Giving birth doesn't have to mean giving up on a social life

The pressure on new mums to be 'textbook' has never been greater. So it's no wonder that many are rebelling and returning to the social lives they once enjoyed
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The Independent Online

Shortly after the birth of her first baby, Brett Paesel found herself not in blissed-out baby heaven, but on her therapist's couch. "All I want is to rewind my life," she mourned, "and be the way I was before I had Spence. I'm never going to be happy again. I've ruined my life." Paesel, a glamorous LA-based comedy actress (Six Feet Under, Curb Your Enthusiasm) simply couldn't reconcile the monotony and sacrifice of bringing up her baby with her old, carefree self.

Her solution was to implement a weekly happy hour in her local bar. Every Friday night she would meet with whichever of her friends could rustle up a babysitter and drink, smoke and discuss sex, drugs, men and anything other than what their newborn sprogs were eating, drinking and shitting. Paesel has just written a book on the subject, entitled Mommies Who Drink.

"I spent the days mourning the loss of my past self," she says. "I raged against the limitations mommyhood placed on me. I rebelled against what seemed like an American group-think about what mommies should be: dull, doughy, desexualised, and pathologically interested in all things to do with children."

With recent news reports warning that the percentage of adults in the UK consuming "hazardous" levels of alcohol is as high as 26.4 per cent, drinking is currently a controversial issue; for Paesel to publish a celebration of alcohol and motherhood is taboo-breaking. New mothers aren't expected to be seen anywhere other than the baby-food aisle of the supermarket, never mind propping up the bar. It's a subject that babycare manuals don't even bother to address simply because it is assumed that for at least the first six months of a baby's existence, the mother's social life and previous identity is on hold.

But as author Kathy Lette points out, why else is a daily tipple commonly otherwise known as "mother's little helper"? "I defy any mum to get through the hellish evening hours of feeding and bathing toddlers without hooking themselves up intravenously to a gin and tonic," she says. "The only thing is, lack of sleep turns you into a two-glass screamer. New mums must realise that chronic exhaustion lowers your resistance."

While we're obviously not advocating heavy drinking, Lette has a point. Few mothers would dispute the fact that a couple of stiff drinks certainly does alleviate the monotony of the daily routine. But it's a different thing to come out and say it. Last year, Helen Kirwan-Taylor dared to write in the Daily Mail that she found motherhood boring. "Research tells us that mothers drink the most when they have young children," she wrote: "Is that because talking to anyone under the age of 10 requires some sort of lobotomy?" The reaction she received was unprecedented in its anger and vitriol. More recently, Desperate Housewives' Felicity Huffman went on TV and implied that motherhood wasn't the most fantastic thing that had ever happened to her. She got torn apart in the press for her comments.

Clearly, there is a worryingly regressive shift going on, but Paesel and increasing numbers of other women are fighting back against this new puritanical ideal of motherhood. Amy Barbor had her son Solomon when she was 23. "I was determined that it wouldn't let me stop going out or stop doing the things I wanted to do," she says. "When he was very small we'd take him out with us. Dave, the landlord in our local pub, would put him behind the bar in his car seat and he'd just sleep happily while we had a few drinks with friends. He became such a regular that, when he got a bit older, Dave would have Solomon's usual – a packet of Twiglets and an Appletise – waiting for him on the bar the minute he walked in." For Barbor, the benefits were manifold. "It meant that as a young mother I was never, ever resentful. It kept me sane, it stopped me from being precious and it meant that Solomon was always able to sleep through anything. Plus, me and my partner got to spend lots of time together."

Hannah Beardon, whose children are now five and two, agrees: "I remember buying a pack of 10 Embassy cigarettes on my way back from the hospital after my first was born and thinking, 'Great, I've finally got my body back.' It's a good feeling to know you can decide for yourself whether you drink or smoke. I did it to remind myself that I wasn't just a vessel for someone else. I think that an important part of your relationship with your child is to maintain as much of your original identity as possible and not be 110 per cent dedicated to them. They're a person, you're a person and there's a relationship between you both – you're not a single organism."

Five years ago this month, Stefanie Calman founded an organisation called The Bad Mothers' Club as an antidote to the pressure she felt to be the perfect mother. She had had two children in quick succession and felt her personality was being subsumed by layers and layers of sacrifice and subjugation to her newborns.

"I remember thinking, 'Oops, this is quite full-on.' So right from the off it was incredibly important for me and my husband to get babysitters so we could go out," she says. "We knew we wouldn't be able to stand milling around after two babies night after night. We felt that if we didn't have a life together the whole ship would go down. Parenting is like groundhog day every day – it's very understated what that can do to you, but it can literally drive you mental." Calman's website now has over 2,000,000 visitors a month, and social events organised by other "Bad Mothers" happen regularly up and down the country. It's testament to the fact that there so many other women who feel the same way.

Calman believes that the pressure on mothers to be perfect, 1950s-style housewives has increased recently. "The backlash is coming from America," she says. "There are all these rather well-off women saying how marvellous it is to be stuck at home baking fairy cakes." Calman puts much of this down to the media and the cult of the celebrity mum. "Perfect celebrity mums are more visible than they ever used to be," she says. "But what they don't say is that they all have armies of staff to maintain them. The gap between them and our reality is now so wide it's no wonder mothers start to feel pissed off."

There are many mothers, however, who have been waiting all their life for the moment their new baby gives them the excuse to drop everything and stay home forever more. But it's a fine line and, like most things, all about finding a balance. "I always knew when it was time to stop drinking and go home," concludes Barbor. "There was one time, though, when I was at a party and had put Solomon, who was two, in a travel cot in another room. In the early hours, I suddenly saw him with my friend Mikey, who used to be into bondage gear. Mikey was on all fours and Solomon was leading him round the party on a dog chain. Everyone was like, 'Wow, look at the baby.' I was like, 'Shit, that's mine.'"

'Mommies Who Drink', Warner Books, £6.99. www.badmothersclub.co.uk

Baby, look at me now: How Lena's life went on

I had always believed that having a baby would ruin my life. I put off having one for ages because, selfish as it may sound, I thought it would spell the end of all social activity. But when I had Ronnie two years ago, I found it amazingly liberating.

When he was six weeks old, the night before we were due to register him, my partner, my friends and I, all sat in the pub, passing him around trying to work out a name for him. As the clock ticked towards last orders, he narrowly missed being called Darko, Wolfgang or Branco.

He was just over two months old when I left him in the capable hands of my partner and hopped on a train for a night in Manchester. It was just after last orders that I found myself begging a bar to let me in. Not for a nightcap, but because I had breast milk oozing down my front. To the amusement of my friends, I had to stand behind the bar pumping away the surplus milk as the last punters filed out.

Ronnie has since joined me at music festivals, art openings and parties. After one particularly good night out we did miss the last Tube home but I can think of few things he has stopped me from doing. And knowing that has helped keep me sane and love him all the more.

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