I remember, after the birth of my daughter, the first time leaving the house for a tentative walk. I wore my headphones and had made it two blocks when I saw a familiar man on a familiar scooter. It was a comedian I’d had a three-night stand with when I was at the absolute peak of my physical powers; my lowest weight and highest boobs. Seeing him, I hung my head, not because I yearned for my previous body, but because I was shocked to have my previous life – a few months of wild abandon – bleed into my new domestic setting.
Despite all the good things having a child makes you feel, there can be a vague sense of missing once you become a mother. In our patriarchal society, it’s considered sacrilege that women might have afternoons of daydreaming about their old life. Instead we say the thing we miss is our old bodies, because we’ll get less judgement for it.
The main physical surprise is that your stomach doesn’t deflate right away just because the baby is now outside it. It was such an odd sight, that empty stomach. I tried not to look at it, as if it were a goddess in a Greek myth who could turn me to stone. My stomach used to be concave, no matter how round the rest of me got – have you ever seen photos of the burlesque dancer Immodesty Blaize? Boobs. Hips. Thighs. Arse. A minuscule waist. By 16, I looked like her – but in a Smashing Pumpkins T-shirt. You had to get to the intimacy level of having your hands around it – you had to run the gauntlet of the Pumpkins T-shirt – to see just how tiny my waist was. It’s hard to demand acclaim for something because it isn’t there. This was pre-Dita Von Teese; people weren’t that fussed about a 22-inch waist. In a post-Dita landscape, there would have been a parade for me.
After the baby, I was lucky and didn’t get stretch marks. I already had cellulite. I had a few broken veins on my legs and now I have a few more. Most noticeably, my stomach, like the earth, is not flat. Not this month. What’s fascinating about the post-baby body is, like life, it does not follow a pattern. It will betray you just as you’re getting comfortable. Three months after delivery, my stomach <was> flat. Six months later, it wasn’t. Last week it was. This week it isn’t.
My daughter slept well for a while and then, at six months, she started waking up four times a night and never stopped. You’ve seen women – Hilaria, cough, Baldwin – lauded solely because they paraded their toned stomach just <two months> after baby! For most of us, when you don’t sleep, there’s this thing called cortisol, the stress hormone: by night, it fights crime and by day, it forms as fat around your middle.
I, like most of my friends with kids, definitely looked younger after the baby – 'face after baby' being of far less popular and cultural interest than body. What the tabloids never want to know about, what the really salient question is: mind after baby. Life after baby. Life with baby. Baby’s life. Life as husband and wife. And can they all look beautiful together, despite the madness, like a Jackson Pollock splatter canvas.
There’s an Instagram feed called The Glow that’s my hate-follow, much like other people’s hate-watch TV shows. Every actress/stylist/model mother featured on the feed felt the angel heart chakra beating inside her as a gift from Buddha and is eternally grateful for the lessons they learn each day from their child. I was recently having a very 'The Glow photo-shoot' nap with my beautiful, funny toddler and the eiderdown was fluffy and white and there were throw pillows. And then I woke up because she was beating me across the head with an iPad.
She’s not even two as I write this – she doesn’t know. She thought it was hilarious, until I started crying with pain and then that made her cry, and then I had to comfort her while trying not to pass out. I don’t ever think I’d give up having my child if I could have my old, young – let’s just say 'previous' – body, though one body becomes another, like Star Wars sequels. I’ve sometimes thought, I’d give up motherhood if I could have private time with my cat again instead of hiding her from it and it from her. Because those were the most relaxing moments of my old life.
It isn’t the freedom to be with whoever you want that you miss as you age into family. It’s the freedom to be alone with yourself. If you can find those hours, those moments, that meditation, it’s a far more liberating muscle for a mother to access than her abs.