NO. Babies don’t come with a manual but mine came with a head so strong and a personality even stronger. She just knows it all, sometimes even better than me. And THAT leads to a lot of frustrating and challenging moments. Originating from me and landing on her #BabyWars.
Right from the day she was born, everything had to be just the way she wants, in the capacity she wants and at the time she wants. And it was as if she was born to challenge all of of those baby books and all of those baby milestones, one page and one step at a time. Not only does she strongly oppose to the stuff that she doesn’t want/need, but she also gives it her best shot to resist everything new. She’s is a stubborn creature of habit, since day 1. Of course, this trait is great to go about with routines but it’s a struggle to introduce her to anything new. Her powerful memory and association skills never stop to amaze me and yet makes it so challenging to bring about a change of any sort in her life, however small or big. In fact, she’s swiftly adapted to bigger changes much easily than to those smaller ones. Defies logic, doesn’t it. Well, that’s my baby for you! She has her own logic in place.
Moms have it tough really… we work hard on establishing routines and at the same time want to see them grow to achieve their milestones. Irony being, growth is a kind of change and change requires us to break the routine – the very same routine we bent backwards to create. And just when I succeed to bring about a change in my little one’s routine, even before I get a chance to adapt to that new routine, I already find myself heading for another change. Just when I feel I have aced the motherhood skill, I am somehow posed with a brand new challenge. #TheRealMotherhoodChallenge. This is already challenging for me as a mum, I can only imagine how my little one feels when she’s subjected to her mum’s frustrating requirements to strike a balance between routine v/s change. Thankfully, my little one doesn’t have to go through the long list of milestones and skills that she is expected to ace. But I do. And over the months, I have learnt to take those milestones as a mere guide, not an absolute. My baby, on the other hand… wants, can and will do it all… but all in due time. And although that time taken is an adventurous exploration for my baby, it has proven to be quite testing. For ME!
Let’s talk about some basic baby milestones for example. We typically look forward to the physical milestones like the baby’s tummy time, rolling over, crawling, sitting, standing, walking, running and finally the speaking. There’s tonnes more, but we have grown to broadly focus on these. Not only did my baby challenge these milestones in terms of their timing but she also challenged the whole sequence. For starters, my baby never really enjoyed tummy time, unless it was on me or on my husband. She did work hard on her rolling over skill but that was only to please me I guess. She just moved on very quickly as if she knew what was next and what she needs to spend time on. #Baby’sPriorities. From what I remember she went from rolling over to sitting and then standing. She didn’t really crawl for long, she could, but she didn’t want to. #Baby’sChoice. She didn’t spend much time on crawling but was often trying to scoot around. She wanted to be on the move but just not crawl. Once, she realised that she could sit and then hold onto stuff to stand, that was it. She simply held on to stuff and took baby steps around. Then it was all about balancing for her. It was as if she knew that once she could ace the balancing part, she would get what she wanted all this while – her ability to walk and run. Then there was no stopping her. #EyesOnThePrize. Around that time, she discovered her vocal cords and got distracted with the cooing and babbling like fun sounds. So, she started to multi-task as she worked simultaneously on her balancing, standing, walking and speaking skills. While she was “at work”, it was kind of frustrating for me, to see her not really mastering anything at that point in time. #MasterOfNone. I was all about a certain skill and trying to get her to master them one a time. My plan was simple, stress-free and systematic. But little did I know that my baby had a grand plan, one that was complex, challenging and involved serious multi tasking. #Baby’sLearningStyle. While, as a first time mum, I’m already looking at how my baby is challenging all of the milestones “by the book”, hearing other people’s experiences and expectations only added on to the mental chaos.My mental chaos, my baby was focussed like a laser beam – doing what mattered the most, TO HER. Even today, my 2 year old believes in taking her own sweet time to master a new skill or get used to a new routine, but once she’s in, she’s multitasked her way into mastering multiple skills, and like a pro. She literally never fell or stumbled as she learned to stand, walk and run. She was not only focused on multitasking but was also very cautious. Such is her solid foundation work, in which she invested a whole lot of her time and effort. She didn’t care so much for the timelines as she cared for perfection and caution. She was and still is crystal clear in her mind about what she wants and how. Like I remember how she had instantly dismissed the push car I got her and barely even used the jumper. Instead she thought of using those in her own unique way, to master her balancing and jumping skills. She didn’t really hold on to the push car to walk, instead she “pushed the car” and held on to the walls to walk to it. And yes she did jump gripping the jumper, but from the outside (outright refused to step in). No amount of demonstrations convinced her to change her mind into “using it correctly” (according to me). It’s as if she knew of all those milestones I was reading about and voluntarily chose to do it all her way, in her own time, in her own sequence.
Through these “out of the box” experiences, I learnt A LOT – about me, about my baby and about life. I basically learnt that my baby knew more about child development than me. Me? I had only read about early childhood development, studied it through my degrees and worked in the field for a decade. But she?! was living it all and although she was new at it too, somehow she knew much better than me. This fact was evident in my anxious frustration and her composed confidence through it all. What I learnt is that I need to read the milestones as a reference to guide me. And then, all i had to do was let nature take its course … I had to leave my baby alone to do as she pleases, under supervision of course. Today, as my baby turns 26 months, I don’t see any point in stressing her with toilet training or any of the other milestones that she should be working on achieving, well at least according to the books and “experts” around me. I have learnt that somehow she will do it her way and tell me when she needs me to step in. After being impatient with her milestone achieving style in the initial months of her life, I have learnt to relax a bit and let go. I have learned to trust my baby to do it all, at her own pace, in her own way.
But I’m a mum after all, so I do give her some gentle “nudges” from time to time on matters like eating and sleeping. I do pose her with incidental learning opportunities to grow but I leave her alone to achieve it. I learnt first hand that anything more than a gentle push and subtle opportunities, would only delay or disrupt her learning process. #ToddlerMindGames. Although it might appear that she’s rejected my inputs outright, I have learnt that she has it on her mind and will get to it when she’s ready. I still get frustrated with her outright refusal to learn and grow but at the same time, I have learnt to respect her and her plan of action. I learnt that I need to appreciate her efforts and her achievements rather than quickly moving on to pushing her to achieve the next one. I learnt that I can make it an exciting learning journey rather than a challenging rat race. I have come to accept that she is a little human with a mind of her own. Although challenging at times, I see it as her strength. Eventually, with such a strong mindset and an even stronger personality, she is going to have to learn to not only survive but to also thrive in the real world. And I trust her to chart out her own plan of action then too, while I will always continue to appreciate her efforts, celebrate her achievements and encouragingly “nudge” her to grow. Learning from my baby’s style, I will continue to play multiple roles in her life as I will try my best to juggle between being an affectionate mum, fun playmate, strict discipliner, frustrated partner, toughest critic and yet be her biggest supporter. Mums do have to do it all, and so I will! My little human taught me that life isn’t a matter of milestones, but of moments… learning moments, bonding moments… #BabyKnowsBest #PerfectlyImperfectMum.
My husband and I enjoy holidaying to new places but I personally dread an awful and the most basic stage it involves. PACKING. Unlike most people who get super excited about packing for a holiday, I dread the whole “process” of packing – from randomly browsing through my stuff, to deciding, to shortlisting and then finally fitting those selected items into the damn suitcase. Over the years, thanks to my husband’s pep talks enlisting the advantages of travelling light, I had gradually grown to become a light traveller. Along the way, I had to work really, REALLY hard on the shortlisting part of packing, but I had learnt to do it eventually. Although I don’t like to admit, but my husband was right. I didn’t really need most of the things I used to over-pack and it did actually turn out to be quite an efficient and a fun way to travel. BUT… that was the PRE-BABY ERA of our lives. Just the carefree him and me. But now, we have suddenly taken a significant and a permanent leap into the POST-BABY ERA of our lives. Little did I realise how much goes into holidaying with a little human .. or more specially how much goes into the process of packing for a tiny human.
Now, I happen to be a “checklist kind of person” and the items on my checklist also have to go through the tedious steps of enlisting, deciding, shortlisting and adding the final bullets. So let me take you back to the time when my little one was not even 1, and we were all taking a holiday together, as a family of 3, for the very first time. Now when I look back, as new parents we sure had to be brave enough to have survived not 1 but 2 holidays in the very first year of my little one’s life. I am not talking about those short get-a-ways, but I’m talking about holidays involving 8 hour flights and about 10-14 days away from home. So, instead of freaking out before taking those holidays, I decided to make a checklist of things to pack for my little one. There’s tonnes of reading material available on that topic. So I read, listed, customised, re-listed, decided, shortlisted and finally added the bullets. It’s laughable but this long and tiresome process actually helped me pack for my baby. Well, at least I thought it did… back then.
Once the checklist had the final bullets, next step involved getting those items to fit into the suitcase. NOT as simple as it sounds – given that its me, the psycho super mom. So for me, this step involves loading the finalised items into the bag in an organised manner. Then, the organised bag has to be reorganised in a compartmentalised manner. Then the compartmentalised bag has to be re-reorganised in a practical manner, to make accessibility of items easier. #OCDMum. Having done that, I always need to go back to the shortlisting part and get rid of some excess items that won’t fit, all the while praying that I won’t regret this decision when we are at the holiday destination. And the final step, which I dread the most, involves my husband inspecting the packed suitcase. Now usually, he would question the very presence of a lot of items in the packed suitcase but then he let it pass as it was the first time our little one was going on a holiday and she should have all that she needs. Her comfort is the priority, if not, she will let her discomfort known in ways that can completely ruin the very purpose of a holiday. Now, let’s take a stock of the things that she absolutely needed to be comfortable for the 7-14 days that she was gonna be away from home. “The absolutely needed or cannot do without” items… Or so i thought… back then.
Well, diapers, wet wipes, formula milk and milk bottles took most of the space in the suitcase. Yes ofcourse, I packed the scoopers and powder dispensers for convenience purposes. I even carried her milk bottle cleaning detergent. My husband was just thankful that I didn’t pack the bottle steriliser although I did get concerned about how I would clean the used bottles. Washing them with HOT WATER was the obvious make-do but that didn’t register in me, at that point in time. New Mommy Brain IS Real! So yeah diapers (inclusive of swimming diapers) and milk (inclusive of accessories) were packed. Our daughter was 6 months old when we took our first holiday. So she was eating food purées in her meals as well. The baby’s food purée containers and pouches was all it took to fill up the suitcase to half its capacity. I even carried her favourite snacks like crackers and biscuits just to make sure that she had enough to eat and didn’t fall sick after trying something new out there. Now that I was carrying snacks, I needed to carry her snack catcher bowls so she could munch independently, as and when she needed. And if I was carrying the snack catcher, what difference would a few spoons and forks make, right? I was crazy enough to even carry her suction plates and bowls for the next couple of our holidays. So anyways that filled up half the suitcase. Well, at least I thought it did… back then.
The other half had clothes – clothes for daily wear, night wear, extra wear, and footwear. Then came fabric based essentials like napkins, bibs, socks, swim wear, towels, and blankets. Speaking of clothes and fabrics, yes I did carry her laundry detergent too. What if she throws up or soils her clothes?! Again, my husband was glad that I was leaving the fabric softeners back home. And, if I was carrying the baby’s laundry detergent, I HAD TO carry her body wash, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, sunscreen and rash cream. Rash cream led to other sorts of medication, just in case she had a reaction to something and got under the weather. So yeah, medicines took a good amount of space and the suitcase was almost full. And I was almost done…. or, at least I thought I was…back then.
Then I moved to baby entertainment although there was very little room left for that. But baby needs entertainment… so I took her favourite toys, books, teethers and pacifiers as well. She shouldn’t get bored and cranky, right! At this point, I would like to bring it to your attention that we were already loaded with carrying her travel stroller and the baby carrier. So, we had ensured that she had EVERYTHING she needs and we didn’t have to go through any hiccups or breakdowns over trying out something new on the holiday. Now when I look back and think about it, wasn’t the very purpose of a holiday to explore? Do and try things “out of the usual”? Get a break? But back then, I was on a mission to obsessively replicate my baby’s exact every day life and routines, just at the holiday destination. Doing the exact same grind, but at a different location. I was so not ready to explore and embrace “the out of the usual” or any sort of “change”, specially when I had bent backwards to establish a settled routine that worked to comfort and suit my baby. I was so obsessive that I even carried her grooming tools like the nail cutter, hair clips, rubber bands & her hygiene stuff like face wipes, mosquito patches and sanitisers. Didn’t want her to be uncomfortable in any way and miss out on packing anything at all, however small or big. Once we packed the baby’s suitcase, we dumped our stuff into our suitcases (making our packing process so irrelevant) and we were finally ready to go – with 3 check-in suitcases (the baby’s suitcase being the biggest and heaviest), a baby in the baby carrier, baby’s essentials and entertainment as a carry-on and a folded travel stroller (which however compact, was like carrying an extra suitcase).Phew, so much for being light travellers! Let the holiday begin… Next hurdle – the baby’s first flight! Well, at least that’s what I thought… back then.
I was so so so dreading the flight because my baby didn’t even sit in the car seat for long, without whining, crying or plain simple howling (while resisting the physical restraints). I always saw other infants and wondered how they were independently sitting motionless in their car seats and strollers, doing their own thing, making it all look so at ease and so at peace. But my little human was all about challenging the usual and somehow needed to be entertained and spoken to, at most if not all times, when in the car seat or in the stroller. There was a phase when she cried each time the car stopped at a traffic light. Luckily that was not going to be a problem on the plane. The thing that had the potential of being a problem was the whole newness element, with lots of new faces (pleasant and unpleasant ones), all in an enclosed space along with the physical restraint of the being assigned to a seat with a seatbelt. However, these were problems which I was actively finding solutions to and hoping they would work onboard. All I had to do was keep her intimately close to me – entertained and distracted. That and eye contact usually worked to blend her into new social situations. Baby carrier was a boon by now, after she had resisted it for the longest time; she had completely adapted to find comfort in the baby carrier by 6 months of age. Still, easier said than done, try eating a meal with a squirmy 6 month old in your baby carrier. Anyways moving on, what I had to truly worry about was the potential problem of a more technical nature. The whole ear popping thingy that happens when flying high altitudes. The solution was as simple as “ to keep swallowing”. but I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it work. Milk, water, pacifier, teether – I carried all of these on standby hoping at least one of those would work. Or so I thought… back then.
In spite of being prepared like we were preparing for war, there is always this unknown and unexpected risk with kids. These are called TEMPER TANTRUMS – an irrational way of asserting their identity, preferences and desires, at any cost, with no room for distractions or negotiations whatsoever. I know of articles that suggest there’s always a rational explanation for every one of those tantrums and how we can better manage them as parents. I did believe in those before I became a parent, back when I was just an educator. Not anymore! In reality, those tantrum bombs might just explode, without any trigger or warning of any sort. Maybe my wild imagination, but kids might simply decide to be unconsolable and cry their lungs out, for reasons we new parents couldn’t possibly know, forget address. As new parents, we keep ticking and striking out the various possible reasons for a random tantrum, but there are times when none of that work. That’s the reality. Let’s not even get into the part where she could became a social nuisance and an annoyingly nagging source of noise pollution onboard. We have all been victims of such a situation where a stranger’s kid onboard is getting on our nerves when we are trying to have a pleasant flight, as advised by the airline. Reactions to those cries can range from tolerating to ignoring to judging to showing sympathy to visibly glaring or to even being passionate and helpful by trying to be a distraction for the poor, distressed parent and baby by making polite conversations and funny faces. What was going to happen to us onboard? How were we going to do this, with a super alert and undeceivable new infant? We were all new to this after all!
After all that over-thinking, it turned out, the flying didn’t bother her at-all. It was as if nothing had changed for her – during taking off, flying or landing. She felt no different. BORN TO FLY, I GUESS! Nevertheless, as a new, anxious mum, the whole time I was on standby with anything she would need, but as I kept this hyper vigilant eye on my baby, all of the flying motions went unnoticed by her, THANK GOD! The anxiety during turbulence bothered me more than her because I know what turbulence is. But for her, she appeared to be believing that this is all a part of flying on a plane. Nothing to complain about if she’s learning to accept turbulence as a part and parcel of air travel. Perfect in fact! She was busy and engaged as long as I held her close to me and entertained her.
Strangely and least expectedly, what bothered her, however, were the kind strangers who were trying to compliment her, sharing playful glances with her, and simply trying to make her (and us) feel comfortable. She howled every time an airline staff greeted her with a smile and each time any crew member appeared to have a polite exchange (be it verbal or nonverbal) with her or her parents. She was crying as if they were going to take her away from us. Yes, that scary! The whole time, I was trying to explain to her what the “affectionate and helpful strangers” were trying to do for us but she refused to accept or even listen to any of my pep talk. Solution was to hug her tighter while she could squeeze our arm and elbow to console herself. I am also guilty of stuffing a pacifier in her mouth to get instant relief from the noise, paranoia, embarrassment and judgement. But I soon stopped doing that. She had to be given opportunities to learn about and to manage her emotions, even if it was of inconvenience to strangers. They all had their noise cancelling headphones, didn’t they? Why should my baby have to stuff a pacifier into her mouth when everyone around could just as easily stuff those headphones into their ears. #Ontheothersideofchaos. So anyways, other than the fact that she didn’t enjoy strangers conversing with her or her parents (which to no one’s surprise, happens A LOT when travelling), my little one was doing good for a young traveller on her early expeditions. Even today as a 2 year old, she is generally the kind that, if she gets too much instant attention from strangers, she’s overwhelmed and cries her lungs out but when ignored and given some space, she’s just fine observing for a while and then gradually taking the first step to initiate contact. After that, there’s no stopping her from interacting with you. That’s very unlike toddlers, because most would probably enjoy all the unwarranted and unlimited attention and affection given to them, at any point in time. We, at times, have even considered carrying a placard stating “The best way to connect with our baby is to ignore her at first.” But we don’t, we just give a verbal disclaimer about her need for space.
So lets get back to me, who still gets possessed by the psycho mom qualities from time to time. This time, my paranoia was about whether or not my baby was eating and drinking enough on the holiday. Yep back to primitive needs, every moms paranoia. I was constantly obsessing over the fact that my baby wasn’t following her “usual” eating habits, which now when I look back, was completely unnecessary on my part. She is a human and knows how much food she needs and when. No one eats consistently the same amount of meals everyday. So yes that over-obsession of mine ruined a couple of moments which could have gone happier otherwise. She, on the other hand, turned out to be a good traveller and generally a happy kid on holidays. Touch wood!
My husband and me however realised that our holidays were never going to be like PRE BABY ERA. We, as new parents, had a tough time adjusting to the reality that holidaying in the POST BABY ERA was more or less going to be child centric. After a few cranky tantrums and outbursts about how we were never going to get to truly relax on a holiday ever again, we decided to make peace with it. Not that we had a choice. The other option was to not holiday altogether but that wasn’t going to happen. So, then on, on holidays, my husband and I had to carefully plan our activities and prioritise such that we could get to do at least some of the things that we usually enjoyed doing on holidays before the arrival of the baby. So we took turns to watch the baby… like when I went to the spa or when my husband went for some adventure sports. The difference being that my husband could switch off when doing “his activities” while being at peace with the thought that the baby was doing just fine, under the super mum’s care. However, that didn’t happen when I was doing “my activities”. I simply couldn’t switch off when doing my choice of solo activities. I was constantly worried about how it was going between the new dad and the new baby. What were they up to? Who was the one having fun? At what cost? Who was being more difficult? Who was being more harassed? Did she eat well? Did she let him eat well? Did they sleep well? Did they over sleep? Who lost their patience? Who was frustrated? How were they being consoled? Did they fight and make up? How much mess would I have to clean up? How much damage would I need to fix? The questions went on and on and on… Turns out kids behave drastically different when left alone with either parent – especially mine. This father-daughter duo can go from having a blast to getting on each other’s nerves, in no time. Never know who might snap and when. In all fairness, my husband sincerely does try his best to comply with my baby care and baby entertainment policies, but we both know, that I execute them better, in a more disciplined manner. Or rather, my baby allows me to execute the plan much better (well at most times) while she makes the most out of any opportunity to walk all over her dad – manipulating him into getting her way. Daddy’s girl after all!
Ofcourse, we did most of the other things together as a family, and our little one even got over her fear and anxiety around strangers. She started to enjoy those conversational moments when she saw her parents enjoying them too. Again HAPPY PARENTS = HAPPY BABY. Other than a few minor and major outbursts that occurred due to adjustment issues (OUR adjustment issues), the early on holidays were generally smoother than we had expected. We had prepared for the worst and we realised that she was enjoying as long as we were enjoying. As simple and yet as complicated as that! She has a curious nature, so holidays open her up to a world of new experiences which was just what she needed to feed her curiosity and have an engaging experience. Needless to say, she still cried when having a bath or changing diapers, which was a mood killer for everyone but after a few unproductive emotional outbursts, we got over that as well. The key is to monitor for comfort and safety yet ignore, fight out but choose your battles and accept the setbacks only to keep going forward as planned. I gradually learnt that if too little attention leads to attention seeking tantrums, then too much attention leads to attention hogging tantrums. I even learnt, firsthand, that most of the things that I had packed, stayed packed even after we returned home from the holiday. The baby entertainment carry-on bag came back home, untouched. That is some hard core proof of the fact that most things packed for the baby, weren’t really necessary to be packed in the first place. She could easily do without them for those few days that she was away from home. She adapted just fine, although we, as new parents, could have done better only if we were better prepared, mentally. Now, OUR POST BABY ERA of holidaying is the new normal. Yes I confess that we often think about and miss the PRE BABY ERA or even at times regret the responsibilities that come with being parents, but we have made peace with that. We accept and move on. We have accepted that things may or will go wrong. We have committed to make the most out of our family holidays, keeping everyone’s interest in mind – ofcourse its gonna be more in the baby’s interest. We have accepted that I don’t need to pack like a hoarder for the baby. #BeingAMinimalist. With the MARIE KONDO way of packing, we are all travelling light and moving forward, without stopping to look back. We don’t know how long this new mantra will work for us as I hear holidaying with preteen’s and tweens is even more stressful. But we shall get to managing that, when we get there. For now, the terror of travelling and holidaying with a kid, has subsided. I still silently dread “stuff” happening (not as per our plan) but regardless, in the process we end up making some great memories on our holidays as a family. MEMORIES, the happy as well as the not-so-happy ones, is what always make us SMILE. We couldn’t ask for more! I am told that someday, we will miss these crazy times and have trouble adapting to a life without a minor to love and care for… #DreadingEmptyNest. So we shall make the most out of this too!
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!
Lets continue to learn about how my newborn baby had this inborn QUEST in her to challenge each and every mothering myth ever known to humankind. And each time she did that, I was left STUMPED! So far, in the Part 1 of this outpour, I have covered the challenging myths related to the most basic and “simplest” needs of a newborn viz. Milk, Sleep and Comfort … now lets look into some more that followed.
To give you a quick review from my previous outpours, as a first time overconfident and underprepared mum, I was struggling to cope with some intense postpartum trauma, while my baby was struggling to satisfy her basic needs of milk, sleep and comfort. Just then, I was advised by the doctor to entertain and engage the baby through the day, so she can be tired by the end of the day and sleep well at night. HA HA HA #EASIERSAID. If only, there was a book on “101 activities to engage a hungry and sleep-deprived baby.” No, seriously… how was this lost and restless newborn supposed to enjoy any form of play or even comfort when her basic needs weren’t met adequately. Still, the data freak in me tried to follow the books that offered a number of activities for playtime with babies. Guess what? Those exploratory activities and movements were only adding on to my baby’s discomfort. The absurd glares and stares that I got from her at that stage was making her annoyance very loud and clear to me. A major discomfort being that, whatever little milk she had consumed, was often spit out a few minutes later if not right after. We were looking at the possibility of her having some kind of acid reflux. We had to then ensure and be careful with holding her upright so her feeds could stay in. Wow… that was all I needed. Try entertaining and playing with a baby in that situation! It was like holding a ticking time bomb and constantly monitoring it to avoid “explosions” of any kind. Each spit out made me sad and angry at the same time. Sad because my baby couldn’t keep her food down and angry because the tremendous “effort” put behind the process of breast feeding had proved to be so futile and wasted. So that led to another dilemma of whether her crankiness was out of hunger as her tummy might have been “emptied out” with every spit up. As if she were some sort of a tank which had to be filled right till the brim at all times. If that was actually so, should I then be feeding her right after the spit ups? Would “I” like to be fed immediately after a throw up myself? NO! So, should I wait for the 2 hour feeding interval to elapse? Give her some time to settle the tummy? And this cyclical or rather cynical process of dealing with tonnes of such unsettling thoughts went on and on and on.
And don’t even get me started on the whole burping contest. It did seem like a contest because each time that she did manage to burp, I felt like I was celebrating some sort of a victory at a game I didn’t even know I was playing. Naturally, because she wasn’t full enough (which we didn’t know for a fact back then), she had issues with burping. We tried and tried and tried, name the burping technique and we had done them all. Her lack of burping made us then suspect some digestive problems in the form of gastric or colic issues. The solution to that was some oral drops to improve the baby’s digestion and changes in her mother’s already controlled, healthy diet. Phew! Will this ever end, was all I wondered. Her evening crankiness got even more inconsolable and her uncontrollable crying through the nights made me cry out of helplessness, too. It was a nightmare trying to figure out exactly why she was crying… was she crying out of hunger, sleep, discomfort, acid reflux, colic, ….. and the MCQ had so many options which only added to my frustration to finding the correct answer. I remember how I used to dread the evenings – the sheer presence of and efforts by everyone trying to help. My hubby, my mum, my in-laws, my helper and then repeat that in no specific order, all over again. #PASSTHEBATON. We were constantly trying to address each of her discomforts one at a time and also trying to keep her entertained. Walk her, rock her, play music, dance with her, and do whatever it took to soother her. Relief did come when some of those attempts worked but only with a quick expiration date, which happened to be just minutes after.
The baby had taken over our lives, unfortunately, not in a positive light, definitely not for me. I couldn’t experience any of the post natal elation, pampering and self care. Not that I wasn’t cared for, but I just didn’t FEEL cared for. There’s a huge difference between the two. I couldn’t think of a single reason why I had wanted a baby of my own, even more so desperately towards the end. What was I thinking? What had I done? What on earth were people congratulating me for? Why do people go to great lengths and through desperate measures to get this done to themselves? Are they aware what they are heading towards? Are they prepared? So then, why was I so under prepared? I had successfully connected with stranger’s kids as I am curious child at heart myself. As a passionate educator, I have comprehensively studied early childhood development and successfully engaged with/taught random kids from diverse cultural backgrounds. Then why was this happening to me, that too with a kid that I could finally call MY OWN???
No wait! There’s more to this outpour… Conventionally, babies are supposed to enjoy their massage, diaper change and bathing times, well at least according to those advertisements we have grown up watching. But NOOOO, mine let out a loud cry of intense physical and emotional discomfort during these times. Don’t most images of new mommies and babies depict satisfying feeds, peaceful naps, fun playtime, soothing massages, splashy baths and giggly diaper changes? Well, this mommy experienced none of that. For me, every simple to complex task was a struggle, and my baby gave me a tough fight to achieve each of those tasks. A fight so strong that I would for sure be proud of her, some time later in life. #MYBABYSTRONGEST. But not back then. My baby was fighting me every time I was trying to cater to her simplest of the needs. Was I delusional? Was it all a part of my imagination? Not that I could blame the baby, but neither did I blame myself because I was in a physical and emotional mess of my own – a hot, boiling and at times spilt mess. I wont be wrong in saying that both, me and my baby were dealing with some rough issues of our own. We were both new at this after all. Not to forget what the other involved parties were dealing with. I for one, hated how, in the name of taking a break from my baby, I had to rush up everything and get all of my baby-related and personal care errands squeezed in-between my baby’s catnaps through the day. The second I put her down, she cried. Slightest of the change in positions or softest of the sounds in an already quietened and mellowed environment, would wake her up and I had to start the whole lengthy process of soothing her all over again. Even the constant silence got on my nerves – talk softly, move softly, walk softly, breathe softly, eat softly – still the silence wasn’t good enough for my baby. I even remember scolding my baby in a fit of frustrated anger a couple of times. Not the loud kinda scolding but the soft kind, during which I helplessly yet fiercely asked her what I was doing wrong and why was it all so difficult. Now when I look back, I feel that the poor, clueless, and helpless soul was kinda craving for and feeding on love and intimacy, to make up for the inconsistencies in her milk, sleep and comfort routines that she was struggling to cope with.
But back then, all I could focus on was the feeling that I had NO SENSE OF PERSONAL SPACE to breathe and be, AT ALL. I had completely LOST myself. As a matter of fact, this suffocated and frustrated feeling in me led to me feeling remorse towards my baby. There were times I felt that she was doing it all on purpose, just to make me feel even more miserable about being an incompetent mother. Just spitefully testing my patience. Yup…one can only imagine the pathetic mess that I was, that it actually had me thinking that an infant was capable of being spiteful. But then again, how was I supposed to keep her happy when I was nowhere close to being happy myself. My husband, mother and in-laws did see the struggle and tried to help in whatever way possible but at the end of the day, I was just repeatedly proving my incompetence. They did try to cheer up the environment for me and the baby but it was only a matter of time, before the whole chaos and irritation around her feeding and sleeping would take over. I could see it all taking a toll on, not just my baby and me, but also my husband, my mother, my in-laws – needless to mention, on all our interactions and inter-personal relationships (given that we were all living under and sharing the same roof, most if not all of the time). We were all walking on thin ice around each other when we were actually supposed to be floating over cloud 9 happily together.
But I was far beyond the feeling of GUILT. I was aggressively wanting to do it all by myself to prove my competence and fight back the verdict of me being a failure. Even when I was offered help and relief, all with good intentions, I saw it as my incompetence. It’s said that it takes a village to raise a child and yet there exist a whole lot of people who have done it all, by themselves, multiple times, in the absence of nothing close to a village. And there I was, with not just a village, but a developed first world country, with all of its amenities and resources at my disposal. And yet I was out of (my own) control … randomly switching between the states of trying to stay positive, trying to prove myself, getting anxious and irritated, feeling anger and remorse, and eventually retracting into my shell, all depressed and zoned out. The switch was in no particular order and came with no warnings, not even to me. God! Those days seemed looonnnggg and the nights seemed loooonnnnngggeerr, with no relief in sight. I needed help and I needed it quick. This was turning out to be like nothing I had expected. EVER!
And then, my worst nightmare came true. Suddenly in a flash, days and weeks flew by and my husband had to resume work after his paternity leave. Soon after what appeared to be another flash, it was time for my mum to go back. My two major pillars of strength were resuming their lives, with nothing but worry for me and my “bundle of joy”. Again I did feel guilty for doing that to them but like I said I was beyond the feeling of guilt. I was now largely self-centred and occasionally bipolar. One minute I decided to solely take control of the situation based on my minor successes in the role of a new mom and the next minute I had some major, hysterical breakdowns that could be attributed to my disastrous failure as one. I decided to see a psychiatrist. Never thought I would need that either. #NEVERSAYNEVER# And there I was, clinically diagnosed with PTSD and a mood disorder which caused all of the anxiety attacks. I was specifically told that I was not at the depression or suicidal stage, YET. So in addition to counselling, I was put on some anti anxiety medication… And then we were glaring at another dilemma. Breast milk v/s Formula? I was now on drugs.
The counselling was helpful only to the extent that I could get my toxic feelings out of my system in the form of words, rather than mismanaged moods and erratic behaviour. What was actually working were the drugs. In a way, it was a relief to learn that I was largely feeling and acting the way I was, because of the chemical imbalances in my body. It’s a vicious cycle but a major breakthrough came to my rescue when the drugs started to instantly settle my imbalanced state of mind. It was keeping me calmer, making me less anxious and making me finally see myself getting back to the rational and emotionally strong person that I had always been. It was as if I was wearing this mental lens all this while, that had now been cleaned and cleared out of all the muck on it. All the “mucky” thoughts that had stuck on and accumulated over that lens since the time I went in labour, had now vanished. What helped even more was the removal of that inserted tube and the bag, after about a month, without any further complications. I could go about living my life, without any “hold ups” now, LITERALLY! Things only started going upwards from there…. How low could it go! (Ok lets not answer that). So as the medication was rapidly fixing the chemical imbalances in me, my baby not only had a happy and a receptive mum but also a mum who was much more grateful and appreciative of all that she was blessed with. I “felt” stronger – physically, mentally, intellectually, emotionally and socially. I finally “felt” blessed to have had a baby of my own … around the time when my baby was about 3 months old. I “felt” resilient and prepared to challenge any myth then on. I “felt” ready to create and live my own, unique motherhood journey. The journey had just begun or should I say “restarted” – the journey of striving to be the BEST MUM EVER. I said goodbye and gave a mental farewell to my “By the Book” approach. And then on, I decided to embrace my baby and her “unique” mantra of #Doing.it.my.way#
“Winners don’t do different things. They do the same things, differently.” My next outpour will venture into this age old saying which was made famous in the book “You Can Win.” I sure was determined to give it my best shot then on…And I still am… #MumsLife #Nothingbutrespect
Let’s take a moment here and think about this much trending quote: Happy Mother = Happy Baby. I can’t really vouch for how true that may or may not be but I can for sure vouch for how true the exact opposite of it is. In my case, the bitter reality was that I had left the hospital as a terrified new mum with an equally terrified and uneasy baby, although things could have gone wrong in so many different directions. Truly grateful for those “much worse” scenarios not playing out, yet the truth was that as a new mum, I was physically restrained and mentally traumatised, which I could see was already projecting on my new baby. I distinctly remember my mum‘s words of wisdom back then when she said, “What does a baby at that age need after all? JUST milk, sleep and comfort, THAT’S IT!” She also advised me on how I should cherish these simpler times with my baby, as they were never going to come back. “Make the most out of these times” is what I often heard. These words were meant to comfort me. But I, on the other hand, didn’t see those times, in that light at all, primarily because they were anything but “simpler times” for me. Maybe some day, I might see it that way. But for now, lets get into these simple needs of a newborn, one at a time. I would say let the myths begin and “lets make the most out of it”.
First, milk. I have read a whole lot on how a mother’s milk is the best food for babies and I don’t deny that one bit. What I do refute however, is that its not as easy as it sounds or is made to look. Around the world today, people are going all militant about encouraging or even compelling mothers to nurse their children for as long as they can. A loud shout out to those who have aced the breastfeeding routine and I have nothing but respect for those who, in-spite of its challenging and demanding nature, have committed to successfully doing it, for as long as they can. I’m sure, its the rewarding feeling that makes it all worthwhile. Scientifically, breastmilk has proven to be the best source of nutrition and which mom wouldn’t want that for her baby. Now, I for one, being the “by the book” mum that I was, would have loved to follow the science but instead I chose to listen to and follow my aching heart. And with that pain in my heart, I CONFESS that I miserably struggled with and honestly hated the whole breast feeding routine. And so did my baby!We were no where close to bonding over breastfeeding, in fact we were growing apart because of the complications that came with it. Well it just so happens that as she grew up, I learnt that she simply didn’t have an appetite or preference for milk but I didn’t know that back then. Then again, with both parents who strongly dislike milk by itself, I shouldn’t have been surprised that she turned out that way. Anyways, bottom line being that both, she and me, didn’t enjoy the nursing routine. She used to be highly uncomfortable (physically) and restless (emotionally) in-spite of me trying out most, if not all of the breastfeeding positions in the book. As a result, she was not satisfied with the feed as well. She was quite a handful to feed actually and it still stresses me out, to the core … just the very thought of it all. And the whole lot of reading material about its do’s and don’ts, only added on to my already peaking levels of anxiety. It was unbelievably frustrating trying to figure out this myth being challenged. Aren’t babies supposed to love milk… more so, mother’s milk? It’s not like they have a feast of a choice at that point, where milk can be substituted for. This failure to nurse was playing badly on my mind, more so because once again, I had NOT EXPECTED this to happen to me. I was NOT PREPARED, yet again. Probably my state of mind affected the quality of the milk, given that the quantity was just about right at that very beginning. But in my baby’s defence, how was she supposed to comfortably soothe herself and satisfy her hunger when her mother felt absolutely no comfort or satisfaction in nursing her?! In retrospection, maybe she took on to that opportunity to show solidarity with her mother. Distressed Mum = Distressed Baby. But lets not be quick to turn the blame or the shame onto her mother and her animosity towards breastfeeding. I knew it was and will always be about the baby first but how was I supposed to serve from an empty vessel. Yes, I was the empty vessel and had not quite had the time to replenish my mind, body and soul after the unexpectedly traumatic and life-threatening birthing episode. In addition to that, with a tube and a urine bag to keep an eye on, I was further left worried about how much my baby had managed to drink off off me and whether or not that matched with the “textbook” numbers. In that state of mind (and body), I just couldn’t keep up with the already demanding and exhausting feeding schedule of a newborn. This led to another dilemma of whether to feed the baby on demand or stick to the 2 hourly schedule. Either ways, my nursing failures left me feeling even more unhappy and upset than I already was – each and every time. I felt like an overworked, under rewarded and much exploited cow in this endless chore. So, based on my heartbreaking experience with breastfeeding, I would for once like to go ALL OUT to advocate the fact that MUM KNOWS BEST – it’s her mind, her body, her baby, her choice. Although back then I did, but today, neither do I think any less of myself as a mother nor do I feel any shame in saying that I didn’t see any point in continuing my disheartening and hopeless attempts at breastfeeding. Both, me and my baby were not really benefitting from it. It was simply making matters worse but… #NOREGRETS #NOSHAME.
Second, Sleep. Sleep deprivation is a common complaint and an evident symptom in new parents. So naturally we, as new parents, were sleep deprived and given our baby’s erratic and minimal milk consumption, she ended up being a sleep lover’s nightmare, to no fault of her own (other than her unexplainable and unwavering dislike for milk). It was also a nightmare trying to figure out whether the demand was affecting the supply or the supply was affecting the demand, when it came to the whole breastfeeding challenge. And the ridiculous amount of mixed opinions on that too, weren’t really helping me, with my dilemma. But I’m digressing now and I’m coming back to the simple need of sleep. YES, I absolutely love my beauty sleep and lack of it can disrupt my functioning in its entirety – physically and mentally. And NO, I’m absolutely NOT someone who feels refreshed and rejuvenated from a “power nap”. I need the whole 8 hour package of quiet, uninterrupted sleep. As you can imagine, I had too many issues piling on…and soon in no time, this wild combination of postpartum trauma, emotional numbness, failure to breastfeed, lack of sleep and a hard to console baby, obviously started to affect my ability to produce sufficient breastmilk. #DOMINOEFFECT. On my doctor’s advise, very early on itself, I had to start expressing and pumping milk out, to find out what was the exact source of the problem. Was the malfunctioning in the production or the consumption? (Turned out it was BOTH). To better address this concern, in addition to the usual monitoring of the baby’s “output” in the form of her pees and poops, I had to maintain an additional “input” log of how much and how often she was fed, only to compare those numbers with that in the “textbooks”. BY THE BOOK, remember? Yes, I guess, somewhere I had still not given up on my unrealistic and rapidly unattainable dream of being a SUPER MOM, however sleep deprived I was. #DAZEDAMBITIONS.
Now, lets get to comfort. As hard as it might be to believe, there exists NO BOOK on “How to comfort a hungry and a sleep-deprived infant.” It was only natural that given all of the above, my baby was cranky at most times and was at peace only when held onto. And So.We.Did. As a family, we took turns and held on, as much as we could, for as long as we could. #PASSTHEBATON. “Let’s try on the baby sling or a baby carrier”, my husband and I said, full of hope. After all, babies look so adorably snug in them and the parents get their hands free to go about doing other things, baby-related and otherwise (but mostly baby related). #BABYCOMESFIRST. Guess what! Yet another myth challenged. It so happened that my baby instantly displayed an alarming level of physical agitation and howled her lungs out, when we tried to strap her into a baby carrier. Now please take note that “I” would have gladly held onto her manually but I had a bag to hold onto, remember? HALF MOM! Then there’s this dilemma of whether or not to keep holding onto the baby and for how long because she might get too used to it. YUUPPP, the ultimate goal was to raise a fully independent infant, even though most adults these days aren’t entirely independent yet. To add on, she strongly rejected the idea of being swaddled too. Try feeding and holding onto a squirmy, un-swaddled baby all day and all night long. Those articles about swaddling babies for security and warmth, just flew right out the window of my mental library. Turned out, my baby didn’t like to be physically restrained in a swaddle …or a sling… or a carrier… or a car seat… or even her stroller. She strongly believed in the freedom of her body. Ironically, she was also advocating for the whole “my mind, my body, my choice” movement, again in solidarity with her mother. #STRANGEWAYSTOBOND# My baby was ALL ABOUT FREEDOM… and HOW. She missed no opportunity to raise red flags each time we even got anywhere close to violating her need for freedom. Freedom of mind, body and soul. No kind of distractions and no amount of deceptions worked on this hyper alert baby. There was no turning back when she decided on something. #NOMEANSNO. Unlike the conventional, visual portrayal of newborns, my unconventional baby found her comfort in being without mitts, socks or a head covering of any sort. I will never forget how she had developed rashes all over her body (head to toe) and the doctor had chided us for over dressing up the baby. COLD DOCTOR, HOT BABY! As if all these myths being challenged weren’t enough, mine was a squirmy baby which some people around me liked to call “full of energy” but I, as her mother, somewhere knew that this kind of restlessness and uneasiness was my baby’s cry for help, at least at that point in time. It was like she was mad at the world for being born as a dependant and restricted soul, loud crying being her sole mode of protest back then. At any point then, she would have just loved to stand up for herself and storm out on us, saying “I’m outta here!”. Back then, I thought that it was all in my head but now, as she’s exploring her new found independence and mobility as a toddler, I can actually see “the storming out” scenario playing out right before my eyes, each time when she says “I DON’T WANT!”. Oh the strong conviction in her voice and body language, just like back then when she was an infant. She still happens to be restless and squirmy, but the difference being that now, she’s super active and full of energy in its true sense. Now, we are the ones who cry for help as she successfully manages to keep us constantly on our toes. I’m very much used to it by now but back then, my so-called “textbook baby”, strongly determined to challenge all the textbooks and myths, was all very new and mind boggling to me. I was having this “Is this normal?” Syndrome wherein I kept asking myself why my baby was not aligning with “the usual”. Babies don’t come with a manual, true enough! But mine clearly had her own unique manual and it felt as if she was absolutely furious because I was failing to follow it. My “By the book” approach was taking a serious hit!. The 3S’s of Science, Safety and Security seemed to be nowhere on my baby’s list of priorities back then. She seemed to have been born with a strong personality and an even stronger mind of her own. Weren’t children supposed to be born as “blank slates”? Weren’t we as parents supposed to be the sculptors who were to mould their clay-like personality? NOPE, not ours though! THINK DIFFERENT – was and continues to be my baby’s caption after all (given that her dad is an ardent fan of Apple products). #JUSTLIKEMAMAPAPA# I only hope that we can keep up with her “Out of the box” thinking and continue to go beyond the challenging myths. Who knows, someday, she just might happen to make us proud of her “Simple Living and High Thinking” personality, win a “Nobel for being a Rebel” or something. I won’t be surprised if she becomes a strong voice in the baby-community and inspires them all to “Be the change, they want to see.” #GOBOSSBABY. But for now, lets wait for the PART 2 of this Outpour wherein I continued to be STUMPED by some more challenging myths and my baby continued her inborn QUEST to challenge those further more… one myth at a time! Lets make the most out of this, in its next part…
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#”