HOW TO GET BACK TO FEELING LIKE YOURSELF AFTER HAVING A BABY
By Jodi Bartle
For most people, having a baby changes your life irrevocably.
Like a sweet, biscuity-smelling, downy-headed, tearful, adorable infant-shaped bomb, your baby enters your formerly fulfilled and busy life with a bang and rearranges it for years after.
The list of reverberations is exhaustive - the shock of the birth, domestic role upheavals, money pressures, parental anxieties, bone-aching tiredness, the return (or not) to work, your shifting circle of friends - all these things have a huge impact on your sense of self.
At a very basic but nonetheless important level, your jeans don’t do up anymore and you haven't had your roots done in three years.
Your mojo - the ‘you’ that you liked but took for granted (as well as sleeping in and spending the day with no dubious organic matter smudged on your clothes) — well, she is in there somewhere, but she is a little hard to find.
Readers, this is all normal, but there are fool-proof ways to get back on that rockin’ horse of a childless, carefree you.
The you who read widely, was appreciated at work, was even paid, the you who went out a bit of an evening and stayed up till past 10:30pm in some slim-fit trousers and something with a heel.
Here are ten ways to find her again:
1. Stop Feeling Guilty
Guilt is an ever-present parental adjunct, but it doesn't do anyone much good. Case in point: when I had my first baby I mastered breastfeeding in a very good-intentioned but martyr-like way, and inadvertently made myself indispensable.
I never pumped, never outsourced to formula, and so never learnt to delegate feeding. This was more about me and my sense of what my new job was rather than a nutritional concern for my baby, and it meant that I could never leave my first baby for long.
My husband would get panicky and I equated being by myself with feelings of guilt and unfulfilled maternal obligation.
This was madness. Get a bottle, dish out those tasks, trust other people to cope with your baby, and LEAVE THE HOUSE. Enable your partner to get good at childcare - the sooner you do this, the better for everyone. Call unnecessary disempowering guilt out, and move on.
2. Invest In Your Friends
Women - kind, intelligent, engaging, funny, wise women - are your greatest strengths. Find those who get you and see them regularly, with or without toddlers at your feet.
Laugh and cry with them, cook for them, drink with them, share books and podcast tips. A good circle of female friends is like an insurance towards the best emotional and mental health. They will come to your aid, and they make you strong.
Weed out the ones who don’t invigorate you (kindly, because there are no excuses for bad behaviour) and cultivate and nourish the relationships that work.
This one is crucial. You have to move and sweat and stretch and learn to love your body again.
I started running after my fourth baby, when I realised that my clothing sizes had been creeping up and up, insidiously and in ways that meant my excellent wardrobe was redundant.
I didn't feel like me anymore - the part of me that loved to dress up and felt confident was now shrouded in big baggy things that I didn't love to wear. But, with then four kids and no help, I didn't feel I had either the time or the money for a gym membership and couldn't face the local pool.
I started to get up early to run around my local park, using a running app, three times a week. I come back reddened, sweaty, exhilarated - and now I can fit those clothes I first wore twenty years ago. It costs me nothing, I get time to myself, I check out for a bit, I work out problems in my head and I get a nice hit of endorphins.
My other lifesaver, aside from walking everywhere, is yoga - cliched, I know.
Find a local yoga centre and rediscover a quietness, master regulated breathing to help with stress and learn to use your body in that free, flexible way the kids do. There are lots of options here - the obvious top end (Equinox, TriYoga, Hot Pod) down to council-run, church and community centres, but I love the West London Buddhist Centre for its 7 quid classes.
Get back into the cultural conversation by making time to read.
There are books for everyone, and they don’t cost much - libraries are of course endangered and wondrous things and charity shops benefit everyone except Amazon.
Bookclubs are enormously valuable - we have been running one for eight years with mostly the same group of women, even though now they are spread geographically. We meet about every two months for dinner (the host chooses the book and cooks) and we spend the evening catching up, discussing the book, and quaffing prosecco.
It is a balm for the soul and it makes us read every night, even if just a chapter. A bookclub encourages you to read widely and to think about lots of interesting intersecting points and opinions, and you relearn the skills of debate and compromise, proper listening and contemplation. And you get to hang out with your ladies a little more.
Take the time to listen to smart people tackling smart topics - no matter what you are interested in, you will find someone else loves it too.
A podcast is just the thing to get you away from demanding little despots - go out for a walk, plug in and you'll come back fizzing with exciting, relevant and impassioned dinner party conversation. Try Serial, This American Life, Jon Ronson’s The Butterfly Effect or Pandora Sykes and Dolly Alderton’s The High Low.
Where to begin? This city is a cultural smorgasbord of delicious, delectable things for the heart, mind and soul.
There is so much on for people who want to engage with current thought/music/art/beautiful things. Start with the institutions - subscribe for email newsletters from the V&A, The Tate, The Barbican, The Southbank Centre, The Design Museum, the revamped Hayward Gallery, and smaller local venues like The Tabernacle, Daunt Books, and The Frontline Club and sign up for their events. Much of it you have to pay for, but a lot of it is free.
You’ll see the best of what the cultural world has to offer like talks, book events, exhibitions - often not much more than a tube ride away. This stuff keeps you thinking, questioning, talking and engaged - it helps you rise above the indignities of a rushed breakfast and scrambling school run.
I know. It is hard to feel amorous after two glasses of red wine and a few episodes of Mindhunter.
But do it. It doesn't have to be a marathon session - a quick sneaky kiss and cuddle before bed does wonders for the skin (I might be making that one up). When your children have turned you into cranky flatmates, a bout of rutting with the partner you used to fancy quite a lot is magic. Marital magic.
The next day you have these flashes of your nocturnal self as you load another load of filthy clothes into the machine, and you remember what it feels like to have someone touch you without wanting something other than your body, in a lovely, adult kind of way. And intimacy begets intimacy - the more you have, the more you want. It’s a win-win.
8. Date Nights
Don’t forget these. Go out to the movies or for a cheapish bite to eat (Soho, always Soho) and if the babysitting is prohibitive, then do a babysitting swap with the couple next door. It will cost you nothing to take turns babysitting and while it can be a pain to spend the night on someone else’s sofa, you at least get out of your own kid’s bedtime duties.
Pull on those clothes that you can now fit owing to the new exercise regime, take that husband (or wife) out the door, and get to know each other again. You might find you still like them *quite* a bit.
Whether you are back at work or thinking of returning, there are some amazing networking organisations that will keep you up to date and relevant in the world of woke youth.
Have a look at Nicer Tuesdays, a monthly event in in east London where, for 12 quid you get entry to the Oval Space to hear brilliant speakers from various creative industries talk about what they do and how they got there, with a few freebies and a very nice snacky dinner option and drinks.
Afterwards you can mingle and talk to people and hopefully, get talent-spotted and start your career making feature films or editing Vogue, or something.
I also like Marguerite, a network of women in the arts who host events for members (you’ll have to pay a yearly fee) during the year that are art-focused and left-of-field. Find your industry, research the networking opportunities and get out there.
10. Do Something For Yourself
Find a choir, sew, try ceramics, knit, attend life drawing classes, start collecting vintage murano glass from weekend markets, do some baking, hit the charity shops in a different area each weekend, start a blog, volunteer, take photos, go mudlarking, walk a lot, wear something a bit mental. Find your thing and get engaged, whatever it is.
You do you, babes.