Giving birth to a child is both physically and an emotionally challenging process. And, as common sense can grant us, there is a plethora of research articles which suggest that the challenge increases when the parturient women are primiparous (first-time mothers). The reasons for this challenge have been imputed to a number of factors but they largely focus on the change in internal or mental make-up (viz., ‘mood swings’) of the woman owing to the inevitable changes in her biology. For instance, an article published in BMJ, one of the oldest medical journals, reported that a high antenatal progesterone (a hormone) level is positively correlated with ‘maternal blues’. Even though I agree that biological changes, indeed, have a role in transforming both woman’s body and woman’s mind, is that all?
Being a woman who has given birth to a little girl two years ago, I would emphatically say ‘no’ to the above question. I’m an Indian, humbly brought up, middle-class girl, oops, woman, whose parents made sure that she had the liberty to lead her life on her own terms. This girl had (still has) a life, fell in love, got married, made a baby and then it hit her hard that she was no longer a girl! In this article, I intend to narrate my story of this transition from being a girl to a first-time mother, keeping the biological reasons at bay and focusing purely on the ‘external’ aspects.
Here, through a series of specific points, I’ll try to portray what traits characterise this new mother and how that is different from the young girl she had been once:
1. Ability to be a ‘zombie’: The girl who took at least 7-8 hrs of sleep everyday has now discovered that she can sleep for 2 hours a day and survive for around 6-8 months! How can any sane person beat that?! For the record, the girl may have been up and studying for two days straight during her exams, but not otherwise. Phew! That is such an improvement.
2. Dealing with ‘depression’: The vivacious girl is now thinking if she could survive another day. By the way, postpartum depression is real and the American Psychological Association tells me that 1 in every 7 women gets depressed.
3. Ability to face ‘exclusion’: The girl who had such an active social life with a huge circle of loving friends and family is suddenly excluded from the parties and is dropped from all happening events by none other than people she adored. The theatre-buff has not been to the theatre for the past two years now.
4. Realisation of ‘inequality’ in the marriage: The girl was exposed to feminist writings of Pankhurst and Simone de Beauvoir. She believed that she and her mate would share the burden of the changed life equally. Lo! Came the baby and the belief was shattered. Even though the partner helped her out, he ‘helped’ her out!
5. Ability to face ‘negativity’: Someone called her chubby and the girl would go on a healthy meal course for a while. Look at the poor woman now, she has gained weight and people (read: annoying relatives) are asking her at a wedding venue (where she managed to show up for a minute), “What happened to you? You have gained a lot of weight? My daughter-in-law was back in shape within a month; you are taking quite long?” The words haunt the woman and she weeps with her baby.
6. Capability of ‘forgetting the mirror’: The girl would brush her teeth in the morning, while looking at the mirror and inspecting every little spot, pimple or acne that might have appeared in the course of the night that just passed, or she might spend half an hour just oiling her hair or rubbing lemon on her face. Compare to this – the mother makes a quick bun, while the baby breastfeeds and rushes her to get in time for the doctor’s appointment. The mother has not stared at her beautiful self for a few months now.
7. Dealing with an ‘identity crisis’: The girl was a confident, headstrong and an independent lass. She would earn and spend and was not accountable to anyone. The mother has an identity crisis and does not know if her baby is separate from her. She does not want the baby to be taken care of by someone else and, hence, in the process loses her ability to negotiate her professional presence.
8. Ability to ‘tolerate crap’: The girl would simply not engage with people who would gossip or make her angry. The mother has to face and reflect on the complaints that come against her from a member of the family, not directly, but through her husband.
9. Pressure to ‘run a household’: The girl would happily make maggi and the dinner was done. The mother makes sure that the food is rich in protein, fibre, carbohydrates and fats. In fact, she ensures that the diet is rich in fibre so that the little one doesn’t get constipated, or, rich in protein so that the baby grows well. The mother understands that the entire economics of the household is governed by what’s cooking in the kitchen!
10. Constant need to ‘focus on the essential’: The girl would not forget to carry her entire make-up box on a trip. The mother will carry the diapers, food, baby’s water bottle sans her trinklets for they would occupy too much space!
While the mother was developing the above traits, she unconsciously also developed another trait – the ability to love unconditionally. Remember, babies do not reciprocate mother’s love and, in fact, forget love, it is not until 3 months that their first social smile appears! She worked day and night tirelessly and when that smile appeared, it became one of the most fulfilling and rewarding experiences for her!
The above traits have made me a different person and, of course, the all powerful biology has supported this transition in its own subtle ways. Reflecting on this transition, I believe this change is for good for it made me realise the extremes of my own ability.
Being a parent is one of those rarest events of one’s life which adds immense existential value and, hence, with this article, I do not intend to dissuade people from being parents or scare them away. In fact, I would urge friends and families of pregnant women or new mothers to understand this process of transition and make her comfortable, in whatever little ways you can.