Over the years, I have observed many of my once savvy, energetic, childless friends morph into distracted, exhausted new moms. I vowed to be different, promising myself that I would stay focused and vibrant when my baby arrived. There would be no dark circles under my eyes, or snacks of organic strained pears at 3 AM.
You won't be surprised when I tell you that those lofty resolves quickly became footnotes in history when my son Gabriel was born. All I could think about were the existential Big Three: feeding, diapering, sleeping. Sure, I became focused -- on my newborn's every milestone. And just like my friends, I lived in an altered state, navigating hazily through time wearing sweats and a twisted pile of greasy hair on top of my vacant head.
The reckoning came one afternoon, about six months after Gabe's birth, when I took an uncompromising look at my reflection in a full-length mirror. My posture was hunched and sunken: I looked like something the stork had stepped on. Worse, I had a disconcertingly empty look in my eyes. As soon as I turned my worn body away from the mirror, though, I realized what it craved: sane time. My body and soul needed a period of both physical and emotional distance from my beloved Gabriel, so as to recharge and return to my baby feeling whole.
A Little R&R
"Women who fail to take time for themselves forget they were once clever and competent," says clinical social worker Loren Cole, co-founder of Family Solutions and mother of three in Brattleboro, VT. "Instead, they experience only the relentless demands of their infant and lose sight of their centers."
You don't have to take a week-long vacation from your baby, says Cole; any amount of "you" time will help you rejuvenate. "Once you return to pre-baby hobbies, interests, friendships, and intimate communication with your spouse, you'll feel competent and ultimately like a better mom," says Cole. "As a result, time with your baby will become less stressful and more rewarding because it will be enhanced by a rich, expansive life."
I took a chance and made arrangements with a neighbor to care for Gabriel so I could attend an hour-long dance class twice a week. But my first time in the studio was hardly footloose and fancy-free: Guilt and anxiety became part of the routine faster than the instructor could say "a-one and a-two...."
Thankfully, by the time I arrived home, my exercise-induced endorphins had dissipated my unfounded concerns. Not surprisingly, both neighbor and Baby were doing just fine. What was surprising was that, even after just an hour away, I returned with a new excitement about mothering. I held Gabriel tight in my arms, nuzzled my nose into his neck, and leapt across the floor toward his changing table. Here are some ideas that can help give you a little space for regaining your sanity.
Robin Westen, a freelance writer in Vermont, is the author of 10 Days to Detox: How to Look and Feel a Decade Younger.