Is There Life After Birth?

Sacrificing your hobbies and passions isn't best for you--or your baby. Here's how to put aside time to nurture yourself.

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I felt as though I wouldn't have a life after the baby came," admits Michelle Lecks Roover, a mother of two in Newton, Mass. At some point during your pregnancy--usually just after you've held your favorite jeans up to your expanded waistline--you've probably thought the same thing. No more lunches with friends, romantic weekend getaways or even time to read a magazine. To be sure, some aspects of your life will change forever at the end of these nine months. But if you can revisit a few of your pre-baby interests, such as relationships, exercise or creative pursuits, you and your child will reap the benefits. "You're a better mother to your kids if you can take care of yourself," says Karen Kleiman, M.S.W., director of The Postpartum Stress Center in Rosemont, Pa. Kleiman advises mothers to integrate one or more pre-baby interests gradually back into their schedules when that's realistic.

Once you agree to nurture yourself as well as your child, you face purely logistical hurdles to getting your life--OK, a new version of it--back. As veteran parents will attest, a little planning and commitment go a long way.

Banish the guilt Many new moms find that guilt gets in the way of rekindling old interests. "Our society holds impossible standards for the 'ideal' mother," Kleiman says. "She's selfless, endlessly patient and devoted, putting her children first to the exclusion of everything else." Given this standard, it's no wonder that taking time out for a jog or a manicure can seem selfish.

But you should carve out a little time for yourself, since you can't keep giving without replenishing the inner well. If you don't participate in activities that make you feel whole, you won't be happy and relaxed enough to fully engage with your child. This, notes Kleiman, can sometimes lead to feelings of resentment, even meltdowns (yours, followed by your baby's).

Couple up Whether you go out once a week or once a month, spending time alone with your partner reinforces your family's strong foundation. When Susan Kelly, a mother in Haddonfield, N.J., had her first daughter, she didn't trust anyone else to take care of the baby. With the birth of her second daughter, things changed. "It was as if a light bulb went off, and I realized it's important to first make time for my relationship with my husband, since everything else flows from that," Kelly says. Now she schedules "dates" with her spouse and hires a babysitter.

Don't wait Elin Hilderbrand, a mother of three, novelist and self-described "fanatical exerciser" in Nantucket, Mass., ran throughout her pregnancies. As soon as she fully recovered from giving birth, she put her sneakers back on and started running again. "I made it a priority right from the start," she says. It's crucial to rekindle your passions early on, rather than waiting until your baby reaches milestones (like sleeping through the night) you think will make life easier. "With kids, there's no right time," says Tenney Cassell, a Chicago mother of two, who also runs. "Just jump in and do it, whatever it is. It helps you be who you are, and you'll feel better for it in the end."

Think outside the box In the haze of sleep deprivation, problems can seem more complicated than they are. Look for creative solutions. Can't go to the gym three times a week for lack of a regular babysitter? Find a gym that offers babysitting, as many YMCAs do. Or invest in a stair-stepper and in a good stroller for walking. Need occasional free time to run errands? Initiate a baby swap with a friend. Jennifer Kircher, an American now living in Taipei, took care of a neighbor's infant once a week for two hours, earning herself a break later in the week.

Of course, even with prioritizing, getting your life back takes time. Acknowledging this is half the battle. As Kleiman tells new parents, "The postpartum period requires three attributes: patience, realistic expectations and resilience." Sounds like the perfect recipe for parenting.

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