Last year, when her baby was just three months old, Charanyaa Gopalakrishnan and her husband migrated to Sydney from India, leaving all family behind.
Early morning light streams through my bedroom window and the birds have already begun chirping. I try by all means to maintain the quietness that is otherwise prevalent. Stretching my legs I inch my way out of the bed. Creak! I freeze, fearing I have woken up the tiny person peacefully sleeping near me. She stirs, but thankfully goes back to sleep. The clock ticks 6.30 am and my mind begins focusing on my schedule for the day.
I worked full-time for the past 10 years but recently gave up my career to take up my most challenging role: being a stay-at-home mother. It’s a rollercoaster ride that has just begun and it has already left me drained of energy. Every day I offer morning prayers, asking for a manageable day.
There are days when I yearn for five minutes of private time in the bathroom, a hot bath to calm my senses or just to sleep without interruption. It all encompasses the learning curve of being a new mum—a curve that seemingly has no end.
The other day, I observed that my baby girl had her eyes fixated on me and sensed she was trying hard to convey something as I saw her pupils enlarge. I tried connecting with her without uttering a word. With a smile, I got closer to her . . . only to smell poop! Yes. All those special minutes that went into “connecting” were actually just poop time for my baby. I wasn’t going to fall for that again!
Being a new stay-at-home mum to a young baby, while living in a foreign country, took a toll on me emotionally. I would sometimes have a particularly terrible day handling her tantrums, getting her to eat well or just behaving while I did household chores, and that’s when I would yearn for my mum to be by my side to give me the strength to pull through. Then there were the days when tears would engulf me as all I could remember was breastfeeding throughout the day while all my body wanted to do in its drained state was to get a break. I found myself looking forward to 7 pm every day when my husband returned from work, mostly so that I could transfer babysitting duties to him.
Many times my mind became boggled with information on baby care from various online avenues and good friends trying to “help” us. I would think, Uh oh! She seems a pro. I am so bad at this. I am probably not fit to be a mother.
Since I have been blessed, I will do my best not to spoil it.
All this may sound weird as you wonder how the best event in the life of a couple could turn out to be so difficult, but I think it’s absolutely normal to be overwhelmed, even if it’s from something positive, such as having a new life come into yours. There’s the weight gain and loss, fluctuating hormone levels and most challenging, sleep deprivation. It took many days of tears, laughter, worry, anger and loneliness for me to understand that post-partum stress, or should I say motherhood stress, is a reaction to the physiological and emotional changes from having a baby.
Many new mothers who experience this stress have problems sleeping, planning their day or doing any of their usual activities. Their minds already muddled, they are unable to understand their baby's tired or hungry cues, causing the baby to be cranky, which in turn makes them more anxious, resulting in a vicious cycle.
I know there were days when I would try putting my little one to sleep and I would stare at her as if in a state of hypnosis. I recall moments where I would think I was a snake charmer, trying to coax a snake to imitate me. The tiny one used to close her eyes as if she were drifting off to sleep and I would say to myself, “Yes, yes, this is working”, only to have her big eyes widen and I would end up being the sleepyhead instead.
A text from a friend changed my whole perception of motherhood, especially in my situation as a new mum, alone without a support system. She said, “Take one day at a time.” That way, I have just a day to take care of and it helps me keep my stress levels at bay. But it takes a lot of mental strength and complete support from my husband to be able to do this every day without losing my mind. I came to realise that with this new entrant into my life, every day is challenging but every day is also brand new. This tiny person has a whole new world to show me that I could get lost in.
While I may feel lonely at times, staying home to care for my daughter, I have also had days where I just wanted to be left alone. It’s possible my husband may have taken offence, but it worked out because we constantly communicated in the smallest ways possible with lots of love, which made both of us comfortable and in fact brought us closer in terms of understanding each other.
Sometimes I would question my methods or my ability to parent, but when in doubt, I would recollect something I once read: “Your way of parenting is purely unique to you and it requires no judgement from others as you are doing your best for your baby.” If this truth sinks into our minds, it helps us cope with this beautiful journey better.
I am not a super organised individual, but mothers who are, can be in for a shock when their schedule isn't theirs anymore. I have sometimes felt resentful having to breastfeed all the time and immediately felt guilty for having such thoughts. It’s a mind game and how well we play along matters most. I realised I must take care of myself first to cater for my baby, and being stressed or worried is not going to help me in any way. That was when I began socialising with other mums and it was during these interactions that I found many similarities in our situations that made me feel a lot better.
Not a single day passes without me thinking of and being thankful to my mum for if she had given up on me because of the zillion tantrums I had thrown, I would not have been inspired to hang in there for my baby. I always remind myself of what my midwife advised us during pregnancy classes: “Motherhood is something very special for which many are yearning for. You have been blessed that way and so be mindful of what you have signed up for.”
As she rightly said, not everyone gets this beautiful experience of growing a life within oneself and to bring that life out to this world. Since I have been blessed, I will do my best not to spoil it.
As I mentioned previously, it’s about taking one day at a time. Life will be beautiful with our babies holding our hearts forever. Being stressed out is a part of this change we are going through and our little ones are also transforming in their own ways, exploring the world around them. A well-planned day, a consciously calm mind, a focus on what one does and ample love will help us to enjoy this huge phase of bringing up a child.
At every stage we (and they) learn new things and at every new period of growth, we’ll actually see the earlier stages being easier to handle. While I write, I am being stamped on, my shirt is being pulled and my hair is being messed up. I find myself thinking how lovely it used to be when my baby girl was lying in bed all day long and I only needed to check on her now and then.
I have learned the hard way to tackle stress and cherish every moment of being a mother. I just hope my story helps others realise that whatever your child is currently doing, it is just a phase and as my favourite saying goes, “This too shall pass.” Enjoy motherhood and treasure all the crazy moments for it is your special time with your baby.
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