In search of the elusive “Me-Time”

BY BHAVANA VYAS VIPPARTHI

‘It’s weird being a wife.

A very good friend of mine had just gotten married. She was the last in our group to do so while the rest of us were swapping mommy advice and baby pictures.

“Did u struggle with this?”, she asked. Suddenly becoming a Mrs.So-and-so, from being single and carefree?

“Yes, I did,” I told her. But you get used to being a couple over time, from being solo to a part of a set of two. A unit. It sinks in slowly, its not like you can just throw a switch right?

Then I became a mother.

It was not as much as throwing a switch, as much as being instantly and permanently transformed for life.

When you become a mother it’s like jumping in head first right into the deep end. There is no looking back, no escape route, nothing to do but give it your all and try to stay afloat.

The first three months were the hardest for me and especially the first two weeks. I had a blissful pregnancy and had read up lots on being pregnant.

But when the baby came home, I didn’t know which end was up, how to get a good latch going without stripping down to my waist or how to handle the constant stream of visitors and family camping out in the house.

I hadn’t slept since my water broke (it’s been a year and I still haven’t gone past three full hours). And I was in constant pain from my engorged boobs and the C-section scar.

I was a mess. I remember just looking forward to the next dose of painkillers so I could stand up straight as I walked around with the “bundle of joy”. While everyone posed for pictures with the newborn, I quietly cried in the bathroom.

My other mommy friends jumped in to help. And I thought the best advice I got was to find some ME time. Huh? What? “ME-time?” was there still room for a me in here? The MOTHER had swallowed up my whole world. There was no break, no pause, no end in sight to the constant changing/feeding/burping/washing cycle. Plus you had to make all the decisions about this helpless little life form that you brought into the world. Breastfeeding/not co-sleeping/cloth diapering. But more than all that, it needed only you to survive and failure was not an option.

In all this where was the “ME-time” hiding out?

Soon enough I got used to a routine. It didn’t get easier but I learnt to deal with it better.

The extended family left, along with the pain and the uncertainty. What stayed was the marathon feeding sessions, the never-ending laundry and the sleepless nights.

The baby got on a schedule and we got to know each other better. Finally some “me-time” now?

“You have to make an hour for yourself a day, at the least,” they would say.

A whole hour alone? It seemed like an impossible reality. Here is where I would look for that elusive animal.

After the baby is asleep at night

After I put him down for the day, I need to feed/ play with the dog (who is sulking from being ignored all day in favor of the baby), fight the laundry monster, figure out what’s for dinner that night and drink a ton of water. Feeding before bedtime leaves me feeling like a raisin. (Yes I feed to sleep, if you can help me find a way out of this, please do drop by)

My son wakes up every two hours to feed. Every single night. Even after a big bellyful of dinner. He just turned one year old and something has changed so we do have rare nights where he sleeps for 3-4 hours at a stretch, which I spend jumping out of bed and rushing to his room to see if he is still sleeping.

Me – time? Does it count if I am dreaming of it during my catnaps at night?

Meal times

When the baby is exclusively breastfed, there is no replacing the mother. Convenient for every one else, but that’s the deal. When he starts on solids, it’s a whole new nightmare. I don’t know of any other species on the planet that has to physically strap their offspring into a high chair, wrestle on a bib, and do a whole song and dance routine, while sneakily shoving spoonfuls of food down their throat. Mrs. Deer doesn’t need to read three books every mealtime to get baby deer to eat grass. I don’t see Mrs. Lion singing old MacDonald on the Serengeti.

If you think you can leave a bowl of food with the spouse/grandparents/aunt and go find that bit of “me-time”, you will most likely come back to a wailing baby and have the bowl handed back to you with a shrug and a “ he doesn’t want to eat”.

What?! That was the only task. Transport this food into that baby!

Between Meal times

This is truly a beautiful thought. Really.

But for this to happen, I need a good co-pilot to take over. My dearest husband and I used to be a team of freelance animators. We had a little studio at home where we would work and chill and hang out out with our friends and play with the dog all day.

Now the husband has to bear the whole workload, we have moved closer to my parents who are not keeping too well, and all the friends I have now have kids of their own.

If I need to use the bathroom/have a bath/get the baby’s food/any other task, which requires two hands, I hand the baby over to his father and quickly get the job done.

Any other time

After my son had a brief stint in the hospital a few weeks ago, he became incredibly clingy. I had to always be at arms reach at all times. I do admit, it was very flattering and comforting initially, but I did miss the old times where I could leave the room for a few minutes and turn on the washing machine without being chased down by a baby crawling at top speed.

Any efforts to dodge said baby will result in high-pitched wailing and a full-blown tantrum. “me- time ? <Insert evil baby chuckle here> Mama, you are not going anywhere”

A few days ago, the husband and I had a small errand to run, and we left the baby with his grandparents for an hour and we drove off.

10 minutes down, and the car had a flat tire. As Murphy’s law would have it, the spare was also busted, and so the husband had to park on the side of the road, and go off with the spare to get it fixed.

Suddenly, after over a year, I was stuck somewhere alone, no baby, and with absolutely nothing to do. The mysterious “me- time” had crept up and sat down firmly in my lap. Hurray!

I sat quietly for a while, and then I called up a dear friend and caught up on her life. It was just perfect.

About the author:

Bhavana Vyas Vipparthi is trying to figure out mommy hood in Bangalore with her animator husband, a perfect little boy who prefers to say Zebra over mama, and the most obedient, ever hungry dog.

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Why I went the extended breastfeeding way

For a long time, I never took my boobs seriously. Actually I didn’t have much to take seriously. I was always the flat-chested girl in the first row in school who knew all the answers, who always raised her hand when the teacher asked a question, who always finished her homework well before everyone else, who had impeccable handwriting, and whose answer sheets were passed around in class by the teacher to show fellow students “this is how a paper should be written”. I was the girl who always stood first in class (except in class nine, when a girl with boobs beat me, and that really hurt).

But all I really wanted was to grow up and have boobs.

Time passes. Youth, love, career dilemmas, conflict, angst, heartbreaks, travel, highs, lows, life happens. Somewhere along, boobs happen. I am a woman!

And then one day, I am a mother. Re is put to my breast seconds after being born and he suckles in earnest, making me come to terms with the fact that I am now chief food source. Bravo! They say. He’s latched on! You are lucky!

And Re, my boobs and I start a long and meaningful journey together. My modest 32B girls are now ensconced in a 34C and feeling pretty chuffed!

Like everyone else, I had a deadline for breastfeeding. Six months. That’s all I can do, and I will, I told myself. It seemed like a barometer for most mommies, who cleverly collaborated with their doctors to distort the WHO recommendation of the ‘minimum’ requirement to the ‘sufficient’ requirement. But then motherhood is all about bending rules to suit oneself, isn’t it? To each, her own.

When it was six months,  Re and I were just getting into the zone of sleep-nursing; it became totally okay for one or both of us to fall asleep in the act. I figured, why give up just when it has got easy? So I extended my time-limit to one year.

On Re’s first birthday, I was asked (mostly by mothers who had weaned, because they are eager to know if you had), the inevitable, “Is he weaned yet?”

I mumble, “No, still going strong.”

They gave me that look. That look of ‘why the fuck did you have to raise the bar’? That look of ‘poor you, such a martyr’. They gave Re the look of ‘you greedy child, why don’t you give your mother some respite?’

My mother-in-law had her two bits. She had nursed her son (the OPU) for six months; she felt I should stop now, as I had done my fair bit, else it would get embarrassing. “He will never leave you,” she said.

It can’t be such a bad thing, can it? He is, after all, my son.  In any case, I wasn’t looking for advice.

My mother was proud of me. She couldn’t nurse me beyond a month, and she still regrets it. She was happy for Re.

Between year one and year two, I was at the receiving end of many a concern and raised eyebrows. I know that breastfeeding is a topic that reduces most mothers to militants and I know I was a minority for choosing extended breastfeeding, but my point was: If I don’t judge you your formula, you can’t judge me my boobs.

It continued to baffle me why I was being questioned for carrying out what nature ordained, and women who didn’t were deemed ‘normal’.

By year two, I was probably labelled a psycho, but now I was beyond caring. People suddenly stopped asking me questions. Perhaps they were afraid of the answers, but I wasn’t sure.

And then my friend Yasmin sent me this article and it made me smile and feel happy about myself.

We all know the effects of extended breastfeeding; our grandmothers did it, perhaps it skipped a generation, but millions of women in all parts of the world are still doing it. It’s just something that’s talked about in hushed tones, and I can’t fathom why.  I had my little group of extended nursing friends who believed in the same things I did. We met once in a while, exchanged stories; it helped me keep my sanity.

I also had my little secret for why I didn’t want to stop, unless Re chose to. I found weaning to be too much work. Finding an alternative, dealing with a cranky baby through the transition, the sudden onset of illnesses post withdrawal of the elixir that provides the best immunity ever, tummy troubles, mood swings, aggression and other behavioral problems in your child. Plus I could diffuse any pain, any crying bout, any tantrum, any sleeplessness, any accident or injury, any mood swing just by popping the boob.

Now why would I change that?

Re finally weaned on his own at 33 months. And I can’t help thinking that perhaps, perhaps, a teeny weeny bit of what contributes to the mostly smiley-happy Re today is the extended breastfeeding?