"Choosing Both": Help Circus Moms to the Next Stage with Trainer Mayumi Yamamoto - StageLync
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“Choosing Both”: Help Circus Moms to the Next Stage with Trainer Mayumi Yamamoto

After the trials and changes that come with pregnancy, getting back on stage can feel like an uphill battle for many circus moms. Athletic trainer and mother of three Mayumi Yamamoto has gone from the behind-the-scenes world of Cirque du Soleil to starting MamaBodyology, a fitness program to help postpartum athletes and performers on their road to recovery. Now she tells us how—and why—she wants to help mothers keep following their passions.

Entering a new stage in life is always quite an undertaking. For the women who choose to walk the conventional path of motherhood, they often know they have their work cut out for them… but they may not know everything that work will entail. This may be doubly true for circus performers and other kinds of movement artists, who’ve honed their bodies as their creative vessels. They know of the long road to childbirth— a nine-month journey, more or less, with changes happening to their bodies all the while. They know this path is not always a straight one; that they may walk it more than once, get stopped or tripped along the way, or find themselves needing to backtrack. They know the road is dangerous. But it has a happy end, and they weather its challenges as they arise. And, with Mother Nature’s help (and hindrances) along the way and the support of everyone from their girlfriends and families to their colleagues, doctors, or partners, many circus mothers make it to the end of that long road.

But that’s just the first leg of their trek. Then comes the next part: returning to the stage.

This path is often quite a load for new mothers (and not just because of the babies on their backs). It is a foggy road, and poorly lit. The people who gave them directions before can’t clearly see the road themselves. Their companies expect them to be back on stage before a deadline. It’s an exhausting walk… and some mothers may be plagued by odd sensations: pain and discomfort that they cannot quite identify, but which make it hard to move in the way they used to. It’s no wonder that many circus mothers may find themselves feeling tired, lost, and disappointed with themselves, wondering if they can make it all the way back. But they keep going nonetheless.

After a long while walking in the dark, these mothers may arrive at a crossroads. Of the two paths, one is much longer; it ends at a distant spotlight. Sore and drained, they feel they must choose one path or the other.

Mayumi Yamamoto, Japanese female athletic trainer, poses with a model of a pelvic bone
Mayumi Yamamoto

Right about here is where athletic trainer Mayumi Yamamoto writes herself into the story. With a lantern in her hand, she steps gently onto the mother’s path and shows her another way forward.

After all, Mayumi has walked this road several times herself. Born in Japan, Mayumi has since traveled across the world and back for work and studies. From the US, she made Japanese women’s history by earning her National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) certification, followed by a Master of Science in Sports Medicine. Her career then swept her from the athletic field to the backstage of several Cirque du Soleil shows, where she tended to the needs of acrobats—and to her growing family, after hours.

After going through three pregnancies that grew her family size from two to five, Mayumi recognized the need to provide women with better postpartum care. So she studied hard, and, from the Netherlands, she founded MamaBodyology, an online postpartum exercise and coaching program.  Since 2020, she’s been meeting new mothers where they are and helping them become more comfortable in their skin and get back to doing the things they love through carefully planned fitness routines. Now she looks to combine her new profession with the old: MamaBodyology is changing gears to work with athletes and performers exclusively.

Mayumi’s postpartum care approach blends fitness and medical savvy with gentle empathy. We asked her some questions about her career, her business, and her vision to help new mothers find their way. Here’s what she had to say:

Tell us about your professional background and training. What made you want to become a NATA trainer?

Have you ever seen someone running toward the injured athletes on the field while watching an NFL football game? That’s my profession. It’s similar to a physical therapist’s work: serving an athletic population with primary care, injury and illness prevention, wellness promotion and education, emergency care, examination and clinical diagnosis, therapeutic intervention, and rehabilitation for injuries and medical conditions.

The athletic trainers for the WSU football team at the Holiday Bowl, 2003
The WSU ATC team at the 2003 Holiday Bowl

My athletic training journey started about 20 years ago at my university in Japan. It was the first academic institute in the country that hired a full-time NATA-certified athletic trainer (ATC) for their collegiate sports teams. I was not necessarily a big sports fan at all, but life gave me an opportunity to follow and observe the athletic trainer. I was thrilled to see the magic of sporting: how in sports, athletes draw the audience’s attention to them, letting them live in their bodies as if they were playing the game themselves, and shake them up emotionally by performing their athletic skill set. I was fascinated by how important an ATC’s role is in influencing an athlete’s performance. It led me to decide to leave Japan and pursue my goal.

I studied and practiced athletic training at Washington State University (WSU) with the women’s volleyball and men’s basketball teams. In 2003, I got my first intern job as an ATC to assist staff ATCs for the American football team at WSU, which ranked ninth in the nation. Approximately ten athletes joined the NFL from this team. This fortunate experience pushed me to go to the next level and set a new goal: working at a professional level.

How did you become involved in the circus arts industry?

I became involved in the circus industry through perseverance and obsession towards my dream, plus a “prank from life,” a.k.a. a coincidence.

I dreamed of working as the first Japanese female athletic trainer when I went to grad school at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). While finishing my Master’s degree, I applied to many professional sports teams for a full-time job but had no luck. After graduation, my classmates left for their new jobs, but I was in LV, still hoping to hear from any of the teams I applied to.

One day I received a call from a staff ATC at UNLV, who asked if I was interested in a part-time job assisting an injured ATC for a month. The injured ATC was a therapist for Cirque du Soleil’s show, . I had no idea what Cirque du Soleil was; the only thing I could think of was how hard it was to pronounce their name!

Costumed performers and backstage personnel of Cirque du Soleil's Corteo show in Japan, 2009
Corteo cast and crew in Japan, 2009

On the first day I stepped into the theater at MGM, my eyes and mouth were wide open. I was amazed by the performances, the ambiance, and the environment, where people from all over the world are accepted and enjoy each other’s differences. Everyone spoke English with their own unique accent, like me! I felt like I was in a dream, and wanted to be there much longer than a month. My wish came true (sorry for the injured therapist), and I received contract extensions.

By the third month, a touring show urgently needed a therapist. I joined Corteo as the first Japanese female athletic trainer, where I explored the world and new cultures and met so many attractive people from all over, including my husband.

What was your inspiration for creating MamaBodyology?

A lot of things: anger, frustration, responsibility for the future and my daughters, and hope. I wanted to make motherhood a beautiful and also painless journey.

I’m a mother of three daughters born in the US, Germany, and the Netherlands via planned C-sections. I worked with various medical staff, including OB-GYNs, nurses, and doulas, in 11 cities in five countries. Every time, the pregnancy and delivery went smoothly, but one thing raised a big question.

Family of Mayumi Yamamoto in the hospital, including her three daughters, one newborn
Mayumi’s family welcomes her third daughter

I had experienced a pulling sensation after my second C-section, which didn’t go away even after a year. When I was on the delivery table for my third one, the surgeon told me, “Wow, you have a lot of adhesion: many layers of tissue got severely stuck to each other because your previous C-section scar didn’t properly heal!! I will try to remove as much of it as possible.” I then understood that the pulling sensation was because of the adhesions, and I was happy to hear they were gone.

But a few weeks later, I was in the shower and recalled what the doctors said while looking at my C-section cut: “It’s standard post-op care to do a scar tissue massage to prevent adhesions.” I had had three C-sections, but none of the medical staff I worked with had said a word on how to prevent adhesions or where to go for support!! I was shocked, disappointed, and angry. It’s not like C-sections were invented last year; millions of women have given birth via C-section, but they don’t receive guidance on scar tissue management to prevent unnecessary complications. What’s up with that?

This experience made me recognize that OB-GYNs are specialists in checking my pregnant body for the baby and delivering it safely, not specialists in postpartum body care. But now I was a mother, and my three daughters might become mothers in the future. I thought I had better master these skills to the level where I can teach others, and pass along the knowledge to support my daughters and the next generation.

Still, I had no idea how pregnancy and delivery impacted my body other than the weight gain and hormonal changes. That’s all the education I had had on it. Even when I talked about some discomfort on my body with my mother or mama friends, we just shared our complaints and accepted it as if it were a regular thing, then never had a solution for it (other than going to a doctor who didn’t offer any solutions, either).

Mayumi during her first pregnancy

So I took a postpartum corrective exercise specialists course through Core Exercise Solutions, where I learned how the mother’s body adapts to grow a baby over 40 weeks by:

  • Stretching/thinning/weakening the pelvic floor that could cause leaking or pelvic organ prolapse (where one or more of these organs slip from their normal position and bulge into the vagina)
  • Changing their breathing pattern, ribcage positioning, shoulder blades movements, pelvic positioning
  • Altering spinal curves, leading to lower back pain
  • Changing the hip joint positioning
  • Gait changes
  • Changing muscular function, along with all the structural changes listed above
  • Moreover, C-sections leave scars that contribute to lower ab inactivation, frequent toilet visits, lower back pain, etc.

I was shocked when I learned that research indicates that 100% of pregnant women who give birth on their due date have abdominal muscle separation, or Diastasis recti, and 32% of women still have diastasis at 12 months postpartum. In other words, the miracle of nature lets women’s bodies adapt to pregnancy by stretching the abdominal muscles. However, there are limitations to making the muscles stick back together afterward. Plus, some women don’t even know they have diastasis; they suffer and work hard to return to a physically demanding job like performing, because most of them receive their last postpartum check-up around six weeks after the birth. Not all doctors can identify their diastasis and offer these women the right direction.

Being a mother is an extraordinary experience. But many mothers have lost confidence and given up ownership of their bodies, their lives, and even doing what they love just because they didn’t have the right tools or receive proper guidance to restore and rebuild their bodies. At the same time, it’s sad to see women decide not to become mothers because of the physical challenges many mothers face, and the fear of giving up their passion. With much more research and understanding of pregnancy and postpartum bodies, women can now choose both.

With your observations, what unique challenges do Mama performers face?

Although I don’t have hands-on experience working with performers yet, I can share my understandings of Mama performers’ reality and challenges based on my interviews with some of the artists who have already filled out my questionnaire. They’ve shared how they are challenged and under pressure to fit back into their pre-pregnancy body’s features, strength, and power with limited time, support, and guidance to do so.

Cirque du Soleil performers in costume and makeup from Amaluna. Posing with them is athletic trainer Mayumi Yamamato, alongside her husband and two eldest daughters
Mayumi and family with Amaluna cast

I’ve also heard from many postpartum athletes that they are left alone and get lost during their recovery. Most athletes have no idea where, when, or what to start with for their postpartum body care. Most therapists at their companies specialize in orthopedic injuries and are unfamiliar with postpartum bodies. On the other hand, not all OB-GYNs or GPs feel comfortable signing off that an artist has enough strength, flexibility, and endurance to fly over the audience again, and those artists fall into the hole of the medical system. Many artists decide when to return to general or act-/performance-specific training without guidance or without knowing if they have diastasis, prolapse, pelvic floor issues, or muscular weakness. That increases the risk of setbacks due to injury or pain and creates psychological stress.

Plus, within the current social system, it’s well accepted for women to get 12 weeks of maternity leave in many countries. But there is a massive difference in what “return to work” condition means for desk workers and for performing artists. Huge!

How will your work support and serve circus artists?

First, I want to clarify that while I have served women already through MamaBodyology, they were not athletes. And now, I am shifting my business to serve only athletes. My new work will serve postpartum athletes not to get lost on their motherhood journey and support them to have a smooth transition.

As a mother myself, I can feel the honest pain and challenges they might be going through, like general fatigue, sleepless nights, adjusting to their new roles as mothers, and putting pressure on themselves to do it well and figure out their new priorities. I can share with them my good and bad experiences. As a postpartum exercise specialist, I can evaluate their unique bodies and provide them with an exercise program based on their needs and conditions throughout the recovery phase to restore and rebuild their postpartum bodies. And as a NATA ATC, I can support them by creating sport-, act-, and performance-specific exercise programs to meet their bodies’ demands.

My ideal goal is to become a bridge between postpartum athletes, doctors, and therapists. By filling in those gaps, the postpartum athlete can enjoy their motherhood journey without unnecessary worry about how to restore their body and return to work.

What challenges, if any, have you faced in launching your program?

A lot 🙂 I face many challenges as a new freelancer, such as being bilingual (and not sure which language to offer service in); living in a new country (and not being sure which country I should serve); and keeping a good work-life balance. Moreover, I took a “how to run a business” course before the pandemic, and was planning to build a program from it. But the pandemic meant no school, which meant no time for me to move forward.

The biggest challenge I have faced, and will continue to face, is knowing how I can serve women while increasing the awareness and(or understanding) that pregnancy changes the body significantly, and postpartum body care could change their lives.

Mayumi Yamamoto and family celebrate a
A family Christmas during lockdown

As you saw, there is an extensive list of ways a mother’s body adapts over the 40 weeks of pregnancy. Many women with lower back pain or leaking don’t even suspect that it might be from their pregnancies. Many accept the pain, weight gain, and diastasis as “aging,” say “it is what it is as a mother,” or wait to see if it gets worse, and, in the worst-case scenario, get surgery. Many suffer from leaking and are ashamed, even though it isn’t their fault: all women face significant impact and stress on the pelvic floor during pregnancy, and its function is not necessarily restored by itself.

I want to find out how and where I can talk to these women and tell them that there are ways to solve their problems. I want to share with them the thoughts, “Don’t just live with these problems alone,” and “Don’t be afraid or overlook your body’s complaints. With exercise and intervention, you might regain the function and recover a leak-free or pain-free body.” But to keep educating the world is a big challenge.

What is your vision for MamaBodyology within the circus and performing arts industry?

I would like MamaBodyology to be a “go-to resource” for artistic athletes who want help with pregnant and postpartum body management. I will serve current and former circus artists with or without pelvic floor problems, prolapse, or diastasis, who want to restore their postpartum bodies and live what they love.

I’ll educate anyone in this industry— female and male athletes, coaches, therapists, human resources, and higher management of the companies— about pregnancy’s impacts on the mother’s body, which might require changes in their performances, etc., and that there are professionals who can support them. I’ll teach mothers how to take care of their unique postpartum bodies and help them return to the stage safely and continue doing what they love. No need to be scared of “pregnancy” or “postpartum.”

Mayumi Yamamoto, a Japanese woman athletic trainer, celebrates a sunny day with her three young daughters.
Mayumi with her daughters

I am now creating an online program specifically for newly postpartum athletes to rebuild their bodies. Shortly, I would like to create a service where I can offer them support from pregnancy to their return to the stage.

Being a mother gives you many opportunities to see a different world. Every kid is different, and totally different from their mother. It becomes a challenge, but, at the same time, my children show me a world I’ve never seen. Being a mother lets us see the world from a new perspective.

I don’t want becoming a mother to be the reason someone stops their career entertaining the world with their extraordinary performances—something which they created after investing lots of time, effort, money, and dedication to it throughout their lives. I hope these artists will continue performing and empower the world to know that any woman can choose both roles with the RIGHT tools and supports, which they can use for the rest of their lives. How fabulous would it be to live in a world full of happy mamas, kids, and families?

***

It’s a tough road ahead—for new mothers and businesses both—but Mayumi is doing all she can to bring that happy world a little closer to us. But she needs a little bit of our help, too, to make her journey happen. Whether you’re a mother kicking off the next leg of her own journey or one who’s looking back at the road from the end, Mayumi offers you this closing message:

 Are you a mother and an artist? 

If you are curious if your body is still not wholly “RESTORED” or “RECOVERED,” or want to know more about how pregnancy changes the body, try my online self-assessment tool, the “MamaBody test.” It gives you some ideas on what a MamaBody is, as well as which body parts your body is not happy with, what you should work on, etc. I would be glad to share it with you free of charge on this unique occasion. If you are interested, send me an email or visit mywebsite! With or without leaking, prolapse, or diastasis, the “MamaBody test” gives you a hint on how to take care of your body, yourself, and your future.

Finally, I would like to know a bit more about the reality of pregnant/postpartum artists, since I’m beginning to create a program specifically for newly postpartum athletes. Consider filling out my questionnaire. It doesn’t matter how long ago your pregnancy was—your experiences and unique story help me better serve future postpartum athletes. The more the stories I hear, the better I can serve.

Mothers of the earth, you guys are fabulously awesome!

You deserve the best care!

Thank you very, very much for reading till the end.

All images provided by Mayumi
Carolyn Klein
Content Writer -United States
Carolyn Klein is a writer, poet, and circus fan from the Washington, D.C, area. Writing stories about the circus has been a dream of hers since getting introduced to circus fiction around 2014. She recently completed her B.A. in English and Creative Writing, magna cum laude, at George Mason University. As a new member of the Circus Talk journalism team, Carolyn looks forward to learning as much as she can about the industry and people behind circus.

Editor's Note: At StageLync, an international platform for the performing arts, we celebrate the diversity of our writers' backgrounds. We recognize and support their choice to use either American or British English in their articles, respecting their individual preferences and origins. This policy allows us to embrace a wide range of linguistic expressions, enriching our content and reflecting the global nature of our community.

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Carolyn Klein

Carolyn Klein is a writer, poet, and circus fan from the Washington, D.C, area. Writing stories about the circus has been a dream of hers since getting introduced to circus fiction around 2014. She recently completed her B.A. in English and Creative Writing, magna cum laude, at George Mason University. As a new member of the Circus Talk journalism team, Carolyn looks forward to learning as much as she can about the industry and people behind circus.