It takes nine months…
It was my daughter’s first birthday last weekend, and it got me thinking and reflecting on the roller-coaster ride that has been her first year with us….
They say it takes around nine months after giving birth for your body to return to how it was before – nine months to grow the baby, and nine months to return to how you were before you were pregnant. But to be honest, with sleepless nights, breast feeding, long walks with the pram and general rushing around, I was very lucky, the weight just dropped off – after 6 weeks I was back in my non-maternity jeans (although a fair bit tighter than before! 🙂 )
However, for me, what really seemed to take at least nine months was for my sense of ‘self’ to return. And though I say ‘return’, I suppose I actually mean ‘adjust’. One year in, I still find myself sometimes looking at my daughter, incredulous that she’s here, and alive, and real. And while I was still breastfeeding, at times I felt both that it was the most natural thing in the world and simultaneously strangely removed from the situation.
I love my daughter fiercely. Just thinking about her, brings a smile to my face. She is high-energy, fast and furious, with grizzles and giggles she definitely grabs life with both hands. Her smile and giggle light up any room. And I would never want life to be any different.
But when you become a mother, in an instant you’ve somehow got to change who you are, who you have previously been, forever. Your place in the universe will never be the same again. You must re-evaluate who you think you are, who you have been for the last 30 odd years, how you see yourself. You are no longer an individual, interacting with other individuals. You are suddenly someone’s mother. You created, grew and gave birth to a real, live other human being. That small baby is you, and you are that small baby. And from the day they are born, they are your sole focus. You feed, clothe, wash, comfort, settle to sleep this helpless little mite. If you didn’t, they would die. Their existence utterly depends on you. And you love them unconditionally. In every sense, you are no longer an individual – you’re bound to someone else for eternity.
Yet your soul, your sense of self, your past experiences, your friends, your parents – they are still the same. How do you reconcile this with your new eternal role?
The first few days, weeks, months are such hard work, so chaotic, so exhausting that you exist from day to day, from task to task, from baby’s need to baby’s need. The overwhelming enormity of the baby’s arrival and everything it entails consumes you totally. As with any tough and exhausting challenge you’ve previously faced, it’s a case of ‘head down’ and get on with the task at hand. In my case, we were up for 41 hours, with a labour of 27 hours and then two nights of only 4 hours sleep, followed by having a baby who would not sleep in the day. The first few days were never going to be anything else other than that of survival. After the initial shock, we got into a routine, which helped bring a comforting sense of order and the ability to claw back some sort of control. And for a while I felt like I was getting ‘on top’ of things.
But then followed around three months of grizzles and whinging, which slowly but surely got back on top of me. Was she unhappy because of teething? Was it reflux? Was she hungry? Was she tired? Was she bored? Or had we paid her too much attention, pampered her too much and so created a tantrum queen? It felt like another series of unanswerable questions and challenges to overcome. Then it hits you – you realise it’s not just a question of ‘getting through it’ and out the other side: you are in it for the long term. And for me, this is where a lot of the questioning about who I now was, what was my life going to be like, set in.
I’d got over the shock of being a mummy, and perhaps in the same way as an endurance sport, I was proud that I’d ‘survived’ the birth, though I had regrets about how it went. After months of hypno-birthing, yoga and exercise, I ended up not in a birthing pool, dim lights, calming music, ‘breathing the baby down’, but 1950s style, on a bed, legs in stirrups, pushing the baby out – absolutely exhausted, both physically and emotionally. Starting from here straight into a 24-hour a day job was always going to be tough. But I felt guilty about being tired, not being all-consumed with love the whole time. Five / six months in I was often on the verge of tears much of the time. And then you start to question that as this can’t be the Baby Blues, as you are way past days three to five, whether you are suffering from Post Natal Depression, or just being melodramatic. You just don’t know. You just don’t know anything – how you’re feeling, whether you are caring for the baby correctly, what the future is going to hold, when you’ll ever feel ‘normal’ again. I certainly felt quite insane at times.
After months of struggling, around 7 months old, we finally got some gaviscon from the doctor’s, which helped enormously with her sicky-ness and therefore mood. She also started eating, which was glorious – from 6 months we did Baby Led Weaning (www.babyledweaning.com). She was on the cusp of being able to sit up on her own. She started nursery a couple of days a week, so I could work on starting my business. And slowly we started coming through it. Between eight – nine months, teeth started to appear, she finally started rolling around, and her personality developed even more. I got to know her, and love her, more. And my periods started again. Maybe the return of those pre-pregnancy hormones, which had been part of my life for so long were the final part in the jigsaw of becoming ‘me’ again, albeit a different version? From that point in, for some reason I felt like me – still coming to terms with my new life, new role, new identity, but the core of who I was, was me – I didn’t feel lost any more. Nine months in really was a major turning point for me.
Whilst I don’t think I’ll ever feel truly rested again – the lot of a parent is eternal tiredness – the enormous fog that is new parenthood lifts a little more each day. And with it my old self is starting to return. There are still some tensions. I feel like mummy-me and old-me are jostling for space in my identity – hence the times it feels so surreal, as if I’m looking down on myself, not believing that I’m actually a mother. But life as a mummy, life as a family of three is slowly starting to feel the norm. And it’s wonderful! I love watching her explore and ‘investigate’, her little idiosyncrasies (she loves to hold two things in one hand), how she loves anything ‘dangerous’ (being thrown up in the air, swinging high on the swing, being pushed on a tricyle). It’s so amazing to see her learn, start to take a few tentative steps, start to have favourite toys, and enjoy sitting on our laps for story time. And sneaking in to her room to watch her sleep for a few minutes every night, is my daily indulgance which just makes me burst with love.
I know I haven’t ‘cracked it’. I now know I never will. Alongside all the happy days, with smiles, giggles and feeling great, will be the days of despair, exhaustion and frustration. But I do think that mummy-dom will continue to feel more normal, more of who I am, more of my identity, and this will only continue.
So, in my experience, I was very lucky, it was easy to lose my baby-weight. That said, my figure is different than before – more toned legs from all the rocking, jiggling, pram-pushing, afternoon walks, washing, drying, cleaning, cooking etc, and I have a more rounded tummy from growing my wonderful daughter for nine months. But what took it’s time is to come to terms with is my new identity. Along with the baby-weight I lost myself for a while. However, like my new body-shape that I love, my sense of self, my identity will be more rounded in some places, a little trimmer in others, thanks to a gorgeous (not so) new member of the family.