Even before a mother gives birth to a child, “a child gives birth to a mother.” The second part of this statement is often not given the attention it deserves. As a first time mum coping with some intense postpartum trauma and anxiety, I had missed out on feeling a lot of the “positive” emotions which were supposed to bond my baby and me. But, nevertheless, my early motherhood journey was nothing short of a miracle. As the anti anxiety medication and counselling were showing quick results and fixing the chemical imbalances in my brain, I was beginning to see the damage that had been done in such a short span of 45 days. This clarity in my mental vision was so alarming that I couldn’t process how disconnected I was from my baby. This shock was sufficient enough to not only awaken but also strengthen the motherly gene in me. As I was stabilising into being my normal, rational and emotionally strong self, my baby had given me the push that I desperately needed, to give my best then on. Even though my push in the delivery room didn’t do much, my baby’s push this time, did it all for me. Immediately as I had stepped off the “out of control” hormonal roller coaster, my baby nudged me to gather all my courage to say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH and taken control of the situation. With a calm mind, when I saw the unbelievable damage I had done (to no fault of my own really), I took no time to snap out of it. Once those misbehaving hormones were shown their place, I instantly felt a clinging bond with my baby. Much like an overloaded circuit that causes electricity to trip, my overloaded mind had caused my connection with my baby to trip. As I was coming out of the emotional mess, it was as if my mental circuit was “reset” and my motherhood journey had “restarted. Then on, I felt strong enough to attend to all of those dilemmas, those challenged myths and those tough decisions related to my newborn’s care which I had been struggling to manage earlier on. Then on, I was going all out (way out of the books) and striving to be a SUPERMOM, but #DOINGITMYWAY. I shall bend and flex as much as possible but I wasn’t going to break, not this time.
I had consciously made a decision to rationally address all of those problem areas related to my baby and me, one by one. Coming back from the dark side of that quote, I was determined to make the whole Happy Mum = Happy Baby quote come true for us. First stop to baby care, milk. My baby, my body, my choice. To start with, I graciously accepted that breastfeeding wasn’t working out for me or even my baby. We had a silent, mutual understanding on this one. Despite everything and against all odds, I switched my baby to formula at 2 months of age – at first intermittent with pumped breastmilk and then at 3 months of age, she was exclusively on formula. I had this high quality pump with all its fancy features and accessories to ensure my comfort and convenience, yet I hated the whole pumping routine. In addiction to the PTSD induced low supply, I was on anti anxiety medication, which required me to pump and dump a few times depending on the timing of my medication. It was just too much to commit to given that my baby didn’t really have an appetite for milk in the first place. As a “unique” baby who didn’t seem to be a fan of milk but had no choice really, she fortunately made peace with the situation and swiftly accepted formula. However, when I compared her intake to the average intake of babies that age, I learnt that she was consuming formula in minimal portions as well, just like breastmilk. Nothing really seemed to have changed for her and somehow I knew that her dislike for milk was there to stay. #MumInstinct. It was as if she was just waiting out this milk phase for some really “yummy” food to be introduced to her. My lesson: I accepted that my unconventional infant doesn’t like milk, for the countless number of reasons as there might be, but she just doesn’t. PERIOD. Even today, as a 2 year old, she consumes no milk but continues to get her nutrients from milk products that were introduced to her as soon as she turned 6 months of age. She loves milk products but hates MILK by itself. #JustlikeMamaPapa. Fair enough. Milk Wars Averted Forever. So when I decided to switch her exclusively to formula back then, I left no room for GUILT to creep in. I confidently let myself off the breastfeeding trauma I was going through and focused on ensuring that my baby was happy and fed well. Looking back, I’m thankful that my headstrong baby had made her peace with formula in no time and as far as my baby feeding routine went, I was happier and so was my baby. #Milkmythschallenged.
Second stop to baby care, sleep. I committed myself to the process of ensuring that my baby got enough rest in the form of some peaceful, uninterrupted sleep through the day (and night). That was the goal – I told myself. Now, to achieve that, I decided to do whatever it takes. There’s no right and no wrong… just watch, learn and move along! To achieve my goal, I had to say a quick goodbye to all of the thoughtfully picked out baby care products that we had invested a lot of time and money into buying during my pregnancy – all of the stuff I was so looking forward to using for the mini-me. For my “High Thinking, Simple Living” baby, I gave up on “material comforts” like the MotherCare cot which was supposed to ensure independent space for her, the infamous Snoo which was supposed to rock her to sleep with its creative motions and white noise feature, the strap-on swaddles that were supposed to ensure security, the plush blankets that were supposed to provide cosy warmth, or even the special pillow that was supposed to ensure she didn’t develop the flat head syndrome. I frivolously chose to let my humble baby sleep WITH ME, or even ON ME, in OUR BED as long as she wanted, so she could get the beauty sleep she deserved. We turned into her human bed, blanket, pillow, swaddle, rocker and white noise generators. I didn’t care for whether this arrangement was right or wrong, whether she would get too used to it, whether it would make it difficult to transition her to an independent bed later on… NOPE! No room for that! I was just staying focussed on my baby’s needs in that moment. If only we had the slightest clue of how my baby’s personality would pan out once born, we could have saved ourselves a lot of time, money and frustration. It was as simple as it could get. My husband continued to extend his unconditional support on my approach, even though I’m sure that he DID have quite a few opinions of his own. I’m glad he kept them to himself, for the sake of all our sanity and in the spirit of POWERING THROUGH! Night feeds were much better with the formula filling her up good enough to sleep through the night. By 5 months of age, she was sleeping through the night and because she started to sleep well, so did we. A good nights sleep can do wonders and only when we had lost that, did we truly realise the value in it. Quality sleep can break or make you (me atleast) #sleepmythschallenged.
Third stop to baby care, comfort. Now that I was physically mobile, independent and comfortable holding on to my baby without the tube and bag, she was comfortable being held. It was magical how my comfort made her comfortable when not so long ago, it was exactly the other way around. She was squirmy with discomfort and I was restrained with a handicap. When we finally found our little cozy way of holding onto each other, my touchy feely baby developed this skin-to-skin touch technique to soothe herself, where she will keep squeezing my husband’s or my arm and/or elbow area, until she falls asleep. A soothing mechanism she continues to use even today, at the age of 2. It’s a skin to skin touch technique uniquely created by her. This was in addition to the PACIFIER that soothed her and calmed her sucking reflex. Again, I consciously turned a deaf ear (and a blind eye) to the disadvantages of a pacifier and only focused on its benefits that were clearly evident to me, right before my eyes. I left no room whatsoever, for any kind of second thoughts to creep into me. I had chucked all the books and texts for good, I was doing my own thing and following my own mantra…. Each to his own, do whatever works! Unless I was doing something grossly and ethically wrong, there was no stopping me. I was following a simple model called Observe and React. And that required me to devise, test, implement and follow up on a couple of theories of my own. I must however add that I am still not completely weaned off my BY THE BOOK ways. I still read and hear but I vigilantly monitor and improvise them my way, to suit my baby and me. SUPER MOM turns HANDS-ON MOM!
Next on the list, get onboard the MommyCare Express. It was time for some critical self-care for the SUPER HANDS-ON MOM. Like I said in my earlier outpours, it was not that I wasn’t cared for all this while, I just didn’t FEEL like it. Once my baby’s struggle with her basic needs was attended to, I was in a much better frame of mind to attend to my own – without feeling the guilt. For my baby’s sake, I had to ensure that the cup was full and overflowing so I could serve her better. So first stop to mommy care, meals. I was not breastfeeding anymore, so I could now indulge in all sorts of foods and beverages. Yes, EVERYTHING that I was previously deprived of. Coffee and alcohol topped that list of-course. That liberation and satiation was the much needed win that I could use. To me, a big part of the Happy Mother = Happy Baby mantra was the first half of that mantra. I HAD TO and DESERVED to be a HAPPY MOM… for my baby. Whatever it takes, nothing unethical and non-child-friendly of-course.
Next stop to mommy care, sleep. I decided to take advantage of the village full of help that I had, GUILT FREE. Thanks to my husband, in-laws and 2 full time helpers (#SouthAsianLivingPriviledge), I chose to sleep whenever the baby sleeps or at least I tried. Why not? Turned out, all that my baby needed was ME. And so we slept it out, and like I said earlier, sleep can do wonders especially back then when I was getting out of my mood disorder and anxiety and my baby was getting out of her troubled, erratic, sleepless nights. Sleep can be overly underrated and we both desperately needed the snooze to refresh and restart, over and over again. Eat, Sleep, Play, Repeat. What I had also learnt and experienced the hard way was, how hormones can wreck havoc in our lives, to no fault of anyone. You see, I had everything and everyone I needed to happily raise my baby and yet I was unhappy. Another myth challenged right there. Happiness is not just a state of mind, its also the state of your hormones, over which we have absolutely no control. Human body does work in mysterious ways, thankfully today we have modern science and medicine to explain most, if not all of it. Anyways, as I got to eat my way and sleep the sound way, I was in a much better mindset to stay sane and cater to my baby’s every realistic and unrealistic demand. She deserved it too, after all. It’s all so simple, basic and primitive in nature yet can get so complex, challenging and plain out of control.
Once the most basic of my physiological needs were met, the next couple of stops on the MommyCare Express was ALL ABOUT THE MIND. I needed to make mental space for matters other than the baby. Naturally, the baby did and shall continue to occupy a major part of our mental space, for THE REST OF OUR LIVES. But I needed to gradually and consciously make some room for matters other than the baby. A major problem earlier on was that I “felt” like I had completely lost my personal sense of space and identity. And I had to address that issue right then and there, before I completely lost myself again. Brain breaks are refreshing and would only make me a happier person and therefore a happier mother. A mind and heart over occupied for too long, with anything for that matter, can become heavy and exhausted to the extent that it would just break. And I was not going to let that happen again. So how do I reorganise and compartmentalise my mental closet? I had to vet through and wisely choose the information that was worthy of occupying my mental space. On baby related matters, I went from obsessing over every detail related to my baby to screening information and focusing on only the stuff which I thought was helpful to me and applicable to my baby. The things that really mattered and worth the struggle. Choose my battles and see the BIG PICTURE! On a positive note, I started to photo-document my baby’s EVERY MILESTONE (big or small). I read up on simple activities to engage and interact with my baby. MUSIC turned out to be the key to my baby’s happiness and fun time… still continues to be. Be it through a visual or audio mode or just passively playing in the background… she just loves listening to her “educational” songs and it evidently helps her to learn about and do a whole lot of active play stuff at the same time, which many a times happens to take me by surprise too. She can multitask at a whole new level where all of her senses and skills are at work, all at the same time. I didn’t back then and still don’t care much for the whole screen time debacle, as long as I don’t see it hampering my baby’s growth and development in any form. Of-course its all moderated and monitored by me. Anyways, as I was saying earlier, she started to enjoy playing and exploring. Yes!!! FINALLY!!!#Babymilestonesinprogress. Baby on the move, Mommy following the groove.
I started sharing about those milestones and fun moments with people who mattered. Shared joy is a double joy, true that! And so, I started socialising and reconnecting with people who I handpicked, knowing that they would only lift me up further. I started getting out of the house because I realised that the “four walls” were playing a big role in suffocating my baby and me. I gathered the courage to simply strap my baby onto the stroller or on me in the baby carrier and we.stepped.out, without a specific route or destination on mind. Just stroll around the neighbourhood, endless. The first couple of times, I was quick to rush home at the very moment she cried. PANIC. It was bad enough that I had previously dreaded being alone with her, scared and waiting anxiously, fearing for the exact moment when the “ticking bomb” would explode in the form of loud, uncontrollable crying. Maybe it was all in my head – my anxious and pessimistic mind imagining the worse. But to add on to that, I felt terrified being in public with her, for the fear of being JUDGED as incompetent to console my own flesh and blood. To that, I told myself, SO WHAT if she cried? I developed this fierce confidence and a possessive determination to handle “my baby”, without giving a damn about being judged in public. As a parent, I probably had many more publicly embarrassing and much worse nerve testing moments coming up in the future and I decided not to let any of that get in the way of my relationship and communication with my baby. I just got stubborn about not letting this sort of panic creep into me, EVER. I just powered through. So anyways, those early-on strolls with my baby gave me the fresh air that calmed my anxiety and made me look at the world beyond me. Not so surprisingly, it did the same for my baby. It also served as amazing cardio workouts for me as I gradually increased the speed and distance. A good cardio, followed by some soothing yoga, was all that my body needed to feel and heal. Also, on non baby related matters, I started watching tv shows that made me laugh, listening to music that made me smile, and reading up books that either made me think beyond my own life or refocus on my life, under a new lens. With a Healing Body, Mind and Soul – it was all falling back into place. #HappyMumHappyBaby, finally!
A huge change for me happened when I voluntarily chose to resume work earlier than planned, on a part time basis. My baby was about 4 months old and although I felt anxious to leave her for those 5 hours every day, I had already made up my mind. With constant text updates and live camera feeds from home, I could resume work with ease, with no room for GUILT or ANXIETY whatsoever. I did however get hooked on to the text updates and the constant temptation to see the camera feeds from work. This physical space and mental break was working out well for everyone at home, specially for me and my baby. I felt even more connected to her when I came home from work and I sensed the same feeling from her too. Resuming work not only gave me the social and emotional break-through that I needed, but also the intellectual activity that my brain craved. Reuniting with my kindergarten students and socialising with them made me feel alive. Reconnecting with my colleagues and the politics at work had never felt that refreshing. Conversations with the parents of my students, now happened, under a new light and a brighter background. I had developed a new found respect for not just my own mother but for all parents, everywhere. As an educator, I read, learnt, taught and preached but now as a parent myself, I realised that there was this whole new unchartered territory out there. I could now closely relate to the concerns shared by my student’s parents and even admired and appreciated them for doing whatever they did, however big or small. I could see, hear, and feel them in all their successes and struggles as if we were on the same team. #TeamParents. I felt like this enlightened educator with a whole new perspective, all thanks to my baby. So SUPER MOM turned to SUPER EDUCATOR and this had further benefitted my relationship with my baby. We were bonding, we were happy, we were out and about, we were ON THE ROLL! Our home was finally looking like that picture perfect image which I was expecting on Day 1. Blessed, thriving and floating on baby high. And THAT was when I thanked THE ALMIGHTY GOD because I realised that even if things didn’t go as per OUR plan, he was in reality, THE ONE with a PLAN. An unexpected, harsh, testing and at times soul shattering plan but nevertheless, it was a plan that laid the solid foundation for my relationship with my baby. A plan that I will always remember and appreciate because it was the plan that educated me like no book could ever have and it was that very experience that made my family what we are today – BONDED FOR LIFE, GRATEFUL FOREVER!