Last weekend I had a tantrum. More than a tantrum: let’s just say it lay somewhere on the spectrum between a tantrum and a breakdown. My reasoning? I had nothing to wear. Something as simple as going out for a family dinner had me reeling, I had not one possible option in my wardrobe that would work, and if I had been given the option to I’d have missed the occasion altogether. Recently, this has been happening more often than not. I don’t get the chance to go out for dinner, or drinks, or girls nights nearly as much as I used to, but when I do it’s now almost always tainted with the pressure of finding something to wear. It may sound odd – it probably would have if I was reading this myself prior to falling pregnant – because something as immaterial as clothes shouldn’t be able to have that much of a bearing on your outlook. But postpartum, it makes all the difference. It’s been almost five months since I have birth, and whilst my general baby blues has dissipated completely, I’ve been left with the lowest self-esteem I’ve ever had.
I’ve never been the most confident person, but I was never seriously lacking in confidence. I like to think I lay somewhere in the middle. I could leave the house without feeling self conscious, but I never thought I looked great. Always average, and happy to be so. I was content with how I looked, forever just treating my body as a work in progress. And then I fell pregnant. During my pregnancy, my level of self-esteem was on a downward spiral: as I grew bigger, alongside the obvious weight gain, I had less clothing options, my skin changed, my hair was greasier and harder to upkeep than usual and I got smellier quicker. The only glow I walked around with was the uncanny linger of body odor stifled with deodorant, and my stark reality left me feeling less than attractive. I was a not a happy pregnant woman, and while I can look back and laugh at that now, at the time I felt terrible about myself. I was uncomfortable seeing people, reluctant to meet new people, not happy in the way I looked and lacking any confidence I once had, I removed myself from social situations and cooped up in the house, leaving for work and the odd trip out. In my own head, it was only going to be temporary. That was what I kept telling myself; I’ll get back to my normal self once my baby is here and I’ll feel good about myself again. Only temporary. What I didn’t realise though, was that postpartum low self esteem is a very real thing, and I wouldn’t simply lose my negative thoughts along with my baby bump.
At nearly five months postpartum, I’ve regained very little of the confidence I once had. I cannot leave the house without feeling like everyone is looking at me – always in a negative light. I’m self conscious, over aware and paranoid and it all comes down to lacking self esteem. At first I didn’t want to admit it, after being so down about the way I looked the entire way through my pregnancy, the last thing I wanted to admit to myself was my temporary state of mind wasn’t temporary at all. Instead, I chose to blame it on less internal factors. I felt like crap because I didn’t have anything to wear. I was ugly because I wasn’t wearing fake tan, because my make-up didn’t match my skin tone anymore. These were all fixable things, and yet all things that probably would make very little difference to the way I was feeling. A study done found that it takes 18 months to feel like yourself again after giving birth; two thirds of all women said they felt ‘saggy’, ‘fat’ and ‘unattractive’ in the immediate months after and six in ten admit that they’d taken a massive knock in confidence. It may have taken a tantrum (or ten), but realizing that my lack of desire to face the outside world had nothing to do with what was in my wardrobe has been a massive step.
This realisation hasn’t massively changed my outlook as such, I still feel like a hot mess and that won’t be changing anytime soon, but admitting my self esteem is the problem gives me something I can try and ‘fix’. Rather than continuing to lie to myself and everyone around me, I can actually try and take steps to improve my situation, instead of continuing to dart around it. It’s easy to assume low self-esteem stops only at our physical self perception, but whilst that presented itself in a more obvious away, most of my own issues have came down to self-perception as a mother, and with my new identity after becoming one. I’ve talked before about feeling down and about struggling as a mum: it was never going to be easy, but I’d have liked to think after 5 months I would be comfortable in my new role, confident in my own voice and happy with my life. Right now, I’m stuck in the middle of what seems to be an identity crisis. I won’t be returning to the career I had just dipped my toe into before giving birth, I’m no longer at university – which I was when I fell pregnant, I have a new house, a new family, a new lease of life – and absolutely no clue what I am doing with it. This month I’ve taken a step back from everything. It took a breakdown over having nothing to wear to realise that I don’t want to be negative all of the time. I don’t want to feel this down about myself. I am worth a lot more than I am giving myself credit for.
It’s perfectly normal to feel down about yourself after child birth, but it shouldn’t be normal to allow it to completely consume you. I’m not going to exude confidence overnight – I’m not going to wake up tomorrow feeling like a strong ten with my life laid out, but that doesn’t mean I can’t wake up happy and ready to face the day. Hiding behind closed doors will not help anyone, and it was about time I woke up and smelled the roses. I’m taking five simple steps to try and feel better about myself this month – I don’t need groundbreaking tactics or massive overhauls, I need to move in the right direction slowly but surely, and regain at least some of the confidence I once had.
I have very much cut myself off from the outside world. I’ve stopped making any effort with a lot of people, and I’m surprised at how many have stuck by me despite this. It’s been a long time since I’ve picked up my phone to ask someone else how they are doing; my own texts sit at 42 unread right now, my Facebook messages are even worse. I was stuck in a rut, and the result was downright rude. This month I’m focusing on regaining the positive relationships I once valued, and I won’t be stepping away from building new ones.
Sometimes I need a bath, or to be able to put on some fake tan, or fix my eyebrows, or read a magazine. Sometimes I just need to feel like my life doesn’t end at ‘mother’ – there is absolutely no reason for me not making an effort to have some ‘me’ time during a nap, or taking advantage of the two grans and a great-gran practically fighting for Harrison to paint my nails, to allow Dad to take his son without me nagging so I can write a blog post or generally make myself feel a little bit better. Motherhood is hard, even moreso when you attach very little value to yourself. I’m more than just a mum, and I am allowed 5 minutes to myself. It’s about time I take those.
This is my big one. I am not the Instagram girls I follow. I am not the Bloggers I read constantly. I am not the celebrities I see on the TV. I am a normal girl, I have just gone through one heck of a life change and I am doing well. I don’t have to be the best, I don’t even have to be great – I just have to be doing what is the best for my family and myself, and that should be enough. I won’t be bothering with the scales anymore – weighing in constantly and comparing my weight to that of my pre-baby self is plain stupid. I’ll get there if and when I get there. I won’t compare my wardrobe to last year, my bank balance or my career. I won’t compare it to that of the girl next to me, or the one I see online. It’s draining, it’s depressing and it’s downright not necessary. I’m trying my hardest and will continue to do so. I’d rather be happy as I am than unhappy trying to be better than somebody else.
I’m not looking for an overnight transformation here.
I just want to stop feeling negative, all of the time. Last week I had a tantrum. Last week I had a tantrum over having nothing to wear. I tried to miss a family dinner that I had no reason otherwise not to go to – I tried to miss it as I’ve missed so many other events, dinners, gatherings. It’s been almost five months since I have birth, and while my self-esteem is still shot, I’m ready to try and regain at least some of the confidence I once had – failing that, let’s hope I at least shut up about having nothing to wear.