I remember the first time I sat down to write after having my baby. It took a good few months to get there: I was so tired I could barely see, let alone think in a straight enough line to consider things like subplot and character development. But afterwards (I think I only managed a few hundred words), I felt like a different woman. Or, rather, the same woman: I was me again.
Becoming a mother is life affirming and joyful, but it’s also difficult, exhausting and monotonous. One of the things that kept coming up in chats with my mum friends was this idea that, in those blurry early days, we missed our former selves. We missed the ability to go out on a whim, to wear a nice dress without it getting sicked on; we missed the luxury of having three hours’ sleep in a row. But most of all we found it hard to join the dots between the women we were as mothers and the women we’d been before. Motherhood can be all consuming. I think it’s important to rediscover the individual – without the baby – at the heart of it. In the long run, our children will thank us for it.
Reclaiming your identity doesn’t have to be about returning to work. It can be anything you feel passionate about and inspired by – reading, exercising, painting, cooking – just as long as it’s all yours, a delight and a pleasure, and you can find time to enjoy it without feeling guilty. So much about having a baby is about living for someone else. This is automatic. As soon as that child is born, she or he looks to us for survival and love. But after that initial stage, what about the survival and love we give ourselves? What about our own nourishment, happiness and wellbeing? One isn’t exclusive of the other: caring for a baby doesn’t mean we cannot care for ourselves. As the old adage goes, a happy mum makes for a happy baby. It’s true.
The hardest thing, maybe, is imagining we deserve to give time to ourselves. This sounds silly written down – because it is silly. Yet we continue to believe it. Any moment we’re not tending to our baby, we’re programmed to ask, Why not? Why am I not preparing her a freezer full of nutritious Annabel Karmel meals? Why am I not hand washing that knitted Arran sweater she spilled tomato soup down? Why am I even considering doing something selfish, like, er, making a cup of tea and sitting down for ten minutes and not giving a shit?
But that’s the thing. It isn’t selfish. It’s good. When I first returned to writing after my daughter, I was scared I had lost it – that I’d sit down and no words would come. But it turned out I’d made it, and so had my voice. I was still the person I’d been before she arrived – and, actually, now a stronger and better version of that person. I felt invigorated and human. I remembered I had value on my own, without her. I felt I had more to offer my daughter than CBeebies and cheese on toast: I had me. And if you can keep hold of you, in whatever form that takes, you’ll be a richer mother for it.
Victoria Fox’s new novel, The Silent Fountain (HarperCollins), is out on 9th March and is available on Amazon here.