Mommy Nearest: Yoga Girl is the Instagram Every Mom Needs to Follow

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I’ve been a long time follower of Rachel Brathen, aka Yoga Girl on Instagram. I love her IG stories, not just because her life on Aruba as a yoga teacher is so picturesque (it really is, though) but because she always, always keeps it real. Her 2.1 million followers have virtually accompanied her through excruciating heartbreak and grief, like when she lost her best friend in a fatal accident, as well as through her successes, like touring the world, opening her own destination yoga studio, publishing her book and getting married. Now that she’s given birth to a daughter, Lea Luna, she has begun a new chapter of her life and we get to watch her experience the beautiful, and sometimes painful, aspects of motherhood, too.

As a loyal follower and a mother myself, I wondered if Brathen’s life would stay just as picturesque through the trials of birth and beyond. As most of us know, birth and new parenthood is anything but Instagram-beautiful from day-to-day. While her photos are still pretty damn dreamy, Yoga Girl doesn’t seem as concerned with presenting herself as the perfect parent with the perfect baby as I thought she might. And I think I respect her even more now that she’s opening up about the struggles of being a mother to an infant; it’s exactly that kind of bold, honest vulnerability that new mothers everywhere could use a lot more of.

From her baby’s birth—a planned home birth turned hospital birth—Brathen has been open and honest every step of the way. She desperately wanted to welcome her baby in the comforts of her own home, but after a long and exhausting labor and a wedged baby the wouldn’t descend, she needed to transfer to the hospital to ensure the safest possible delivery. Brathen said in her first podcast (another one of her recent ventures that’s gone viral) that even in the hospital, her birth team was able to recreate the same calming elements of home. And she was thankful that she was able to have the unmedicated birth she had planned. Still, Brathen was honest about birth being “the single most challenging and empowering experience I’ve ever had in my life.”

She has also been an open book about what her life is like now as a mother, from the full-time job that is breastfeeding to the difficulty of trying to soothe her baby during the evening “witching hours.” But like some new moms might be inclined to do, she’s not playing it off like she has it all under control. She’s letting us in on the reality that she’s losing it a little bit, and praying the incessant screaming isn’t for the long haul.

I'm not posting much lately because I'm EXHAUSTED. This little baby girl is an absolute darling in the daytime – she spends all day laughing and smiling and cooing and talking and sleeps for 4-hour stretches and is just the dreamiest little angel ever. BUT. When the clock strikes 6pm she transforms into a tiny little terrorist holding us hostage with non-stop crying and screaming. It's like she is torturing us for information and I want to give it up I do – I just don't know what it is that she wants! It's starting to drive me slightly insane🙈 Is stomach ache that only shows up at a certain hour a thing? Or is it the transition from day to night? I have no clue what's going on. Even though she's well fed and has a fresh diaper and we've tried absolutely everything she is just so unhappy and it's the same thing every evening, going on five days now. She's never really cried for anything before so it's quite the shock for us (have we just been unusually lucky up until now and this is totally normal??). The only thing that works is bouncing her incessantly up and down, pacing around the house singing and shushing and praying to all the baby gods to help her fall asleep. Finally after hours of walking with her, right as I think my arms are literally going to fall off, she falls asleep but on top of my chest and no way in hell I'll risk transferring her to the bed by then – too risky. So basically from 6pm and for the rest of the entire night I'm holding this little girl trying to understand what's going on. We finally fall asleep but I feel like a zombie, half awake the whole night. Then all of a sudden it's 8am and she wakes up laughing – laughing! Like the hostage situation of the night before just never happened. And I look at her little face and she's just so damn perfect and adorable I forget all about it too. SOMEONE SEND HELP!😩 Or give me some advice! I love her so much it hurts me physically when she cries – it's like someone is slowly pulling out my fingernails one at a time. No joke. Tell me there is a magic trick I just haven't been let in on that will make evenings happy and calm again? Yes? Ok shoot👍🏼😇🙃🎈 @loving.lealuna #motherhood

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“When the clock strikes 6pm she transforms into a tiny little terrorist holding us hostage,” she wrote in a recent Instagram post. “It’s like she’s torturing us for information and I want to give it up- I do. I just don’t know what she wants! It’s starting to drive me slightly insane.”

I mean, is there any mother in the universe who doesn’t relate to that? I can literally feel my anxiety intensify just reading about those long, exhausting infant evenings spent bouncing on a yoga ball, shushing in my baby’s ear and praying for sleep. I’ll never quite forget how anxiety-inducing the newborn days could be. But what makes it worse is that no one really talks about how hard it is. Whether Brathen knows it or not, she’s knocking down the idea that motherhood always has to look perfect or feel completely natural. Sometimes, it feels like hell and it’s just a matter of getting through it and onto the next stage.

Everything in my body hurts. I can barely touch my toes anymore. My core is non-existent. Glutes and outer hips have vacated the building. @dushiyoga cued Warrior III today and I just stood there – it's just not happening. Cobra feels impossible. Will my body ever know what it feels like to do Wheel Pose again? Somehow my front body is extremely tight and totally weak at the same time. Every pose feels like I'm experiencing it for the very first time. I'm stiff. Tense. Weak. Tired. Open and closed up in the strangest of ways. But… So damn happy to be here. Right now I'm slow dancing with my body. We're getting to know each other again. Figuring each other out. One step at a time🙏🏼 #yogaeverydamnday #postpartum

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About a month after her daughter’s birth, Yoga Girl posted her first post-baby yoga video. She wasn’t standing on her head or challenging her body with intense postures. She was moving slowly and intentionally and getting to know her body once again. She wrote about how every part of her just ached, how it all felt so unfamiliar. And I couldn’t help but be grateful that instead of the typical “here’s how I got my body back in six weeks” posts we’ve grown so used to seeing in magazines and on the internet, Yoga Girl herself, someone we’ve come to expect gorgeous yoga sequences from, is just giving herself time to heal and exist in her body that in many ways, is a totally new body. In another post she writes, “Now…my body is soft. Soft in the most beautiful way. It’s like I have an extra layer of insulation now, cushioning me from the roughness of the world; I had a baby and babies need soft things.”

After reading all the recent posts, I just wanted to gather her up in a giant hug and thank her for her honesty. I wanted to let her know that soon the crying will calm. That one day her body will feel like her own again. I wanted to let her know that this is exactly what every new mom feels like at one point or another and that everything she’s going through is normal. Still, just because it’s normal doesn’t mean it’s easy, which is exactly why it’s so nice for other new moms to hear about all the hardships, the agony, the confusion of motherhood, especially from someone they already admire.

She might be a yoga superstar, but Yoga Girl is totally rocking this motherhood thing, too and she’s doing it all without covering up or glossing over the hard stuff. Instead, she’s shining a light on it. And mothers everywhere are listening.