As Mother’s Day approaches and shops gear up to profit from it, I can’t help but go into a dizzying array of thoughts about what motherhood has meant to me personally. I wonder whether I belong to the minority club of those who are unable to come up with some glowing statement proclaiming that it is the best thing that happened to them ever. It certainly has been wonderful but I don’t seem as emotional about it. I did not cry at the sound of the first heart beat at the very first ultrasound I went to and I did not experience any feelings when I held my baby in my hands for the first time. Relief certainly, but it wasn’t like anything that I had read in stories recounted by other mothers or even like the personal experiences of my sisters and friends. Nevertheless, over the past year and a bit, I too find myself having arrived at the same spot – having developed an incredible attachment to my child and wondering how empty my life would have been without him.
Having lost my father recently and still trying to come to terms with it, I remind myself constantly to live in the moment and enjoy good times while they last. Perspectives are always fleeting however. I think of all that I need to be thankful for when reading an article about children in Iraq and imagine how incredibly hard it must be for parents in such war zones. The next moment I am immersed in self-pity over battling a child who refuses to eat. I stare at the clutter of toys and crayons in the living room while my husband is upstairs making my son go to sleep and I wish for a magic genie to clean it all up instantly. These are not bullets or metal scraps for God’s sake, just toys and bits of cookies lying on the floor. I shouldn’t’ fret over this. If I didn’t clean up, I cannot concentrate on even watching TV let alone reading. I clear up some clutter and sit down to take in the quiet moment and revel in it for sometime. It feels like a long day but there is an abstract feeling of gratification.
For some, the desire and the patience it takes to raise children come very naturally. Maybe it does not feel as difficult for them. I can’t sometimes wonder though whether deep down, the surface ease belies some of the same anxiety and emotions that those like me for whom it does not come naturally go through.
My son turned 21 months couple of days back. I look at him with pride and joy and wonder how he will turn out to be as an adult. Sentiment stops me from wandering too far into the future – one day at a time I tell myself. I thank the stars for all that he is now and I pray for his good health and happiness. But I don’t linger in that proud moment for too long out of fear of casting a jinx. Much as it brings me joy, I can’t help but feel anxious about how I am going to find the patience and strength to do it all over again when the second child arrives in June and having two on my hand then to deal with. I blindly trust that things will somehow fall in place.
The reality of motherhood is not just full of those special-Kay moments of joy and smiles and pretty looks, as I have come to learn first-hand. My induced labor for the first delivery was quite easy and very quick. It only took three hours from start to finish. But I went through fourth degree tearing in the process. The pain I went through four days later is the real part of labor that I can remember now. I remember what my ob-gyn said, jokingly, when I went to her in utter pain few days after delivery. “You wonder if Catherine Zeta-Jones also went through such an experience, don’t you”, she said. Are there tears too behind the smiles for everyone? One understands motherhood only after going through it personally.
I now look at my mother with renewed respect for all that she has gone through in raising not just one but six children -- and never patting herself on the back for doing so. Due to her deep sense of gratitude and faith in God she only says “I didn’t do it, God helped me do it”. I can’t imagine how horrible it must have been for her to have lost the very first one at a time when women were expected to bear a child soon after marriage while hers was already late by those standards and to again lose another adorable (the third one for her) child only a year and half after he was born. I feel as though I am looking at some super human who went through eight pregnancies and breast-fed every single child for over a year. And on top of that, she raised her six children while having several other children, my cousins, also growing up in the same house. Now, she is still fulfilling her role as a mother and helping me with my delivery despite the loss of my father and despite the grief that she is experiencing quietly. Her energy leaves me in awe. She was apparently a brilliant student in an English convent school she went to before she got married. Legend has it that the principal of the school,a nun, was nearly in tears pleading with my grand father to let her continue on with her studies. My mother may not have had the kind of career she was capable of, but she has led an exemplary life nevertheless. And it’s not even that she is humble about all that she has done. She does not even give it a second thought. To her, that is life. You just do your duty with love and sincerity. Simple. She does not preach the verses of the Gita, she lives it. Not just her, so many other mothers of her generation. I never paused to think about them like I do these days. Much as I mock Hallmarks’ days, I think a day dedicated to celebrating mothers makes sense.
Despite my great admiration for her, I still can’t help but treat her like a mother – I express my irritations at her freely even if I regret it later. I took my father’s presence in my life for granted and now I find myself doing the same with my mother. But I am now more aware of how precious my time with her is despite her good health and how it can just as easily be taken away when I least expect it. One just never knows what lies ahead next.
I can also not be as gracious as she is in hardly taking any credit as a mother. As a stay-at-home mother, I sometimes feel as though it is a penance that one goes through. One experiences those unbelievably joyful moments but also tides through a monotony of mundane chores and relentlessly repetitive tasks -- preparing the right food, feeding a difficult eater patiently, changing diapers and so on. I do sometimes regret that my career has taken a back seat in this process and I do envy working mothers for being able to enjoy their own time 8 hrs a day even though it is a choice that I have made for myself. Laboratory science does not lend itself well to part-time work and for obvious reasons not to working from home. I do not want to return to laboratory science and plan to change my career track when I return to working. All of this uncertainty makes me anxious when I actually pause to think about it. I am not one to advocate one or the other - working or staying at home - for anyone else. I only want to do what feels right for myself. And I hate the fact that society is still not geared up for truly equal parenting where both the father and the mother go through such difficult career decisions – stay-at-home dads are looked down upon even by many women, let alone men. Paternity leave is still not as extensive or acceptable as maternity leave is. And men who do parenting tasks are applauded even more than women as though it is only expected for a woman to do it. But having gone through motherhood thus far, there is a deep sense of satisfaction in knowing that I have given my child all of my time, and made him my priority at the stage that he is most dependent on me. Despite all of the irritations and anxiety I go through in the process, I give it my best. I do hope that I can find it within me to cope with two children although I just can’t visualize it just now. And I sincerely hope that they will be there for each other as best of friends always. When my mother now tells us that the best gift we can really give her is for us siblings to be there for each other always, I understand what she really means and how much that means to her. There is so much about motherhood that you understand only as you go through it. It is like hearing the finer notes of a complex tune and appreciating it even more as you learn to play it yourself.