x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

My Life: Retail therapy for new mums

Soon I realised my post-pregnancy delusions ran the gamut of insanity by even imagining social outings.

Online shopping fantasies began early - just as my stomach began to swell. Jerusalem malls yield gaudy clothes that resemble Jersey Shore; but with online shopping my dreams ran wild from the comfort of my couch. I would imagine wearing this dress in Barcelona or that blazer at a photo festival in Arles. With my firstborn on the way, I vaguely realised there would be post-partum belly fat, but never realised what a ravaging your figure can take. I blame it on people who love to tell pregnant women how beautiful they are. You rationalise: yeah, I can have one more cookie.

But I had a cunning plan; I ordered the perfect motivational jeans. Daringly, I clicked on my pre-pregnancy size, a pair of Elizabeth and James in burnt orange with a hint of 1970s cuff and elongating high waist. I imagined wearing them to dinner parties with lengthy limbs and swagger.

Soon I realised my post-pregnancy delusions ran the gamut of insanity by even imagining social outings. Despite placing my jeans in a prominent position in my closet, no amount of vanity could drag me from my bed in my "free" time. I felt like a zombie in those first few weeks. My mother arrived in Jerusalem with a perfect love package; one suitcase filled with baby clothes, a Belly Bandit abdominal compression binder and the complete Zumba video collection. With the Belly Bandit firmly in place, I dared try on those jeans. To this day, I remember the shock as I stared in the mirror. While it may seem silly to dwell on these issues (I was blessed with a perfect daughter) I cannot deny that I was shaken.

I meekly unwrapped the Zumba video packaging. Images of lithe, ecstatic Zumba instructors spray-tanned a disconcerting orange colour taunted me from the screen. Yet it was their smiles that were the most horrific for me, as they were gleaming wide with idiotic joy.

Bleary-eyed from exhaustion, I turned off the video. Later, I visited my friend's community yoga center in Ramallah. The soft lull of the instructor's voice put me to sleep on my mat. Finally, I shoved my designer jeans from prime closet viewing and turned to phase two: denial. Refusing to shop for fat clothes, I wore my pregnancy stretch jeans and moped around in my husband's pajamas. But as the weeks trailed on, I finally broke down. With determination I entered H&M and forced myself to try on some jeans. I felt guilty, like I was giving up not only on my dream jeans but also on myself. At least the low price tag did not feel like complete surrender.

When it became safe to leave my daughter with a babysitter for an occasional social outing, vanity returned. Sometimes she can cut you down, but occasionally vanity can be the prime motivator. That and good timing…

My friend who had dragged me along to yoga admitted that it was not for me. She suggested I try a new Zumba class at her center. The Dutch instructor greeted us with a rather monotonous voice. Mumbling, I prepared myself for a miserable experience. But then the music gripped the instructor as she leaped and swayed in a sultry manner. A few minutes into it and I was out of breath. Twenty minutes later she had that same silly grin. But then, so did I… my face hurt from grinning back, and I threw myself wildly into the rhythm.

It has now been three months since birth, and it is still hard to tear myself away from my daughter for any reason, especially the gym. I will not lie; those perfect jeans are still shoved to the back of my closet. But between Zumba and H&M, I may survive another few months away from my wardrobe and be comfortable in the new me.

Tanya Habjouqa is a half-Jordanian, half-American writer and photographer based in East Jerusalem