Monday, January 31, 2011
All through my growing years, they were my mother’s favourite words, particularly when she wanted to have the last word in an argument: you won’t understand what I am saying now; you’ll understand only when you become a mother. I laughed it off back then, but today I readily admit that she was right after all.
Becoming a mother has been a wonderful experience. It has made me braver than I was. It has made me afraid of things that scarcely ruffled me earlier. It has re-ordered my priorities. It has taught me that my child’s hand in mine or her head resting on my shoulder can give me a feeling of wisdom and understanding. Above all, it has helped me to understand my parents’ love.
It wasn’t love at first sight for me when I first saw my baby. I was in a rather disoriented state then. My dominant feeling was one of relief that the physical experience of childbirth was over. The fact that I had given birth to a girl had penetrated through the daze, but had not yet sunk into my consciousness with the seriousness it deserved.
Over the next few days, I did my duty towards my daughter. I breastfed her and cleaned her poop. My services were on call. Baby had only to whimper in the quiet night for me to sit up bolt upright, ready to do her bidding. I was on duty 24/7.
That was what it was then. A sense of duty.
And then one day, a little after her second month, something beautiful happened. It had been a long day, one too many. I was very tired. Baby rarely slept before 2 am and it was my wont to sit with her on my lap, soothing her to sleep. Her refusal to obey her mater, coming as it did for about the seventieth night in succession, had filled me with impotent anger and resentment.
Suddenly baby smiled. One lovely smile. Just for me. The tiredness and the resentment disappeared in that instant, and I felt myself being swept away by a refreshing wave of love and longing. The sense of duty vanished in that moment, and the mother in me came into her own.
Thereon things were different. What I used to do with a sense of obligation now became a joy. Time spent with baby became quality time.
With the desire to do my best for baby came doubts, ruthless and relentless. Will I be a good mother? Can I give her the love, security and discipline that I was given? Can I give her deep roots and wings and point her towards the expanse of the sky? Can I assure her a happy childhood? I look at baby. Already at 12 months, she is showing signs of a strong personality. Will I be able to cope with the demands that life and she make on me? What happens if my personality clashes with hers? Mum was right. There are so many things I have understood now that I have become a mother.
Kind friends, recognising my inexperience, lent me books on parenting. As I mulled over their contents, I found myself thinking of my parents, especially my mother, and the style of parenting that she followed. Despite juggling multiple roles as mother, homemaker, nurse for an invalid and entrepreneur, she still gave her children her all.
And I decided that that is the kind of mother I want to be. The kind that sings to her child and tells her stories and prays for her, the kind that can whip up the dish that her child will forever associate with comfort food, the kind that can wipe tears and kiss boo-boos away, the kind that is mother and best friend at the same time.
I am very anxious to do things right. I believe that if I mess up at parenting then nothing that I achieve in any other sphere will matter.
I read somewhere that as we grow older, we become more and more like our parents. When I first heard this sentiment during my teenage years, I was horrified. Today, the thought is strangely very comforting.
I hope it is true.
There is nothing I would like more.
(The above story was originally written for and printed in the April 2009 edition of Tata Sphere. I cannot provide a link to the original story as Tata Sphere is meant only for employees of Tata companies.)
The first few weeks after Rhea was born were intensely overwhelming for me.
Of course I knew how to hold a baby right. I’d had practice with my nephews, Aaron and Ryan. But there was much more to looking after a child than that. Cleaning poop, changing nappies, inducing a gentle burp, learning to understand whether the crying of a baby signifies hunger, a crisis in the lower region or just a desire to be held and comforted — they all seemed challenging at first.
The mothering instinct was there, but there was also Fear. Fear that I might do something wrong unknowingly, in my experience and over eagerness to do things right. In the early days, I would wake up many times during the night and switch on the light just for the comfort of seeing her little chest heave up and down.
I must acknowledge here the great help rendered by Raj’s parents in those early days. Babies typically have no concept of day or night. Nor do they have any understanding of other people as being individuals in their own right. They think the world revolves around them, and of course, they are right.
Rhea would wake up in the middle of the night and bawl loudly. “I can’t sleep,” she seemed to say, “and I don’t think my parents should either.” Once she awoke, we knew that it would be useless to long for sleep. The night was officially over. My in-laws would very graciously encourage me to sleep during the day while they held her and generally entertained her and cleaned her up. They only woke me up when Rhea’s crying seemed to indicate hunger.
There was one peculiarity that Rhea used to display in those early days. As a baby, she was an extremely light sleeper. The slightest of sounds, a phone ringing in the next room, someone talking below the window, a crow cawing on the branch of a tree outside, used to wake her up. When she was asleep, we used to almost tiptoe around and talk softly so as not to disturb her slumber. And sometimes she used to surprise us by taking the most deafening sounds in her stride.
One night in July (she was just three months old then), Raj and I woke up to the sound of roaring thunder. We quickly sat up, switched on the light and peeped into her cot, trembling inwardly lest she should wake up and cry again. We had just put her to bed with great difficulty and had been looking forward to some sleep ourselves.
To our surprise, she slept on undisturbed. We looked at each other, marveling over how the same child who took offence every time a little teaspoon fell to the floor two rooms away could forgive the thunder for raging on like this.
There were many such moments and they were all amusing. Gradually, I found my groove as a mother. The insecurities vanished then and I began to get the hang of mothering.
Certain bonuses helped me along. They included the feeling of calm I experienced when Rhea latched on just right, the sight of her sleeping, the fresh, newborn smell of her that was more than Johnson & Johnson, the sound of her burping. My baby taught me that a burp can be one of the most satisfying sounds you can ever hear.
It felt wonderful to have a little life that depended so completely on me. For me, as for Raj, despite the sleepless nights, the endless pee and poop sessions, life was definitely better than it had ever been.