“Don’t worry, you’ll bounce right back!”
“It’s all baby on you, that tummy will be gone in no time.”
These were some of the many well meaning comments I received during pregnancy and shortly after. If I’m completely honest with myself, these were some of the hopeful thoughts that also ran through my own mind. I looked forward to fitting back into my skinny jeans, or frankly wearing anything that wasn’t my stretchy outfits on rotation. Thoughts of date nights at sushi bars with pre-dinner cocktails got me through the months of abstinence.
Of course there were standard new-mummy worries too. Would I be a good parent? How well would I cope with sleep-deprivation? Am I going to forget my baby in the supermarket? I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to stressing about stretch marks, turkey belly and saggy boobs. The media said women could bounce back. Celebrities proved that we could bounce back in mere weeks. I really hoped I’d bounce back to my old self soon, just with a cute addition.
I didn’t bounce back. And the truth is, I never will.
No matter how much you read or listen to other people’s advice and prepare yourself, when your own baby arrives into your life, it is just the most indescribable, frenetic and intense time. How amazing that a newborn who sleeps peacefully for almost twenty hours each day can turn your entire life upside down!
The skinny jeans did eventually make a reappearance, although they were not as comfortable as I remembered. I started to buy stretchy clothes out of choice. Hubby and I do have date nights and sometimes we eat sushi, although we find ourselves passing up on the pre-dinner cocktails. Rising and attempting to shine at 5am each morning was hangover enough.
Having babies changed every part of me. Permanently. Body, mind, emotions, plans, relationships, priorities and honestly, my entire world. My pre-baby self was gone forever. Some of the changes are great, especially the feeling of achieving something truly meaningful every day. Some are horrible, like having to now wipe spat up food off my face each mealtime. But no matter what sort of day I’ve had, I know these little humans make me happy. Most days.
To the outside world, my body sort of looks the same as it did before. But I can pinpoint every little addition. The faint stretch marks around my saggy middle, the new shape of my bellybutton, the episiotomy scar, the weird uneven nipples, bigger hips and so on.
My thoughts and priorities now have a permanent focal point. From daily routines of bottle sanitizing to pureed carrots, nursery snack boxes to researching car seats, junior ISAs to school tours. No matter where I am or what I am doing, they are always there, and that’s kind of nice.
My relationships with my friends have changed. We talk a lot more about poo. My relationship with my husband has changed. We talk a lot more about poo.
There are many superficial changes like always being tired, or messy, or late, or cranky, but I’ve also noticed much deeper changes to my entire being. I never knew I could feel such extraordinary happiness at such ordinary things, like sloppy, wet toddler kisses, or bursting with pride when my baby started to crawl. I’ve gained a new level of confidence and comfortableness with myself, because decisions no longer affect only me, I need to be very sure they are also the right decisions for these extra little people who are relying on me. I am comfortable saying no, which is incredibly empowering. There is simply not enough time to do things I don’t want to do in my life anymore. I am more cautious, taking risks are suddenly less inviting.
It took a long time to realise that I am not the same person as I was before I had children, and no matter what happens, I will never be that person again. It took even longer to feel OK with it. Do I miss reading books, having lie ins and being free to do as I please? Of course. Do I wish I didn’t have kids? Never.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I was unhappy with a lot of things about myself at the start of this parenthood journey. I tried so hard to continue with life as I always knew it, except now with a baby in tow, because I didn’t know how to be anything else. Accepting that becoming a parent changed me was the pivotal point. It is not all good, it is not all bad but it is all different. You don’t need to be happy with how every part of your body looks, just accept it. You don’t have to parent perfectly, because you are already the best parent for your children. You don’t love your partner less, but you love them differently. You don’t have to cut off your social life, it is simply a new scene.
Despite the softer belly and extra poo chat, I am so thankful that I did not bounce back.