Chapter 19: Uprooted


My home in Delhi was a delightful little haven, a real life version of a poem I wrote as a teenager. It was cosy, compact, surrounded by open spaces and greenery, and bird songs in the morning, full of light and air, and, most importantly, full of love. And peace.

And then I had to let it go.

October 1, 2012

A month after the birth of our son, we pack up every single belonging so lovingly placed into our home, and head into a life that would test us to the hilt. It wasn’t like everything happened overnight. We knew, for the past six months or so, that we’d have to vacate this house and look for another one.  And we had looked at several in Delhi. But fate had other plans. Sajjad got an offer from Oman, and to cut a long story short, he’d be moving there in a couple of months’ time. I was supposed to stay in Aligarh till then, and after a couple months more, I’d be joining him in Oman—at least, that’s what they promised.

Doesn’t sound so bad, does it? I thought so too.

Oct 5, 2012

3:00 a.m.

I am at my in laws place in Aligarh. Hasan is in my lap. Every time I try to put him down he bawls his head off. And I can’t understand why. I had, in the past month, trained him to at least sleep for two hours at a stretch, so I could sleep in two hour bursts. But moving from his home seems to have derailed him too. I get not a single wink all night…even as the entire household sleeps peacefully.

I resent that. I hate it. I hate that I’m the only one awake here with this awful nuisance while the whole damn house peacefully snores. I hate that this baby goes to sleep during the day when I just can’t ! I hate that there is an incessant stream of guests all day who don’t care a fig that this is the only time that I could have gone to sleep.

And most of all, I hate it when *some* people who had chewed my head off lecturing me to have a baby watch me smugly when I cuddle my child, and declare :

“There now. See? You should hand me an award. Weren’t we right in telling you to have a baby straightaway? See how much you love him? Didn’t we tell you that you’d instantly love him?”

As if. As if I wouldn’t have loved him had he been born a couple of years later? As if I could do anything but love my son? As if not loving him was even an option?

And. As if loving him would erase the pain of being separated from every damn thing I had dreamt of—My Dream Man, My Dream House, My Dream Job?

The fact that I did love my son didn’t obviate the other fact that I was not a willing martyr. I wouldn’t say that I would willingly do it all for my son. I hated, positively hated the sacrifices I had to make for him. And here all they cared about was that they were right. That once you become a mother nothing else matters.

Sorry, it does. Very much.

Chapter 18: Heroine


Dear readers who are not aware of ‘Indian’ meanings: Unlike what most of you might think, here in our country heroine isn’t commonly used to refer to someone who did something heroic—an act of courage, for instance. Here the word usually denotes ‘looking stunning’.

It’s derived from our usage of ‘heroine’ as an alternate of ‘actress’—in common parlance we refer to our female movie stars as ‘heroines’. So, effectively, when someone calls you a ‘heroine’, what they are saying is that you look as gorgeous as their favourite celluloid goddess.

Flattering, I know.

September 7, 2012

6:30 pm

Like I said earlier, this is my first outing after the birth of my son, and it’s no big deal since it’s just a routine visit to a gynaecologist. But it is a big deal for me because I can wear something nice after 6 months of breathable loose fitting attire, and 7 days of feeding gowns.

Yes, yes, I know, I do hijab—I wear an abaya, which you can call a modern burqa. But I wear all kinds of nice dresses underneath it –and at home where obviously I’m not in hijab. Yes, I know, nobody gets to see them except my husband and me, but that’s a whole philosophy I’m not going to delve in right now. Suffice it to say that I dress up for myself. Chiefly for myself, because it makes me happy to look in the mirror, and like what I see.

There’s this new dress my mom brought for me, it’s a body hugging pink and white lycra-esque kurta with pink leggings that I couldn’t wear during pregnancy because it wouldn’t fit over my belly. This is what I’m going to wear now, underneath my favorite maroon abaya. I slip the kurta over my head.  Et voila! It’s a great feeling to be able to get back in the clothes you like. And the best part is: I don’t look like a stick-insect anymore. The curves are all in the right places…ahem!

And then Sajjad barges into the room because it’s always his job to ensure that we’re not late for our appointments. Whatever he’s about to say dies out on his lips.

And this bursts out instead:

“Meri Heroine!”

A sparkle in his eye and a real, broad, wondrous smile.

I always complain to my husband that he doesn’t compliment me often enough. (Well, he’s a man of few words, generally…so…) But this spontaneous fountain-burst beats all of it!

Life suddenly feels ‘reassuringly normal’. Again.

Chapter 16: There shall be showers of blessing


Amid all the pandemonium that descends on your life post new-baby, there are tiny, ever memorable islands of peace.

When I got home from the hospital, my mom-in-law gave me a traditional welcome. She’s sweet and high on the traditional stuff in life, which was a big boon for me during my post-pregnancy days—she knew all about the herbs and traditional dishes that are given to the new mom to help her body get back its strength and shape.

What I remember most are the herbal baths that she prepared for me in the first week post-childbirth… equally exciting and embarrassing at the same time. Exciting, because a concoction of herbs is being poured upon you with much fanfare… so much like the Maharanis of yore…! But embarrassing because you are the new mom who’s not supposed to strain herself in any way whatsoever (caring for the baby is strain enough, thank you!) and so you can’t rub your body or soap your body yourself. Oh Lord, is that embarrassing! Even if it was my own mom who did the soaping… and even if all she washed were the back and the legs… still….

But the feeling of warm herbal waters flowing down your limbs…  unforgettable!

Traditions have their flipside too, though.  Tradition says the woman has to be confined in the house for 40 days. Am I thankful this part of the tradition wasn’t enforced! Not that I’d have given in, anyway….

A really old and decadent and terrible tradition that was inflicted upon one of my friends was the one where husband and wife are not allowed to sleep in the same room for 40 days. It was, of course, meant to prevent insensitive, psycho husbands of yore from torturing their ‘injured’ wives… if you know what I mean.

I, however, might have murdered someone if they dared try to enforce that.

Just having the love of your life sleeping beside you is such a great comfort and source of peace… even if the only sleep you get is in two hour bursts… sometimes only two hours in one night… but at least you have someone whom you can wake up anytime and in whose arms you can sob unrestrained in the dead of the night …

Here I must say that my mother saved my life. My baby just would not sleep at night. At all. He wanted me to sit there with him in my lap the whole time. If I put him down… that was it. I used to cry and cry out of fatigue and helplessness. That’s when my poor darling mother began to keep him in her lap for three-four hours at a time, after which he would start bawling for milk. And for those three hours, I could—wonder of wonders—sleep. For many, many months after that, my mom was the chief source of all my sleep.

The world is a beautiful place when there are people who love you and make life better for you…

Chapter 15: Enter the Dragon


Hasan pic


My son was born in 2012, which was the Chinese year of the dragon. My mom was always furious when I referred to the hyperactive baby in my belly as ‘little dragon’. You see, dragons aren’t good things in Indian culture. They’re monsters to be feared. (Though I don’t understand all the fuss… I mean, tigers are ferocious too, and people here love to be called a tiger.) Under Chinese tradition, though, the Dragon is majestic, powerful, successful and fearless—with a noble heart.

It’s true I didn’t fall in love with my boy when I saw him for the first time. But long before he was born, deep in my heart a tiny, almost indiscernible space had been carved out by him as he tumbled around in my womb. A dragon-shaped space with little wings. A home for a fearless little dragon.

Sept 3, 2012

I bring the tiny creature home.

He doesn’t resemble me at all. That’s disappointing. He doesn’t seem to resemble his father either… though everyone else says he does…but he’s a little creature with a face all his own…

He was born with a pretty good weight of 3.5 kgs, but never looked like the chubby little babies you see on TV. Long wiry limbs, with fingers that weren’t clenched shut but spread apart in a perpetual gesture of surprise. Thoughtful, pensive eyes that seemed to contemplate the deepest philosophies of life—like he was deep in thought from the moment he entered this world; solving an existential mystery that had followed him here from the dark home in the womb.

He’d often put one of those tiny outstretched fingers awkwardly on his cheek, the perfect touch to complete his look of contemplating philosopher.

My scatter-brained, always kiddish mother takes to calling him ‘Tidda’— grasshopper—for his long, thin body—much to the chagrin of his doting father. It made me laugh to see how possessive and protective Sajjad felt towards this little one… he was more the mother in that sense than I was!

Sajjad took a week off from work (that’s all he was allowed) and went about changing nappies, taking turns with the baby to let me sleep, and bathing the baby during that first week. And the burping, of course, was his sole domain. I suppose I do understand now why women find baby-loving men attractive!

We would both talk with little Hasan and he would listen with the same intent and thoughtful gaze. He has his father’s eyes, I can see now. The loveliest eyes ever.

I think I do love this little philosopher, the one of the shiny thoughtful eyes. Happy little grasshopper. Little wise, noble dragon.

Chapter 14: Three days at the hospital


Day 2: Me and Hasan

Day 2: Me and Hasan

Day One: Perhaps it was the post-partum depression (does it really kick in so soon?) or perhaps it’s just the blinding pain. But that evening, I looked at my mum sitting beside me, asking, “Why so glum, dear?” and cried. And cried and cried and cried.

“It hurts, mummy. It hurts too much. There’s too much pain…”

It was pain of the kind that steadily chokes, not the waves and spasms that you can drown in screams. Pain that everyone had promised would be long gone.

On hindsight, it wasn’t just the pain. It was the images and the memory of pain, too.

I’d seen in movies where heroines had nightmare and their eyes would open in a horrified flash. Breaking news: it happens in real life too.

Every time I tried to close my eyes and get some rest, the entire labour room complete with doctors’ faces would swim before my eyes, ending in the SNAP! of me being cut open. The intolerable, unbelievable agony of that moment. And my eyes would fly open in horror. This is not a literary description or an exaggeration. Every time I closed my eyes I would see exactly this and my eyes would snap open.

It would be weeks before I could even think—forget talk— about the entire childbirth episode without getting all panicky and horrified.

Oh, and I promised more on toilet-terrors, didn’t I? Well, here’s me keeping my word:

My usual toilet exercise begins with someone rolling up the bed so I’m in a sitting position. Why? Because I have absolutely no strength in my back and hip muscles and I cannot sit up on my own. When I am safely inclined, I slowly drag my legs to a dangling position by the bedside. Then either my mom or my husband—they were both there with me— help me stand on my feet. They then hold my weight and support me all the way to the toilet which is just about ten normal steps from my bed. And then, when I’m in the toilet, someone has to physically bear my entire weight just so I can go from standing to sitting position. Left to my own legs, I might just collapse. Afterwards, of course, I have to be completely lifted up again, to enable me to stand. All of this while I purse my lips till they turn white and threaten to bleed, just so I can contain the real pain…and the crazy, ever present terror of ripping apart at the seams…

It’s when you’re in mortal fear of your own body… ever mindful of taking a step too big and stretching your legs too far apart…

When you touch yourself and feel like bursting into tears…. “Good Lord!! What has happened to my body!!  I’m completely deformed! Am I permanently deformed? Will it always be like this?”

When you feel the stitches and get a weird sort of light-headed feeling… giddy and nauseated like a merry-go-round ride gone awry… like you’re terrified of your own body…

And on top of all this, of course, comes that little thing without which you won’t truly know you’re a parent:

Sleep Deprivation.

It’s been exactly 24 hours since I even stole a wink. And before you start pooh-poohing this, thinking, “So what, I’ve stayed up this long many times,” puh-leez consider the deathly exhausting nature of those 24 hours for any person. And then the hours turn into days… and then months…. And more months…. And there comes a stage where you’d give anything just to get more than three hours of sleep a day….

Day two: Three hours of sleep after 24 hours of torture is pitiful compensation, but beggars can’t be choosers. However, there’s one thing that brightens me up: the food! One of the great blessings of having a normal delivery is that you get to eat real food right away. I remember that vegetable sandwich right in the labour room, my first bite of anything edible post childbirth. And I remember those lip-smacking, mouth-watering breakfasts; the chocolate milk and the poha and the noodles and more sandwiches….ahhh…. Made me wanna spend some more time at the hospital !!

The pain is still there, but it’s got a blunt edge. When I have visitors I forget it. I’m chatting and laughing like my usual self, particularly when Shruti and Ankur, my gang of gals from office, enter with a smile and a hug (they were not allowed to bring the flowers in.) But whenever someone asks me “So, how was the experience?” this is my standard reply: “I DO NOT want to talk about it!”

Day three: If someone were to tell you there’ll be a day in your life when your breasts feel like chunk loads of lead, you probably won’t believe them. Well, start believing now.

I wake up in the morning with a feeling of rocks being loaded onto my chest. Discomfort does not come close to defining it; it’s sheer agony. Turns out the third day is when the “real milk” is produced, as opposed to the yellowy colostrum flowing out earlier. This is a great ‘mother’ thing, but as far the ‘person’ inside the ‘mother’ is concerned….

I am reminded of a Russian fairytale I read in childhood where the heroine is dumped into a river with a load of rocks tied to her chest.  Of course, unlike the story, you can’t be rescued. You just get used to being drowned with rocks crushing the breath out of you… I remember crying desperately a few days later, sobbing into my husband’s chest because I couldn’t get any rest…. Everytime I tried to turn on my side the solid lead bore into my flesh, causing searing pain to flash through my body.  So much for pain ending with the baby being born.

Anyway, it’s the third day and time to leave the hospital. I get dressed, bidding farewell to the green and white striped nighties I’d been donning for the past three days. Just the act of getting dressed feels like normalcy is being restored. However, walking from the room to the car erases any such ideas …

With shaking baby steps (pun unintended) I get into the car. The ride, as I was well aware, had just begun.

Chapter 13: And pain comes in many forms…


Everybody emphasises over and over the important fact that as soon as the baby is born the terriblest part of the pain is over.

But.

Nobody tells you what comes after that.

So, my baby has been born and I’ve been stitched up and cleaned and covered. I’m still in the labour room; exhausted, shaken and lifeless. Sajjad is holding up a glass of juice and I’m sipping it with a straw. It’s a tad uncomfortable drinking this way and I want to shift up a bit, in more of a sitting position (the bed’s already inclined to support my back). I try to scuttle a little upwards. And then it hits me.

Moving my back—and my hips—even a quarter of an inch creates waves of screaming pain inside me.  I cannot move a muscle without grimacing in the most horrible way imaginable. The entire portion is numb, but not numb as in ‘without sensation’. Numb as in ‘heavy as lead, impossible to move without the greatest effort and creating an indescribable, tear-inducing agony’. The mere act of sitting up is so frustrating, so petrifying.

I wish there were more synonyms for pain, more words to describe a sensation that is as much physical as mental. But words can only show you so much and no more.

The events after this are jumbled in my memory. Maybe one came first, the other later? It’s difficult to remember.

My mom’s in the room. So is my mom-in-law. My brother in law has just arrived. I feel happy to see him; that he rushed over from another city at such short notice. But both of them—the in-laws—have started calling up people in a mad frenzy and spreading the good news like I just won an Olympic gold. That doesn’t really make me happy, though. It takes away attention from me when I want it the most. When I’m at my weakest and shittiest. (In case you haven’t noticed I’m a big attention seeker.) And it takes away my man on totally unnecessary phone calls. Grrr….

But I digress. This is the small stuff.

About an hour— or half? — later, after the room’s been cleared of everyone but my mom, they bring my baby back in, to be fed. Now, Lord knows how eager I had been about feeding my baby and no formula-feeds whatsoever. But right now? Do I really have to do it now? I can’t even get up…all I want to do is sleep… (as a matter of fact I kept dozing off in between the 5-minute gaps of labour pain….)

Ok. I have to. Right now. Great, he won’t latch on. I’m not holding him correctly, perhaps. The Lactation Counsellor shows me how.

So, I’m feeding my baby for the first time… this ought to be a wonderful, tender moment… except it isn’t. I’m acutely aware of the pains shooting through my behind.  And the sleep clogging my brain.

But then, after he’s finished, he simply nuzzles my skin with his face, almost clutches me with his fists, and goes back to sleep. There’s a tiny, warm feeling, like a little closed fist, that wraps itself on my heart.

However, there’s no time for joy.

Another nurse arrives and asks me to stand up, walk to the toilet and take a leak.

I look at her as if she’s just landed from outer space.

Get UP?!

WALK to the toilet?!

Have you freakin’ lost your mind, lady?

Of course my ever-loving mother protests and asks for a bed pan for me; anyone could see I was in no condition to get up. Although I’d been told beforehand in the pre-natal workshops that the sooner I did the getting up and taking a leak thing, the faster I would heal. However. Listening is one thing and doing it is another.

But the nurses haven’t been trained for nothing.

“Oh, ok,” she says, coolly. “Guess we’ll just have to insert a catheter to pass the urine.”

In case you don’t know what a catheter is, it’s a tube that’s inserted right inside you to get the waste liquid out. It’s not a thin tube either. And I’d seen my grand-dad use this thing for years. Yes, years. And you can imagine where they stuck it in his body. Yeah, you got it.

I’d just pushed a 7 and a half pound baby out of my body for good. Nothing, absolutely nothing is gonna be pushed in now.

“NO! Please, no. Just help me up and support my weight, please. Of course I can go to the toilet. That’s gonna aid the healing, isn’t it? Of course I’m gonna go.”

It’s a wonder what a little incentive can do…

Turns out, the getting up and going part isn’t the hardest bit.

Not since potty-training in childhood did I have so much fear of the toilet seat. I shakily murmur ten different prayers and hold my breath the entire while, like a person stepping across a field full of landmines. Only, here, I AM the landmine.

For many days after that, trips to the toilet were like trips to purgatory. Feared. Hated. Terrifying. Tear-inducing. But more on that later.

As I’m being wheeled out of the labour room into my room for the next two days, I have just one thing on my mind. I’ve spoken to a lot of women about their childbirth experience and almost everyone said they had absolutely no physical desire for the first few months. Well. Not me.

Here’s what I’m thinking—

(To be read with a panic stricken tone): “OH GAWD this is all so terrible, I have terrible stitches and injuries….ohhhhh I’ll never ever be able to DO IT again!!! Oh how, how, how am I gonna HAVE IT now?? How???? ” (Mental sob)

Then I remember… people just don’t stop having kids after one. They have more. Many more. Which means, of course….

And then it dawns.

Uh-oh.

More kids?More? MORE???

Never, ever. Never ever is this process going to be repeated, I swear. Never. EVER.

Chapter 12: Love v/s Care


His first pic

His first pic

All through my pregnancy, my mother –as well as many well-meaning relatives—had been counting on the fact that “as soon as the baby is born, you’ll forget all the pain and it’ll be like being in heaven.” Then there was the movie ‘Waitres’,, where the exact same thing happens: baby is born, mother holds her…and the world suddenly becomes different…

I am too exhausted with the effort of giving birth. I can hardly hold up my hand when Sonia tries to congratulate me. And then, this tiny little creature is brought before me, wrapped in a cloth whose colour is blurred in my memory. This, now, is the moment when the world is supposed to change, and pain ceases to exist.

I look at him.

Nothing.

I feel nothing. No urge to take him in my arms. No desire to hold. I hold up a weak, shaky hand and touch his cheek lightly… more for the benefit of everyone else in the room, perhaps, than from any deep motherly feeling.

I watch his face. He’s fair-skinned. Very fair. But… but… he’s nothing like the baby I imagined….

I have to say this with a lot of shame, but here’s the truth: to every mother, her baby is the most beautiful in the world. However, I look at my baby and think: Lord, he’s not good looking at all.

I’ve always known in the back of my mind that care does not equal love. People prove their love by telling you how much they care about your well-being. Yes, you cannot love without care. But you can care without love. Care, my dears, is different from love.

Having a baby filled me with a deep, overwhelming sense of responsibility. I was immediately attuned to every little need of his, I was greatly aware of every little duty I had towards him—I was the one who was going to protect, to nurture and to cherish him.

During those 9 months of carrying him in my belly I followed doctors instructions to the last detail—I did nothing that would ever, ever harm this little one, even if it meant having to give up some of the things I really liked. During the pregnancy workshops that I attended, I had firmly resolved to exclusively breastfeed my baby for the first six months (and I did). I fought with my own mother over what was best for the little one.

But this I can say through personal experience: care does not necessarily mean love.

Love is when you think of that person and it makes you smile. Love is when you see their face and your heart leaps. Love is when you swear not to talk to them again and you never keep that oath. These are all necessary, obligatory conditions for love. Yes, you care about them and their needs. But most importantly, when you look at them you can feel that there’s love.

So here’s the most horrible confession of my life: when my baby was born, I was filled with concern. I was filled with care. I was filled with protectiveness. But love……………………………….?

That came later.