behind her head and her pregnant belly exposed.]

I move differently. The way I curve my body to cradle him. The way I sway my body just right to rock him to sleep. I want to move a certain way but it feels so different, sometimes even painful. Everyone stresses the importance of taking care of yourself. Easier said than done. I find it hard to make time for self-care in the day-to-day. It’s shown me how important it is to have a village that helps share the responsibility of childcare so you can get in that long-awaited shower, or sit down and eat food with two hands instead of one (seriously, it is a gift to eat with two hands).

We are all on this earth because someone gave birth to us. A lot has changed, even in the past decade, but there is much more progress to be made with embracing mothers as whole people after they’ve given birth. Every space can be a space for mothers if we allow them the time to adapt and transform. I’ve noticed most public spaces don’t have anywhere to nurse or pump comfortably. I also have rarely seen dancing parents bring their baby when taking class. I worry about all of the dirty looks I might get if my baby dares to be a baby and cries. We must accept that babies and their caregivers are a crucial part of the continuance of life. What a miracle every life is.

Still, I struggle with guilt around my new normal and how it has affected work in particular. I feel like I am not always performing at my best, and I often question my value as an employee. Even though I work in an environment that is open and flexible with my new needs, those feelings seem ingrained in me, a mindset that I have to actively break through. Many employers pass over women for promotions. They are often seen as less committed than their male and/or childless colleagues, even though some studies suggest the opposite is true. Women are expected to be able to do it all: work, have kids, a social life, etc. Then penalized when we don’t meet those impossible expectations. There are many days where I don’t feel like I am enough, as a friend, as an employee, as a partner, daughter, or mother. Somehow seeing my baby wake up smiling every single day lets me know I’m doing something right. The whole experience is hard. The hardest thing I think I’ve ever done.

I’m loving every minute of it.

This article appears in the Fall 2023 issue of In Dance.

Danielle is a dance-maker, educator, and personal trainer. She has danced throughout the Bay Area for over 30 years, including SF International Hip Hop DanceFest and Oakland Art & Soul Festival. When not cuddling with her new baby, she is giving private dance lessons, teaching theater arts, and working to develop a new dance collective.