I read somewhere that it takes 9 months to make a baby, so you need to give yourself the same amount of time to feel normal again. Then there’s the traditional and medical timeframe of 6-8 weeks to fully heal from birth. Well, here I am; 21 months post-partum and only now am I starting to feel like myself again. Note: myself isn’t exactly the same person I used to be. There’s no way I can sit here and tell you that I’m the exact same person as I was before. I’ve done a lot of soul-searching and growing up; a lot of things have come to light about myself, other people and how I interact with the world. So in a way, I’m feeling like myself but a different version of myself. The version that I probably will be for awhile…or at least until the next baby 😉
I never thought I had body issues. I did when I was a teenager but it ended there. Only when I became a mom did the body consciousness hit me again. A lot of the opinions and responses to new moms is ‘you’ve just had a baby, relax’ but you still feel the pressure – even if you know why your tummy is a bit heavier, or you’ve developed back fat. And knowing why doesn’t help make you feel more confident about yourself. I wanted to share some of the things that have helped me get back to feeling like Aisha.
Face the Baby Blues
About 10 days after I gave birth, I started experiencing what they call ‘baby blues’ and I was really worried it’d turn into full-blown postnatal depression. Because I was aware of it, I didn’t want to ignore it. From what I’ve been told, baby blues are considered a mild form postnatal depression but it’s something that’s very normal as many women go through after birth because of the hormonal rollercoaster we go through. I was very overwhelmed, frustrated and pretty much angry with everyone and I’d cry for no good reason. You’re not yourself during pregnancy or after it, your body has just gone through one of the most traumatising things it ever will. So my advice is to give yourself a break – try not to do everything. I know as new moms, we feel the responsibility is on us and only us. But the way I look at it in now – I did all of the work carrying this baby, so while I recover, someone else needs to step in. You’re not a failure as a mom if you ask for or accept help. It’s your way of recovering so you can take care of your child sooner. Hopefully, you have a hands-on husband – although I know many have to return to work shortly after. If you have a relative or a good friend, ask them to stay with you or come over regularly to help so you can rest. Even an hour or two of solid sleep can help you recharge. The rest will help your mood and the atmosphere in the house in this stressful time – you’re sleep deprived, your baby won’t stop crying – a lot of things are going against you. Maternity leave really is there for you, so do the bare minimum of what you need to do.
Focus on one thing at a time
I knew why my body was the way it was, but for a little while, felt sorry for myself and thought it’d magically disappear. The truth is, you have to actively do something about it. So there are two things that’ll help; diet and exercise. And by diet, I don’t mean a crash, temporary-diet-fix but a lifestyle change. My advice would be to start with one of them. If you never used to eat healthily and exercise before you got pregnant, then it’s going to be a huge undertaking to do that now, as well as care for a newborn, as well as return to work. Use maternity leave to focus on recovering and on your baby. Then when you get back to work use some of your energy to get back into the swing of things there. Then as you’ve gotten used to being back at the office, shift your energy to either exercise or eat healthier. I started with going back to the gym. I’m not a gym bunny – I actually don’t like exercise. But I’ve found something that I genuinely enjoy and I don’t feel like I’m working out when I do it; Zumba. The more I do it, the happier I am, the better I sleep and the less stressed I am. Try to do something that’s sustainable for your life. There’s no point doing something just to lose the weight then that’s it. You need to be able to keep it up, so make sure you enjoy it and can afford it.Find something you enjoy, if you dive into a boot camp that you hate, you’ll resent it and make up all sorts of excuses not to go. Remember that for you to shift weight, you have to put in the work. Most of the time it won’t be easy but focus on the end result to keep you going. If the gym is out of your budget, find something you can do at home – start by walking your new baby in the stroller. Zumba once a week wasn’t shifting anything for me, so after about two months, I upped it to twice a week, then three times a week.
Change your eating habits
I hate the word ‘diet’ as it’s become associated with unhealthy living. So I suggest changing your eating habits and lifestyle. Do what makes sense for you, your family and budget. I started living a low GI lifestyle a few years ago before I got pregnant for health reasons, but I stopped when I was expecting because of my cravings for carb-heavy meals. It was supposed to be temporary but it took me a while after I had Kai to get back into the low GI eating. Once you get into bad habits, it’s hard to get back on track. After I’d been back at the gym for a few months, I knew my eating had to be my next focus. I have a sweet tooth, and I have a hard time stopping to eat something sweet and rich things – like desserts. Diabetes also runs in my family so it’s something I’m trying to avoid, but I also know myself and if I completely ban myself from eating something – human nature comes in and it’s all I want. So I have a ‘cheat day’. If I feel like something sweet, I’ll have it on that day. If I don’t, then I won’t. I’ve also stopped adding sugar to food and replaced it with raw honey. All of this was pretty hard at first but I’m so used to it now. When I do have a sweet treat, I can’t have half as much as I used to. Give yourself some time for your body to adjust. Once your body knows better, it’ll expect better.
Give yourself a little makeover
It sounds very superficial but your clothes really make up a huge part of how you represent yourself to people. I’m not advising to go on a shopping spree, especially if your wallet doesn’t allow it. If you can, great. I didn’t have the cash to do a big shop, so I planned how I was going to dress. After I gave birth, 95% of the clothes I had couldn’t even go past my knees to get to my hips. My biggest ‘problem area’ was my tummy. After all the water weight was gone, I was left with a droopy mum-tum, totally out of proportion to the rest of my body and didn’t work with my wardrobe either. I used to wear a lot of low-rise pants and jeans which would make my mum-tum roll out and flop over the waistband at the most inconvenient times – which was all the time. So I had a post-maternity capsule wardrobe which consisted of a few items to help me transition and still look decent. It was all about comfort at that point rather than style because I also didn’t know how to dress my new body. It’s taken me awhile to get there too because my mind was trained to buy things that were of a certain silhouette. I’d forget that I didn’t look the best in that silhouette anymore. So I’d have many frustrating moments in the shops or in front of my closet because I couldn’t find something that fit me, and made me feel cute. That really does something to you, as you want to have something for yourself, or have control over something. I kept telling myself that I shouldn’t get comfortable with being in a place where I just wear clothes for the sake of it. And trust me, it’s easy to get comfortable. It was by accident that I found my go-to new silhouette and that was because I saw a colleague rocking the hell out of some jeans. She told me her secret was high-waisted ones. Once I tried them, I instantly felt sexy. I didn’t have a mum-tum anymore; my waist was still there, just hidden and shaped differently. Now I feel cute, and my body looks snatched. My go-to is high-waist pants or skirt with a tucked in or cropped top. There you can see the parts of my body I enjoy – my wider hips, still small waist and fuller bum. My new look keeps my mum-tum in check so it’s not popping over the waistband anymore. Once I figured out my new silhouette, it’s done wonders for me. I’m able to dress quicker in the mornings, I carry myself differently and I feel great. I’ve never looked back.
So those are my tips on how to start feeling like yourself again, without of course completely abandoning your newfound responsibilities. I’ve stopped mourning the loss of the old me and I’m now celebrating the new Aisha: a stronger, more conscious, more evolved me. I’ll never be the same again; which isn’t a bad thing at all.
How long did it take you to start feeling like yourself? Are you still getting there? What tips can you offer a new mama?