When I got pregnant, it was not a planned pregnancy—and I am the kind of person who plans everything in life. I typically have a five-year plan for my personal life and also one for every venture I start professionally. I am also the kind of person who likes to be fully informed and aware, and surprises of any kind are not usually appreciated. So, I decided to read several books on parenting, attend parenting seminars and talk to parents of older children about what their first few years were like.
I realized one thing during this phase of preparation—parenting books often make you feel like a failure before you have even begun. The guide-type structure makes you feel inadequate and you wonder if you can keep up with the alleged parenting ‘experts’. Did not breastfeed for a year? Bad Mommy! Used a pacifier? Uh-oh, you are the easy-way-out Mommy! One-year- old child still not walking? Slow Mommy! Eighteen-month-old child still not talking? Judgey-wudgey eyes and raised eyebrow! Showed them the TV or the mobile screen so early? Irreparable damage to the eyes is already done! Left child alone with the nanny? Bad Mommy! Went back to work? Negligent Mommy! Child prefers eating only one kind of food? Oh, well, good luck! You have a fussy eater! Not potty-trained by two years of age? Now your child will never be potty trained! As if there is any adult in the world who cannot manage to go to the bathroom on his own due to delayed potty-training!
Motherhood does not come with a manual and it cannot come with a code, because unlike everything else in the world, this is something so personal and so dependent on your everyday life and personality. Isn’t there something positive to be said for mothers who are figuring it out as they go? For the ones who use this process of trial and error where whatever sticks is the winner? No book or guide told me that the way I do things for my child is the best way possible. I do believe in guidelines, but I think they are best developed while parenting and seeing what works for you as a family.
There were many techniques I developed to deal with difficult parenting situations and these techniques came about by trying different things and the ones that worked for us became our holy grail. ‘If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it,’ said the famous writer Toni Morrison. So, I did just that and delved into writing this book—this is not a parenting guide—this is a make- your-moments-with-your-child-fun kind of a book where I have tried to share various processes that I put in place that brought us much joy as parents and helped our child’s overall development and contributed to a happy home.
So, let us start with mom truths that no one tells you before you give birth.
Mom Truth 1
No one tells you the truth about breastfeeding. It is by far the strangest phenomenon in the world of motherhood—no part of it as an activity is enjoyable, yet it is the thing that only you as the mother can do to meet the needs of your child and that makes it beautiful. But no book, documentary, seminar or article on parenting could prepare you for the wide range of emotions and physical pain one goes through during breastfeeding. Mothers are shamed if they did not breastfeed for long enough; they are shamed if they breastfed for too long. Who created the rule about the right number of months that a child must be exclusively breastfed? And who is the controlling authority on it? The amount of time you breastfeed is often talked about as significant as it concerns the overall development and immunity of a child.
During my research, I encountered a mother who as a child had been breastfed for sixteen months and yet has been suffering from respiratory conditions and allergies her entire life. There was another woman who was never breastfed due to insufficient supply and she is a hale and hearty forty- year-old today. Similarly, there is substantial research that indicates that the number of months or days a child has been breastfed does not have any direct correlation to their later development. So, there are no universal breastfeeding rules and mothers should not be made to feel badly if they do or do not follow them. If you chose not to breastfeed beyond a few days or a few months for whatever reason, that is your choice. You must do what works for you and be bold and brazen about it.
I stopped breastfeeding when my son was almost eight months old because my schedule just did not permit it. I was so tired all the time between work and personal commitments that it had taken a toll on me. I decided then that I could not put myself through it anymore and I simply stopped. And despite the not- so-subtle mom-shaming I received and the fact that I occasionally missed being needed for a feed by my tiny creation, I felt like I had a new lease on life and my life was suddenly in my control again. So, do not judge or allow anyone to judge you. Take control, make a decision that works for your happiness and stick with it.
Also read: Who says a pizza can’t be healthy for kids?
Mom Truth 2
No one writes about postpartum depression as a by-product of becoming a mother. It is a depression that may or may not be clinical and may or may not require medication, but it is a rite of passage, which nobody tells you about or talks about. Why can’t you be depressed because you suddenly feel responsible for this tiny being and your life is not yours anymore? Why can’t you feel a little lonely because your days are now based on the hunger and other needs of your baby? Why can’t you be afraid about the future and how the baby will change your dynamic with your husband and all those around you? Why can’t you be upset over your unrecognizable body, which is the primary source of nourishment for your child now?
Why can’t you be frustrated about the uncertainty of your career? Will you be able to work again? Will you be able to give your full attention to anything again? You can be afraid and you can be depressed, and you can acknowledge it—talk to someone, do something to uplift yourself and deal with all the emotions you are feeling. The word postpartum is considered scary and is associated with a deep dark hole you are sucked into, and while others may not experience such difficult emotions to such an extreme, you have the right to feel what you feel. No one wants to admit and tell you it is a rite of passage.
Every new mother goes through a gamut of emotions and uncertainties and it is bound to affect her mental health. So, anyone who tells you they did not go through any kind of emotional turmoil, is not being truthful. I wish someone prepared me by saying, ‘Go into motherhood fully knowing that you will be upset and depressed. You will think at some point that you are nothing more than a milking cow and that may be your identity for a short while. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that is worth the ride’. So, today I am telling you this to prepare you for the inevitable.
Excerpted with permission from ‘The Power of Make-Believe: Parenting Through Pretend Play’ by Shouger Merchant Doshi, published by Penguin Random House India.
And the labels and judgements go on and on.