The problem with couple’s retreats is that you have to go as a couple.
The concept is a noble one: take a couple away from their normal environment, give them two days when they don’t have to worry about washing pants or what to get in for dinner. Throw in some therapy to allow them to confront problems in a calm environment and to reconnect as a couple.
But in practice the conversation normally goes a bit like this:
Partner A: I was thinking we should go away for the weekend…without the kids..
Partner B: Yeah, sounds good.
Partner A: I’ve found somewhere…it’s a retreat…
[Partner B looks up from his phone and bristles]
Partner A: …A couple’s retreat. [Reads from flyer].. allowing us to have some time out and to reconnect as a couple/
Partner B: /Not happening.
So you can imagine my delight when I was invited to try a new post-natal retreat where, get this, partners are not invited. Babies can come, toddlers can come but partners? Nope. They stay at home to wash pants and get something in for dinner.
When the invitation from &Breathe Postnatal came in, I was three months post-partum and still feeling battered, knackered and anxious. My shoulders were knitted together from breastfeeding, my eyebags were vast panniers, and me and my partner were so caught up with tag-teaming chores and childcare that we could only just remember each other’s names.
Come to the Four Seasons in Hampshire, they said. Bring your baby, they said. We’ll do some gentle fitness, they said. We’ll get in a nanny so you can have dinner in peace, they said. You can have a massage, they said. Hell yes, I said.
I’ll say now that the retreat is not cheap. It’s £495 for a 24-hour retreat which I know will be out of the budget of many people, not to mention those on maternity leave. But if you have money, or a rich relative, or a big group of friends who want to chip in for a baby shower present, then read on…
The Four Seasons in Hampshire has just been refurbished, and is within an hour’s drive from London which meant that I only had to listen to our nursery rhymes CD once over on the way there. It is vast, roomy, clean, and set in grounds so extensive that were it near your house you could walk for hours and still not bump into another mum friend. After months of being pretty sofa-bound, gently weeping about the mess around me while my baby hunkered down for another cluster-feed, I found the clean, open spaces extremely soothing.
My room had a huge bed, perfect for co-sleeping, as well as a roomy if slightly industrial-looking cot, a basket of Child’s Farm bath goodies, and a little toy for my baby. There was a plate of berries and chocolate truffles for me. There was also a fluffy robe, and soft slippers and a power shower, and a deep bath which, although standard for a posh hotel, all seemed extra indulgent for just me.
We started the retreat in a sun-dappled private dining room, where I met the other women on the retreat and ate candied beetroot salad and warm bread while their little ones scamped about. The retreat is recommended for women with kids up to the age of 18 months and though the others had had longer to adjust to lives with new offspring, they were all still tired, still a bit ragged, still putting themselves last.
On the Hotbed podcast we talk a lot about body confidence and what role being tired has to do with this. In the survey we carried out among 1000 new parents, we found that low body confidence was the key obstacle to a happy sex life. It was therefore a useful tonic to have a couple of energy-boosting exercise sessions with Caroline Bragg (a personal trainer who does all of &Breathe’s retreats as well as a lot of work with Frame gyms and their maternity fitness programme Mum Hood). She checked all of us for diastatis recti (when the ab muscles separate during pregnancy) before leading a gentle, restorative pilates session followed by an upbeat but low-impact aerobics class. The kids ran around the secure playing field outside the studio or bopped along to the music, watching their mamas getting their sweat on, while my little one kipped in his buggy.
We also talk a lot about the pelvic floor, and how important it is to keep it twangy. Not only to avoid us wetting ourselves, but to help us have good orgasms and sex that isn’t painful. Caroline and Clio Wood, the &Breathe founder, showed us an alarming demo of what happens to the core while we’re pregnant, using a weighted ball (the baby) and clingfilm (the pelvic floor). I won’t go into detail of what they did but I will say that it’s put me off running until my son is at least 30.
After the classes, the toddler-mamas headed to the dining room again, where a little feast for minis awaited them. I took my bathrobe and my baby down to the indoor infinity pool, to feed him on a sunlounger and pretend we were in the Bahamas. It was here that I was reminded that this definitely wasn’t a couple’s retreat: As I reclined by the pool, my robe slipped open to reveal legs which had gone so long without a shave that the hair was no longer spiky stubble, but rather long and quite lustrous locks that, if I were actually in the Bahamas, I could probably braid.
Now, there are women who embrace body hair as part of their native sexuality, but I am not one of them. I am a feminist, but I also believe in doing what you want to your body to make you feel good. I am generally extremely low-maintenance but, like many women with Middle Eastern blood, hair removal is part of my life. Or, at least, it was pre-children.
When the nanny arrived to watch Joe that evening, I had a long and indulgent hot shower during which I had time not only to wash and condition my hair, but also to shave off all the body hair I could reach. It’s not exaggerating to say that I was probably two stone lighter as I left the cubicle.
Another amazing thing happened: during dinner we didn’t talk about our children. We didn’t talk about being tired or our work/life balance. We didn’t talk about stain-removal or bottle-sterilising or where the Sainsburys card had got to. There wasn’t even any chat about childcare vouchers or whose turn it was to change the nappy bin. For the first time in three months I felt like an actual human person and not a Babycentre email. I was even wearing lipstick.
Yeah, so even spending half a grand on a retreat can’t make your baby sleep through the night. Mine didn’t. But I got up and had a buffet breakfast, then dropped him off at the crèche and had a massage. Then I could have picked him up and had a walk or something, but I used up the full three hours of included childcare and went for a swim. I had another long, hot shower, got dressed, and when I looked at myself in the mirror, I saw a little glimmer of the old me. The old me who had a back which didn’t ache and who felt a little bit sexy in that post-exercise glow. It was good to be back.
:: For more information about the &Breathe Postnatal Retreat at the Four Seasons, Hampshire, click here.