I remember the first bout of baby blues! Thirteen months later, my heart still skips a beat when I think of those early days of motherhood. Overwhelmed with the responsibility of holding a precious baby in my arms, I was scared as hell.
Am I holding him right? Am I making him comfortable? Is his tummy full? How will I know if it hurts him anywhere? Is he sleeping enough? Is he responding enough? Is the water too cold for him? Or too warm? How many burps does he need after every feed? Did the maid wash his clothes in Dettol? Are they ironed?
I was paranoid. I insisted on doing everything myself. I wanted to be in front of my baby, attending to his needs every hour of the day. Never mind that he is sleeping and I can catch a wink. I wanted to be on my toes always. I remember washing his nappies for the first time when V was about 2 weeks old! Can you imagine that? A 2-week old mother and I still hadn’t washed my baby’s nappies? I remember the sense of achievement when I washed his dirty nappies for the first time!
So while I howled and howled in fright (wondering if I was doing everything right), my husband held me through those early days of doubt. The one thing that he told me, and that which has stayed with me until now, and will perhaps be my guiding force forever is, “Your son will tell you if you are doing the right thing. Follow his heart, take cues from him. He will teach you how to be a good mother.”
Thirteen months later, I still don’t know if I am a good mother. To tell you the truth, I don’t know what does being a good mother mean? Are there any parameters? Is there a score sheet? A template, anyone? I have followed my heart, and my son’s. I have taken cues from him to know what he likes and what he doesn’t. I know the foods he prefers, the toys he likes, the games he enjoys, the caps he dislikes and the animals he loves to watch. I know when he is sleepy, when he wants a hug, when he wants to play, when he is happy, when he is cranky, when he is hungry and when he wants his mommy. Does that make me a good enough mother?
My mother is certain that I am a better mom than what she has been in her life. Why? Because I knew how to bathe a new born. Because I knew how to hold a new born, feed and burp him. Because as a new mother, ravaged by the painful early days of breast feeding I refused to give up and insisted feeding my boy. I’ve had a painful breast feeding history, something that began with bloody feeds, led to blackish (read: scary) stools and ended up with an abscess that required a surgery. In all of this, I fed V as tears rolled down my cheeks. He would often be hungry, and I would almost die of guilt. I’d complement his feed with a bottle, but that put me at ease. Whoever heard my story, asked me to give up breast feeding. But I refused. I didn’t give up. In my head, I told myself, ‘a good mother’ doesn’t give up! I had other recent mothers very comfortably telling me, “I gave up BFing. It’s damn painful and what the hell, I didn’t lactate enough. And it’s so cool…how I missed my wine in all these nine months!” Needless to say, these answers almost made me faint!
By and by I have come across many mothers and as I have learnt about their choices I have realised that I am different. Not superior, or inferior…but just different. I am guided by mommy feelings, just as other mothers are, but that doesn’t make me any superior or inferior to them. But yes, it wasn’t all this easy.
I have seen mothers who have gone back to their wines and late nights barely three months after their babies have been born. Guided by their career, mothers have left their suckling babies at home and have not bothered about it. I have also seen mothers, who despite having an older child didn’t know what the ideal foods for a weaning child are! I mean, how can a mother not know that khichdi for a 6-month old has to be pound into a paste in a mixer?! I have gasped at mothers who have allowed their crawling babies to collect dust on the floor of the airport, likewise I have seen mothers allow babies to lie at the edge of a train seat and fall off in their sleep! I have heard of mothers feed their 6 month old the icing of the cake. I have seen mothers allow their kids drag their nannies in markets and malls as if they are slaves! I have cringed…every time I have seen a mother, my antithesis I have rolled my eyes and sighed, “how can she not know?!”
I have often had to defend my decision to be a stay-at-home mother. I mean yes, it is one thing to see a ferociously ambitious and workaholic like me bask in the warmth of motherhood, but it is quite another thing to assume that I am doing something completely wrong! And to assume that since I have been a stay-at-home mother for a year now, I will never go back to a career, is definitely not allowed. This, being judged by others has taught me one crucial thing about parenting. Every parent in this world is guiding by his own principles. A mother knows what’s important in her and her child’s life and she has all the right to make her choices. Even if they are wrong! How these choices will pan out and affect the child is something that has to be observed.
I have learnt to be less judgmental I have instead learnt to watch other mothers handle their babies. I observe the choices they make and I try and notice their child’s reactions. If nothing else, it helps me decide whether it is a formula worth replicating or not! Yes, parenting is a formula that has no definite answers.
A former TV junkie & workaholic – turned – stay-at-home-mother – recently turned work-at-home – mother Rituparna Ghosh loves herself as @VeesMother (my twitter identity as a parent). Her son’s student, she is learning the ropes of parenting every day.