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…
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:
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.
Everybody emphasises over and over the important fact that as soon as the baby is born the terriblest part of the pain is over.
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.
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.
More kids?More? MORE???
Never, ever. Never ever is this process going to be repeated, I swear. Never. EVER.
Australian Traveller that loves to "Roam" our globe, creator of ENDLESSROAMING.COM sharing the experience through word and photography. Currently residing in my home of Newtown Sydney but hope to be back on the road late 2020. Feedback / questions are more than welcome, happy travels