By Vanita Singh Fernandes
Here’s an exercise.
Imagine a few changes in your life (in a matter of months). Imagine your body about ten kilos heavier (and on a heady cocktail of hormones). Your skin coarse, covered with marks, bumps and some skin tags. Imagine your bladder having a mind of its own. And being sleep deprived. All. The. Time. Imagine losing your sense of self and confidence. Seeing the dark side of most situations (nothing poetic about it). Crying. Sometimes for perceivable reasons. Mostly, not. Imagine feeling lonely even as you live with people who love you the most, and whom you love equally, if not more. Imagine feeling like a ‘nobody’ in spite of having over a decade-long (and fairly successful) professional career behind you. Imagine trying to understand this complicated web of emotions and physical stress while you take care of your first newborn who follows a vicious cycle of poop, feed, sleep for the first few months.
In a country where the population is a gigantic problem, the quality of life debatable and education system questionable, it’s surprising that most are not daunted (or counselled) about having a child, or two, or three. I contributed to India’s grand total about three years ago. With no counselling or emotional coaching whatsoever. I went the good old Indian way with my biological age determining my ‘time’ to have a child. Never mind that it didn’t concur with my time to become a mother.
Motherhood is not pretty and most will not tell you that. Some babies sleep like a dream. Others, like mine, wake up every hour of the night (to ensure mommy doesn’t get extra shut eye.)
Some babies don’t mind lap dances. Others, like mine, don’t like to nestle in with others except mommy (Velcro babies anyone?).
Some babies demand (and command) every ounce of your attention and others are busy cooing, gurgling to themselves, or to a bottle or a book or toy or dustbin!
So did I hate my baby? NO. If anything, the hormones make you slightly hyper about your kid and his welfare.
Did I wonder why I had a baby? Yes. Very often. I even asked my mother why people have children. I just couldn’t fathom why – even as I cradled my own around – I had lost my personal freedom, my financial freedom (though my husband completely supported me and has been a darling about it), the freedom to go out when I wanted to, or even to pee or eat or bathe when I wanted to.
I just didn’t see why anyone would want to knowingly inflict themselves with this kind of oblivion and incarceration. So while I willingly stretched myself to do everything for my child that I perceived as good for him (I chose to be a hands-on mommy with no childcare help at hand. I breastfed my child well over 2 years. Exclusively. No bottles. I bathed him, kept cleaning his poop…over the years cooked him fresh and healthy food, read him a gazillion books, played with him everywhere, carried him everywhere, the list really does go on), I failed to take care of myself. I neglected myself. And I was nose deep in a whirlpool of postpartum depression before I could even identify it.
There were almost daily bouts of crying (sometimes multiple times a day), many fights (and many times I would pick fights) with my husband, a social vacuum (I had successfully pushed back my extended family and most of my friends) and a constant sense of despair and anxiety. ‘Will I ever get my life back? Will I ever live the carefree life I used to? Will I ever be able to achieve something in my life now?’ – just the tip of the barrage of questions that I assaulted myself with daily.
I even wondered if I was too selfish because other mothers seemed to be brimming in bliss with their newborns, while I was too busy with, well “I” or rather the absence of it.
I couldn’t even take basic decisions without a long debate with myself, for example: pondering over and being anxious about which coffee to buy. Hard as it may be to believe, I would feel lost if I didn’t have anything to worry about. So I would literally search for things to fret over.
There was also the domino effect. It didn’t help that my baby suffered from a dust allergy, as a result of which he suffered endless bouts of colds. The fact that his paediatrician was trigger happy with medicines also didn’t help – for every cold he prescribed at least three medicines and more often than not, antibiotics. So even as I bumbled through anxiety, unravelling one step at a time, I also lived in a state of panic over my child’s health. I worried about him all the time. Every bout of cold was a Code Red for me. The family talked about me being an obsessive mother. But shoving antibiotics down your baby’s throat frequently makes you paranoid about a lot of things. I was already in my shell. These judgements encouraged me to clamp it shut. It was me Vs the world now.
To cut an extremely long story a tad short, I was drowning in worries – about my baby, about myself and about my marriage. Yup. That wasn’t easy either. My husband was going through his worst professional crisis. We both needed our spouse’s shoulder to cry on. We both didn’t get it. We tried. But it’s not easy to pull someone out of a bog when you are in mire yourself.
ALSO READ: OVERCOMING OVERCOMING DEPRESSION: A NON-STOP FIGHT
Life was of course punctuated with many adorable moments with our baby boy, but those weren’t enough. It might be a cliché but a happy mother does equal a happy baby. I was far from it. I needed help. But first, I needed to recognise it. The Health Collective’s founder Amrita Tripathi helped me by being there. Now that’s a fairly abused term – ‘being there.’ But she defined it very well. She didn’t readily give advice or suggestions or instructions or friendly nudges. She listened. She made sure to meet me every time she was in town. She complimented. She encouraged. And listened some more. Finally, I asked her for professional help. She put me on to a lovely psychologist who conducted sessions over the phone. Did they help? Yes. Though I did not take more than 5 sessions, they armed me with some basic tools. I didn’t magically stop feeling depressed. It took time. Years. (I am still a work in progress) And lots of help.
ALSO SEE: WHERE TO GET HELP
From my husband – who continued to be my punching bag and my soul* support in spite of his own challenges. Who pushed me to go beyond being a Mommy. Who loved me at my terrible best. From my parents, who just loved me and made me feel special every time. My brother who continued to talk to me as if we were still in our 20s – Trust me, when you are depressed you don’t need people to smother you with advice and spiritual tips but just ‘normalness’. From my three friends who didn’t give up on me. And most of all, from my baby. For loving me even when I was a complete mess – I vividly remember shouting at my around 6 month old baby for not sleeping. He cried for an hour continuously after I shouted at him. It was heartbreaking. Now my toddler tells me, “Don’t stress Mama. Everything will be alright.” He usually couples this with a hug and a kiss. You know what. Nothing (really) changes. But you feel happy and loved. And that makes everything all right.
Advice to A Younger Self
Get a reliable support system so that you get that “me time” daily. This is a shortcut to sanity when your entire world is shaken up post a baby
Sustain your social life. Dress up. Go out. Meet friends. Without your child
Work on getting back to work. Nothing builds your confidence as much as creating something, building something and working with a team
Take care of your health in every respect. Make a noise if you need help. It’s not easy but essential
Don’t listen to unsolicited advice and suggestions on how to take care of your baby. Just smile and nod when it’s directed at you. Then, flush it. Like I read somewhere, you are the best mother your baby is ever going to have.
About the Author: A journalist for well over a decade, Vanita Singh Fernandes is currently a Strategy & Design Associate at The Dallas Company. You can reach her @hobblefoot.
Disclaimer: Material on The Health Collective cannot substitute for expert advice from a trained professional
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(*This post has been amended to make a change from sole to ‘soul’ support)