By Shaira Mohan
Childbirth changes us in ways we could never imagine. While the larger chunk of these changes bring immense joy, a positive course correction of the path of our lives ahead and profound sense of fulfillment, there are some changes that can surprise us in our own behaviour and be quite unpalatable. Hormonal imbalances attributed to the rollercoaster ride that is pregnancy and childbirth are usually the driving forces behind this intermittent erratic behaviour.
I too fell victim to this demon after I gave birth to my son, albeit for a short while. It is said that the protective instinct of mothers among some animal species is the highest and their bonds most remarkable. The female cheetah is known to raise her cubs in isolation, moving their litter every four days to eliminate the possibility of a smell build-up that can potentially be traced by predators. Others, like the polar bear and the orangutan mothers, stick by their young for the first few years of their lives, teaching them how to hunt, survival skills and how to build homes before they are let out into the world unaccompanied.
When my son was born, I inadvertently turned into a cheetah. While I had the good fortune of delivering the baby in my hometown where I then stayed with my parents for the first two months after the delivery, surrounded by a ton of family to help out at a moment’s notice, I found, to my own surprise, that what I really wanted was to do it all on my own.
My husband and I reside outside India, moving around every two or three years. Help is a luxury in many countries outside of India and so when I had to undergo a Caesarian delivery, the many helping hands at my disposal during those days of recovery were, no doubt, a big blessing. But soon after I was able to finally pick myself off the bed without needing assistance, all I wanted was to feed, bathe, play with, rock that baby to sleep all by myself without having to acknowledge the presence of the “Jhappa” maid, the much coveted wonder women of newborn help in India that most women frantically book the minute they know they are pregnant.
I found myself micro-managing her every move rabidly, watching her like a hawk as she went about baby chores and the invisible maternal antennae on my newly acquired maternal body would beep loudly the moment she would be in close proximity to the baby. I would find inane reasons to not see eye to eye with her and my husband and family would have to remind me of the fact that it was I who needed her and not the other way around!
I found myself becoming short-tempered often times and in many instances with some family members too, evidently having lost a lot of that yoga-induced zen and patience that I had come to pride myself with. I was not proud of who I had become and I knew I had to switch back to my tolerable self. And fast!
It continued to be a struggle. I found I had to constantly remind myself that most people living alone in apartments in far off countries, raising children without help did not have the luxury and the rest that a house full of family and house help could offer and I had all of this for the next two months, the most crucial weeks of learning to care for a newborn child.
A couple here in Kuwait – where we now reside – came over to our place recently and we got talking about children. Being quite a few years older to us and having an 18-year-old daughter, they recounted their own experiences to the best of their knowledge. And it wasn’t long before the mother confided in me about having been a paranoid mother herself, cringing from within every time anyone else so much as held her baby. “I wanted to yank her out of their clutches and run away,” she laughed. I couldn’t help but feel relieved that there were others like me and that we weren’t all crazy.
A piece in The Telegraph (UK) caught my eye. Titled, “Are You Suffering From Precious Firstborn Syndrome?” Beverly Turner eloquently pens the hyper-anxieties of new parents with the aid of humorous and relatable anecdotes of first time parents trying too hard. “…..maybe our mothers and grandmothers also laminated instructions for babysitters. Did they, like one of my favourite Mumsnet posts, walk backwards with a pram for two miles because of an absence of sun-cream in the English ‘mild afternoon sun’? Of course they didn’t! We are the first generation of mothers who can claim credit for this particular form of lunacy.” A few of her lines made me laugh and then reflect on the fact that many of us would do this without thinking twice!
I found myself changing and starting to ease up on other family members handling and taking over, while I began to appreciate the time I got to rest as the weeks and months went by. An important realisation that also hit home was how much the ability to ask for and appreciate help would be useful when I eventually did decide to go back to work, travel, or even just had to attend to unavoidable business which would require the baby to be left with grandparents or other family members.
The conundrum most working mothers face today is the inner tussle about going back to work, and how soon is too soon. For some it has to be as quickly as six months or a year, as soon as the maternity leave has been exhausted. For others like me, who are constantly without much help and yearn to go back to work as soon as possible but know the road there is a long, curvy one, it could be years before we manage to get into work attire again.
Whenever we do manage to step back into the “adult world” again, the idea of having family close by who can babysit as opposed to the unpleasant thought of strangers doing the same job is akin to the feeling of medicinal relief. This is an important consideration for new mothers who feel the need to resist early help.
When I travelled home to India just recently with my now eight-month-old son, the difference between the new tiger mom I had become and the now relaxed and “happy-to-share” one was quite palpable. I knew I had finally tamed the onset of the “Precious Newborn Syndrome”.
Both humans and animals have interestingly similar instincts and behavioral patterns when it comes to parenting. Whether it is being done in the wilderness or in our homes, often both tend to miss the wood for the trees in their manic natural instinct to protect and possess fiercely. It is us humans with developed brains and the power to think, understand and correct ourselves that have to ultimately tame and mould our possessiveness at every stage of our child’s life and recognise the difference between help and encroachment.
It truly does take a village as they say to raise a child. While those of us living in nuclear families abroad pride ourselves in conquering exhaustion and powering forward all alone, there is no denying that our family-oriented cultures back home are our saviours and provide a sanctuary where a child can hone his social skills. For those of us living the expatriate life away from our extended families, our friends become our families. We need to be able to turn to these new age families that we create for ourselves too.
So take it from someone who went through a tsunami of emotional upheaval in the early months and became someone she didn’t know anymore to now looking forward to family time for her baby; grasp that helping hand tightly when it comes your way!