Once upon a time, I used to love tucking a printed shirt into my favourite Topshop jeans. I could be seen straddling a cup of steaming Costa at Southampton Central, dashing to catch my train to London while firing off work emails from my iPhone. In autumn, my dress down Friday OOTD would invariably have been an oversized woolly over cosy denims.
Fast forward to 4 months into maternity leave. Logged out of the hustle and bustle of commuting between cities on a perpetual caffeine high, I currently run on homemade Nescafé and broken sleep. Nursing bras and preggy jammies don’t make for an Instagram worthy #OOTD. I have not worn a nice pair of jeans in months. My postpartum body is in recovery mode, still jittery from being stretched to its limits to grow a brand new human. It won’t bounce back anytime soon like a celebrity mom’s. Nor do I expect it to.
But it hurts. It does. When the XL pants don’t zip around my previously medium waistline. When my tummy looks like a marinated piece of pricked chicken. When my flabby belly muffin tops over my jeans, no matter how hard I pull my woolly. It hurts. I am sure these feelings are felt the world over by every new and seasoned mom in the months, or even years following delivery. There is an irreversible finality in the way a female body changes after pregnancy that alienates women in their own skin.
The first two months after giving birth, I did not pay much attention to myself. I concentrated on learning how to take care of a little baby and not snapping my husband’s head off. My world had turned upside down, nothing was the same, I couldn’t even shower or eat like I used to. I gave in to leggings and extra long shirts and ate whatever.
It took me weeks to get into the rickety groove of life as a new mum. Once I accepted the chaos, sometime around the second month mark, I was better at managing it. I knew to expect the unexpected twists and turns that came with working around a tiny human’s erratic routine. Which meant I had no routine myself. He was the Big Boss. I had very few hours, if not minutes to do things, and I made mad use of it. If tornadoes had a human form, it would be that of a mother trying to get shit done while her baby sleeps.
Once the post-birth fog cleared enough for me to get my head out of poop covered nappies, I assessed the collateral damage that was my body and realised I wanted to change things up. Redirect a bit of focus to myself. I started exercising, anything between 5 – 20 minutes depending on Big Boss’s temperament. When those minutes clashed with Boss’s demands, I entertained him with weird faces between lunges and squats. I tried eating cleaner and made healthier food choices whenever my voraciously hungry breastfeeding appetite allowed.
The next step in embracing my postpartum body was to cleanse my clogged wardrobe. I gave away bags of my favourite clothes to charity, even managed to sell a few items online. I know we all want to fit into our pre-pregnancy dresses but often that desire can morph into a source of disappointment. I decided to get rid of that negative energy entirely. In my updated wardrobe, I now look for clothes within clothes that already fit me. They are meagre but sensible options. Most importantly, they comfortably accommodate my milk machines and new curves.
Exercising and wardrobe cleansing could only take me so far though. I yearned for my old life’s simple sartorial pleasures. A jeans with a button and zipper for one. A nice brown belt to go with it. On a whim I went back to Topshop and tried some of their high-waisted Jonis. The sight of my hips in jeans sent the same shock waves through my body as my first toilet trip after delivering Aryan.
All of this sounds quite miserable, I know. Postpartum body has a way of making you feel that way. You are immensely proud of it one moment, then immensely frustrated the next. I don’t believe in wallowing in misery – not for long anyway. I stew in it for a while or have a good crying session, followed by an inordinate amount of chocolate. Sooner or later, I move on to do something about my misery. Jeans might not flatter my new curves but there is zero reason why I should not be able to find clothing that will, I thought. This was immediately followed by a niggling voice telling me there is no need to spend dwindling maternity pay on bigger sizes (because surely at some point I will go back to my old body). That same deluded voice would discourage me from putting in any effort behind my appearance because – well, I am home alone most of the time. Who cares?
Well, I do. I care. I wanted to get back in touch with who I used to be and how I was carrying myself was a huge part of that reconnection. You can term it as vanity, but when I feel put together, I can conquer anything with zest. Be it changing poop loaded nappies or penning a blog post that takes 1000 attempts to write.
To TRULY embrace my postpartum body, I need to love it from all angles. Give it a bit of strength back through exercise, nourish it through a mindful diet, and respect it by dressing according to its shape. So I went on a hunt for pieces that would make me feel comfortable and confident in my new curves. I was happy to size up and excited by the challenge of reinventing my own style. I found a jumpsuit from ASOS that fit me like a postpartum dream (and sparked the idea of this post). I found a chinoiserie print maxi dress from H&M that said: I am not sacrificing my style. My motto became: when you summon your prenatal will, you will find a postpartum way.
I get this question a LOT – ‘how do you stay so put together as a new mom?’ Sometimes it almost translates to ‘why do you even bother?’ Well, I happily choose to. Most days I am living in these really ugly loungewear dresses that I always hated and now cannot get out of. So when I have a moment to myself to look presentable, I quickly seize it before the tiredness makes me change my mind. It’s almost always the weekends when I can hand baby to Nizar while I tame my weird, half-curly, half-straightened mane. It requires commitment to paint all ten nails in 5 attempts and learning to live with smudges, something that used to drive me nuts when I had the luxury of such a frivolous minded life. For many this might not be worth the patience or the time. But I feel good doing it for me.
Last Saturday Nizar and I dressed up and went out for a weekend date. Our expectation was to have a nice lunch clicking mocktails while baby cooed peacefully in the background, eventually dozing off to sleep. The reality couldn’t have been more different. As our food arrived, baby demanded to be fed too. Then he pooped. Then he fussed and refused to be put down. We ate our cold food passing him back and forth. We had left home in high spirits. We returned drenched in rain and tiredness. If I had a chance to repeat that day, I would do the exact same things. Get out of drool covered PJs and brave the rain. It is our way of retaining some semblance of a couple life. Even if it turns out to be the same old routine of changing nappies, just in nicer clothes and fancier settings.
When you forget how to have a good time, or deprive yourself of little joys, parenthood can start to feel cumbersome. That is not helpful for anyone. And that is why postpartum styling is important to me. It paves the way for good, brave things in my chaotic, often lonely new mum life. It is one of the very few activities from the pre-baby era that I am still able to indulge in.
I am really enjoying finding my postpartum style and discovering new ways to navigate the wardrobe challenges. Just in time for the 4 month sleep regression because boy, do I need some happy distractions to compensate for the sleepless nights? This motherhood journey keeps throwing curve balls at you the minute you start feeling a bit in control, doesn’t it? Drinking my pumpkin latte and anticipating the next hurdle hurtling our way. At least I will be dressed up for the occasion. 👗