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Being A New Mom: What No One Tells You About Riding The Tunnel

Posted: December 12, 2014

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A beautiful personal guide to being a new mom and coping with the changes that the phase immediately after childbirth brings you.

“You girls are so lucky. You have ante-natal classes, labour classes, you read online, get books. You are so well-prepared for child-birth. We were clueless; just jumped right into the deep end of the pool”

I heard versions of this throughout my pregnancy. From family friends, older relatives, and even my mother. Sometimes it was said with envy, sometimes in exasperation – when I over analysed something.

But no one said anything about what happens next. The toughest labour still ends – in three hours or twenty-four – I knew that it is inherently time-limited. What about what comes next? It never really sunk in that I would have an infant in my arms at the end of the ordeal, and that labour is just the beginning. Perhaps it is obvious to everyone else. Yet, the kind of upheaval I went through when I was suddenly a mother to a baby – that is rarely talked about. No one says, “Oh man, I thought child birth was hard, but the first couple of months after that? Whew!”

I heard vague indications – “Get good rest now, you may not get much sleep after the baby is born”. But sleep deprivation is so utterly the smallest part of the challenge. Most people pull all-nighters in college, go for late evening parties, even work extra hard for a couple of months at work, to complete a deadline. The difference is the relentlessness and the enormous sense of responsibility. Very rarely in life is anyone so intensely dependent on you and your decisions. And most women walk into motherhood with very little preparation or training for any of it – especially if you grew up in a nuclear family.

And most women walk into motherhood with very little preparation or training for any of it – especially if you grew up in a nuclear family.

When my baby was born, it felt like he and I had entered into a tunnel together. Suddenly, the environment I was used to, the things I cared about, the things that I thought defined me, all disappeared. They were all still there somewhere – my books, music, the shows I watched, the events I cared about, my friends and family. But suddenly, it seemed like I had lost access to them, that my brain had had a short circuit and whenever I tried to care about any of those things, everything seemed stupendously irrelevant.

The newspaper was still delivered each day – others read it, I didn’t care what day of the week it was. My father watched television, and I would hear the sounds in another room and wonder why anyone wasted time on politics. I tried to keep in touch with my friends, only to find that I had no words to say what I was feeling. Not even my husband or mother was in the tunnel with me. It was just me and the baby. My old life had vanished, and my brain was working in a new unfamiliar way. It was difficult to even find the time for a relaxed cup of coffee or to shower in peace.

The tunnel is a scary place – because even I felt unfamiliar to myself. Because I didn’t know if it would end. Am I forever changed because I am now a mother? Will I ever find the time or inclination for my old interests or will my ‘Mommy’ness rule me and make me into one of those crazy parents? Was I the only person who felt like this? If everyone went through this, why doesn’t anyone talk about it?

Was I the only person who felt like this? If everyone went through this, why doesn’t anyone talk about it?

The tunnel was also scary because I had the primary responsibility to decode my baby’s cries. Hunger? Wet nappy? Stomach ache? Sleepiness? Some weird ailment that I should know about but don’t? Should I be doing something that I am not? Am I causing distress to my tiny human because I am simply clueless? It was easier in the hospital – subconsciously, I was aware of the safety net of doctors and nurses. At home? I was It.

Helpful visitors wafted by and said, ‘he’s hungry, feed him’ every time he cried. If I responded with, ‘I just finished feeding him for forty-five minutes’, I would get pitying looks and hear some offended muttering ‘He’s just hungry. Don’t let him cry like this’

Don’t let him cry? Let him? I was willing to write away my lifetime’s earnings if I could comfort and console him. Don’t let him cry, indeed.

Sometimes, I would just give up. I would have tried everything – being a human pacifier, changing him, rocking, singing, cuddling, changing again, checking for weird things like hair wrapped around a toe, and still the desperate crying wouldn’t stop. It drove me to the edge of reason. I would stop, hand him to my mother or husband, shower, wash my hair, and come out ready to try the same things again. This time with a fervent prayer to God. I believed that I had moved forward a little, that somehow I was closer to the end of the tunnel. And in my relentless experimentation and repeated failure, I had learned a little bit about my child.

I was running a marathon with nothing but the thought, ‘If I keep putting one foot in front of the other, in time, I will finish’.

This was not just tiredness, not just lack of sleep, but a period of intense learning that I was not prepared for. I was running a marathon with nothing but the thought, ‘If I keep putting one foot in front of the other, in time, I will finish’.

Perhaps because motherhood is so ubiquitous and (nowadays) so invisible, I assumed that it would be easy. I was a strong, capable woman, who had had multiple responsibilities already, could this really be so difficult? And when it was tough, I had terrible self-doubt. Which only made the tunnel longer and more torturous than it needed to be.

So here’s my little bit for any new mother, or mother-to-be out there.

It’s temporary

Hopefully, you will have a lovely, low-maintenance baby, who cries only for food and then sleeps and sleeps and sleeps. But if not, and you go through the tunnel, then know that it ends. And that the light shines out. You will have some predictability in your day, you will enjoy the same books, you will continue to have friends, and find the time to relate to them. You will also stop worrying about every single thing, and will know what is worthy of panic and what needs to simply be ignored.

You are not alone

The feeling of being overwhelmed, exhausted, at your wit’s end? It’s normal. Many, many, many people go through it. It is absolutely no reflection on how good you will be as a parent.

Some things change, some remain the same

Perhaps you won’t find the time for every single one of your interests. It is unlikely you will spend hours surfing the web. Or go out with friends every weekend. But if the technicolour of your life loses some shades, the ones that remain will turn a richer, brighter hue. I used to write desultorily, occasionally, and be extremely casual about the whole thing. I had all the time in the world, so I would edit ‘later’.

Now, when the baby naps for a couple of hours, I want to write down everything I thought of during the endless hours of feeding, rocking, cuddling, and crooning. I check my email rarely, but often reply to everyone immediately. Who thought that being more busy would mean I would get more things done?

The day I spotted the end of the tunnel was a beautiful one. For half an hour, I had coffee and read the paper, and actually found the news worth reading. The baby napped. Slowly my son began to wake and sleep in some sort of pattern, and I found that I could go on a walk in the evening at about the same time every day. I began to decode his various cries and started to understand how some mothers seem to ‘know’ what their child needs.

Like any effortless performance on stage needs endless practice, instinct is often built over the foundation of experimentation and failure. We even rode through the first vaccination. And one night, deliciously, he slept for six hours at a stretch. When I woke up, and checked my  watch, I couldn’t believe the time. And yet, in that fresh feeling in my head, the restfulness of my body, I knew that it had happened.

As I looked at my kid, I realised just how perfectly adorable he was.

Pic credit: Image of newborn’s feet via Shutterstock.

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