When I realised I was pregnant, I was 28, unemployed and six months into my marriage (that had been arranged through our parents). As we had dated for a few months before we got married, we knew each other but there were a lot of facets yet to be discovered.
As a couple, we felt that it was too early for us to have a child but were averse to the idea of termination and thus decided to continue with the pregnancy. It was my husband who broke the news to the family. Though everyone felt it was a little too early, they were happy and soon started celebrating with us. I had a healthy pregnancy, but I hated what it was doing to my body.
As a teenager, I did not have any body issues. But now I hated what the pregnancy hormones were doing to my face. I did not feel like venturing outside the home as my nose had bloated and totally altered my appearance. However, I decided not to let this bother me and continued eating well and was bidding my time, reading books like What to expect when you’re expecting and trying to correlate my experiences with it.
When I broke the news to my friends, I received a variety of reactions. This, I realised later, was due to the fact that all of them were in different places in their lives, with most of them not having even been married and thus, their issues were very different from mine. They were facing different challenges in the form of a job change, a breakup or a new relationship and none of them could understand what I was going through. All their questions related to my pregnancy were mostly to address the stereotypes that they had heard around them and so I was often asked questions like, ‘did I feel like eating khatta all the time?’
While the first few months were easy, it was only when my belly began growing and my nose started swelling further that I fully came face to face with the fact that I was carrying a child inside. Most of the early months were spent in the doctor’s waiting room, looking at the faces of other expectant mothers. Sometimes, I would find a fellow mother-to-be’s bump replaced by a tiny human all bundled up in her arms. That was a sight which brought joy and let to wonderment of how I would feel once my bundle came outside of me.
First time mum
As a child, I had no immediate interactions with any pregnant women and thus I had no idea of what it meant to be a newbie mother. I did not know how to welcome the life I was going to bring in this world. My husband, I realised, was equally nervous despite all his efforts at exuding confidence and stating that we would get past it when the time came. With my pregnancy drawing to a close, I expressly asked for my parents to be by my side. During one of the checkups before delivery, I was told that the umbilical cord was around the baby’s neck, and the doctor told us our options in such circumstances was to go for a C-section.
Another problem was that even at full term, the baby’s head was not coming down. I remember sitting in the doctor’s room, where the junior doctor was telling me that I needed to do strenuous physical work like sweeping and mopping the floor in order for the baby’s head to come down. I remember the tone she used with me, implying that I had spent my entire pregnancy at leisure. She even said that her Muslim patients had more chances of normal deliveries as compared to us Hindus who were so used to having everything done for us.
Later at home, both my mother and my mother in law asked me to try the doctor’s advice but I was not ready to budge as I felt humiliated and demeaned by her somehow. I was scared for myself and the life I was going to bring in this world and instead of empathy, everyone around me had a lot of ideas regarding the kind of strenuous works I could start in order for the labor pain to arrive. As it was discovered during my C-section, I had a huge fibroid, which was not visible in the scans, which as the doctors later pointed out laconically, may have been the reason for the baby’s head not coming down.
Throughout my pregnancy, I was never keen to know the gender of my baby, which we wanted to be a surprise. And I was shocked to know that I had given birth to a healthy boy. His soft cries and pink lips ushered in a funny wobbly feeling and I realised I was now a mother. The rest of the days passed in a blur. I remember the excruciating pain in my neck and back later, which my doctor said was an after effect of the spinal injection registered before the C-section.
The regular ordeals of motherhood were a part of my life and I decided to face them chin up. I used to be very hungry as I was feeding my baby. One afternoon, after having lunch, I started experiencing excruciating pain in my abdomen and back, followed by a heavy bout of vomiting. It got so worse that I could neither sit nor sleep. There were a series of such attacks and I have vague memories of spending some nights crawled on the floor with pain.
Surgery after C-section
It was later detected that I had stones in my gallbladder and would have to undergo a cholecystectomy. Here I was, post-baby, having undergone a C-section and ready for another surgery within a month. It was a bad time. I remember praying as I was being wheeled inside the operation theatre that I would not have to come here ever again.
My problems did not end here. I started experiencing extreme emotions like anger, despair and bouts of heavy crying. I would suddenly feel that my life now had no purpose, that I would never be able to work (I got married during the course of pursuing my PhD and did not have a full-time job). I also felt sometimes that my life had no meaning and that I would never be able to get a job.
One afternoon, as I was taking a bath, I suddenly started crying out loud. It got so bad that my mother heard my cries and came looking for me. I was later to find out that it was a normal part of pregnancy, known as postpartum depression. And it was the internet that told me about it. Thankfully, my spouse was very patient and understanding and it made this phase bearable. Surprisingly, whenever people talk about starting a family, the idea that is given very rosy and happy. Nobody looks at the picture beyond: of sleepless new mothers trying to figure out changes in their lives and over their bodies. It takes so much time even to get one’s strength back.
Bringing babies in this world is not an easy job, especially in times when families have become nuclear and everyone is hard-pressed for time. Getting all the support from your family and loved ones is not only important but also imperative. Thankfully, I had found my support system. Gradually, my mother and my best-half (yes, that’s what I started referring him as, after realising that he was a gem of a spouse) made sure that I got a lot of rest and stayed cheerful.
Dealing with postpartum depression
My husband and I would go on dates, leaving the child behind with my mother at home. I would look forward to these outings as it helped me restore my confidence. When I suffered from bouts of depression, my father would counsel me and so would the mother and the best-half. They would tell me that I needed to be patient with myself and everything would fall back in place.
Looking back, I realise that they were absolutely right. Time has blown away all the cobwebs clouding my mind. I am now a proud working mother of a school-going toddler. When I think of the time I had him, I realise that it was a difficult phase, which taught me to value everything I had, my health and my relationships. People say that motherhood is not easy. And indeed it’s not. But the love you feel by simply holding your child in your arms is worth all the pain.
India Birth Project is a series of crowdsourced birthing stories that highlight the highs and lows of giving birth. To contribute your story, drop an email to [email protected]