Motherhood

I won’t be able to protect you from the bullies at school.  I won’t be able to stop you from skinning your knees, or stop that jerk from breaking your heart.  If you get cancer, short of taking you to treatment, there is nothing I will be able to do.

All I can say as I push your stroller is that I will care for you better than I care for myself, and that if something happens to you it will be because I couldn’t prevent it, not because I didn’t want to, or didn’t try.  If I hear a gunshot I will lie down over you.  I can’t stop the car from crashing if we are driving–but tumne jab bhi hoegaa, wo mujhe bhi hoga–whatever happens to you will happen to me, too.

I look at your chubby little hands and remember how last year, as per the Hindu duty, I initiated my father’s cremation.  It crosses my mind that if I live to old age, you will be my parent and care for me.  And that with those chubby little hands, one day you too will consign my body to the flames, and visit the funeral home to carry me home in a paper bag, ashes and bones.  It will be a long ride for you.  It is an eerie thought.  I try not to dwell on it.

That is the gravity of what I signed up for, when I created your lives.  My life isn’t about me any more; I had my turn in the sun–and I didn’t even realize it was going on.  Now it is about you.  Being a family, the responsibility for your well-being, and (as someone said) to have my heart live outside my body for the rest of all of our lives.

Leaving Home to Go Home?

Before this year I would never, ever have thought of leaving the United States. This is where I was born, and it’s the only country I’ve ever lived in, or considered home. But the events of the last two years–my mom’s illness, my pregnancy and childbirth, my father’s illness–have made me realize how very alone I am here, and also that the US is a very difficult country to grow old in or raise children in. Most of that is that the costs of home care or assisted living here are prohibitive, the costs of good childcare are equally prohibitive, and there isn’t much of a “village” to help each other out–at least, not where I live.

I am the only child of two elderly parents, both of whom have cancer. It is a stab in the gut to say this, but it’s likely that I will not have my father for much longer. I’m not very connected to our US extended family, as most of them are in India and the ones in the US are far away. A lot of the US members of my family have gotten heavily involved in a religious organization that influences all aspects of their life. Since I am not particularly religious, let alone a member of this socio-religious organization, it is hard to connect to them. Also, all of my cousins have multiple siblings. And even though people in my family talk a lot about how cousins are equivalent to sisters or brothers, there is a huge difference. (Of course there is; you either grow up in the same house, or you don’t–I certainly don’t expect anyone to feel close to me, when we have only seen each other a handful of times in our lives.)

It’s been very hard, raising my baby alone. I had thought my parents would be able to help a little, but my dad’s health crisis came weeks after my baby’s birth. My husband began residency and is gone from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day, sometimes later. He keeps saying we should send the baby to his family in India for some time if I can’t handle her–his family is well-to-do and has a household staff, and I am sure she would be well cared for. I am physically and emotionally exhausted and sending the baby to her grandparents for a while sounds awfully tempting. But literally everybody I have floated the idea past has told me that a prolonged separation from me would be very traumatic for the baby and should be only the last of last resorts.

I am tired. I long to have an extended family, to belong, to have some moral and emotional support. I don’t have that in the United States, and I don’t see any way of getting it.

Maybe it’s time to go “home.”

The trauma of parenthood

There was a great article in the New York Times a couple of days ago about the “trauma of parenthood.”

I wanted a baby all my life, probably since I was a baby myself. I spent many long nights in my thirties despairing that my life would never work out and I would never be able to become a mom.

But even so, no matter how much I wanted a baby–oh my goodness, when the baby was born it was a shock. I was all stitched up due to tearing and in pain, and instead of going home and resting after a long and tiring labor, it was like being tethered to a car alarm that went off every two hours. Suddenly I was a prisoner. I couldn’t leave the house, there was no night and no day, it was winter, and there was no reward for the 24/7 drudgery; newborns can’t smile, laugh, coo, play with you, or even recognize you. I could no longer do any of the things I enjoyed–and I don’t mean like having fancy dinners, I mean like buying groceries or taking a bath. I had no idea whether things would ever get better. I was probably awash in postpartum hormones.

Those weeks were some of the harshest weeks of my life, and I felt so alone.

After the first few weeks things got better, and then they got worse again. At eleven weeks I was back at work, and at twelve weeks my dad was struck down with brain cancer and I lost my family support. At seven months my husband began medical residency. So now here I am, flying totally alone.

Yes I love my baby, and I look forward to the future, and yes she was worth it and the best investment I ever made.

But the experience of parenthood was and remains traumatic also. I never really understood what my parents must have gone through until I went through it myself.