Last week, I went to visit my mother with Re. Once there, he told me he wanted to stay on for a hundred days.
I did a quick mental somersault and tried not to look excited. I was already plotting what to do for the next 100 hours. This sounded like a dream come true. I was going to be child-free for the next few days (hopefully). I was finally going to be a girl alone! Was this for real?
I made a hasty exit from my mother’s house before he changed his mind. I was not even careful to conceal my excitement. I have never driven so fast in my life. I was high on freedom. I couldn’t wait to spend the rest of the week with me!
First, I went on a sleep overdrive. I never realised I was such a deep sleeper until this week. I didn’t even know I missed sleep so much. I didn’t know that given a chance, I could dream in the afternoons too.
You are told you will lose a part of yourself when you become a mother. So you lose yourself. Then you are told you probably won’t be able to do all the things you’re used to doing. So you stop all the things you had fun doing, things that defined you, that made you you. You are told you will be transformed by this experience in ways you could never imagine and no one could ever accurately describe to you. You start looking for your halo. A few years later, you find there is none. It was never meant to be. And there are no motherhood rehabilitation centres. It’s as though losing yourself was just a rite of passage of becoming a mother.
I knew motherhood wouldn’t be easy, but I had no idea just how hard it would be. And sadly, the wisdom of motherhood doesn’t came attached with a pair of ovaries. Most of us are still fumbling around, doing things by trial and error, because the books are rubbish anyway. What they call ‘instinct’ is things you figure out as you go along. Some of the changes were absolutely not okay with me but it was up to me to renegotiate my way back into the world.
The good thing was, like most things in life I could do motherhood in moderation. There were days when I felt so much love for Re that I felt I needed little else. There were days when I missed the me I was so much that I felt Re was getting in the way
I was a get up and go woman. I quit jobs, I found jobs. I quit careers, I found careers. I quit men, I found men. I always went travelling in between. Sometimes I even travelled alone.
No, even the all-encompassing love for my child never made me lose sight of the woman I was. I was constantly rearranging my life so that the self-respecting feminist, the loving mother and the ambitious writer could coexist. It was hard. It still is.
When women say motherhood changed them, the danger is that sometimes the change makes them unrecognizable. Few mothers have the time and self-love to indulge in contemplations and machinations of selfhood. Most days they play a false version of their true depleted self, keeping others at a distance, saying only what is expected from a mother: “I’m thrilled, it’s amazing, such an incredible journey, I’m loving every second of it.” I did it too. I did the blissed out new mother dance for a while, while a little bit of my selfhood got obliterated. Fortunately I was totally and completely aware of it when it was happening. I realized motherhood couldn’t complete me. Only I could.
I realised Re deserves better. He deserves the fuller, happier version of his mother. His mother, the reader. The writer. The feminist. The traveller.
Unlike most women, I am unafraid in mother-love. I don’t worry over Re growing into a teen, a man, having to make choices and mistakes, feeling confusion, anger, sorrow, regret. I don’t dread his heartbreaks. I don’t pre-mourn his future disappointments, injuries, illnesses, and setbacks.
Now, after five years of making difficult choices, negotiating day in and day out, there is still a lot left of me. I am raring to go, write more books, write fiction, write for children, do new things with my life, travel, teach, perhaps even study. Mother-love was not enough for me to feel me. I needed more, and I went after it. That was the only way I could retain my selfhood. That’s the only way I want Re to remember me when I’m gone. Not someone who lost herself in him.
(This post first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 16th Feb, 2015)