‘Can’t you hear the baby crying?’ My husband barges into the room and yells. ‘Are you deaf or what?’
I sink my head onto my knees that I have drawn up against my chest. No, I am not deaf. I can hear the baby but something inside me refuses to move. My maternal instincts fail me, yet again as they refuse to acknowledge the wailing infant. So, I just sit there, next to the baby, rocking to and fro as if trying to obliterate the crying from my mind.
‘Shhh…shhh… I’ve got you now,’ my husband coos to the baby. The baby quietens down. Thank God!
Ever since he came, the baby, my life has been an endless spiral of wails, feedings, burping and, nappy changing. The mother inside me never awoke and yet it smothered the woman that I was.
The baby’s wails are grating on my nerves.
Day by day, they seem to escalate. They strike at the vestiges of my saneness, drawing the blood of my composure. They drain me of rational thinking. I have turned into an insomniac counting the minutes and dreading the next call to duty…breast feeding! How I abhor the job! It makes me feel like a fat cow that is being milked. Ugh!
‘What is wrong with you?’ my husband accuses me.
I can see his disgust at my dishevelled appearance, at my uncombed hair. Most days, I forget to bathe or change into a clean set of clothes. What’s the point, I think. The baby is just going to puke all over me anyway.
These days even small, menial chores seem to sap at my energy. The house remains messy and the kitchen remains cluttered. I can’t deal with things. I just want to crawl into bed and forget everything. I want my old life back, my life before the baby came. Even as I think such thoughts, waves of guilt wash over me. Oh God! What am I thinking? How can I be so selfish? I love my baby, don’t I?
And yet, think like it is exactly what I do, day after day until I feel exhausted and debilitated.
The baby has taken everything from me – My husband, my peace and my life. I swear there are days when I hate my son. I know, I know, that’s a terrible admission for a mother to make.
Motherhood is supposed to be magical. Or, at least that is what I was led to believe. Then why is it not magical for me? I wonder often. There are days when I want to be rid of the wailing, squealing, clamouring infant. I want to bash his head in or worse smother him so that he won’t cry anymore. Such thoughts assail me more and more often, now days. They bring fresh guilt. Oh! What kind of mother am I? No mother would think like this? God, what is wrong with me? No, I don’t deserve to be a mother. I don’t deserve this child. I am a monster.
More than me, it is my husband who cares for the child. His eyes, as he shushes the baby today, bore into me. His stance is belligerent. Why can’t you understand what I am going through, I plead with him silently as my eyes well up.
‘Great, cry now, as always. That’s all you seem to be good at anyways,’ my husband taunts me, holding the baby. Derision drips from his tone. Lately, it has been like this. He gets upset at everything that I do…or that I don’t do.
‘You are useless,’ he says. ‘You are such a bad mother. Why did you have a baby if you cannot take care of it? It’s a woman’s job to take care of the child. Aren’t you ashamed to behave like this?’
I know I should reach up and take the baby from him now. But, my leaden arms refuse to lift. I sit, like a rag doll, physically intact but mentally broken.
‘Here, feed him,’ his voice finally penetrates the cobwebs in my mind. He hands me the baby. ‘You can manage to feed him, can’t you?’ he jibes.
I merely nod. Taking the baby, I bare a breast and the hungry infant latches on immediately, suckling with gusto. A whirlwind of emotions assail me. This is my child. I should love him. I should rush to comfort him, to cater to his needs. He is so tiny, my flesh and blood, the child that I yearned for and wanted. Then what happened? Where is my maternal love?
I no longer understand my conflicting, dubious emotions. My husband is a stranger to me now. Our love seems to have evaporated. There is a chasm between us and I don’t know how to bridge it. Of late, my husband’s tone is often angry and accusatory. He repeatedly tells me what a crappy mother I am. As if I don’t know! I don’t need reminders. His words hurt me. Each barb hits home and each taunt further frays the tenuous hold I have on myself.
I don’t think he loves me anymore. No one loves me anymore, I think. Then, overwhelmed by rebukes, I can take it no longer. I contend – I am a bad mother. The baby is better off without me. No one needs me.
That night, feeling alienated and unloved, I take a drastic step.
I attempt suicide.
Suicide is not the answer. I understand that now, after my failed suicide attempt.
My parents, my in-laws and other family have offered counsel. Everyone expects me to know instinctively how to be a good mother. But, how can I know something that I have never done? Motherhood does not come with a manual does it?
My pregnancy was magical indeed. Everyone made me feel like a princess. They waited on me hand and foot, even my husband. But then, it all changed. Now, no one asks about me. No one loves me. They only love the baby. They only want the baby. Am I no one to them? Am I a burden? Is my job over?
My unsuccessful suicide attempt has further alienated my husband. He avoids me now – like the plague. He sleeps in the guest room, shunning our bed. All I see in his face is contempt for me. I have never felt so alone or so scared. Self-doubt has become a constant companion now.
For months now, I have been suffering. I feel overwhelmed, almost suffocated, all the time. Forcing even a few morsels down my throat is a chore. I have no appetite. I have no wishes or wants.
Is my husband right? Am I a worthless, shitty mother?
Nowadays, I question my role as a care giver. I believe that I am neither up for the job nor qualified for it. I am scared of the person I have become. I hate myself.
Who am I? What have I become?
As months pass, my life has sunk into a routine of caring for the baby on autopilot, like a zombie.
My friend Smita is aghast at my appearance. Black, sunken pits surround my eyes that used to shine with vibrancy. My sickly pallor, lustreless skin, thinning hair and unkempt appearance alarm Smita.
‘What’s wrong?’ she asks when she visits. ‘Are you unwell?’
Am I unwell? I wonder as I look at her, vacantly.
She hugs me. I succumb to the comfort of her bosom. She holds me, stroking my hair and cradling my head as I cry. The tears come, shameful and unhinged from the shackles of the last vestige of my self-control. Intuitively, Smita understands my need for she makes no attempt to calm me. She lets me purge.
‘Seema, you are a captive of your own psychosis,’ she says after I am spent. ‘You have to get a grip on yourself.’
I look at her, uncomprehending her words and yet hanging on to the sound of her voice. ‘It’s okay to feel this way,’ she says. ‘It is not your fault. But, you need to see a doctor.’
The next day she takes me to a doctor.
‘It’s called Post partum depression (PPD),’ the doctor diagnosis, ‘and, it is common in first time mothers. All your symptoms– insomnia, fear, anxiety, self-doubt, loss of appetite, exhaustion, suicidal thoughts – everything points to it.’
Confused, I shake my head and ask, ‘Depression? But, I have never suffered from depression.’
He smiles at my naiveté. ‘Maybe this is your first brush with depression. But then, it’s your first brush with motherhood too, isn’t it?’ he asks.
Smita squeezes my hand. A lone tear escapes me. Smita’s touch means care and that is more than anything I have felt these past few months.
The doctor continues, ‘It is a condition that most women develop after their pregnancy.’ His voice is gentle. His eyes hold understanding. ‘There are many changes that a woman’s body goes through to give birth. There are hormonal surges, emotional and psychological pressures and the pressures of additional responsibility. Not all bodies adjust. Some adapt faster while others take time.’
‘So I am ill?’ Somehow I find my voice and whisper.
‘No, no,’ the doctor reassures. He shrugs his shoulders and smiles, ‘Think of it as a condition or rather a treatable condition. Yours is the result of a complexity of factors. You see, a mother is not born a mother, is she? Just like a woman gives birth to a child, a child too gives birth to a mother. It is a learning phase for both. Sometimes, it takes more time to learn. It takes more time for maternal instincts to develop. At times help is needed. That is what we will do for you. We will help you.’
Sitting there, I feel something that I have not felt for long -hope. Does this mean that I am not a bad mother?
I look at the doctor and without even realising it, I start crying. But, these are tears of relief. I am relieved that there is someone who understands what I am feeling. I am relieved that there is someone who empathises. For the first time in months I feel as if I am understood.
‘I can prescribe some medicines but PPD is a form of depression. And, like any form of depression, the best treatment is mental fortitude. If the patient cooperates, the condition abates faster. Question is will you cooperate?’
I dry my tears. ‘Yes, I will,’ I promise him.
The doctor smiles, ‘Well, that’s half the battle won.’
The doctor was right. It indeed was in my hands to recover.
It’s been a few months since my first visit to him and since he prescribed my course of medications. But, I feel normal, like my old self.
No longer do I loathe my wailing baby. I have embraced motherhood. My maternal instincts have kicked into gear. I love and care for my baby. I am finally a happy mother and consequently my baby is a happy baby. And, what’s more, my husband is happy. My ascent from the abyss of depression has rekindled our romantic spark. My husband loves me – deeply. How foolish I was to think otherwise.
The road to recovery has been hard, very hard. It has taken every ounce of fortitude that I could muster to fight my PPD. There have been days when I have yo-yoed between bouts of self-loathing and self-pity. My fears and apprehensions have continued to battle with my sanity.
But, I have emerged victorious.
Bit by bit, I have picked up the pieces of my life. I have learned to empathize and control my emotions and my condition. I have learned to forgive myself. And, I have learned to love myself, shortcomings and all.
I am no longer a bad mother. I am just a mother.
Author’s note – Post partum depression is a genuine psychological condition. Sadly, it is also a condition which is not taken seriously by family members. It also does not get the support it needs. However, our love and support can help a mother suffering from PPD. So, if you come across any new mother who exhibits symptoms described in the story or in the article (link given below), please do not hesitate to extend a hand.
Image credit – Indian express newspaper