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.

Chapter 7: Oh, those hormones!


March 1, 2012

4 p.m.

I’m taking a walk outside my house. (Thank goodness I can finally find the strength to go take a walk) It’s spring and there’s a lovely warmth in the air, the sun doesn’t sting yet and there are flowers blooming all around my society. I’ve just finished the light exercises advised by my doctor and I sit there on a raised part of the ground, watching the squirrels scamper on the buildings…. I remember my sister’s amazement at squirrels climbing cement walls… I guess that’s adaptation for you.

Nature makes me happy. Hope my little one turns out to be a nature lover. She probably will, because her father’s a nature-guy, too.  I place a hand on my belly, “See that little furry thing scampering about with its tail in the air? That’s a squirrel. Oh, and this is a tree… And see those pink things growing there? Those are flowers…aren’t they pretty? Oh, darling you’re gonna love it here…”

March 5, 2012

11:30 a.m.

I miss my office. I miss going to work everyday. I hate having to sit at home with nothing to do….Don’t wanna watch movies… don’t wanna read books… miss my office friends, miss our conversations…. Hate having to be like a housewife…. The worst part about being a housewife is that if you want a conversation, the only people available around you are those who will just talk about how irregular the maid is or what’s going on in tulsi/parvati/ichcha/tapasya’s disgusting fictional lives, how clean their cupboards are or how much zeera, adrak and lehsun to put in a particular dish………..aaaaaaahhhhh………..!!!! Give me a break!!!

Ladies, I know it’s wonderful to keep cleaning your cupboards every minute and cook the tastiest dish in town but really, do you ever come across a name in history or general knowledge that says “This person had the cleanest house” or “this person cooked the best food”????       No? I thought so.

(No offense to housewives. I’m one myself, now. The above rant is just a presentation of my thoughts at that point of time.)

March 10, 2012

This isn’t going to be so bad…. Children are nice….mine won’t be like that bawling kid across the block… my neighbour’s anniversary celebration was ruined by her tantrum-throwing kid…nope, mine won’t be that way…. My husband’s cousin says the first 2 years are terrible…nope, mine will be an angel….

Kids are nice, kids are nice, kids are nice……………… They are nice, right?  Right????? Anybody there????

March 12, 2012

I’m watching a movie called Waitress. I can so empathise with this woman, the heroine. She has an unplanned baby. Of course, the reason she doesn’t want it is that she hates her husband and wants to run away from him…quite the opposite in my case, huh?

“Not everyone wants to be a mother, Dawn,” Jenna tells her friend, “That don’t make you a bad person.”

“I respect this baby’s right to thrive…I do not do anything to put it in danger…” BUT. She doesn’t love her child. She doesn’t want it. “Dear damn baby.” That’s how she addresses it when her husband finds her hidden running away money.

Dear damn baby. That’s quite a phrase, isn’t it? Damn baby.

What the hell’s wrong with me??? Why can’t I love my baby? It’s been months! Get over it already, girl!

Jenna gives birth to a baby girl whom she falls in love with the moment she holds her in her arms…the baby gives her courage to set her life right and mum-and-kid live happily ever after.

Will I fall in love with my baby when I hold her/him? Will I? Will I………. ?

March 15, 2012

1 p.m.

Sonia Naik is the best gynaecologist I’ve ever met. She’s my savior.

“I’m not able to eat anything, you know,” I complain to her as she carries out her routine checks. “Just tomato soup the whole time, sometimes bread and butter… I haven’t had a single roti in 5 days. Nor rice. No vegetables. Or dal.  Maybe a little home-cooked aloo ki tikki sometimes.”

“That’s fine. You’re getting enough nutrition. Don’t have to worry.”

That’s not really what I wanna tell her. I’m on the verge of tears, actually.

“You know all this stuff about great glorified motherhood? I think it’s crap.”

I have her attention now.

“Why?”

“I don’t know…I don’t feel anything for my baby. I just feel angry all the time. You know, like I wanna get a punching bag and keep at it the whole day. I don’t feel happy about anything. WHY WHY WHY don’t I love my baby? What’s wrong with me… I feel like crying all the time…”

“That’s just because you’re not well,” she says gently. You’re having nausea, fatigue and all these problems, they’re making you weak and irritable. Once this passes, you’ll be fine and you’ll love your baby.” She smiles.

“I hope so,” I sigh.

“In the meantime, you can just fight with your husband and make him your punching bag!”  she suggests with a twinkle.

I grin. Poor Sajjad!

 

MORAL OF THE POST: You see these pendulum swings? From showing squirrels to my baby to wanting a punching bag? They’re called hormones. That’s what makes us women change from green to red in the twinkling of an eye. If there’s any man reading this, hope you were paying attention.

Chapter 4 : The Reluctant Mother


I’ve been going on and on about how I’m not in love with this baby. How I’ve hated the world since I became pregnant. Perhaps I’ve given out the impression that I never wanted to be a mother at all. Well, that’s not the case. I like kids. Kids like me too. I wanted a couple of my own, definitely. Sajjad and I would have a lot of fun thinking up baby names, talking about the games we’d play with her/him, keeping nicknames and imagining our life with a new one.

But here’s the catch—I just didn’t want one right now, so soon.

Don’t know about other places, other countries and other cultures, but here in India most people think that getting married=having children. Everyone expects you to become pregnant the moment you get married, if not the next day then the very next month, at least. Woe unto you if you want otherwise.

Relatives, acquaintances, in-laws—especially in-laws—will beat the crap out of your brains asking you about the “good news” and why it’s taking “so long”.

And if you tell them the truth—that it’s taking so long because that’s how you want it—then here’s the well-meaning advice: “If you keep delaying you’ll regret it later. There are so many childless couples who regretted their family planning afterwards.”

Ouch! That hurts. Hurts terribly.

So the more people keep bugging you about it the more you hate the idea of ruining your happily married life.

Yes, I said ruin.

A lot of people think that the only purpose of getting married is to produce children. Not me. Like I said before (Chapter 2), for me marriage is all about companionship and cherishing each other. Yes, you do have children, but –and let me write this in bold—IT IS A BY-PRODUCT OR A PROGRESSION OF MARRIAGE, NOT ITS PURPOSE. What I wanted from my marriage was for the two of us to have a lot of ‘alone time’ together, doing all the things we liked, having those perfect romantic dinners and romantic holidays before a third person came along to share every single moment with us. That’s something that would have happened eventually, but I wanted to have a lot of buffer time before that, so I could look back with satisfaction and think—“Yes, I did all that stuff I wanted to. Now I’m ready to welcome my baby.”

But that didn’t happen. And when the shell dropped, for some inexplicable reason, I got the feeling in my head that I HAD LOST AND THEY HAD WON. All those people out there who couldn’t believe that a love marriage was not going wrong somehow, that we were so blissfully married and my husband was not being the restricting, oppressing mullah they had imagined him to be; all those people who had been waiting for something to go wrong; all those people who had wanted me to feel trapped instead of liberated with my marriage, had won. THEY HAD WON AND I HAD LOST.

And that right there is why I hated the fact that I had an unplanned baby on the way.

I NEVER HATED MY BABY. I resented my pregnancy; I resented the whole world, but I NEVER RESENTED THE BABY.

I felt sad for her…or him.

Yes. I felt sad for this tiny, precious little being who ought to be in a happy mother’s womb, a mother who would be overjoyed to have her/him and would have a whale of a time thinking what fun it would be.  I wanted to give my baby that kind of mother.

I cared for the baby. But I couldn’t be happy.

(Read from the beginning)

Chapter 3: Fasten your seatbelts, please. It’s gonna be a long and rickety ride


Here are the top safety instructions given to me at the beginning of my ride:

1. No eating in restaurants (because I am prone to stomach infections)

2. No road travel (because roads in India aren’t exactly something to be proud of )

3. No lifting heavy loads (that’s a no-brainer)

Jan 1, 2012

The Jaipur Literary Fest is a much awaited event in the world of bibliophiles. For the first time in my life, I’m going to attend it. I would get to meet so many of the authors whose voice I had heard in their narratives, whose worlds I had lived in through their pages…and I have lived in those worlds much more than I have lived in my own, perhaps….

The event is just a couple of weeks away now and I’m overjoyed at being asked to cover it. My time to go places has just begun. I’m making reservations to get to Jaipur by train. Until, of course, I’m hit by a sickening wave of nausea, and then another sickening wave of the truth.

I have this wonderful, much desired, much awaited thing in my hand, and I have to let go. I cannot attend the literary fest. Because a) there are no train reservations available and I cannot travel by road and b) even if I did get there I would most certainly have to eat “outside” food.

There goes the literary fest and any other assignment that involves travelling. My time to go places …. has stopped abruptly.

Jan 6, 2012

5:30 p.m.

I’m writing an editorial — that’s my usual job. I love my job. I’ve said that, haven’t I ? So I’m doing what I do, I have my eyes fixed on the screen and my fingers typing with demonic speed and my mind churning out one edit-worthy thought after another. Until.

All of a sudden, mid-edit, my mind goes for a spin. My eyelids swoop shut. I cannot get the sleep out of my eyes. I cannot think. I complete the rest of the edit with the thumb and forefinger of each hand forcing open each eye.   Every thought takes twice as long to form itself and every sentence takes twice as long to be typed. As soon as I’m through with the edit, I hand over the completed page to my boss. And ask permission to go home immediately. I think I would drop down to sleep just standing up.

On the way home, twice I almost fall out of the open-sided autorickshaw, because I have dozed off.

Jan 9, 2012

11:30 a.m.

It’s already my time to reach office and I’m in bed. Can’t go to work. Too weak to get up from the bed. Sajjad is already off to work, having given me my usual glass of hand-squeezed orange juice and an egg. (That’s pretty much all that I can bear to eat) He’s being such a dear about this….

I have to inform my boss… hate having to send in a ‘leave message’ every other day. I send the message. Immediately go off to sleep again.

Jan 20, 2012

Threw up twice in office. Had to literally run to the washroom from my seat. Seem to faint with weakness on my way back home.

Jan 22, 2012

There were two women in my office who gave birth to pretty, healthy babies before I even knew I was pregnant. They kept working almost till the eighth month, took maternity leave and came back to office after a few months. There are women all over the world who do just this, and so I had been reassuring myself that I could, too. Until, of course.

Until my body grew so weak that I couldn’t get up from bed even if someone was ringing the doorbell. Until my brain got so fatigued that I was sleeping most of the day as well as most of the night. Until something went so wrong in my brain that any strain on my eyes for more than half an hour at a stretch — reading, working on the laptop, watching TV– started giving me splitting headaches… headaches where I writhed on the bed, clutching my head and screaming in agony… headaches where I wished for a hammer to break my head and end all this once and for all.

Whoever said that pregnancy was a beautiful, wonderful, ethereal experience should definitely get his/her head examined. Or maybe, they were just plain lucky.

Chapter 1: The tempest brews


Dec 26, 2011

10:00 a.m.

I’m running up a flight of 100 steps, taking two at a time, as usual, late for office and trying to make up in speed for what I’ve lost in a delayed start. At the top, my heart rate quickens manifold, banging like a hammer in my ears. I have to grab the railing and catch my breath…a good 2 minutes lost. I’m lost too, I had so far prided myself on being able to run up the stairs without a care; can’t seem to understand what went wrong. Time’s ticking away though, and I have that metro train to catch.

2:00 p.m.

The three of us –Shruti, Sagar and me– are sitting in the cafeteria with our respective lunchboxes, ready to trade morsels of home cooked food. I know what I have in mine–Sabzi of beans and potatoes with three rotis–I packed it myself. I’m starving. But as soon as I open the box, a wave of nausea hits me as I take a whiff of the food. “Umfff!” I clamp the lid shut.

“What’s wrong?” Shruti looks at my green face quizzically.

“Dunno, maybe the food has gone bad… the smell is making me want to throw up.”

“Let me see,” Shruti takes the box from me, ever the mothering, scolding one. ” Food’s perfectly alright, it’s just your excuse to skip lunch again…you’re gonna disappear soon if you don’t eat.”

I’m staring at the box now and another wave of nausea hits me.

Sagar, as always, is eating in complete silence. He seems to sense something amiss and prefers to be silent.

“Shruti,” I whisper dazedly, “I think we need to get a home test kit.”

Descending from the steps of the cafeteria, I text Sajjad. ” I hope you know that I’m going to kill you if this turns out to be what I think it is.”

10:00 p.m.

I’m reading the instructions on the kit. Sajjad sits next to me, sufficiently chastised. I am, however, more at peace.

“Well, after all, its been a year since we got married, and we’ve had a lot of fun together…it won’t be so bad…,” I’m telling myself more than I’m telling him. I always wanted more time with him, more things to do with him; he had been the single biggest dream I ever had.

“And anyway,” I continue,” It’s God’s will. He could have done this earlier and that would have been really bad…I’m sure I can cope with it now. I’m at peace and i’ll accept it with grace,” I know this is just me trying to make myself feel better, trying to accept the inevitable. But at some level I do feel calm inside.

Sajjad is silent. The way he mostly is. I know he’s listening.

“Well, let’s wait for morning. Maybe it’s nothing. Maybe I just have food poisoning!” I feign cheerfulness that I don’t truly feel.

Dec 27, 2011

9:00 a.m.

I’m in the washroom with Sajjad. I think I’m at peace. We watch the small rectangle with beating hearts. One line. The control line. Two lines.

I’m pregnant.

I thought I was at peace.

I’d always seen in movies that women break into tears of joy and men swing their wives up in arms on learning that they have new life coming. I did break into tears. But they were tears of shock. Of dread. Of dismay.

And they were tears of wrath–wrath that I unleashed on the man that I loved most in this world. Wrath of having my dreams washed over, wrath of having my carefully created magic universe destroyed.

And wrath at all those who had wanted this to happen.