My baby girl turned one month old recently. It’s amazing how much life can change in 31 days. Somewhere between the diapers, late nights and re-learning childhood nursery rhymes, my brain has managed to rewire itself in a way I never thought possible. Earlier, I was petrified at the concept of taking a whole year off work and what that would mean for me a person. Now I think, drat, only 11 months to go.
The biggest thing I’m learning (other than just how much pain my body could handle) is how to let go of my hesitation and accept help from those around me. Before I got married I’d lived on my own for well over a decade, and always prided myself on being independent. I handled health, finances, groceries, taxes, travel, safety and even gardening relatively well and spent a lot of time congratulating myself on how grown up I was. Then this little bundle came along.
One of the traditions around pregnancy in India is that women go to their maternal homes to give birth and generally stay there for a few months after the baby is born. In my case travelling wasn’t an option, so my mother came to stay for a while to help out with the baby. I, like most people, had some concerns about this visit—it had, after all, been years since we’d lived under the same roof for more than a couple of weeks at a time. Like all mothers and daughters, we bicker, disagree and even outright fight like champs. Beyond that, I genuinely didn’t think I could accept so much in-your-face help from a parent anymore. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and I realized that I had no idea I was doing.
Giving birth may be the most wonderful of human experiences, but it also hurts like hell. I had assumed that labour would be the toughest part of the delivery process, but what they don’t tell you is how much it’s going to hurt afterward. Even the multiple hours of drug-free contractions before the anesthesiologist showed up were easier than the days following the birth. I experienced the terrifying sort of helplessness that only comes from one’s body failing them in some way at the worst possible moment, and where every little mistake feels like a huge personal failure.
Prior to those first few weeks, I had convinced myself I could do it all: take care of my baby—”after all, how hard could it be? Women have been doing it since the beginning of time” —lose the baby weight, manage the house once my husband went back to work and even see my friends on a semi-regular basis. Boy, was that ever deluded. The first weeks was a blur of joy, pain, hormone crashes, sleep deprivation and attempts at breastfeeding for what felt like 24 hours a day. It didn’t really give me much time to eat, let alone cook, clean or do laundry. I realized very quickly that I had to stop trying to manage everything and just focus on healing and the baby—and just let the family members that I was lucky enough to have around me take care of everything else. On more days than I care to count, I remember my husband or mother hand feeding me while I tried to find a comfortable position to nurse (Spoiler! For the first few weeks, there wasn’t one).
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I also have the distinct good fortune of having a mother who happens to be a lactation expert by profession and runs prenatal classes of her own. The difference it made was astonishing—given that breastfeeding is something that is supposed to come naturally, I was surprised at how complicated it could be. Especially when one is woozy from hormones and blood loss, and one’s baby starts life in the NICU with tubes up their nose and IVs all over the place. For the first couple of weeks, she slept with me in the nursery, waking up every time the baby did to physically latch her to me. I make jokes now about the benefits of having a 24/7 live-in lactation consultant, but I am honestly awed by the first-time moms who manage to do this by themselves. I don’t know that I could’ve done it.
The other way having family around helped in the postpartum phase is to avoid the depression caused by isolation. Many a friend has described the combination of being on their own when their partners return to full-time jobs, lack of sleep and hormone fluctuations as a major contributor to postpartum issues. Even in the best of circumstances, it’s a hard time in a woman’s life. In my case, I felt the effects around two o’clock every afternoon. Here again, having people around to talk to and get help from made the most difficult hours easier to handle. Having someone to hand the baby to for 20 minutes so I could have a bit of a break, to ask questions of when I didn’t know what to do—or even just to have someone make me take a walk once a day made all the difference in the world.
I’m sure my husband and I would have muddled through on our own and eventually gained the confidence we needed, but I can truly say that, independent or not, some experiences are truly better when they are shared with those closest to you. And, sometimes, leaning on the proverbial village to help raise your child makes things better for everyone concerned.
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Roma Kojima is a first time mom of a tiny, wriggly girl. Aside from muddling her way through new parenthood, she loves to cook, travel, and obsess about leather purses she can’t afford. Follow along as she shares her journey.