How long did it take you to get back to normal after having your baby? It’s a question I hear frequently from brand-new parents, often with a hint of desperation. I’m not sure how to tell them that, nearly four years down the line, I’m still not there.
There is such an emphasis on ‘getting back to normal’ in our culture; women are commended for quickly dropping their baby weight, working demanding jobs, and doing all of the things they used to do – with a baby in tow. Since I had my first child, it seems to me a very unrealistic expectation: that you should carry on exactly as before, despite the huge event that is adding a small, dependent human to your family.
When my oldest son was born, it felt like the pieces of my life had been chucked up into the air and had landed all mixed up. Parts of it were recognisable as mine (feeding cats, talking to friends and family) but for the most part I seemed to have found myself in a surrealist painting slash alternative nightmarish reality. The thought that I’d eventually ‘get back to normal’ kept me from teetering over the brink of complete panic. To me, ‘normal’ looked like handing my baby over to a well-qualified childcare provider, while I returned to a job that I felt at least reasonably competent performing. I didn’t feel confident, comfortable, or a natural mother, and I longed for some of the ease of my old life.
Unfortunately, this ceased to be an option when my post was made redundant. My son was five months old, I was starting to come out of my postnatal depression-fog, and felt like actually I might just be capable of caring for him after all. This former (don’t laugh!) control freak was forced to confront a new normal: without the option of returning to my job, it didn’t make financial sense to seek work as childcare costs were so high. I went from career-woman to full-time mum: not the ‘normal’ I’d envisaged getting back to, but a decision we came to together, that was (and is) best for the three of us.
When my twins were born, there wasn’t as much internal pressure to get back to normal – at least, not for my own sake. We knew that adding two babies to our family would have a huge impact on our son, and we wanted to keep his life as level as possible. We also felt reasonably confident that we’d find a new normal, together as a family of five. Because we’d kept one child alive for two years, we were more relaxed about the newborn stage, more open to going with the flow. We were also more comfortable with our approach to parenting than we’d been with our first son; we trusted our instincts better.
So, how long does it take to get back to normal? I suppose for me, there was no ‘back’ to normal – my life bears little resemblance to that of four years ago. It’s not always been an easy transition and sometimes I wish for parts of my old world back. It is what it is, though, and as part of the bargain I have three amazing small people to spend time with. My body has changed, my daily activities have changed, my priorities have changed. Sometimes it’s hard to accept, and on the days I feel like railing against this new normal, I look through photos of the early days with my eldest and remind myself how far we’ve come. We are finding our new normal every day, and we’re doing just fine.