Regaining your identity after having a baby with India Pearson

Yoga teacher and avid paddleboarder India Pearson talks to me about how she has adjusted her quest for adventure after having a baby, and yet how she intends to retain some of it. Yet another uplifting installment from my #makingwaves series – intrepid and inspirational women with an uplifting story to tell.

“It’s not healthy to be absorbed by one thing.”

India and I were sitting opposite each other in the Lazy Shack in Hythe, a quirky café with walls dripping with marine mantras and beachy bunting, all intended to give you a gratifying seaside sensory overload. I was stirring my cup of tea. She was bouncing the bonniest, gurgliest baby girl on her lap in an intuitively maternal way which stirred within me memories of doing exactly the same five years ago.   

“Finding the balance as a mum is very difficult,” she mused, assuming – rightly so – that having had three babies myself, I understood what she was talking about. “I haven’t yet found it and I wonder if I ever will. Being Malou’s mummy is the best job in the world but I know I need time away from it to appreciate it. Spending time on my paddleboard or teaching a yoga class gives me time to be me and reflect on how lucky I feel I am to be a mum to the most wonderful little girl.”

“It makes you a better mum,” I state encouragingly.

“Yes!” she concurs. “It actually saves my mental health.”

I relate to it. Oh, how I do! All those occasions when I rushed out the front door to do photoshoots when my babies were small, knowing that I had a finite amount of time before they’d start wailing at my unequipped husband for a feed. It was stressful. I remember questioning why I burdened myself with the additional load when life was topsy-turvy enough, but then I tasted an hour of feeling like me again, and I realised why. 

Retaining your identity after having children is a subject I’m very passionate about. It’s a theme ingrained within the ethos of The Outdoor Studio. In fact, The Outdoor Studio was the product of me trying to find this notion of identity when it had dwindled away to nothing after my third baby was born. 

India Pearson is one of those warm and likeable women who fizz with vigour. In fact, I know who India is before I’ve even met her. I just do. I’ve met versions of her throughout my travels. Her spirit was there with me during a two-day boat trip down the Mekong river. It was there when I was trekking through the Thai jungle and when I was sleeping under the stars in the outback. India is one of those people hell bent on chasing adventure and, because of the authentic and attractive beam on her face, has no trouble finding it. There is nothing beige about this woman and during the short time I spend with her, the technicolour seeps back into me. 

We talk about her intrepid trotting around the globe, as a backpacker but also when she landed a jammy job producing YouTube videos of exciting destinations for the company Holiday Extras. We talk about yoga, how it was an instinctive and natural pursuit for her, and the training she did in Thailand which she describes as “the best time of my life.” She also reminisces about getting up at five in the morning in Goa to surf with dolphins. I offer my own worldly escapades, namely my hope that I’ll visit Nepal at the end of the year for a photography trip and her eyes ignite at the mention of a mystical place she didn’t get round to visiting.

“You must really miss it,” I say. “The travelling.”

 “Oh, I do.”

We both look at each other and nod wistfully, affiliated by a mutual understanding of the lure of wanderlust and the adult acceptance that life has moved on. For me, a decade ago. For her, very recently.

I’m a tad taken-aback when India tells me that Malou is only four months old. One, because India’s slender figure is suggestive of nothing biologically significant ever happening to it. Two, because she seems to have an acute understanding of her own needs as a spirited woman which I definitely did not possess when my first baby was small. We talk about our paths perhaps coinciding at a few festivals this summer. She’s booked in to teach yoga for the Island Feather brand and I’ll hopefully be wandering around with a camera.

“So, what will you do with Malou while you’re at the festivals?” I wonder.

“Oh, she’ll come too,” India replies, undaunted by the prospect of sleeping in a campervan with her daughter and balancing breastfeeding and babysitting. I admire her admission that it might be somewhat of a juggling act and her willingness to adapt and make it work.

A kindly neighbour takes Malou for a walk around the block whilst we head to the beach to create some dynamic photographs of India on her paddleboard. The sky is an unimpressive grey. The wind has picked up and the sea is looking somewhat cross and uninviting. I had been hesitant about the weather when I woke up that morning but India had been unwaveringly positive, reluctant to reschedule even when raindrops splodged onto her window, doggedly determined to do something interesting with her day.

It seems as though stand-up paddle boarders, or SUP’ers, are everywhere, right? This breed of people has become native to our shores. SUPs are trendy and leisurely. Hell, even I have one. In fact, SUP’ing is a bit like my passion for wild swimming, isn’t it? Nobody was doing it and now loads of people are. Ah, I’m sure it’s really not that hard…

…but it is.

It is so much harder than it looks.

As I watch India slide her board into the waves, launch her knees onto it and sail into the rowdy sea, I appreciate the skill which she has honed. She stands up without hesitation, without wobble. Her poise is remarkable, the legacy of her brief stint in professional dancing I assume. I have no doubt that, within seconds, I would have lost balance and tumbled into the sea but for her, falling off isn’t a concern. It’s not a possibility. It won’t happen.

“I’ve never worn a dress on a paddleboard before,” she laughs, rowing confidently through the lively water. “It’s liberating!”

I make her work fairly hard for her photos, paddling to and from the shore until I was satisfied that I’d done her photographic justice. 

“I knew as a child that I wanted to live by the sea,” she says when we decide to call it a day. “I can’t believe my husband and I found this hidden gem of a town. I doubt we’ll ever leave.”

We say thank you to each other and bid goodbye. As I walk away, I possess an unmistakable hope that’s not the last time I meet India Pearson. 

Malou, by the way, is Hawaiian for “Star of the Sea.”

The Making Waves Project: “I started photographing women in the sea by chance when, during a family photo session, the pregnant mum put on a boho dress and stood in the waves. I thought, wow, this is powerful!”

Supporting mothers and empowering children with artist Katie Manning: “That was the moment that I realised I had to draw cleft-affected people…”

Talking adventure with photographer, Girl In A Yellow Jacket: “I came to England because I was looking for adventure. I had £50 in my pocket. No job. I didn’t know anybody at all. It was a crazy thing to do on my own.”

“Celebrating Life and Acknowledging Loss with Imogen Tinkler: “You can’t out-run grief. It follows you like a shadow.” Dedicated to all the parents, babies, siblings and families touched by a premature baby

How sea glass changed Archie Archer’s life: “My whole life I’ve had these bonkers adventures. Now I feel as though I’m living. I could never leave the sea.”

Empowering women with fitness and mindset coach Cat Pellow: “I’ll never forget the moment someone shouted, “Fat Cat!” at me across the road.”

Never Giving Up, with World Champ Paralympian Sailor Hannah Stodel – “Sailing was a way for me to be normal. Nobody looked at me like I was disabled.”

Pushing Boundaries with Channel Swimmer Abhejali Bernadova – “It’s definitely all about the mind. Our mind limits us too often…”