To let the outpour begin… I CONFESS ! I did not feel “blessed” to have a baby. I have loved the company of young ones all my life and have been able to connect with them at all times. This fondness and curiosity to learn more about little humans led me to pursue my qualifications and my profession in the field of early childhood education. I strongly did and continue to believe that our early childhood experiences define us as human beings, to a large extent. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, a Master’s Degree in Education and a Teaching Diploma in Early Childhood Education, with about 11 plus years of experience in teaching preschoolers and kindergarteners. So with a decade worth of theoretical knowledge and practical experience in the field, I felt “prepared” for the motherhood bliss, in every way. My professional competence and accomplishments were evident not just through my student’s interactions and developmental records, but also through various professional awards and parental accolades that I received consistently over the years. That gave me the confidence I needed to believe that I was all set to be the BEST MUM EVER! As educators, we often refer to our students as “our” kids simply because we tend to spend a large amount of time together – learning and bonding along the way. There have been numerous instances when the little ones “accidentally” tend to call us “mama” or “mummy” during our conversations… that itself shows how they view us and value us at a subconscious level. But they are not really ours to begin with and it’s a whole different ball game to have one of our own. I was hit by this realisation much later. But little did I know that the moment I had a kid I could call “my own”, I would not feel any of the “motherhood bliss”. I did not feel any of the much-hyped mother-child bonding that people talk about and all that I had read about. All of my confidence and enthusiasm disappeared into thin air (POOF!) and all I felt was GUILT! I declared myself as guilty of being an INCOMPETENT, FAILED MOTHER, the minute I became one. The worse part being, I didn’t even know how instantly that gnawing feeling had made home in me and in what way it was about to ruin the most wonderful and memorable, early days of my motherhood journey.
Well, to start with, in addition to my professional excellence as an early childhood educator, I had had an extremely smooth pregnancy. Yes to my luck, my pregnancy had no morning sickness, no aches, no burns, no reactions, nothing to complain about! No bumps atall… well, just the one on my tummy, the normal one! That bump was also in a well toned shape and not so easily noticeable up until the last few weeks. That’s because, I sincerely exercised and worked out everyday right till the day I went into labour. I proudly flaunted my baby bump and my minimal weight gain. I enjoyed every moment of my 38 weeks of pregnancy. I ate well, slept well, was physically fit, mentally positive, emotionally ecstatic, socially pampered and professionally accelerating. We had an awesome baby-moon too, with no hiccups, all the way to Japan and back home to Singapore. My gynaecologist labelled my pregnancy a “textbook pregnancy”. Everything was on track, in sync with the expected milestones. The baby was perfect in every way, very healthy and active right from the time she could move in my womb. I guess, my activity levels kept her active right from the beginning. GO, SUPER BABY!. So, as everything was happening in a textbook-y fashion, I decided to go by the book too. Yes, like any expecting mother, I gobbled up an incredible amount of reading material from books and articles on what to expect when you are pregnant, how to prepare for the delivery, what to shop for and how to care for a newborn. So everything was going BY THE BOOK… I was acing the motherhood thing …BUT this lasted just up until the point when …. I actually went into LABOUR!
Talk about timing, I was 38 weeks pregnant and I went into labour just the night after my mum had arrived to look after me and the baby. Great timing I must say! Now the ironic part of the timing… I went into labour bang on the day that my gynaecologist went on a week long leave. She had examined me a couple of days before that, and said that I was not there yet. However, the baby was in an occiput posterior position which, according to google, is the “most common fetal malposition”. Yes of course I read up on that too. BORN TO BE A SUPER MOM! The doctor told me to continue my exercises in the hope that the baby would fix her position on her own, just in time for a normal delivery. But who knew that I would have to call in for my substitute gynaecologist on the very first day of her stepping in for my original gynaecologist! Nevertheless, things went fairly smooth right until the time I was unable to push, any harder than I already was. In spite of the laughing gas and epidural being administered at the appropriate stages of labour, I was failing to push out my baby. SUPER MOM turned SUPER NUMB. I was pushing with every single ounce of strength I had and they said to me that my push was taking the form of loud groans but wasn’t really doing anything to push the baby out. Seriously ??? What more could I do??? As a part of my pregnancy workout regime, I had done a lot of exercises, particularly the lower back exercises to strengthen those muscles, FOR THIS VERY DAY. I even did those damn Kegel exercises sincerely up till the end, however weird I felt doing those. So, the obstetrician informed me that she would be reducing the strength of the epidural for me so I could feel the pain and as a result, push harder. Nope! SUPER MOM EXHAUSTED even before she became one. I continued to FAIL, but this time while FEELING excruciating pains like never before. I could literally feel the baby stuck somewhere near my ribs and thought she was going to break apart one of my organs in there. She had a survival instinct and a fighter’s spirit that could explode my organs. I was fearing for my life but then I feared something much worse… at one dangerous moment, an extreme realisation dawned upon me that my failure was going to make us lose our baby. The panicky and tensed look on the obstetricians face was saying that I was performing miserably and something terrible was going to happen. I looked at my husband and saw a combination of hope, strain, helplessness and disappointment on his face and felt terrible to do this to him. He didn’t even want a baby as bad as I did, yet he was there trying his best to be there for me. SUPER WIFE turned SUPER SELFISH. I felt GUILTY for putting him through this moment wherein instead of experiencing the surreal feeling of being a father, he had to unexpectedly and single-handedly deal with the horrific feeling of loosing the baby or even me, his childhood sweetheart. There…within minutes, I felt like a FAILED mother as well as a FAILED wife. Not to forget how I was also disappointing the 3 grandparents waiting outside the maternity ward. This was just the beginning, actually not even the beginning, it was more like a “Prologue” to my motherhood journey. And there I was, GUILTY of being overconfident of my skills and knowledge, yet in reality, being miserably underprepared to be able to ace the journey of motherhood!
Without getting into further details of the delivery, let me get to the part when the baby was out. She didn’t cry for a few seconds and those were the longest and the most terrifying seconds of our life. Just then she let out a small yet forceful cry which was such a big relief. It’s amazing how such a little one, within seconds of being born, can have that huge a power and impact over us. So I wasn’t a complete failure, after all. I remembered how on our baby-moon, my husband and I had decided to give her a name, which in Japanese means “A beautiful fruit of HOPE.” Well, at that point, in the delivery room, HOPE was all we had… literally and figuratively. (I don’t want to comment on the “beautiful” part, at that point of time, because it runs the risk of me sounding ungrateful, controversial and simply cruel). Let me just say that my baby has grown into a beautiful and an adorable 2 year old now, however uniquely annoying at times, but which toddler isn’t?!
Anyways, the baby was out healthy and hearty, although she did have a scary looking, superficial bruise on her cheek which we were told was caused because of the forceps used to pull her out. Man, that instrument being inserted into me looked HORRIFYING. As if it wasn’t scary enough that I was pushing out a little human out of me?! But my miserable performance had left them with no choice but to urgently deploy the forceps. She needed to be pulled out as an emergency measure because she couldn’t have been left in there to breathe on her own, in that stuck up position, for long. It all happened so fast yet I was seeing everything unfolding in SLOW MOTION, right before my eyes yet in some dazed up world far far away. We were told that the baby’s cheek wound would heal in no time with regular cleaning and ointment application. True enough, it did heal quick, however, until it did, it served as a nasty reminder of my failure to push her out safely. If I had done a good job in the first place, we would not have needed forceps to pull her out which in turn, could have avoided her bruise and trauma too.
I, on the other hand, was bleeding profusely, because the baby apparently was pulled out from such a challenging position that my bladder tissue was torn, which had left me bleeding like a stuck pig. Tough kid I must say, she literally fought her way out into the world. Collateral damage being her mother’s physical and mental well being. And that damage was about to deprive us of experiencing the feeling of being blessed with a baby girl, as a family. I went from being on a “baby high” to having “baby trauma”. Yes, it’s clinically called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I hadn’t, in the scariest of my dreams, imagined that becoming a mother would leave me with PTSD. Now, that’s something I CONVENIENTLY skipped reading up on… Postpartum Trauma. To think about it, I had lost my father to a sudden heart attack at the age of 12. I had fought and survived cancer at the age of 17. I had dealt with the heartbreaking ramifications of a “very close family member” become a victim of depression at the age of 30. These were some huge, unexpected, life-changing blows which I had managed to steer through, with an incredibly positive outlook and a very strong mindset. And here, at the age of 33, the moment that I most looked forward to, becoming a mum, had instantly and abruptly led me straight to having a PTSD. Based on how I have handled my life experiences up until that point, I saw myself as a strong, fighter kind of person and I certainly didn’t expect to be bordering on Postpartum Anxiety and Depression right after going through the much awaited and supposedly, happiest day of my life. How can I have been prepared for that! Nobody reads up on that, nobody talks about that, nobody sees this happening, and nobody hears about this. Well, at-least not in an openly and widely accepted manner, even though it DOES happen to a lot of new mothers. (Yes, I extensively read up on it after having had to go through it myself). As expected out of baby trauma, I was suddenly and least expectedly numbed of emotions. My whole emotional centre seemed to have run out of power and worse, it was all beyond my control. Never saw THAT happening to me…as a matter of fact, I can be quite an emotionally loaded and demanding person. So for someone like me, this EMOTIONAL BLACK OUT was a SHOCKER which again, I couldn’t feel. It was cyclic in nature that way!
One of those many “missed-out” feelings was the emotional bonding that happens through the direct skin-to-skin contact and care, which I had read that I would instantly experience upon my baby’s arrival. I feel insensitive to CONFESS that I felt NOTHING when I held my baby for the first time. Some BEST MUM EVER, right! Of course, I was glad she was out healthy but felt no emotional connection whatsoever. And even before I could be thankful for or feel blessed for having a healthy baby, I was being taken in for a critical surgery to fix that bladder tear. I will never forget the look on my husband’s face. Wife in surgery and baby in nursery care. He tried his very best to stay strong and put up a bold front. He took the baby to show her to the grandparents. They were elated of course but everyone was under the stress of what happens to me – specially my mom who only has me for a family (I am a single child to a single parent). Let’s not forget the financial strain here, which till date I’m not entirely sure that I’m accurately updated on. Although I felt extremely PROUD that my husband stepped up and single handedly took all the decisions on matters he never expected to be in charge of, but then again, I felt extremely GUILTY of putting him through it. For example, How to feed the baby while the mother is in surgery? The whole dilemma of bottle feeding and formula affecting the breast feeding process. I can only imagine his state of mind when he had to deal with such questions and the decision making at that point in time. Anyways, when I woke up from the surgery, it was him I saw first. He had a calm and reassuring look but I could feel that he was internally rattled, concerned and exhausted. Again, I felt nothing but GUILT! And this was only our Day 1 as being parents. How were we going to move forward, with such a jarring experience, in such a devastated state of mind, with an innocent newborn to be responsible for! I was in no position to talk to him or anyone, I just slept through the night, with the baby in the nursery… being cared for by strangers. SUPER MOM OUT! That was probably my last night of deep, uninterrupted sleep. That was it… Never properly at peace, EVER AGAIN! #joysofparenting vs #realityofparenting
Before you think that was awful for Day 1, let me tell you that the following few weeks were much worse. I cant seem to forget how I had simply burst out crying when the grandparents came to see me and the baby for the first time, the very next day. They weren’t tears of joy, but just shame – ashamed by how my disgraceful and disastrous performance had ruined what should have been precious moments of elation. Anyways, after the surgery, I had an inserted tube and a urine bag attached to me for 3 weeks. This was done so the repaired bladder tissue could stay dry and heal. After 3 weeks, we were to check whether or not the whole thing had affected my bladder capacity and its functioning for life. I had to deal with this whole uncertainty IN ADDITION to catering to my newborn’s needs. As if a newborn’s care taking routine wasn’t chaotic enough, I had to function with a handicap on one side due to the tube and bag. SUPER MOM TURNS HALF MOM. Thankfully I had help (and a lot of it). My husband and my mum had to take over a whole lot of the baby care duties. My in-laws too supported me in whichever way they possibly could. AND we had a domestic helper as well (#SouthAsianLivingPriviledge). Yes, we all lived under the same roof at that point in time. I had lots of help but that again made me feel more and more GUILTY! My choice, my decision, my baby and yet somehow I ended up being the least competent person in this whole thing.
It’s not that I couldn’t feel anything under this emotional blackout, I could only feel two emotions… GUILT AND INCOMPETENCE. The baby I wanted more than anything in the world, was here ! This was supposed to be a picture perfect, joyous experience for the family, as a whole. Like we see in the movies, like we read in books, like we hear in songs or nowadays like the way we are bombarded on social media, with the annoying number of hashtags that repeatedly emphasise on the tremendous joy in parenting #farfarawayfromreality. And in reality, there I was, feeling nothing but incomplete, incompetent, insufficient, and GUILTY. This was not what I had imagined for myself. And not only was I solely responsible for this but I was also responsible for forcing everyone else to put up with it. I had single handedly ruined these cherish-able moments for everyone. No reading material had prepared me for this, specially after such an uneventfully smooth pregnancy. I felt like I was thrown from great heights, into this endless pool of water and was expected to swim-on – along with a tube, urine bag and a helpless, hungry, sleepy, cranky yet innocent newborn attached to me. And imagine swimming through those open, deep waters (as a debutant with no formal swimming training) and being hounded by consistently bad weather. Not to forget the “village” of a family that I had dragged to swim along with me. But let’s look into those hurdles in my next emotional “outpour” where the GUILT ON ARRIVAL phase transformed into the next phase, which turned out to be the exact opposite of the now hyper trending quote: “#HAPPY MOTHER = HAPPY BABY#”