The first few months of new motherhood allows you to retreat into a bit of cosy fug. Even if you end up in hospital for a long while like we did – there was nothing expected of me. Other than to just keep going. And that’s all I expected of myself either.
Just get through the days, Charl. You’ll be fine. Those jeans fit. Sure – they try and slice you in half after about half an hour’s wear, but they fit. They fit. That’s all that matters.
But I’m four months on now. Daisy was four months’ old on 21st August. And I’m still here telling myself I’ve just had a baby. And yes, in some ways I have still just had a baby. I am still up in the night, tube feeding my sleeping daughter. I’m still asking Dr Google why she can’t seem to get rid of this cough. I’m still changing nappies and inspecting the contents.
I’m a bonafide new mum (take two).
But I’ve also recovered. Physically at least. I don’t feel remotely like I have just had a baby. I know that feeling well and it involves ibuprofen, arnica and leaning forward to have a wee. I wee normally now, if you were wondering. I actually feel more like I’ve been hit by a truck and had sand rubbed on my eyeballs every hour.
But it’s my body that is the problem. My sense of self.
I am so sad when I look at my reflection right now.
I keep getting reminders of what I looked like a year ago (cheers Facebook) – and even though I was pregnant by this point, I had an extremely sassy and confident-looking summer, it seems.
I’m pretty certain my body is now switching back to normal. I’ve not had a period yet. But I’m expecting one at any time. In fact, I’m wondering if it will be a couple of weeks away, as I think I’ve started ovulating again. Which is a bit nerve-wracking in itself, as that means I’m back at square one again. Will this be it. Babies done? Or will I be blessed with a third in the future. Am I limbo now, or forever. I don’t know.
My skin – once clear from pregnancy and expressing – is starting to look tired and drab. Spots are starting to appear. Braille-like bumps on my skin that make me despair as it means I have more work to do in the morning when the school run begins. I’ve got dry patches where I’ve never had them before. My body is going haywire. And I feel trapped inside, desperate to get out. But I don’t exist without this body, do I?
I remember my bigger days, where I would hide myself in baggy clothing, or cardigans, even when the sun blazed outside. I would hide myself. Only sit at certain angles. And fidget uncomfortably. It would ruin any fun I tried to have. And it’s starting to come back.
I spend ages looking at my wardrobe every day and picking the same old outfit. I still want to marry my leggings. And I am feeling slightly grateful for colder days, because a hoody is completely appropriate attire to hide in.
I pull things out that I wore last summer, and my eyes bulge and my mouth draws to a thin line, as I cannot, for the life of me, imagine wearing a crop top any time soon. Did I seriously wear that? I went out without a bra? What? I wear dresses and skirts again, sure, but my thighs rub a little and I can’t spend my days walking like John Wayne just for a maxi skirt.
I want to say to you – but my body is wonderful, I grew two children, I fed them my milk, I carry them in my arms, I would walk miles for them with these legs of mine. And I would. It’s all true.
The mother in me is proud of all of those things.
But that does not mean I am happy to be like this. Because I want to feel good and confident and happy, for me.
And I think that is more than okay.
The woman in me misses feeling healthy, strong, sexy, confident, beautiful. She misses walking freely. Not avoiding eye contact. Not hiding away under a t-shirt that has MOTHER emblazoned across it because I almost feel like it says: “This is my excuse by the way – I’m a mum. Mum bod over here, but it’s fine, because my t-shirt says so. And it hides my mum-tum. Bonus!” (Though I will still wear said t-shirts because I bloody love them regardless).
But as much as my children mean the world to me, and I would gladly let my body stretch and grow and sag and deflate and hurt all over again for another, I want to get Charlotte back.
I want to take ownership of myself again. I have been sucked dry by a pump, and watched (with awe in all honesty) half of my breast get sucked inside the flange (still makes me snigger) and wondered what the hell I’m actually doing. My breasts are so empty now. It’s a strange feeling – they used to be phenomenal. And even after Bill they were decent. Now I am sort of waiting for them to wake up and go: “OH SHIT! Sorry Charl – fell asleep there for a week or two – we’ll just climb back up here and hold our breaths again. Let’s get perky!”
I don’t think it’s going to happen is it?
I’ve found one single stretch mark from my second pregnancy (to add to the millions from my first) and it is the thickest and largest stretch mark I have. It curves like a tiger claw, just central to my hip bones, and points to my nether regions, rather ironically.
I’ve spent hours, in a hard-backed hospital chair, willing my baby to keep getting stronger and come home. I’ve got dry skin, cracks and blisters on my hands from sterilising so much equipment. I don’t honestly think they recovered from washing my hands in NICU all the time.
And don’t get me wrong – I am happy for my son to suddenly start needing me in the night again. To lie, at crooked angles on his single bed and stroke his hair and help him feel better. I am happy to have him climb all over me and end up kneeing my in the face. And I’m happy for him to try and put all of the elephant masks from the Doh Nutters game on my head and almost blind me in the process.
I am still happy for a tiny baby girl to scratch and claw at me as she fights sleep in my arms. I’m happy (slight misuse of the word there) for her to grab a fistful of hair and try and eat it while grinning at me. And I am happy to sit by her crib at night and reposition her and wait for her cough to subside because I am so frightened of losing her. Even though I know, deep-down, she can breathe on her own now.
But I am not happy for this to be it for me.
My Mum Bod is not pretty. And maybe it never will be to me. But it can be healthy. And strong. And capable. And maybe it can be one less thing for me to feel bad about.
Because don’t I deserve to feel good about myself?
And so, I’m going to try and find my new version of myself. I won’t get my old body back. I’m not a magician. Or Beyoncé. But I can join Slimming World and make sure I have the biggest wee ever before weigh-in. I can continue to praise Bridget Jones and her magic pants for making everything look a bit better (and enabling me to eat more food when I go out sometimes – not that I ever go out). And I can always be thankful for having brilliant eyebrows.
Sometimes, I wonder if we all forget what we’ve been through as new mothers. Whether first, second or third. The impact it has. Mentally. Emotionally. Physically. And then we sit there, when the visitors have died down. And the baby is no longer newly born. And we have the chance to step back and actually look in the mirror when we get undressed at night. And then we wonder what the hell we do with this.
Is that me?
Is that really me?
Yes. It is. You’ve done an amazing thing. Your body is sore and tired and frankly wonderful.
But it’s okay not to love it.
It’s okay to be a bit indifferent at what is staring back at you.
And want to get part of you back.
You aren’t ungrateful.
You just care about yourself.
How can that be a bad thing?