A friend recently put up a blurred picture of a mother walking around in a restaurant, trying to entertain her baby. Apparently she was away from the table for the entire duration of the meal while the remaining family was at the table laughing away, enjoying theirs. Does this dynamic represent those within every family? No. Does this mean that every mother single handedly bears the burden of child care?No. But the reality is that there are enough cases even within urban and semi urban families, not just rural ones, where all eyes and expectations are turned on the mother.
More than the physical burden, my friend was trying to highlight the mental implication of this solitary process. There are millions of women worldwide who suffer from post part depression. I too went through it. And this, despite still having a job to go back to, stellar support from my parents who I had moved to stay with at the time, very helpful in-laws who used to visit often, and my poor husband who drove 400 kms back and forth every weekend just to be with us. I don’t think feeling lonely is singularly subject to the number of people around you. You can have 15 people milling around you in a joint family and still feel like you are on your own island. The most disconcerting thing I remember about that terrible phase was one particular afternoon, in the middle of a reunion of sorts where my entire family, with their families, possible 25 of us had come together to celebrate the arrival of my little daughter. And all I felt, sitting amongst the very people who make me whole and complete, was an utter sense of despair and loneliness. I couldn’t connect to the conversations and visited the washroom very often to shed tears for reasons I couldn’t even fathom!
I often think about how privileged we are that in this country, we can still assume it is our right to depend on the army of nana nanis and dada dadis to help us raise our children. Something I’ve heard is acutely lacking as an assumed support system in the west and even within Indian families settled in the west. But there needs to be more awareness towards the needs of the caregiver and not just the tiny ward. ‘Handling the baby’ helps. But talking to the mother, encouraging her to take some alone time, a walk, a shower, some time off with friends, having interesting discussions about the world beyond the crib, talking about reintegration post maternity breaks, helping her figure out how to manage life and emotions incase she is returning to work helps her deal with the tide of hormones and the faceless and nameless monsters that form in the head when there is so much change and uncertainty. The solutions might sound simplistic but they will go a long way towards ensuring that the nurturer feels nurtured as well.
I feel women have some innate qualities that make them empathetic and natural caregivers. Towards children, husbands, parents, people working with them, the world in general. But when that sincerity and indulgence gets taken for granted, neither does it feel good, nor can it be sustained without puncturing the mind and soul of the one who is making it all happen. Roles of women and resulting expectations won’t change over night. But a little bit of sensitivity and understanding is the least we all deserve, irrespective of gender.