Pregnancy is a wonderful, wonderful time. All your relatives dote on you. And by that, I mean everybody: long lost aunts who smirked at your under-performance in school are now cooking your favorite foods, aloof uncles are making polite small talk about the due date, and the grumpiest grandmums smile and offer free advice on how to make the baby look like Angie or Brad (“Have coconut malai, the baby will have great hair!” “Have a pomegranate everyday for pink lips”). Then there are the perks like immediate seats at crowded restaurants and the occasional queue cutting ;). You’re allowed to lounge about the house and sleep whenever you like without a guilty conscience. You can look as fat as a cow and stuff your mouth as much as you like and everyone only finds you “cute” and gushes about your glow. It is safe to say that for nine months you live in a cozy, happy bubble, where you consciously or sub-consciously let only the best and the happiest reach you. And for nine long months you fantasize about that fuzzy, sweet-smelling, pink, tiny package that you will be holding in your arms: is it going to have the husband’s curly crop or my brown scanty mop?
And then it comes. The first sharp stab of pain or a sudden gush of wetness. Or a visit to the doctor’s, where you get to choose a perfect date for your lil perfection. Whether you have a natural delivery or a C-section, nothing anyone has ever told you will prepare you for the moment they announce: “Aaandd it’s a baby Alisha!” – and drop that bundle into your arms. Except that the bundle is not particularly sweet-smelling or cutely resembling you in any way. Forgive me for being superficial and talking about how a baby looks (every baby is a miracle and oh-so-beautiful and all that), but instead of being pink and cherubic as you had imagined, you see an indistinguishable scrunched up reddish something with puffy eyelids, splotchy skin and patches of hair. You’re happy, relieved, but most of all you’re exhausted. But it’s miles to go before you sleep, what with the line of manically ecstatic people waiting outside to greet you.
Although physical discomfort is to be expected (after all a seven-pound live human being was yanked out of you – no mean feat), no one will prepare you for the physical agony a few hours after delivery. You have to endure labour pain again with no baby carrot dangling at the end of it, because your uterus has to contract back to its original size. I don’t mean to scare mommies-to-be and friends claim that my pain threshold is low but I kid you not, the whole experience is agonizing. Agonizing is the word. Every inch of you hurts and you dread even wanting to take a trip to the bathroom. (I won’t go into catheters and the rest of it here because that would be a digression from the point.)
Yes, physical pain isn’t the best-kept delivery secret I’m talking about. Oh no, it’s what hits you after the physical pain has subsided – a feeling of gloom, doom and melancholy and wanting to cry a river. They call it the baby blues and it’s there to stay for a few days. Once you recover, you can scream your head off at your mummy for not warning you about it, because, as it turns out, this is quite a common syndrome and every single mum I’ve spoken to has experienced it to some degree. Quite simply put, the baby blues are an interplay of hormones in our post-delivery body. (don’t we women just have it peachy?) It makes us feel anxious, weepy, irritable, sad and guilty for feeling all of the above. I was hit by this feeling three days after delivery and for me, the shock of feeling like this when my long-awaited precious jaan was in my arms, was what made me suffer even more.
That’s why I’m even writing about it, not intending to scare new mums but to assure you that this is common and that you will laugh about it in a week or so, when you’re a little settled with the baby. Like I said, all the mommies I spoke to experienced it and statistics off the internet claim that about 80% of women experience it. Then why the hell doesn’t anyone even mention feeling so pathetic in the initial days post-baby? A very sensible friend explained it thus: “There’s no point in scaring a new mommy-to-be with all the things that could possibly happen. Once you mention something like this, it is possible that it plays on the mind and that by thinking and worrying about it, we actually invite such feelings upon ourselves.” Hmm, point noted. Even then, a teeny-tinesy mention would have helped ease some of the guilt I gave myself.
So, for all those who are experiencing a sense of heaviness and anxiety post-delivery, worry not; these blues are short-lived, very temporary and absolutely normal; it is going to pass soon, you are going to feel good and enjoy motherhood and make an absolutely kick-ass mom!
Here are some tips that helped me make it through those twelve awful days:
- Ignore conventional advice and do whatever it is that makes you feel good.
This includes stepping out of the house for a short drive, meeting friends for a quick chat or having an ice-cream. Yes I know, we’ve all heard how the body needs 40 days of complete rest and how any cold sin now will catch up with you in your bones years later. Plus ice cream with breastfeeding? It will only give your newborn a cold! In today’s day and age with all the things that our bodies are exposed to, one small cold treat is extremely unlikely to do any damage. As my pediatrician put it (oh, I love the guy!) “an ice-cream does not immediately produce ice-cold milk”. So go ahead and indulge in that little pleasure that will help you retain some semblance of sanity in that initial chaos.
- Rest as soon as the baby is sleeping.
I’m saying rest and not sleep because I know that it is impossible (at least initially) to get under the covers and feel sleepy at odd daylight hours. My mother’s screams and warnings would be like water off a duck’s back as I would grab the remote or make excited calls the minute Rumi was put down. WhatsApp or Facebook on your phone seem like very enticing options, but trust me, they will only give you a heavy head, droopy eyelids and a feeling of sluggishness. As tempting as it can be to check all the congratulatory messages (and make a note of all those who haven’t wished you yet!), indulging in genuinely restful activities like listening to music, simply lying down with your eyes shut, taking a warm bath and changing into clean “gharche kapde” (those soft, slightly torn t-shirts that you’re never going to give away) or enjoying a warm soup peacefully without any interruptions, will actually recharge you better, leaving you to tend to the baby in a refreshed state of mind.
- Try to indulge in at least one small ritual or habit that you used to have before the baby came.
The arrival of the baby at home turns everything upside down. Nothing is like it used to be and that, I believe, was one of the main reasons I felt depressed – it felt like everything had changed and that nothing was ever going to be the same ever again. Although it is obvious that things are going to be very different with the arrival of the baby, sticking to even one tiny pre-baby habit helps in reducing that feeling of utter helplessness or lack of control. So, whether it is a quick, hot shower at night or enjoying your morning chai with the newspaper in hand, ask your spouse or mum to relieve you for 15 minutes everyday while you enjoy those “me minutes”. You may be able to only scan the headlines but simply allowing yourself to do what you have been enjoying so far will give you that much-needed reassurance.
- Know that it is all going to be well
It may seem like you’re never going to be able to soothe your child or put him to sleep or get him to latch on and feed properly but trust me, in a month you’ll be laughing at these thoughts. I remember bursting into tears when Rumi would scream in my lap but calm down in Mum’s. Or I would read articles on the Internet that talked about how mums could tell what their babies wanted and I remember feeling despair coz I could never tell whether Rums was hungry or sleepy. But this thing called “mothers’ intuition” is nothing more than the 10000 hour rule of practice, practice and practice; the more time you spend with and around your baby, the more confident you get, until you can just look at your baby and tell that the diaper is wet and then coolly move on to changing it in seconds with your eyes on the TV!