Wednesday, January 06, 2016

What they didn’t tell me about postpartum depression

They tell you a lot of things when you’re pregnant. And by ‘they’ I mean family, books, websites, friends who’ve been there, done that, and have the scars to show it. They tell you what to eat and what not to eat. How to exercise and how much to exercise. What to wear, what to avoid, what medicines to take, what procedures to pass up. They tell you a lot of things. But they don’t say a single word about postpartum depression.
A few days after I delivered my baby (‘normal’ delivery, episiotomy, ouch, ouch, ouch), I discovered I wasn’t producing enough milk for her. Then, we discovered that she has colic. A connection between the two was suggested and denied. Cures – both for her and my ‘condition’ - were sought, tried and discarded as useless. I was told to make peace with the fact that my baby would cry for seven hours straight at night, that there was no known cure for this and that it would stop when she turned three months old. I was told that not making enough milk was not my fault, that baby formula was just as good as mother’s milk, that perhaps the reason I was not able to breastfeed was because I didn’t “want it enough” and that a low milk supply was seen mostly in educated women, because they “thought too much about it.” This last, by the way, was from a renowned, elderly pediatrician. Male, predictably.
I was told a lot of things. But I wasn’t told that it was okay to be utterly crushed by all this. That it was okay to feel utterly and completely overwhelmed by vaginal surgery, physical exhaustion, a colicky baby and an all-encompassing feeling of inadequacy, all coming one after the other like contestants in the world’s most twisted beauty pageant.
So, I felt guilty too. About not being happy that I had a relatively uncomplicated delivery. About not feeling unbridled joy when I held my crying daughter in my arms. About not being grateful that I had my parents to help out. About not having answers. About feeling helpless, dejected, exhausted and utterly spent every moment of every day. Because you see, I was led to believe – by family, friends and books – that unadulterated joy is what I was supposed to feel after having a baby. Feeling anything less, that too, good God, sorrow and indignation? There must be something wrong with me.
The fact that that “something wrong” could be postpartum depression did not even occur to me once, by the way. I had read all about it in the baby books. But it couldn’t happen to me, right? I mean, I did everything right. I ate the right stuff, did my prenatal yoga, was active till the day of my delivery, avoided all the things I was supposed to. I was golden. Besides, was I actually depressed? Or was I just feeling a little down? Because that, apparently, is normal.
Baby books and websites tell us that feeling “a little blue” after childbirth is normal, because all the feel-good hormones your body produced during pregnancy ebb after the baby comes out of you. I like how vague that phrase is. A little blue. Like, “Gee, I don’t think I’ll go to the mall today. I think I’ll just sit here and eat a cupcake because I’m feeling a little blue.” Well, in terms of scale, if I had to describe what I felt like during those dark months, it would be something like, “OH MY GOD, I CAN’T TAKE THIS ANYMORE, I’M A HORRIBLE MOTHER AND I WANT TO FORCEFEED MYSELF PAPAYAS!” (You should probably know that I was asked to eat lots of papayas to increase my milk production. You should also know that I detest papayas. Now, more so than ever.)
I honestly don’t know if I had postpartum depression back then. My husband tells me I was not easy to live with those early months. I believe him. I was there, remember? I also believe that if I did have postpartum depression, I got off easy. I never once felt any resentment towards my daughter. I never once wished her harm. And yet, that too is common among women who suffer from intense postpartum depression. It must be horrifying to the mother more than anyone else. Now add to that, societal pressure to regain your pre-pregnancy body, unpaid maternity leave, shameless enquiries from various people about when you’re planning to have your next baby…
Should I go on?
Well then, as someone who has barely dipped her toe in the murky shallows of postpartum depression, I strongly advocate prenatal counseling for expectant parents. Yes, fathers too deserve to be equipped for this. It may not prevent women from sinking into depression, but hopefully, it will save them from drowning in it.  
(This piece was written for the White Swan Foundation.) 

Friday, May 08, 2015

Not Your Usual Mother's Day Post

As the internet bubbles up with heart-warming mush about mothers this Sunday, this is me jumping on the bandwagon. But, differently. Like, with just one hand. Maybe a leg hanging out. Or doing a somersault. You get the picture.

At first, I wanted to write about how my mother and how all her awesomeness made me feel scared of being a mother myself. Because, seriously, how the hell was I going to bake cakes for Pookie’s birthday, while keeping a fulltime job? How was I going to take her for swim class and summer camp, and teach her to ride a bike and enroll her for kathak and do the million odd things my mom did for me all through my life? No, sir, this is a note excusing me from motherhood, can I just sit on that bench now?

But no, this is not that post, though god knows Aai deserves one. This one is dedicated to companies who think twice before hiring mothers. People like Axis Bank and ICICI (that’s right, I’m taking names), who give female candidates pregnancy tests before hiring them, because dear God, what if they decide to reproduce and we have to give them paid maternity leave? Oh, the horror! What else? Oh yes, mothers are tired, frustrated and angry often (the rest of our employees are happy, relaxed Care Bears). And they have to take leave every time their child is ill or the nanny doesn’t show up (the others leave their pets and spouses to rot by the side of the road when they’re unwell). And they always expect special treatment as if we asked them to procreate, as if they’ve done something magical by producing a living, breathing human being from thin air and a traumatized uterus.

No, man. Better just to hire someone single, preferably someone who has no social life, right?

Here, take a deep breath, guys. This is where I tell you why hiring mothers is a good thing.

One. Mothers multitask. We’re champions at it. Yesterday, for instance, I fed Pookie a banana, while changing her diaper and singing three verses of her favourite song, and making sure she was biting off morsels small enough to not make her choke. Your eight-item joblist doesn’t scare me, boss.

Two. Mothers adapt. Have you ever started wearing eyeliner and then had the mirror move back and forth, because your toddler is playing with the door to your wardrobe and any second now, her finger is going to get crushed in there? Oh, the client wants the creatives two hours earlier? Yawn.  

Three. Mothers don’t lose their shit in a crisis. The milk is close to boiling on the stove, you’re on the phone with the cook, who’s just had a minor accident and won’t be showing up today, the husband is in the loo with a case of the runs, the baby has done a surreptitious potty and has that smile on her face that suggests that any moment now, she’s going to wallow in it, and in two hours you have a pitch meeting halfway across town. Tell me again how stressful it is for you when Powerpoint shuts down?

Four. Mothers get things done on time. Nothing teaches you the value of time, like a baby who generally refuses to nap, suddenly falling blissfully asleep. Nothing teaches you to meet deadlines than a baby screaming for milk at 3:00 in the morning. Nothing makes you rush like a baby threatening to pee on your brand new memory foam mattress. And absolutely nothing makes you power through your day’s jobs, than the mental image of your child, waiting anxiously for you to return home from work.

Sure, there will be those who take undue advantage of the ‘mother’ tag and use it as an excuse for incompetence and inefficiency. But most of us don’t. We don’t have the time for it. So hire mothers, India Inc. It’ll be the best decision you’ve ever made.


Thursday, January 08, 2015

Oh Screw You Too, Kangana Ranaut.

Ever since Pookie has made her gurgling way into our lives, newspapers have slowly made their way out. What was once used to grab quick updates on current events, is now used primarily as a poop scooper. Such are the joys of parenthood.

When I do get three seconds to glance at one though, it's a quick skimming of the bold, coloured headlines in whichever newspaper I happen to get my hands on. A couple of weeks ago, it was the Bombay Times. Agreed, calling BT a newspaper is like calling Kim Kardashian an actress - it's all very iffy, even if technically true. Nevertheless, glance I did and I happen to read a piece that was classic BT: Celebrities Share Their Views on Marriage.

Sonam Kapoor was there, a few others, some famous, some just about. And then, there was Kangana Ranaut, who said that "Married people need to get their heads checked."

I haven't watched Queen. I want to, though. By all accounts, she's done a wonderful job and the movie is pathbreaking and bold as it depicts how a girl needn't marry. Full points on message, but tell me, Kangana, why the smugness? Yes, I get it, there are plenty of obnoxious people in our wonderful country, who hunt down singletons and tell them they're missing out on life by not getting hitched. I know. I used to be accosted by them, not so long ago.

The thing is, there are also the rest of us out here. Married people who're just trying to do our best, going out of our way to assure our single friends that hey, don't worry, you're not missing anything much. Not out of condescension, you understand, but merely because it's true. There are aspects of singlehood that I will never enjoy again. There are joys in marriage that a single person cannot experience. We're talking about two different things, unequal and impossible to compare.

You're happy being single? Good for you. Go out and make merry in all the ways I can't. I'll cheer you on, from my living room couch on Friday night, as my year-old daughter rubs rice on my shirt. But if you're suggesting that my decision to marry makes me somehow inferior to you or clinically insane, then honey, you're the one who needs her head checked.