I don’t count last Mother’s Day. It was rubbish.
In an effort at pre-baby normalcy, I organised a cycling trip but fell off my bike in spectacular fashion, smashing my shoulder so it would be useless for months – not ideal for stealthily manoeuvring a sleeping baby in to her bed. No one wished me happy Mother’s Day (to be fair, at four months old my daughter was probably too small to mention it), no card; none of the thoughtful homemade gifts I had imagined. Just tears on the couch as I sipped wine without tasting it and scrolled through social media full of perfect first Mother’s Days. My partner made an apologetic late run for supermarket lilies, with a sheepish ‘I didn’t realise Mother’s Day was so important to you’.
Neither did I. How can you know in advance? How can you know how completely you’ll change on becoming a mum?
There’s a lot of giving-things-up in the effort to have a baby. No cycling, no coffee, no hair dye and definitely no booze. Not drinking when trying to conceive, then a wine to wash down a negative pregnancy test result, then not drinking as you try again. Definitely not drinking when pregnant, under a barrage of doctor’s orders and hospital pamphlets about the dangers of soft cheese and wine.
Not being allowed to drink only made me want to drink more. I went from being a moderate, ‘normal’ drinker before I was pregnant, to an obsessive, dreaming about my first drink, on the other side. I had an aching jealousy of others having a drink, a guilty mouthful of red wine on Christmas, and a birth plan that included Moet and sushi in the delivery suite.
Then my daughter arrived in a perfect bundle and I was too delighted, too blissed out, and too dog-tired to drink. Suddenly I was a mother; I had to work out who I was again from scratch – no sleep, no shower, no clue; with a leaking body and a demanding baby.
Your brain changes when you have a baby; every cell gets taken over by a drive to nurture, and I wasn’t as sharp or as bright as I’d been before. All day I tried to work out what to do to keep my newest responsibility alive, then when she was ‘down for the night’ I’d crash on the couch and quickly choke down a glass of wine in time for it to leave my milk before her next feed. There wasn’t much enjoyment in my drinking, it was more trying to carve out adult time and grasp back at the old me.
Drinking is everywhere for new mums. My mother’s group catches up for cocktails now, there’s paint-and-sip, pottery-and-sip, anything-and-sip. Friends circulate jokey videos of babies sipping from wine glasses and share memes about surviving ’till wine o’clock. There are apps to monitor alcohol levels in your breast milk, although when I drilled her on it the community nurse advised the best time for a wine was while still feeding the baby!
I’d never thought about my relationship with alcohol until abstinence was imposed on me. While my instinct was to rail against being told what to do, now I’m connected with ‘Hello Sunday Morning’ I can take some time to actually think about why I’m drinking. Why am I having this wine? What am I trying to say to myself, about myself?
I’m not brave enough to give up drinking all the way, yet. To be honest I feel like I just had a year off drinking. Moderation is my motto now, motivated partly by the utter dread of parenting a toddler with a hangover. My partner and I split a beer over dinner now, and laugh at how far we’ve come in such a short time.
In an effort to get over my sour grapes at such an underwhelming first Mother’s Day, last year I made my own crafty gift. It’s a framed photo of my daughter and I, with her hand prints and some pressed autumn leaves. This year I’m making it a tradition, some creative time to get in touch with my old self and celebrate the new me, the mothering me. No wine required.