I took that too far, didn’t I? You got me. I’m at home, watching Alex James and Phil Daniels face off against the Cheeky Girls on “Pointless Celebrities”. Thrilling stuff. But that’s OK, because we have already been out partying today. A real party with champagne, posh cake and fireworks. It just so happens that it was a 3-year-old’s birthday party but that’s besides the point. It was Konditor & Cook cake! The point is that we have a baby and a preschooler and we’ve been to a party today. And you don’t yet know what I did on my Friday night, but it’s a blog post in the making and trust me, it was rocking. This, my friends, is a post-baby social life.
I don’t want to sound like I’m showing off. But I’m a passionate believer in the importance of having a social life after having kids. I know I’ve mentioned this before, in the context of boozin’ with a baby (well, kinda) and also breastfeeding out and about, but hey let’s expand on this. I feel like unleashing some poorly-researched Pop Psychology on your asses.
In case you didn’t gauge this from the last paragraph, I am not a qualified psychologist. Heck, I’m barely qualified to be a mother. But I am a girl With The Internet and that means I can say what I like and you can choose to read or not. So, lumbering in with my postnatal size 40 feet, I’m going to tackle Postnatal Depression. See, I have a theory.
I might be wrong. But I believe Postnatal Depression is a separate thing to depression. As far as I (and Google) know, PND is hormonal and therefore biological. It’s something that happens to some women after birth and no-one exactly knows why. But I believe that a lot of women who are diagnosed with PND are actually just depressed, and it’s a result of circumstances rather than hormones.
What circumstances? Maybe feeling like they have no contact with the outside world, maybe feeling like their world has completely changed and their old life is sunk without trace, maybe feeling that their identity is tied up in being a Mother, whereas before they actually had a career and Did Things and now everyone judges them on how well they do this mothering thing when it’s really hard to do, especially at first. Maybe the breastfeeding support was so rubbish that they just gave up and now feel like they’ve failed at mothering before they’ve even begun and it’s just another thing that all these judgers are judging them on. Any of these sound familiar? I’m sure most experts would lump them all in together as PND and I know there’s a lot of crossover. But this big mass of things can be unpicked into individual issues. And individually, these things are solvable. Let’s go through it bit-by-bit. And I’m going to drop this weird third-person thing if that’s OK. Let’s go straight to second.
So, feeling like your world has changed? It’s true. Having a baby does turn your life inside-out like nothing else.. Your sudden sole responsibility for this tiny thing is a shock to the system that no number of antenatal classes will prepare you for. But that’s where contact with the outside world comes in. If you meet other shell-shocked mothers, you will soon realise that you are not alone. True,there are things you can’t do just after having a baby. I’m not suggesting you ditch the baby and go out dancing at a week postpartum. Well, unless you feel like it. But there’s a lot you can do with a baby in tow. And anyone who says you shouldn’t or couldn’t isn’t worth listening to.
Here’s a shocking fact for you. In half a year of having Eva, I’ve only ever left her to go to Tesco and once to go to Bravissimo. She is the archetypal product of Attached Parenting – a “clingy” Mumma’s Girl. But dya know what? I don’t mind too much. When Reuben was Eva’s age, I was desperate to go back to work, but this time I don’t mind having her with me around the clock. She’s an easier baby. Whether that’s because of AP or just a co-incidence, we’ll never know. But for now she goes where I go and that’s OK. Why? Because it doesn’t stop me doing anything I actually want to do. Do I want to go clubbing? Nah, can’t be arsed. We only decided to have kids when we realised we were getting to old for all that. Do I want to go out drinking all night? No, I still have Reuben to deal with tomorrow and that’s not easy on no sleep. Oh, and I am a total lightweight since having Roo even when not breastfeeding.
So what do we do? Well, I have a whole other post brewing on me and Eva’s adventures while Roo’s at preschool, so I won’t spoiler that too much. But when Roo’s around we do pretty much what we did before Eva was born – we go to playgroups, we go to the park, we go to the cafe and eat cake, we go to museums…you get the drift. We go to parties that start at 2PM. We attend childless friends’ birthday lunches and picnics but not dinners. We go to weddings and leave early.
But mainly it’s parks and playgroups and stuff. We’ve been blessed with some good parent-friends to do this kinda stuff with, but finding those friends has sometimes taken effort. It’s meant going to playgroups where I haven’t known anyone, meeting strangers from the internet (in public places, obv), accepting invitations from people even when I’ve been feeling shy and tempted to stay home and watch Project Runway. Second time round, it’s easier cause you already have some of those people in place and if you’re lucky, they may be sprouting second children too. But in London, people move away all the time and you have to start again.
You may be reading all this and thinking I’m being patronising and obvious – “just go out and make some friends, it’ll be fine”. Sorry if I come across that way. I know it isn’t always easy. It just helps so much to have other people around who know what you’re going through. Even if they’re virtual ones. If you’re in any way considering weaning your baby in a baby-led way, visit this forum. It’s saved my sanity many times and I’ve even made real-life friends there. Whatever our parents’ generation may think, there is nothing sad about making friends on the internet. It’s just the 21st century way. You’re reading this, so I assume you’re at least slightly internet-savvy.
But what about those lonely early days when you don’t know a single soul with a baby? It still pays to go out. When Roo was tiny and kept us up all night, I would take him to Tesco every day in the knowledge that going for a walk would send him to sleep. I just needed to see that life carried on outside the confines of our house. Later on, we got a lodger, which handily provided me with some adult company when Nathan was at work (she was a student, we’ve had various others since). Roo and I would sling up and go and meet working friends in their lunchbreaks. Sometimes we even met Nathan if we were desperate. We went to baby cinema on our own (more on that in another post). Even now, whenever I feel myself skirting round the edge of despair (and every mother gets close to that sometimes), I get out of the house. Doesn’t matter where. Doesn’t matter if I end up buying Roo junk food at the newsagent as an incentive for walking there. It’s just good to get out.
Of course, this is all strictly voluntary. It’s what works for me, and I would be the last person to force someone to go out who wasn’t ready or didn’t want to. In fact, I rarely force anyone to do anything (unless it’s Nathan). Don’t call me Gina Ford. But I’m here to say you CAN do it. It may take some military planning. It may involve some parenting fails. Trust me, I will have done them all before you. But there are solutions to every fail. In London you’re never far from some shops, so if your baby poos through every outfit you have with you, you can buy some more (or put her in her brother’s t-shirt as a dress). You can buy nappies out and about if you’ve forgotten those. It will be OK. If you encounter a flight of steps you can’t get the buggy up, someone will help. Eventually. If you encounter a rude bus driver who tuts as you try and manoevure your pram, punch them in the face.
I’ve rambled on a lot already. And I haven’t even talked about how to establish your post-baby identity or what to do if you’re struggling with breastfeeding/struggling with your feeling about having given up breastfeeding. But those aren’t my areas of expertise. Trips out with one or more child are my area of expertise. And getting out and about will help you feel like more of a person again, honest. It’s never going to be the same as doing a job you’re really good at and having a team of people jump to your every command, but it will give you something else in your life other than just feed-burp-change-feed-burp-change. It can be feed in Starbucks-drink Starbucks-burp in Piccadilly Circus-change on the steps of Eros next to a tramp. Or whatever suits you.
And on the last point, take this home with you. You are great. Whatever milk (or gin) you’ve put in that baby’s mouth, it still loves you. It’ll REALLY love you if it’s drunk.
Hang on, scrub that. Again. The point was, your baby loves you and that makes you awesome. Pull on those Wonderwoman pants and step out of the door. You are slowly but surely getting your life back.