Chapter 17: Seeing is believing


We never see the air. Never see the stars or the moon when the sun shines bright.

Never see our own brain. Nor the heart that beats inside.

Seeing’s believing… or is believing seeing?

There’s so much more to see if only you’d believe…

September 4, 2012

I have just fed my baby and he lies peacefully in my arms, quiet yet wide awake, gazing at me intently. I love these moments when he is so calm and almost looking into my eyes.

And then. Suddenly. He amazes me beyond words by stretching his tiny lips in a one-second smile ! I do a double take and peer closely into his face to check if he has fallen asleep, by any chance. Nope, he’s wide awake.

I slowly count the days. 1,2,3,4.

4-day-olds don’t smile! No way! But there’s no mistaking what I saw. That was a smile. I know it was.

My 4-day-old just smiled at me…! True, it was a one-second thing… but it was there!

I stare at him in a state of disbelief…but also one of elation.

And then I rush out to my mother in the other room.

“Mummy! Hasan just smiled at me. He did!”

My mother looks at me for a moment. And then smiles. But it’s a different sort of smile. The oh-no-you must-be mistaken kind.

“Honey, that’s not possible. He must be sleeping.”

“But he wasn’t. I double checked that.”

“Then you must be mistaken. The ‘social smile’ doesn’t appear until at least a month.”

“Oh.”

I must really be mistaken… I guess.

September 7, 2012

Sajjad and I are off to see the gynae for a routine visit. It’s my first outing from home after the delivery. (More on this later.) Since we’d be back within two hours, we’re not taking Hasan with us. Mummy will be keeping him company.

Two hours later

As we enter the house, we are greeted by an ecstatic voice.

It’s my mom.

“Baby! You were right! He smiled! He smiled at me today! It’s unbelievable! Well… it was really a split-second thing but he did smile.”

She can’t contain her excitement. The maid that she has brought with her all the way from Aligarh beams almost as much; she was actually the one whom Hasan had really smiled at.

“Didn’t I tell you?” I’m grinning from ear to ear.

“Yes… I didn’t believe you then… but now I’ve seen it for myself.”

There’s so much more to see if only you’d believe…

(You probably won’t believe this, of course. Since I’m not trying to pose my son as a superbaby or something of that sort, and since those are the only two occasions when he smiled…before the real ‘social smile’ thing kicked in, this is just one of those little things in life that pass by like strangely-shaped clouds… memorable, but you don’t know what to make of them. So… do you believe?)

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 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 11(ii): CHILDBIRTH (II) I’ve given birth to a baby. Yes, I truly have.


My one concern as I’m in the process of labour is that I won’t be able to “do it” ultimately and that after all my efforts,  they’d just have to perform a Caesarean operation. But that didn’t happen and I will always be truly, deeply thankful that I “did it”.

The baby is born.

“It’s a son,” Sonia announces as I grow aware of the suddenly removed earthquake from my body. I did it. I gave birth to a healthy baby, the natural way.

I drop down, exhausted beyond belief. The other doctor—Manju –is removing the placenta. More pain.

“Please. Pleaaase don’t do this…” I beg her.

“Arrey! You’ve tolerated so much pain, what is this compared to that?”

What is this compared to that? It’s a needle being stuck in and moved round and round in your skin—after you’ve been sawed through.

The placenta is out. The pain subsides. Relief.

I am aware that Sajjad is still holding my hand.

“I love you,” I whisper. He holds up my hand and kisses the back of it.

“I did it…” I tell him. I can’t get over that feeling of extraordinary achievement over this ‘normal’ delivery. “I was thinking I wouldn’t be able to do it… I was thinking they’d just move me to the operation theatre anytime now…. But I’ve done it…” I manage to smile at him.

He’s stroking my hair, I think. Not easy to focus at the moment.

Sonia and Manju are stitching me up, chatting like it’s an everyday chore. Which it is—for them, of course.

“God, how hard is this baby crying!” Sonia exclaims suddenly.

It is then that I grow aware of a bawling baby somewhere in the room. I had not even heard him cry…

Sonia is right. The bawling is strong and insistent, unlike the newborn cries that you sort of expect.

“Don’t all babies cry this way?”

I can’t believe I’m chatting with my doctor even as she’s stitching me up.

“They do, but not so much!” she laughs “This one’s just going on and on!”

“I suppose he takes after his mother,” I say this to Sajjad, not Sonia, (with a smile), “His mother’s such a cry-baby!”

“Not at all!” Manju cuts in unexpectedly, “You are a wonderful patient! You took the pains so well, without a complaint! You should just see the tantrums that we get to witness here… but you were so good. You asked for nothing at all, and no screaming either….a little towards the end, yes, but that’s completely natural,” she beams.

That one’s gonna rank high, high up in my list of most memorable compliments ever!

The baby is still bawling. It is then that I turn my face to the right and see my son–lying in a glass rectangle under a bright white light. I see him wailing for attention, I see his body, I see his face—just the side profile—mouth wide open, eyes shut tight.

“Kya hua, kyun ro rhe ho?” (What’s the matter, why are you crying?) I call out to him.

The crying stops immediately. IMMEDIATELY. The baby opens his eyes. I SEE him opening his eyes.

And I have witnesses to prove that.

There is a strange, soft, cotton-candy kind of pleasure in making a baby’s cries stop with the mere sound of your voice. It’s a pleasure that you never, ever forget.

I HAVE ACTUALLY GIVEN BIRTH TO A BABY. A BABY THAT STOPS CRYING AT THE SOUND OF MY VOICE.

Chapter 11 (i): CHILDBIRTH (I) “So WHO termed this a NORMAL delivery??!!”


NORMAL.

An adjective defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “Usual or ordinary; not strange.”

Normally, I refrain from using cuss-words.

WTFFFFFF!!! Who the hell came up with this bright idea of calling a vaginal birth a “Normal delivery”? Will the stonehearted brute/birdbrained idiot please stand up?

I could have understood ‘Natural’ delivery. This horrendous, ghastly, third degree torture is indeed the path chosen by Mother Nature to bring babies into this world. Even ‘Natural’ has a gentle feel to it, like something tender—which does not come remotely close to the terrible, terrible process that childbirth is.

But Normal? NORMAL, for Christ’s sake???

Makes it sound so ordinary, so commonplace.  Nothing worth fretting about. Just like the definition says: usual.

Talk about adding insult to injury. Literally.

Sep 1, 2012

3:00 am

I’m woken up in the wee hours of the morning by a terrible backache. Oh no, It’s that pregnancy yoga, I think. Maybe I stretched a little too far this time.

I don’t know how to define labour pain. Some people say it’s like a bolt that moves from top to bottom in your abdomen. Wasn’t that way for me. All that I kept feeling was a terrible, terrible pain in my lower back and thighs. It would throb and throb and return like spasms from time to time.

Wasn’t so bad as to make me scream. But it was bad enough to make me hyperventilate. And a weird kind of shivering took control of my legs every time the spasms came. I thought I’d start running round and round in circles like a dog that has gone mad.

However, my mum had defined labour pains as “Someone sticking a knife in your stomach repeatedly.” (Again, WTF?!) Well, I didn’t feel quite that way yet so I thought that it wasn’t time for me to scream. Mum-in-law’s practical experience came in handy or I would’ve had to give birth at home.

Before we go any further, I’d like to clarify: I’ve always wanted a natural birth. No painkillers, no epidural and certainly not a C-section—which has become the norm in India now. (Sonia, my gynae said women are actually asking for C-section.) I did everything advised by my doctor (and my mom-in-law)—exercises, walks, balanced nutrition, extra prayers and anything else anybody cared to advise, just so I could have a natural birth.

I wasn’t scared of the labour pains, I had chosen this option. However, choosing it doesn’t mean you’re prepared for it.

8:00 am

We’re inside the labour room at Sitaram Bhartia. The pains are getting terrible. Walking around helps.  But then you have to be strapped down so that the kid’s heartbeat can be monitored and that increases the pains manifold. It’s like a violent earthquake that begins in my belly and goes right down to the thighs, splitting my body in half….. ughhhhhh!!! My thighs shiver violently each time. Doctor says its ‘coz I’m so thin—I gained only 5 kgs during my entire 9 months.

(Still not screaming, though. Feel proud).

1:30 pm

It’s been more than 10 hours since the pains started. I’m strapped down and in the middle of my most horrendous nightmare from which I can’t even wake up. I cannot make sense of anything anymore. Sonia sternly orders me to let go of her collar. I look at her blankly coz I don’t know what the hell she’s talking about.

“Let go of my clothes,” she points out. I realize dazedly that I have her clothing in my fist and I’m violently pulling her. At which point I let her go and promptly catch hold of the nurse—in exactly the same manner.

“Hold this railing,” Sonia orders me again. It’s good that she’s being stern. Nothing short of that would get my attention right now.

I will not go into the particulars of childbirth, since I am not, nor ever wanted to be, a medical practitioner or biology teacher. There are only two things that I will never forget about my birthing experience.

One:    The man I love was by my side during this most ghastly, petrifying, absolutely worst time of my life, holding my hand. This won’t be such a novelty to my blogger friends, but considering that I come from a small town in India where people are astounded to know that in Delhi, one family member—any family member—forget husband (at which mention their eyes might pop out of their heads) is allowed inside the labour room during delivery. So you can imagine how unforgettable and unique this was for me (and all my small-town relatives).

Two :  The SNAP! that I heard as I jolted back my head in one piercing, agonized wail as the doctor performed an episiotomy –basically cut me open—so that my baby was born.

Normal…? !!!

You gotta be kidding me.

(To be continued…)

Chapter 10: Happiness is…


Happiness is ever-changing and ever-elusive. You cannot know it until you feel it. Happiness is a walk in the breeze… happiness is a drive in the rain… happiness is a midnight date… happiness is a moment shared.

May 14, 2012

We are in Aligarh. Sajjad is sitting before me on the bed. We’d been away from each other for about 15 days because I came here to meet my mom. He hasn’t felt his baby’s movements yet; when I was with him they were too light to be felt on the outside. He has his hand on my belly as his eyes search my face with anticipation.

BUMP!

That was a huge one!

I’m delighted to see the astonished, wondrous, childlike grin on my husband’s face. He laughs out loud. He is amazed… It’s a moment we’ll cherish forever.

June 15, 2012

This baby is gonna be a really naughty one. Lord knows how she/he manages to do it, but every so often I feel 4 simultaneous kicks (or whatever they are) at 4 different places in my tummy!  There’s hardly a moment when this little one lies still….!

My sister says she can actually see him/her “swimming around” in my tummy! I know what she means, the bulge often seems to “glide” from one end to another… the doctor says these movements are so visible on the outside since I’m so thin and there’s been no fat increase whatsoever on other parts of my body.

June 25, 2012

It’s post-dinner and me and my husband are talking our daily walk around the park. I love these walks with him. Love the wind in the trees, flapping our clothes and sweeping our hair…love the moon beaming gently down on us…love holding his hand and talking softly…  In a way, it’s been a good thing I’ve taken time off from work—with our busy schedules we’d never have got time for these leisurely everyday strolls. It’s moments like these that make life beautiful.

July 14, 2012

It’s raining hard in South Delhi. Monsoon has arrived in all its glory. Sajjad has come back from work sometime ago. He takes my hand.

“Wanna go for a drive in the rain?” he smiles at me.

Yes. Of course. Would I say no?

He’s backing up the car to bring it right to the door so I don’t have to get wet. Our neighbor comes out of his house. “Coming from somewhere?” he asks.

“No, going for a drive!” I giggle.

“In the rain!?”

“Yes…”

But obviously, lost in our fancies we had forgotten that we’re in Delhi, not the Garden of Eden and rains here mean just one thing: Traffic jams. But I have Michael Schumacher for a husband and I could trust him to find the best routes away from the traffic.

Never loved rain so much….

July 21,2012

12:00 a.m.

We’re having dinner at Comesum, the all-night restaurant near Nizamuddin Railway Station. Hadn’t even heard about this eat-out until today. Sajjad’s trying hard to make this right for me, to assure me that nothing’s gonna change between us.

Perhaps it won’t. Perhaps it will. But what won’t change is what happiness is….

Happiness is US. Whether it’s BOTH of US, or THREE of US. Happiness is “Us”.

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{Read from the beginning }

(For more good things about pregnancy, read http://thegoodandthegood.wordpress.com/)