I swear there are days when I want to be rid of this crying infant. I want my life to go back to what it was before her. I want normal!
The third winner of our February 2020 Muse of the Month contest is Sonal Singh.
*Trigger warning: Post Partum Depression
“Not again!” I groan as I hear the baby wail.
Lying in bed, I cover my ears to drown out the sound but it still penetrates. I swear she has the lungs of a bull! Who knew babies could bellow so much!
All I crave is sleep but sleep eludes me these days. Ironic, isn’t it? Just when I need more rest, I have turned into an insomniac counting the minutes and dreading the next call to duty…breast feeding! How I abhor the job! It makes me feel like a fat cow that is being milked. Ugh!
The baby’s wails escalate.
“Arrgh! Shut-up,” I yell. I hate the sound.
I am ashamed to admit it but her screeches put me on edge. Every time she cries, like an ostrich I want to bury my head in the sand and pretend she does not exist. But, I can’t.
I look at the clock and groan again. It is time for her next fix…her feed.
I know I should go to her but I can’t move. I feel debilitated, totally exhausted. I cannot muster the strength to get up from the bed. I am fearful that if I do go, I may shake her in frustration or worse, strangle her in my anger.
Yesssss…, I know that’s a terrible thing for a mother to think or admit to. Even as I think it, I can hear the taunts in my head ‘How can you even think this?’, ‘What kind of mother are you?’, ‘You are a monster, not a mother!’
I want to smack the voices down and say – You know what? I know! I know that I am a terrible mother. Just f***ing back off!
But, the niggling voices continue to jibe.
The rebukes do not stop.
Wails, nappies and feedings – Yes! That has been my life for the past few months, ever since the baby came.
When she cries, as her mother I am supposed to rush to comfort and pacify her. You’d think that would be the maternal thing to do, right? But, my maternal instincts do not come to fore. Do I have any at all? I don’t think I do. If I had, would I not be a better mother?
It wasn’t supposed to be like this, was it? They said – ‘Babies are special’, ‘it’s the best time of your life’, ‘enjoy this magical phase’, and what not.
If it were so then would I not feel differently than I do now?
They said, ‘a mother bonds with her baby instinctively’. Well that certainly did not happen with me because I swear there are days when I want to be rid of this crying infant. I want my life to go back to what it was before her. I want normal! It’s not too much to ask for or is it?
God! These thoughts scare me now days. I am fearful of being near her, lest I hurt her. I don’t trust myself around her. I don’t think I will hurt her but…
My husband does not understand. Of late his eyes bore into my soul, angry and accusatory. He repeatedly tells me what a crappy mother I am. As if I don’t know! I don’t need reminders.
“You are useless,” he said the other day. “Why did you have a baby if you cannot take care of her? Or, do you expect me to do it? It’s not my job…it’s yours. Get that into your head. It’s a woman’s job to take care of the child. Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”
He says such things often to me nowadays. His words hurt. Each barb hits home and each taunt further frays the tenuous hold I have on myself. He has become a different man. I no longer recognize him as the man I married. I don’t think he loves me anymore. No one loves me anymore.
When he speaks thus, his words erode the last vestige of my self confidence. The inner voices in my head start up again, rebuking me– ‘You are a no-good mother. The baby is better off without you. You should remove yourself from her life!’
That night, I do what I never thought I would – I take a razor blade to my wrist.
My unsuccessful suicide attempt has alienated my husband. He avoids me now – like the plague. He has taken to sleeping in the guest room. There is this huge chasm between us. God! I have never felt so alone. I have never felt so scared.
Self-doubt has become a constant companion now.
For months now I have been suffering in silence. I feel overwhelmed, almost suffocated, all the time. Forcing even a few morsels down my throat is a chore. I want to shut myself up in my room and forget everyone and everything.
Is my husband right? Am I a worthless, shitty mother?
It is at such moments that I question my role as a care giver. I fear I am not up to the job. I am not qualified. I am scared of the person I have become.
I hate myself!
Who am I? What have I turned into?
Now that the baby is three months old, my life has sunk into a routine.
When she cries, I go and pick her up. As if on auto pilot, I bare an engorged breast and get milked. She suckles and quietens, making satiated gurgling sounds.
Maybe it is divine intervention, God taking pity on me or it is something else but today as I nurse her something clicks. Some of my anxiety, my fears and my misgivings start to dissipate. Some clarity emerges. As I look down at her, I feel love engulf me. Suffused with maternal warmth, I cuddle her close. Tears stream down my face.
‘Why am I so scared?’ I question myself. ‘She is fine. She is happy.’
As the thoughts assail me, I subside into loud racking sobs. The guilt is too much to bear at this moment. I look at the angelic, cherubic face and feel a wave of self-loathing.
God! I am abominable.
Sitting there, cuddling her to my breast, I break down.
It is at this precise moment that I realize I need help. I need to root out this fear created by some weird psychosis. I cannot let unreasonable doubts control me. I have to rise above this. I have to get a grip on myself and my emotions. I have to win over this state of my mind. My daughter has only me. She needs me. In fact, right now, I am the only one she needs.
Next day, I make an appointment to see my doctor.
“It’s called post partum depression (PPD),” the doctor says, “and, it is fairly common in first time mothers. All your symptoms point to it – insomnia, fear, anxiety, self doubt, loss of appetite, exhaustion, suicidal thoughts…everything.”
Confused, I look at the doctor. “Depression…are you sure?” I ask him. “I have never had a depressed day in my entire life.”
“It is a condition that most women develop after their pregnancy,” he smiles and continues. His voice is gentle. “You see, there are so many changes that a woman’s body goes through to give birth. There are hormonal surges, emotional and psychological pressures and the pressures of additional responsibility. Not all bodies adjust. Some adapt faster while others take time.”
“So, you mean I have a sickness? I am ill?”
“No, no,” the doctor says reassuring me. He shrugs his shoulders, “Think of it as a condition or rather a treatable condition. Yours is the result of a complexity of factors. But the fear that you have developed, that you are not a good mother, is baseless. Get that out of your head. A mother is not born a mother. Just like a woman gives birth to a child, a child too gives birth to a mother. It is a first time experience for both. It is a learning phase and a little bit of fear is natural but don’t let that fear control your basal maternal instincts. Banish it.”
After a long time, sitting there in the doctor’s clinic, I felt the stirring of hope and strength. I look at him and without even realizing it, I start crying. But, these are tears of relief. I am relieved that there is someone who understands what I am feeling. I am relieved that there is someone who empathizes. For the first time in months I feel as if I am understood.
“I can prescribe some medicines but PPD is a form of depression. And, like any form of depression, the best treatment is mental fortitude. If the patient cooperates, the condition abates faster. Question is can you cooperate?”
I dry my tears. “Yes, I can,” I promise him.
The doctor smiles, “Well, that’s half the battle won already.”
A few months later…
The doctor was right! It indeed was in my hands to recover.
Once I took charge of my recovery, you know what I did? Taking the doctor’s suggestion, I surrounded myself with things that made me happy – music, books, comedy films on TV, positive reinforcement articles…the works. I went all out! I had to, didn’t I, for both my sake and my daughter’s. On my well-being, hers depended!
Once the teeniest bit of normalcy returned, I joined a self help group that I found online. I admit, initially I was skeptical to take part. The fear that I would be judged by others, made me hold back. It scared me that if I admitted to my murderous or worse suicidal thoughts, they would shun me, like my family had. I so badly wanted them to accept me and yet, I did not have the courage to take a leap of faith.
‘What will they think of me?’ Thoughts such as these clouded my judgement.
So, for some time I remained a silent spectator. But soon I came to understand that everyone on the group was battling the same demons. We were all kindred souls. I realized that this group was my safety net, a place where I could share without fear of recrimination. This made me realize that I had no reason to feel ashamed. That what I felt, what I was going through, wasn’t my fault!
Gradually, I started participating in the discussions. I shared my fears. When I spoke, they listened. When I wanted, they offered sage counsel. They supported me, without judgement.
I tell you, what a relief it was to be able to share. It was such a huge burden off of me. For the first time in so many months, I felt liberated.
Bit by bit, I picked up the pieces of my sanity, of my life. Once again I started identifying with the person I was. I learned to empathize with my own roiling emotions. And, I learned to let go of my misgivings about my ability as a care giver.
Most importantly, I finally bonded with my baby and I learned to laugh.
The road to recovery has been hard, very hard. It has taken every ounce of fortitude that I could muster to fight my PPD. There have been days when I have yo-yoed between bouts of self-loathing and self-pity. My fears and apprehensions have continued to battle with my sanity. But, I have emerged victorious. I have learned to forgive myself. And, I have learned to love myself, shortcomings and all.
Today, I am no longer a captive of my fears.
Author’s note: Post partum depression is a genuine psychological condition. Sadly, it is also a condition which is not taken seriously by family members. It also does not get the support it needs. However, our love and support can help a mother suffering from PPD. So, if you come across any new mother who exhibits symptoms described in the story or in this article, please do not hesitate to extend a hand.
Editor’s note: It’s the new decade of the new millennium, and here’s a fresh theme for our beloved writing contest, Muse of the Month. In 2020, we bring to you quotes feminist women achievers around the world – we hope to bring you some food for thought, and look forward to the same engaging short stories that are a hallmark of our Muse of the Month contests.
Here’s the woman for February 2020 – 38 year old tennis wiz Serena Williams has 39 Grand Slam titles under her belt. She has gone through much in her life, not the least of it was racism in a high profile game, making her the perfect pick for Black History Month as a black woman mover & shaker world over. She has since then worked her way to the top after injury, pregnancy, and childbirth too. In January 2020, she has won her first singles title since her maternity break, in the 2020 Auckland Open, showing that she is indeed one of the best.
The cue is this quote by her: “Whatever fear I have inside me, my desire to win is always stronger.”
Sonal Singh wins a Rs 500 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. Congratulations!
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