There is a certain kind of woman you never want to be when you become a mother. The kind whose world revolves around her baby, the kind who cannot have a single conversation without references to her child (how cute he is, what word did she say today, what milestone he is at), the kind who cancels on you because her baby has passed an extra motion, the kind who’s always whining about public places being so baby-unfriendly, the kind who starts preparing excel sheets for playgroups, nurseries and schools that she would like to send her baby to, the kind whose vocabulary begins and ends with baby-isms.
Unlike singledom, where you can pick and choose your friends or marriage, where you inherit some, pick some, motherhood is about union by circumstance or happenstance. You just happened to be at the same place at the same time – a pre or postnatal yoga class, the ob-gyn’s reception area, the bed next door at the hospital, a La Leche League meeting, wheeling your baby at the park, attending a mother-toddler program, playgroup, music class, baby gym, whatever – and that’s reason enough for you to be on each other’s speed-dial.
Now, there is also union through adversity. Anyone who has the same issues as you is also your new best friend. So you could bond over postpartum depression, engorged breasts, over-intrusive in-laws, loneliness, feeling left out of the rat race, the search for the elusive maid, husbands who tremble every time they have to hold the baby, couch potato husbands or husbands who are dead to the world while the baby shrieks in the middle of the night.
Whatever the bonding factor, there is only one thing a woman needs to know when she calls another in the first few months after child birth. Are you as miserable as she is? If not, you will soon be off her list. You don’t like to hear that someone else’s life is sorted when you are struggling with yours, do you? However, listening to another person’s misery could be cathartic and make you count your blessings.
So if you have a maid problem, she better have a maid problem. If you have a paranoid cutlet for a mother, she better not have one of those chilled-out moms. If you have mother-in-law issues, she better not have a cool mother-in-law. If your baby keeps you up all night, hers had better not be a blissful eight-hour sleeper. If you have trouble getting your husband to be more hands-on, she better not have one of those husbands who are happy to carry the baby as long as you want, rock him to sleep, feed him dinner, bathe him. And definitely not say things like, ‘I want to watch Formula One. Can I be off baby duty?’
The conversations before and after the baby are like fantasy vs reality. When you are pregnant, you are calling to share the buoyancy, hear affirmations, share secrets and tips. It’s all about the good stuff – is it kicking, how often are you eating, what are your cravings, how big have your boobs become – stuff like that. Every pregnant woman has a pregnant buddy, someone who has been there just before her, who is always one step ahead of her, so she can learn from her mistakes.
Soon after I became a mother, I had pregnant women calling me all the time, just to get things off their system. They weren’t looking for answers or advice. It didn’t matter what I said or felt; all they wanted was to be heard.
Post baby, the conversations are as varied as why is the child not feeding from the right breast and how do I make him sleep better at night, what is the best way to wear the baby, what to do with engorged breasts or overwhelming mothers, and what to do for visual stimulation.
Strangely, most of the women who will now be part of your comfort zone will be the women you always dreaded hanging out with. For one, they can’t talk about anything other than baby issues. They don’t read the same books, listen to the same music, have the same wicked take on stuff, dig the same food, same films, same men. Oh well, you are as different as chalk and cheese. Deal with it!
• You can have a perfectly normal conversation with them.
• You end up calling them for information on nannies, day-cares, play schools, toy libraries, mother-toddler programs, potty training, sleep rituals, recipes.
• You always find an excuse to meet them.
• You are willing to overlook all their eccentricities.
Something has obviously shifted in your universe. It is amazing how much your scope of conversation changes. Suddenly, diaper logistics, vaccination theories, baby-related activity, child-friendly restaurants, changing stations, car seats and nannies become the centre of your universe. This will graduate to play groups, play-dates, daycare, schools and activity centres and go on to projects, PTA meetings and whatnots.
So here are my new best friends:
The ‘My-daughter-is-so-naughty-I-have-never-seen-her-sit-in-one place’ mom
These are the types who take pride in an over-frisky, precocious child who is usually prone to shrieking like a banshee for no apparent reason, beating up any random man/woman/child/animal that it can get its hands on, and running a muck in a public place. They celebrate the fact that the child is ‘so free’ that it’s hard to pin down. My cherub would religiously get shoved and pushed by one such hyperactive child in the park. And his mother would never cease to be amazed.
The ‘What-do-I-feed-the-child?’ mom
These are the culinarily challenged mommies who even hundreds of baby-toddler cookbooks cannot redeem. They are always at a loss for how to make kiddie food more interesting and can only go as far as adding ketchup or cheese to everything. So they are constantly moaning about the fact that the child doesn’t eat. Or are figuring out what to make for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, what to pack in the baby bag and such like.
The ‘Where-has-my-life-gone?’ mom
These are women who are initially so overcome by motherhood that they give up pursuing all their other goals, professional or personal, get out of the race, start living on the me-and-my-baby island, and then one fine day, when they feel chained and ensnared by the babydom thing, moan that they have no life left.
The ‘I-want-a-job-where-I-can-be-home-at-4 p.m.-for-my-girls-and-get-paid-fabulously’ mom
This once-corporate-honcho-now-full-time mom type cannot come to terms with the fact that she has been left behind in the race, despite her Ivy League degree. While she is making a career of being an excel-sheet mom, her contemporaries are busy appearing on television, becoming corporate honchos, winning awards or writing books. But now that the babies are all grown up and don’t need her the way they used to, she is bereft and suddenly on a I-have-to-get-my-life-back mission.
The ‘I-am-having-a-blast-being-a-mom’ type
I actually saw this on the Google chat status message of a fellow mom who had given birth two months ago. Granted mommyhood could be many things to many people, but blast? I would designate them as the wannabe cool mommies who think saying such things will move them up in the hierarchy of cool moms. They actually go into orgasms whenever the words ‘milestone’ or ‘visual stimulation’ or some such is mentioned. The said mommy has since disappeared from my radar.
The ‘I-don’t-care-what-I-look-like-or-what-I-wear’ type
These are the totally selfless, baby-obsessed mothers whose entire being is about how to make the baby the centre of their lives while turning into a wallflower themselves. ‘Let me forget about what I wear or what I look like, because who is interested in me? I have no problems being the sack lady. Isn’t everyone looking at the baby anyway?’
No, my dear, they are looking at you and wondering what will become of the baby’s dress sense in a few months. Perhaps one reason why you wouldn’t mind hanging out with such wardrobe-malfunctioned moms is because they make you look good.
The ‘When-will-I-be-size-zero-again?’ mom
These are moms that monitored every microgram of their pregnancy and now, post baby, have already enrolled for all the crash weight-loss and baby-fat-knockoff programs, tummy tucks and whatever they can get, so that they can go shopping for size-zero clothes again. Or fit into their old ones.
The paranoid, antiseptic NRI mom
This one pre-orders Pampers Dry Baby in bulk before coming to India and would even contemplate carrying water all the way from America on her annual visit to India. She actually believes that the water we drink would affect the oesophageal reflexes of her child. She would go as far as emailing the head of marketing at Kimberley Clarke on why her brand of Pampers is not available in India.
The ‘I-am-not-a-hypochondriac-just-careful’ mom
This one is a pharmacist’s delight. She believes every condition needs a cure and she is a panacea. So at the drop of a hat, she will pump her baby with nasal drops, Crocin syrup, homeopathic medicines to speed teething, medicines to soothe the gums while the said teeth come out, and medicines to make her sleep while she agonises over the pain of teething. And of course, vitamins. Plenty of them. In later years, such mothers are prone to give memory drugs, drugs to aid digestion, promote better appetites, increase height, intelligence and other such.
The ‘I-love-my-son-so-much-I can’t-bear-to-let-anyone-touch-him’ mom
These are the types who refuse to delegate or outsource any of the baby duty (good, bad, downright dirty) and insist on taking it all upon themselves. Yes, we all go through fleeting phases of ‘no maid is good enough’ for my baby before practicality taking over or before we learn to lower our benchmarks. But some mothers are afflicted by this forever.
The ‘I-am-so-dying-to-party-and-have-tequila-shots’ mom
My friend Jenny was always calculating exactly at what point between breastfeeds could she have a drink. I guess the baby was hampering her hedonistic lifestyle and she was dying to break free and get it all together. The last I saw her, she had joined a power yoga class, had a nutritionist and a trainer, and wanted to know when she could start weaning. The baby was three months old and already on solids.
The ‘What-class-does-your-child-go-for?’ mom
This hyperactive and secretly bored mommy is living out her dreams through her child, packing his life with as much activity and learning as she possibly can, and then pretending it was the baby who asked for it or needed it. So if it’s Monday, it must be music, Tuesday – art, Wednesday – puppetry, Thursday – karate, Friday – Math for geniuses, Saturday – GK, Sunday – gymnastics. If she could fit in gardening and taekwondo into his schedule, she would.
One park-mommy friend wanted to know, ‘So are you sending him anywhere?’ I reckoned she meant my son, so I mumbled and fumbled and I said, ‘Well, we go to parks, the beach, play-dates, music class, markets, the library, long drives.’
She was not impressed. She said she found the music class repetitive and monotonous and her child was not learning anything. She had just enrolled him for GK and phonetics instead. He had just turned three.
One of my fellow mommies was a self-appointed nutrition fanatic who believed that anything and everything off-the-shelf or pre-packaged is harmful to the baby. She would quickly compute the percentage of hydrogenated fat or preservatives in a packet of biscuits or peanut butter and convince you that unless you grow everything in your backyard, nothing is worthy of consumption. She had no problem with formula though.
The ‘It’s-four-o’clock-so-it’s-visual-stimulation-time’ mom
I know a little bit of discipline never hurt anyone, but these schedule-obsessed moms are something else. Perhaps it starts with ‘ten minutes on each breast’, or ‘bath time 11 a.m.’, or ‘mashed apple at 4 p.m.’ and ‘bird watching at 5 p.m.’ or ‘blowing bubbles at 6 p.m.’ or ‘listening to nursery rhymes at 7 p.m.’
The ‘My-daughter-is-now-into-twelve-word-sentences’ mom
A fellow mommy at the park (okay, you meet a lot of them) would give me an update on her daughter every time we met. She always used the royal personal pronoun, which I found amusing. ‘We are now speaking in twelve-word sentences. We are now eating on our own. We are now drinking water from a glass like grown-ups.’
Lalita Iyer is the Managing Editor of Filmfare and the author of I’m Pregnant, Not Terminally Ill, You Idiot!. She wrote columns on parenting, gender and food for Indian Express, HT Café and Times Crest. She earlier worked as Deputy Editor for Hindustan Times and Assistant Editor for Man’s World, post running away from advertising. She lives in Bombay with one husband, one child, two cats and too many gadgets. She tweets as @Lalitude, blogs on mommygolightly.wordpress.com.