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Are you guilty of thinking, in an overwhelming moment, that motherhood is absolutely overrated? These words are politically and socially incorrect to utter, but they often feel true in the moment right before the baby turns over and you see its beautiful face, the face you were a part of creating. Then, the unrest sizzles away into a buttery, warm, cozy feeling called motherly love, a love like no other.
For many, new mom madness is like nothing else. It’s the most eye-opening experience of them all. A woman goes through ups and downs throughout the pregnancy, labor and postpartum. The anticipation builds up and finally, when the child arrives, she realizes her life will never be the same again. She is now responsible for this little life, every day, every hour, every minute and every second!
Being a new mom has been a whirlwind for me. An excruciatingly hard labor led to a traumatizing emergency C-section; during postpartum, my body hurt in every possible part; and, I had extreme breastfeeding problems that took weeks to solve. How could a natural process be so painful? Wasn't bringing children into the world what most women did? Why does no one talk about the darker sides? A lot of my pain stemmed from resistance - resistance to such a major change in my life. Up until then, the focus had been only on the fact that I was going to have a baby. The reality was that as soon as the baby was born, I did not have the slightest clue how to handle this major event.
In the past when I went through a crisis, I reflected upon it in order to work through it, but in my new reality, I didn't have a moment to myself to have space for reflection. I had to care for a baby. I could not rest for more than few hours at a time because of the demands of breastfeeding.
I felt a deep sense of loss, a sort of death of self.
Even though I had gained a beautiful being, I had lost a part of myself, and I had to work on that. Normally, talking about loss in motherhood implies you are not happy to be with the baby, which further implies that you are not a good mom. Societal pressure forces a woman to bottle up her feelings and put on an act of pure bliss. I wanted to break that monologue within myself and own up to what I was feeling in order to work through it. After slowly recovering physically and beating challenges one at a time, I felt my eyes were opening up to my new reality.
Observation is the first step in mindfulness. I had to remove myself from the situation and be a witness; "being a witness" is a widely used concept in Indian spirituality and a tool to detachment. Detachment is taught as a way of living in peace. So, I had to step out of this experience.
When things were out of control, the house was a mess, the poopy diaper was leaking all over the place and the baby wasn't sleeping, I had to step out and observe. This is what it is. This is happening to an individual. She is not the first person this has happened to nor will she be the last. In the larger scheme of things, this too shall pass.
"This too shall pass," has been a mantra that has helped me immensely. When my child was born I wanted to know all the answers. When will he start eating? When will he sleep through the night? I begged for answers and was only met with the certainty of uncertainty.
I was learning that patience has to be cultivated and watered every day like a delicate plant in this practice called parenthood.
Soon, I started to see how everything changed with time. Each day my baby was changing and doing something new. Amazingly, each day I was changing, getting stronger as a woman and as a mother. I was getting used to my new normal.
I continue to repeat the mantra of "this too shall pass" to myself on days that are long, when there is no outlet and things are not going my way. What is my way anyway? Yes, motherhood is a loss of self. Any relationship of love calls for sacrifice, this one more than any other that I have experienced. In the past, when something has not gone my way, I have thought, I can always walk away, whether it’s been a relationship, a work situation or just a bad day. But I cannot walk away from motherhood, nor do I want to!
I am rediscovering my life in a new role as a wife, as a mother and as myself. What an opportunity for growth and surrender. We read of surrender in love and in spirituality, and having a baby is like surrendering to a spiritual master.
Constant mindfulness through each day and hour has brought to my attention that just as my outer situations are constantly in flux, so are my inner experiences of my emotions and my thoughts. One minute I feel happy because the baby liked the game I was just playing with him, and the next minute I am disturbed that he would not stop crying for hours! The transience of life and circumstances, almost like a flowing river that never stops, is also reflective of the transience of our minds. The difference is that we can try to tame our minds. We can be its master.
Walking meditation has helped me tremendously during this new phase. Under the enormity of the life change which is compounded by a sense of colossal responsibility, a new mother could crumble and miss its joy. Because self reflection has been an important part of my inner life, I decided the only way I could be with my baby and yet find a way to think, would be to walk with him. So I put him into his cool all-terrain stroller and walked either in the neighborhood, the beach or the mall. On our walks, each step was grounding as I sank into the earth.
This beautiful togetherness is the foundation for the growth and love between us. I then lean over and kiss him as he hums to himself looking out at the trees, the sky and the ocean. We are two specs in nature's magnanimity.
Duality stares me in the eye - pain and joy, happiness and fear, gain and loss. "How can anything be absolute," I ask my foolish mind with its foolish expectations? If I did not have challenges, the joy would be so huge that I would never be able to bear it. I continue to falter and then remind myself to enjoy the present, in this case, it really will never come back. My son will change every day, become his own person, and I will have the privilege to shape him, see him grow, love and nurture him. I will look back and smile and laugh at the humor in it all.
Meanwhile, he’s not sleeping through the night, but I know "this too shall pass," and one day he will.