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 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 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.