All winter long I’ve been wearing my boyfriend’s coat. The sleeves engulf my hands, making gloves redundant; the front covered my bump in pregnancy and has space now to accommodate both me and the baby in his wrap. It conveys what a friend recently described as “Kim Jong Il chic”. It is, I hope, the ugliest damn thing I have ever worn. And I wear it every day, for hours, out to the park or round the supermarket or to the pub or a friend’s house. An earlier version of me, the undergraduate version who once dared myself to brave a walk up the street without makeup on and had to return early because I couldn’t stand doing it, wouldn’t even be able to look.
If you look half-decent postpartum, people sometimes get kind of prickly about it. Your baby can’t be that much work if you still have time to draw a straight line around your eyelid. Who’re you getting all gussied up for, anyway? Showing the rest of us up.
If you look like you haven’t bothered postpartum, people shake their heads. She’s let herself go. Looking a bit Mumsnet there. She must really be struggling. Sometimes, being out in public with young children is just an exercise in choosing which kind of teeth-sucking you want to invite.
The flip side is the praise you sometimes get. You’ve got your figure back, yummy mummy! You look great, for x days/weeks/months post-baby! You look like you were never pregnant! Motherhood suits you; you’re glowing! It’s lovely. It’s awkward. It’s a reminder of how you stay as public property long after the appearance of your first-ever baby bump turns your body into a topic of popular interest. Feeling awkward, though, is ungracious; means you don’t know how to take a compliment. Are you getting the feeling that there’s some conflict here?