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Becoming a mother

It's a journey, not a destination

I gave birth to the most beautiful baby girl a little more than a month back. Even writing the words ‘I gave birth to’ seem overwhelming, but not more than realising that I am a mother now.

Frankly I still don’t know what being a mother really is. As women, I think, we are expected to play the different roles that come our way, but we never stop and ask whether we were cut out for those roles. It is just taken for granted that once you are put in that role, once you are given the responsibility, you will become and own that role. Contrary to this expectation, what happens in reality, is a tad bit different. At least for me it was different. And I felt I should write about this because no one talks about what goes wrong in their lives, of their failures. I feel more of that should be shared, instead of the happiness charades that crowd our social walls, because you never know how your story will resonate with someone going through the same emotions.

When I say things went wrong with my motherhood, I don’t mean literally. I am a very sincere person and knew for sure that I wouldn’t shirk on doing what I was supposed to do as a ‘mother’ for the baby – the frequent feedings , the nappy changes, the food restrictions, the sleeping and swaddling. I did all that like clockwork. I just took a while to feel right, and I am still piecing it all together, learning to enjoy the very things that made me feel out of place in those early days of being a mother.

I am not a baby person, if you know what I mean. I am awkward with babies, I don’t know how to hold them, I don’t know what to say to them, I feel immense pressure of making them feel comfortable with me. And I think babies sense that nervous energy and it becomes a vicious circle. Everyone said and I believed them when they said all this will magically resolve when you have your own baby. Guess what, it didn’t. After my baby girl was born, I was initially very tired and then caught a fever, essentially not doing much with or for the baby in those early days. This, I now understand, is very very normal in the early days when your body has performed the superhuman task of producing another living being from scratch. You are NOT expected to be up and about immediately doing everything on your own. But all I felt of not being able to handle my baby in those early days was guilt and an immense inferiority complex. My sister in law Sejal came to the rescue, who did literally everything for the baby in the first few days at the hospital.

The more I saw her, the more incapable I felt of handling my baby in a way which was so seamlessly comfortable. I wondered if the baby would know I am her mother or would even want to be with someone who couldn’t even hold her properly. Sejal did everything so much better, an absolute natural with babies. In fact the whole family I am married into is terrific with babies. I on the other hand was quite clumsy and frankly, very scared of holding my own baby, while wishing for the miraculous baby handling powers that people expect you to have naturally when the baby is your own. My only lame retreat was ‘I got milk and no one else got that!!!’.

It was only after leaving the hospital and coming home that I felt a little more confident of holding my baby, talking to her, looking into her eyes and have her look into mine – it all seemed to fall into place – or so I thought.

The initial relief of coming into the comfort of your own home from the hospital quickly weaned over and my battle with change continued. With every passing day I felt uneasy, another bout of overwhelming pressure, and the feeling dominant this time was that of loss. When I was pregnant, all I focused on was having a healthy, active pregnancy and a normal delivery. I have thoroughly enjoyed my pregnancy, and I couldn’t wait for the baby to come into our lives.

I always heard of the sleepless nights we would get after the baby comes, but I never really fully realised the intensity of what was to come. When I was hit with this little unpredictable needy thing, coupled with the fact that your body is not on your best side post delivery, it did a number on me. I missed my earlier life – I missed going out, I missed sleeping, I missed my room, I missed conventional 9-5 work (considering that I was now on a 24 x 7 duty, doing something of which I had no clue, leave alone expertise), I missed spending time with my husband, I missed visiting my parents whenever I wanted to – I missed everything that was. Did it mean I didn’t love my baby? Absolutely not. I always asked myself during those days whether I would trade her for my earlier life and fortunately for me, I still answered no. And even if the answer was yes at that point, I would give no one the right to judge. I just didn’t get enough time to grasp the huge change that hit me. Suddenly your whole life revolves around one thing and it is taxing, to say the least. This one little thing can make you feel completely helpless, because while it is entirely dependent on you, it holds all the power in the relationship. It also doesn’t help when everyone around you seems to be going about their lives like before, only with the added delight of a smiling baby in their lives, whom you have to sit and tend to the whole day!

These feelings of loss, of change, of being a victim, of being incapable of seeing this through also passed. I consider myself lucky to have a support system around me to hold me up through all of this. But nonetheless I think I need to honestly acknowledge this phase and the transition for my own sanity. This is also a phase which made me open up a lot more than I ever did before. I am a very private person, and hardly ever share much, let alone any difficult phases I am going through. But this phase saw me talking my heart out to my family and especially my sister Pradnya, sitting across the continent in America, walking me through this unknown path as if she were sitting right next to me. She told me to shift my focus from what all I wasn’t being able to do, to what I was doing, inadvertently, being a mother! It was as simple as that, and things changed drastically for me when I understood what this really meant. Of course, the fact that my body got better and stronger with each passing day also helped the mental transformation.

And while I am still going to maintain that I still don’t know what being a mother means, I have come to enjoy the company of my little one – of unspoken words, of the beautiful innocent eye contact, of knowing new things about what she likes and doesn’t every day, of discovering ways to make her sleep, of having her cuddled up on my shoulder, see her smile in sleep…the list is increasing day by day as I feel more at peace with having this little one entirely dependent on me. While everyone else is fighting for the very little time that she is awake and ready play, I now find myself so lucky to be with her the whole day, seeing her every expression, soaking in the new born baby smell and talking to her every chance I get. And like every other thing I have done in my life, I am learning about and growing into this role and I realise there is no right way about doing this. I need to take each day in my stride, knowing no two days will be similar, keep expectations at bay for a while and fill myself with gratitude for whatever I have been blessed with today. And if you really go to see, there is never a dearth of things to be thankful for on any given day. 

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