How to Help a New Mom Rekindle Her Pre-Baby Passions
If my husband didn't check in with me and urge me to do the things I once did, I would've been lost.
Along with sushi, Champagne, oysters, surfing, runny eggs, margaritas, strong coffee, and Lox bagels, the Brazilian martial art capoeira topped my list of favorite things I’d relinquished while attempting to healthfully gestate a tiny human. Seven weeks postpartum, I was bursting with eagerness to get back into the hobby that my husband and I share. (It’s even how we met.) Our academy is family-friendly and we’re lucky enough to be able to bring our kids, as long as they’re otherwise entertained — easy enough in the age of the iPad. But on this particular evening of my attempted return, our baby decided it was precisely the hour to feed nonstop or cry trying.
“I’m leaving,” I told my husband, who was also teaching that night’s class. I was frustrated beyond repair at being unable to partake after having been so ready to train after an eight-month pregnancy-and-postpartum absence.
What do we become when we give up the things that make us who we are? Especially, it seems, when we see our husband’s dad-life continuing in a more linear fashion?
My husband tried to convince me to stay, offering to wear our infant and walk her around while verbally directing students, so I could still take class. I felt more strongly that he should continue for the other students’ benefit, so I walked the mile and a half back home instead, baby strapped on, pushing our sleeping preschooler in her stroller.
By the time I arrived home, frustration subsided, new thoughts stirred about handling these waves of imbalance that, as a second-time new mom, made me feel lost at sea. I’m sure a lot of moms and moms-to-be are in this boat, thinking what do we become when we give up the things that make us who we are? Especially, it seems, when we see our husband’s dad-life continuing in a more linear fashion? For all the beauty of motherhood, it’s hard not to be a little bit jealous.
I’d been training capoeira (basically, Brazilian breakdance-fighting) for eight years, never missing more than a couple of weeks. During my first pregnancy, I trained until a week before the birth. This time around, even nourished and hydrated, I felt uneasy. Maybe because I was four years older, taking care of a toddler, or some combination of these factors, something just felt wrong. This baby just wasn’t into it, and I had to accept that. At first I brought my yoga mat, stretched on the side, and jumped in to do what I could, but it was only a matter of time before I stopped going all together. My favorite hobby, my usual stress-release, had suddenly become a source of separation: my husband still attended nightly after working all day.
As with helping to relieve the mental load, a husband needs to notice where initiative can be taken and step up. Because we may not be asking.
I chose not to resent it — or him. He was a supportive partner who went on ice cream runs, did almost all of the cooking, and chased our three-year-old around when I was too big to move faster than a lumbering tortoise. While I couldn’t bring myself to ask him to change his routine, I have to admit I would have loved it if he had skipped class to stay home with me every now and then. But I wouldn’t have asked him to. Simply, I was pregnant and he was not. Why should he “suffer” just because I “suffered”? I still wanted him to offer, though. It’s like sympathy weight. We don’t really want you to gain it. But when you do, it’s kind of sweet. It shows us you care.
Next thing I knew, I hadn’t been to a capoeira class in eight months. Given the postnatal clearance to exercise again, I decided it was time to try to go back. My husband put the baby in the wrap on “my” training days — sometimes successfully, other times less so (see: capoeira walkout). Despite this, the fact that he was insisting I do it, making effort to coax me back to the hobby I loved, was everything. As with helping to relieve the mental load, a husband needs to notice where initiative can be taken and step up. Because we may not be asking.
Given everything a pregnant person and new mom compromises — favorite activities, foods, clothing, fun nights out, challenging workouts, her body(whatever the case may be, she’s giving up something that matters to her) — observation and encouragement mean everything. Absorbed with baby, our focus shifts far from ourselves, so it’s an important time for husbands to think of us. When those check-ins and reminders arrive unprompted, it means even more.
Absorbed with baby, our focus shifts far from ourselves, so it’s an important time for husbands to think of us. When those check-ins and reminders arrive unprompted, it means even more.
On a Sunday two days after my capoeira walkout, my husband basically forced me out of the house to go surfing, my second-favorite hobby. As I hemmed and hawed about could I really leave my precious baby for that many hours and what if she cries?, he lovingly said, “She’ll be fine, go have fun.” I realized that to do the things I did “before,” I needed not only his support but his outright demand. So I stuffed my postpartum self into my wetsuit like an elephant seal into a Lululemon tube top and pulled my longboard from where it leaned gathering dust in the garage. Was I really doing this? Because he urged me to, insisted even, I was.
That urging, whether we realize it in the moment or not, is important — essential even. I still need to be reminded that I am still myself after having kids, that I’m still the woman I was before, just a little more covered in milk, poop, and spit up. I need that extra push to create space for myself again, and my partner is the best person to provide it.
That afternoon, I paddled out in the cool ocean, sunlight breaking over the Pacific, fog-bank hanging in the distance over the bay, the scent of kelp and saltwater waking me up. Conditions were poor. I didn’t catch a wave that day. But boy was I glad to be out at sea.