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The indignity of baring her breast, allowing strangers to handle her private parts and the disappointment of not being able to feed her child smothered her. The happiness that she had known was short-lived.
*Trigger warning – Post partum depression (baby blues), suicide
“Bitiya hui hai.” (You have a baby girl) The nurse announced. The father and the grandparents rejoiced.
The weary mother closed her eyes and tried to sleep. The journey of becoming a mother had been thorny.
For years Aliya hadn’t been able to conceive. People had called her names. They had boycotted her on social occasions. Affronted, she had coiled into her cocoon. And then finally out of the blue she had skipped her periods. Two prominent pink lines on the pregnancy kit had confirmed her happiness. The growth of a new being inside her, the heartbeats during the scans and shopping for the new baby was exhilarating.
As days progressed, she ballooned into ninety kg from a slender petite woman. The huge mirror in her bathroom assured her that it was temporary. Once the baby was born, she would bounce back to shape.
And then when her skin erupted into tiny, black moles all over, she panicked. The doctor assured her that these were due to the pregnancy and would soon go away. But no matter how hard she tried to pacify herself, she hated looking at herself in the mirror.
The last few days were the most troublesome. It was difficult to move around. Her joints ached. Chances of spotting were high and she lay confined to her bed. The monotony, the physical discomfort and the anxiety was finally getting on her nerves. She wanted to get over with it fast.
The new mother was in love the moment she set her eyes on her little one. A splitting image of her, she knew that her daughter would surpass her in beauty. That’s when Aliya remembered the pockmarks on her face.
“Nurse, get me a mirror please.” A heavily bloated face stared back at her. The mournful, puffy eyes begged for some sleep. The black moles stood out distinctly against the pale skin. The woman looking back at her was hideous. She broke down.
It was day three and baby was yet to latch on. The lactation consultant had guided her about the posture and the ways to nurse the baby, but the baby refused to latch on. No matter how hard they tried, it was a failure.
On top of it, Aliya’s mother-in-law stood observing the ‘spectacle’. “A bad omen.” She kept muttering to herself. She would pace the room, stand back and run her commentary again. “This devil of a woman can’t even feed her child.”
The indignity of baring her breast, allowing strangers to handle her private parts and the disappointment of not being able to feed her child smothered her. The happiness that she had known was short-lived. The baby was taken away from her and put on top feed. The cries of the hungry child haunted her. Sleep eluded her. It was a frustrating experience.
Her breasts were engorged and painful the next day. There was fever as well. Finally, the breast pump came to her rescue. She could at last feed her child. It did not matter how.
Almost five days in the hospital. Her C-section stitches hadn’t healed well. Sore and painful, every movement was a tedious effort. She walked from her bed to the nursery supporting her belly like an elderly woman stooped with age.
The baby was diagnosed with jaundice, and the hospital stay got extended. Accusatory glances greeted her. Even her husband, who had seemed to be her biggest ally, had turned around. The bills were mounting up.
Her only solace lay in the evening visits from her mother. The elderly lady never spoke much. She sat by her side, caressing and patting her, knowing how distressed her child was. She kept reassuring her.
“The first five days are the worst. The next ten days get better. The fifteen days that follow are easier. Then a month. And then three months. After a year, you and baby will fall into a rhythm. All will be smooth. Give it time. Have patience. One day when you look back you will miss these days.”
Aliya tried hard to hold on to the reins. But they were slipping fast. The tough five days had extended to ten days and showed no sign of dissipating. She was scared to hold the tiny bundle. The husband had screamed at her. “What kind of a mother are you? A mother who can’t even hold her own child?” It made her livid. A tiny voice inside her advised her to throw off the bundle from the terrace. The next moment she was alarmed. How could she….! She had proven that she was worthless as a mother.
She was almost on the last vestiges of her tolerance, when the doctor cleared her for discharge.
Aliya’s daughter was already a month old. Life had changed drastically. There was no respite for her. Most nights she was awake nursing the infant, changing diapers and sterilising the bottles. While the household slept, she carried on with her duties.
“The husband shouldn’t be disturbed,” the mother-in-law had warned. He slept in their bedroom, while she and the baby had moved to the smaller room – the husband’s study room. It had a small window overlooking long stretches of buildings, offering her no view of the green fields. Aliya yearned to move back to her bedroom and to the comfort of her husband’s arms. But ever since they had had their baby, he had chosen to stay away from her.
It was probably her inability to mother her child, she thought. She couldn’t feed her; though it was common knowledge that baby had difficulties in latching.
Maybe she cribbed a lot. Her stitches still hurt. Sudden movements made her wince in pain. Her family labelled her an attention-seeker. They said she had had an easy way out by opting for C-section.
Ahh, it could also be the never-ending menstrual flow. Maybe it repulsed him. No one had prepared her for the heavy periods and the stains. Her aching breasts were another story. And the sleepless nights left her fatigued and cranky.
It was probably the way she looked. Ugly, unkempt and smelling of baby poop and milk, she knew she no longer looked attractive. The billowing maternity garments hid her bulges. Her hair had grown longer. There was no time to comb out the tangles. No time to get her eyebrows plucked.
The woman on the other side of the mirror was huge. Her belly protruded out. The breasts looked out of proportion. There were stretch marks all over her body. No… No… she couldn’t look at her. It was horrible, grotesque…and…and those pockmarks.
Aliya broke down. Nothing of her original self remained.
She could barely manage to eat. Cooking was taken care of by the mother-in-law. But it was as per her wishes. Family traditions dictated that a lactating mother should steer away from non-vegetarian food and spices. Hers was a boiled mish-mash of vegetables and some rice. She hated it. No pleas had worked on the husband. She had tried texting him to bring home a pizza discreetly. He had chosen not to reply.
At home, there was a constant flux of relatives and family friends. But no one cared for her. All they were interested was in the tiny bundle and in criticising her.
Her parents had wanted to take her away for a couple of months, but the parents-in-law had refused. Her parents dropped in at regular intervals carrying words of assurances with them and goodies for her. Ma brought her food she loved till one day her father-in-law told them to stop coming at such frequent intervals.
Aliya withdrew into her cocoon once again. Phone calls and messages to her remained unanswered. She was lost in despair. She loved her baby. The baby meant everything to her but the baby also reminded her of what she had lost. She had lost herself, a part of herself in this journey of motherhood. The new identity was daunting and there was no one she could turn to.
She dialled her best friend’s number. And immediately disconnected it. There was no one she could share her woes with.
The clock went ticking away.
It was the wedding of her brother-in-law. Aliya was excited. They had been invited to a cousins wedding. The lady at the beauty parlour had been kind enough to send someone home to get her facial and eye brows done. She had also bought a beautiful lehenga for her daughter. The little one looked like a doll, decked up in her finery.
The mirror reassured her.
It was time to step out. Everyone was waiting or her.
“What have you done to yourself? Have you looked at the mirror? Sorry, please change into a sari. That lehenga shows all your bulges.’ The husband yelled at her.
Ashamed, Aliya ran into her room. She heard the nanny calling out to her. She did not respond. The main door shut, the car honked and then there was total silence.
She turned towards the mirror. The horribly bloated woman looked back at her. “Is there anything to live for?” The woman shook her head. “No, there is nothing.”
That night they broke the door open. They found her hanging from the ceiling fan.
Author’s note: Based on a true story of a friend I lost a month ago. A mother of two, she suffered from post partum depression after the younger child was born. The family missed the warning bells. She took her life. Request all the mothers to be aware of post partum depression. It’s a silent killer. Not everyone emerges victorious.
If you or anyone you know is feeling suicidal, here are some of the helplines available in India. Please call.
Aasra, Mumbai: 022-27546669
Sneha, Chennai: 044-2464 0050
Lifeline, Kolkata: 033-2474 4704
Sahai, Bangalore: 080–25497777
Roshni, Hyderabad: 040-66202000, 040-66202001
Image source: shutterstock
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Sreemati Sen Karmakar holds a Masters in Social Work (MSW) From Visva Bharati, Shantiniketan. She
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