Mothers come in all shapes and sizes, there is in no one prototype.

Motherhood is a choice and 9 other truths we should keep in mind
Voices Blog Sunday, May 14, 2017 - 11:12

Tears streamed down my cheeks. The credits were rolling and I was fighting the urge to call my mother. I wanted to collapse into the folds of her sari and sob, like the many times before. But this time I knew Amma would be bemused. Why would a 33-year-old cry over a seemingly simple movie called English Vinglish?

Though I don’t recall taunting my mother over her English, Sridevi, in the movie, personified everything that my mother is. The way she wore her sari, pleats tucked into her hip, her minute idiosyncrasies and most of all her courage of conviction. Like Sridevi, my mother fits the ‘perfect mother’ trope to the hilt - she is nurturing, she holds fort while we are all away, busy living our own lives. She is often our friend and guardian but mostly a parachute when we come crashing down.

We take her for granted, we project our daily moods on her and like every mother she prioritises us before herself and like every Indian mother, if she had had the opportunity to work (and wasn't bogged down by the family and its extensions) I knew she would have excelled in that too.

30 years later came little Maya who gave birth to me, her mother.

I fell headlong into the failings and trappings of motherhood and till date struggle to meet the standards that my mother set. But I am a different mother. I love my space as much as I love my daughter. I often complain of being stressed, a word my parents seldom used though they had more mouths to feed and many more issues to deal with. Sometimes when I look at Maya, I get sneaky little thoughts such as "what have I done?"

Parenting changes one for the better and worse, and while I am still learning on the job, here is my list of little nuggets about motherhood that will hopefully cause a minor dent in India's most loved and misunderstood motif.

1. Motherhood is a choice

A growing number of youngsters, including many of my girlfriends, who are biologically fit and happy women, do not want to become a parent - and that is ok. Either they don't feel motherly or think a little human being is too much responsibility to bear (fair point). Sometimes they simply don't feel it's right to contribute to the exploding population. Nothing is 'wrong' with them. It's a choice. Just as it was my choice to have a baby.

2. Mothers come in all shapes and sizes, there is in no one prototype

Society believes that mothers come with a manual. The ideal mother is the one you see in breakfast cereal commercials. She cooks for her children, monitors their screen time, arranges play dates, hyperventilates about the nutritional value of the pizza they gulp down or the stain in their clothes and constantly strives (while comparing best practices with fellow moms) to improve their quality of life.  

While there are several women who have dedicated their life to being the ‘ideal’ and are happy to do so, this is a stereotype and not a rule. Some mothers aren't hands on and it doesn't come naturally to them. It doesn't mean that they don't love their child or that they have a faulty genetic mutation. It definitely doesn’t mean that they are a bad parent either. To each their own.

3. Postpartum depression is real

Did anyone tell you that as a new mother you can feel up to a hundred emotions the same day, sometimes swing from being upbeat to downcast to downright repulsed?

Women are hardly ecstatic postpartum. When I looked at Maya for the first time, she looked like a little Tibetan monk to me, with slit like eyes and puffy cheeks. I wanted to say “Dalai Lama” to the next pesky relative who asked me whom she resembled.

It was hard to digest that I had made a little human. While I was combating feelings of disbelief and gripping pain, the world was moving in super motion, with a steady stream of visitors trooping in unannounced and nurses barging in one after another and violently squeezing my breast to induce breast-feeding. In the background the family was busy laying claims on Maya’s nose, eyebrows and what not.

Amidst all the pandemonium, I was sitting, alone, hit by waves of confusion. Isn’t this supposed to be the happiest day of my life? Then why am I sad? I was thrilled for sure. But I was not flooded with affection for the tiny screaming monk. Am I weird? I pondered, wiping away the gush of tears. Can I do this? I plodded around for weeks with almost no recollection of how I lived prior to the birth of the little miss. Everything was a hazy. Days blurred into nights and nights seemed longer than before. It did not take hours, not days, but weeks for this conundrum of mixed emotions to settle down.

4. It need not be ‘love at first sight’

Childbirth is often romanticised. It’s a happy picture of the baby being handed to the new mother, who clasps the child to her bosom and cries happy tears.

For me, the love for Maya was never instant. The floodgates didn’t open on cue.  Besides the fact that I don’t believe in love at first sight (except when it’s cake), the chronic lack of sleep, the waves of depression and the baby’s routine of crying, feeding and pooping on loop for the first three months didn’t help the cause either.

It’s been 2 years now, and the more I get to know Maya, the more I get to know myself and the greater I love her.  With each passing day I get to see a little more of her personality unfurl in front of me, and it’s fascinating. Will she be stoic like the husband or bear my sentimentality? I wonder. But mostly I hope she is like herself. Unique.

Motherhood for me has not been a flooding of love, but more like a gentle fragrance that slowly wafts into a room and immerses one in it, silently, eventually.

4. Mothers are lonely creatures

Giving up a job, nursing a hungry baby behind closed doors, and skipping lunches with friends to run after an amok toddler can be exhausting and incredibly lonely.

During my first trimester, I was diagnosed with Hyperemesis Gravidarum, which in simple terms refers to extreme vomiting, including losing the ability to drink water without throwing up. Kindred with the best intentions of course, someone showed me a news article that said that pregnant Kate Middleton was suffering from the same. Great. Yet Kate was standing outside the hospital, all glowing and her hair freshly blown.

Years later the same Kate Middleton while speaking about mental health mentioned how as a mother she often felt lonely and isolated. I caught myself nodding then. She may be a princess, the Duchess of Cambridge, with hundreds of people milling around her, but she was fighting the demons, the same ones many of us do, everyday.

5. Every mother's constant companion is guilt

She is afraid of not fulfilling the million expectations that tug down her neck. She is scared of falling short. Not like a ‘Best Mother’ Trophy is waiting.

Breastfeeding was my biggest of woes. Feeding the baby was extremely difficult. The milk was not coming in and when it did, the baby was not latching on. Dwindling supply, nipple shields, sore breasts, lazy baby, sleepy baby, dream feeds, and the whole paraphernalia.

Every relative who scorned at formula feed and every article with pictures of robust breast-fed babies acing their milestones added to my guilt and I was officially depressed. Overnight my identity changed from the confident teacher to failure mother. It finally took a kind-hearted lactation consultant, (never knew such a job profile existed!) to put an end to the tears; to tell me that some babies do not enjoy breastfeeding, that breastfeeding is not natural, but a learnt art.

6. There is no super-woman

We must give up our obsession with the ‘super-woman’ trope. Celebrating the super-woman, the multi tasking, omnipresent goddess, who aces her job whilst building the perfect home is an unrealistic and unreasonable expectation. Such women are barely super, and only suffer from severe burnout.

7. The ideal mother stereotype hurts many

It hurts not only the mother, but the children too. Children whose mothers don’t fit the stereotype often feel remorseful, and cheated by life.

8. Mothers, too, need a break

The journey of a mother is a journey of worry. It starts the day you hear the heart beat on the Doppler. From then it's a series of counting kicks, nit-picking on the food they eat, choosing the school, the friends they make, what they do behind closed doors and what they do when they walk out of those doors.

I am 33 with a decent human as a husband and a healthy baby, but this ordeal of worry for my parents still hasn't ended. I am no Zen master, but maybe mothers can cut themselves some slack every now and then, or take the ‘chill pill’ as your child may suggest.

Parenting is an endurance sport and is not worth squandering time over constantly beeping parent Whatsapp groups that are infested with tiger moms and ninja dads who love to feed off your rising blood pressure. No, the classrooms don't have to be air-conditioned, your kid will learn to read aloud too and it's ok if they don't have a play date this weekend. Maybe they can stare at a wall or draw on the floor. We never had all this and we managed fine.

10. Motherhood is fun and fulfilling but it doesn’t hurt to have a plan B

You can sing all the rhymes to her now and she will gape at you in complete admiration. But there will come a day when she will tell you, quite nonchalantly that you sound terrible. That for the every nth time of putting her to sleep and the quiet tiptoe to freedom, there will be a time when the teenager will want to be left alone. The little green shoes with pink roses that she waddles around in so proudly will give way to the day when she scorns at the dress you buy her. They grow up too fast and times change too soon.

I know that, that day, Maya will teach me a valuable life lesson; the important difference between letting go and holding on. The nest will get empty. But when mine does, I am hoping the multi faceted avatar of mine with varied interests will not only know how to keep myself busy but enjoy it too.

Note: Views expressed are the author's own

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