It’s not just sleep that you sacrifice when you have children. It’s your appearance (naturally), your diet (it’s now predominantly sugar), your sanity (slowly but surely) and your pelvic floor (both running and sometimes stationary). As a mother, you blithely watch as each one merrily flies out of the window...
In many ways &Breathe – an elegant postnatal week-long retreat in Limousin in rural France – aims to pull these back within your grasp. Designed for the whole family or just a parent and a child, it draws together experts in pre-and post-natal fitness, maternal nutrition and family wellbeing, aiming to provide all-round support, the chance to go slow, and, well, come up for air. To be honest, as wonderful as that sounds, I will admit to being somewhat apprehensive. As a mother, I’m used to total strangers telling me how to feed/care-for/dress my child, but I wasn’t sure if my frayed tolerance would survive diktats on holiday while sharing a home with four other families. But I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The retreat is held at the home of founders Clio and Bryn, (they have a two-year-old daughter Delphi) in Manoir La Croix de La Jugie, and guests are welcomed as friends. We were encouraged to relax, explore and view the sprawling six-acre traditional French manor, with its eight bedrooms, gated swimming pool and orchard in the most picture-perfect countryside, as our own.
Caroline Bragg, a post-natal physical training expert, is there to nudge rather than knock you into shape, with a mixture of toning, pilates and cardio, and there is most definitely wine with dinner. While the atmosphere was tranquil and happy, its effects should not be underestimated. A recent NHS survey suggested one in 10 women suffer from depression in pregnancy or postnatally, but only one in 10 of those women ever seek help.
Having a baby leaves you shell-shocked. When my first daughter, Cecilia, was born my life changed drastically, from being a fashion editor at a national newspaper to a mother at home. Combined with a difficult labour it took a while to get back to myself. The birth of my second daughter, Ursula, has been a much easier experience but how I wish I had visited the Manoir years ago.
Claire Brayford with her daughter Ursula
The heated outdoor pool, which is fenced whenever the Manoir is occupied
Ursula and I arrived in early October, when the mornings were crisp and misty but the afternoons were warm enough to dip in the pool. The house is a destination in itself, with its shuttered windows, grand beams and imposing fireplaces, and everything is taken care of, from high chairs, blenders and cots to delicious food for the little ones. The four other families all had babies around the same age as mine, and we enjoyed walks to the pretty village of St Priest-Ligoure, relaxed with a soothing massage or got back on track with an exercise class in the converted barn. Throughout the day the lounge was laid out with toys for the little ones to play with, while parents shared experiences, hopes and advice.
The food was homemade and hearty – the butternut squash gnocchi is now a weekly staple meal in our home – and shared around a huge table. But my surprise of the week was how much I enjoyed the exercise. As myself and another mother had travelled alone, Clio looked after our little ones while we burned off the calories. As anyone who knows me will attest, the only burpee I’ve experienced is following Ursula’s milk but Caroline’s upbeat and infectious energy made working out – even in my exhausted state – surprisingly motivating.
The Chapeaux bedroom
L-R: The Campagne bedroom, the Rose bedroom
The Grand Salon
I’m following her tips on addressing my pelvic floor, I’ve got little star stickers on the kettle and the fridge to remind me to get squeezing. And I loved it when she said: “I just enjoy making people feel better about themselves. I think there isn’t much that can’t be fixed with a little exercise and change in perspective.”
Lying out under the trees enjoying some gentle pilates, (our peace only momentarily disturbed by a confused looking French farmer peeping over the hedge from his tractor “Les crazy Anglaise!”) I had to agree. I couldn’t remember the last time I had taken time totally for myself – and moreover, guilt free. It has, as one mother said following the retreat, “a touch of magic about it”.
I left and my skin looked brighter. I felt trimmer – we only ate three meals a day with an afternoon snack, whereas at home I realised I had been grazing all day. But what I really gleaned was to be kinder to myself and my body, which you don’t get from your average vacation package. I think every family deserves a little Manoir La Croix de La Jugie magic.
Prices start from £1850 per family (mum, dad, baby) for one week’s full board accommodation, two exercise classes per day for mums, dads fitness day, PT session per adult, massage per adult, childcare and &Breathe resources and goodies. You can also join the waiting list for the UK 24 hour retreats on 12th January and 16th March 2017 at andbreathepostnatal.com. &Breathe also run ‘mini retreats’ which combine all the elements of the week-long postnatal retreats into 24 hours of you-time, hosted in some of the most luxury family friendly (and grown-up friendly) venues in the UK. For more information, go to www.andbreathepostnatal.com or call 07739413835.