Do you know how I can tell that I’m slowly inching out of the baby fog? For the last two days I’ve worn matching underwear for no reason other than I like wearing matching underwear!
Hmm…probably too much information for some of you…
Taking care of myself hasn’t been at the forefront of my mind these last few months. I’ve fit in my regular exercise, but I’ve mostly lived in nursing bras and activewear. My tube of mascara has never lasted this long before, and my hairdryer is thinking of packing up and finding another family to live with.
The first few months with a new baby lend themselves, naturally and rightly, to a more relaxed view of your own appearance. But this has been compounded by lockdown and the fact there hasn’t been anywhere to dress up to go to!
Now we are back on the school run, which would usually mean daily catch-ups with the lovely parents once we’d thrown our children through the school gate, and maybe moving on to impromptu coffees when we decided that we’d probably been hanging out in the car park for too long. But Covid has put pay to this, and we’re limited to a quick “How are you?” over the top of the car before heading home and leaving the site secure. I’ve turned up much more frequently in leggings and an un-brushed ponytail this week than I would usually.
But last weekend we were invited to a (socially-distanced) wedding and I realised that I was really going to have to put on makeup and do my hair.
There was actual panic…real people wearing real clothes and, at least half of them, real bras. Having to find a dress that I look half decent in that I can feed a baby all day in (a baby who now gets distracted by a bee sneezing and leans back to be nosy whilst leaving my boob exposed for all to see), and fits my “not quite looking 6 months pregnant anymore but definitely not back in all my nice clothes” size. Wearing heels…whilst carrying said baby.
In the end I had to slightly adapt my dress (which, with my amateur skills meant unpicking the neckline and fixing it together with a tiny (hopefully invisible) safety pin). And I practised walking in my wedges (although not on grass or gravel, so I ended up mostly looking like an oversized baby deer for most of the day). The one thing that hadn’t crossed my mind was how unused to me wearing earrings Erica would be…cue very painful stretched earlobes and at least a couple of hours only wearing one! We had a lovely time, and I don’t think I flashed too many people, but the run up brought home to me that I may be inching out of the fog, but I’ve still not made it to clear skies yet.
I read something on instagram the other day, as I was scrolling at 4am feeding Erica in the dark: “The fact that we describe having a shower as self-care shows just how little we value the basic needs of mothers.”
To be fair, getting up and having a shower each morning during the first few weeks did help me mark the difference between day and wake-filled night, and remember that I was still a somewhat-functioning human as well as owner of a late-night milk bar. But the pinnacle of self-care it is not.
I am not very good at putting my own needs first at the best of times. The usual societal pressure on girls to serve and nurture others was exacerbated by a childhood spent in a strict church environment which, while full of lovely people, spent a lot of time telling us to be self-sacrificing.
Motherhood does have to mean a little bit of moving yourself down in the pecking order. Just because you need 8 hours sleep a night, doesn’t mean you can ignore the baby that is hungry at 2am (who am I kidding: 12am, 2am, 4am…). Your needs do often have to take a temporary back seat. But I often think about the safety spiel that they give before your airplane takes off: make sure that you put your own oxygen mask on before you try to help others with theirs. Unless your needs are met, then it is more difficult (and sometimes impossible) to help those you are responsible for. This is why I’m a bit militant about my workout time. And why I try extra hard to factor having adult conversation into my day (even if that is often over Zoom at the moment).
I can be the mum who forgets to brush her teeth until lunchtime and snacks on cereal bars for a bit while Erica’s needs are urgent and frequent, but it’s not a long term healthy plan. Clawing back time for myself – to get out of the house for a walk, or to write something, or to sit in a bath with a large glass of red wine – is overdue. So that’s my challenge (made harder by the news that Covid rules are about to get stricter) for the next few months. My children are incredibly important to me, but I am incredibly important to me too, and I will be a better mother if I feel as if I’m getting some of “me” back.