How long should it take to feel like my normal, productive self again after a baby?
I intended to write this article over a month ago. That didn’t happen. I started actually writing it sometime in November. Now it’s December and I am just coming back to (hopefully) finish it. It used to be that I could crank out a fairly quality (if I do say so myself) article in a day, maybe two. Writing this piece has been quite a different experience.
My baby is eight months old and I clearly have not adjusted to the reality that my schedule, my energy level, and my ability to form coherent thoughts are all significantly altered. I still say yes to things when I should be saying no. I still push myself beyond the limits of what is reasonable for my life now.
I don’t remember feeling this limited in the past, this affected by a new, wonderful addition. This is not my first child, this is my fifth. I was aware that there would be physical limitations, sleep deprivation, etc after a baby. But I guess I didn’t really think it would stop me. I mean, it never has in the past. I’ve always just plowed ahead, doing all the things, and I suppose, on some level, I expected our newest member to fit snugly into the routine of our lives and everything would be, more or less, as it was before.
This means for the past eight months I’ve been waiting to feel like I was getting back to normal, and I’ve felt increasingly frustrated as I set goal after goal which proved to be unattainable. What was going on? When was I going to be myself again?
Something I neglected to consider was how much had changed since the last time I had a baby. How different our family dynamics are. How different I am as a mother, as a person.
And, really, what does it even mean, “Getting back to normal?” What is considered normal? What are those expectations? What are they doing for me?
The last time I had a baby, my oldest was in kindergarten. I had only just begun my first experience with carpooling (and only one carpool! Ha! Little did I know how much time I would be spending behind the wheel in the not-so-distant future!). No child had any extracurricular anything. We went places, like the library, the children’s museum, but it was on our terms. It was so flexible.
Our family schedule is completely different now, the demands on my time a world apart from those hectic yet less rigid days. And I know that five years from now my life will again be completely restructured.
Life is full of moving pieces. Nothing is static. Everything changes. Sometimes this is good (those siblings who used to always, always fight now suddenly get along). Sometimes this is difficult (I’m sure you all can immediately conjure up a number of examples of this). In expecting my life to retain a certain amount of sameness, I was clinging unhelpfully to the past.
It’s not so much that I need to get back to normal, but, rather, that I need to adjust to the new normal. Instead of chasing that version of myself that I used to be (which I liked, thank you very much) I am getting to know this new version of myself. Instead of expecting myself to be able to do all the things I used to do, and instead of pushing myself to do those things, I am now looking for other opportunities that actually work for me.
For instance, hosting guests is not an option right now, but making extra food for local chesed organizations is. Playing in an orchestra is impossible, but playing for my son’s preschool class is doable.
This time around, I find myself using my moments of downtime to just do nothing. Not nothing. Resting. Recharging. That’s not nothing, that’s definitely something. But, of course, there still needs to be laundry and dinner and tidying up, and I’m finding that between the necessary downtime (which I need so I don’t get run down, this is a new concept for me), and these household tasks, I have little time for anything else (like writing this article).
All my creative ideas, my projects and goals, they are not getting accomplished. That’s because they are not the right goals for right now. My only goals right now should be: Take care of myself. Get enough rest. Make a decent lunch. Eat something more than Tradition Soup for four straight days.
G-d willing, there will be time for the more fun stuff, like writing and music, but not at the expense of my rest and my house. And that’s very different than before. That’s an example of how not my getting back to myself is actually a good thing. In the past I would’ve kept doing whatever project until I ran myself down and wasn’t functional. I’m happy to embrace this new version of myself.
Children grow, relationships mature, we grow personally. The needs and schedules of a family are always adapting, and cultivating and embracing a fluid mindset and adaptable nature can only benefit everyone involved.
So long, former version of myself. It was nice spending time with you, but I’m looking forward to focusing on the present and the future instead of dwelling on how things used to be. I can’t wait to see what’s in store.