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Parenting Story: The Pain And Joy Of Becoming A First-Time Mom

Fatima Tariq Fatima Tariq 13 Mins Read

Fatima Tariq Fatima Tariq


A hilarious and heartwarming account of the journey into motherhood, with no holds barred!

Parenting Story: The Pain And Joy Of Becoming A First-Time Mom

Like many of you I’ve done my time in the progesterone-charged trenches of motherhood. In fact, I’m still doing it. I’m told if I’m lucky it may well be a life sentence. Motherhood. Now that’s a word that has been put on a pedestal, dusted over with a coat of talcum powder and faux reverence before being abandoned to the moths.

I wandered into the second oldest profession via a fairly conventional route. Two years into a fairly humdrum brand of domesticity, I found myself, for lack of a better pastime, pregnant.

For guidance, I resorted to my usual fail-safe resource: Instruction manuals. So, I amassed parenting bibles. What to Expect When You’re Expecting. What to Expect the First Year. Positive Parenting from A-Z. I dove in with relish, surfacing with the sort of smug reassurance that only the truly ignorant feel entitled to.

Motherhood. Hah! I could do this with my eyes closed.

The truth about labor

Pregnancy can be unpleasant, and mine ran the gamut from spaghetti arm fatigue to many nights spent kneeling over the toilet bowl, throwing up in the aftermath of hormonal midnight binges. However, childbirth was the real kicker. Somehow no one ever discloses how wholly undignified labor will be. You talk to a starry-eyed new mother holding her toothless, drooling little bundle of joy. And after having offered congratulations, you tentatively venture a question. Yes, their baby is truly adorable, and there is a definite resemblance to (insert favorite celebrity here) when it comes to the jawline, BUT let’s cut to the chase here.

“I want the gory details. Didn’t it hurt a lot?”

And in response you get a coy secretive little smile.

“Oh, a little, but when it’s over they give you a baby of your very own. To keep!”

And so it goes. This generational game of cover-up.

The general implication being that it is painful in much the same way a quick jab with a vaccination needle might be. This coming from the same school of thought that might describe a trip to the North Pole in winter as bracingly brisk or having a blunt stick forced into your eyeball as momentarily unpleasant but nothing to write home about.

But in the spirit of full disclosure I’m here to break it down for you. On a scale of having your innards wrung out inch by excruciating inch through a toothpaste tube to being ripped limb from limb by chariots speeding in opposite directions. Labor bypasses said scale entirely, setting it alight on its way out before exploding into untold vistas of stratospheric agony.

Suffice it to say, it is not for the faint of heart and probably not the sort of thing you’d want to do regularly. Unless of course, for reasons of your own, you enjoy extremes of pain, and passing kidney stones is your idea of a fun weekend sport.

So overall, childbirth wasn’t much fun. Although it could be described as life-altering and life-affirming, in much the same way a near-fatal injury might be. And that brings me back to the complete lack of dignity. Childbirth serves as a reminder that regardless of how polished and professional you are, no matter how articulate or opinionated you may be in your day-to-day life, when push comes to literal shove and the hour of truth arrives, you too will be reduced to your heaving, swearing mammalian roots.

On arriving at the hospital, I was insufficiently dilated, and the on-duty student doctor—who looked like she was about 12 years old—insinuated that I may not in fact be in active labor. Those were probably just Braxton Hicks contractions, and it was better for me to go back home so she could return to her Candy Crush marathon.

I feigned indignation and demanded to see a senior doctor, or lacking that, her mother. The 12-year-old was unamused. But I stood my ground. I was seven days overdue and I KNEW I was in labor. I refused to leave the hospital till they took the baby out of me.

The long-suffering 12-year-old sighed in exasperation and booked me into the ward, and just as I was being wheeled smugly into the ward, my water broke.

Hallelujah! The on-duty nurse inquired as to whether an epidural was scheduled. I looked at her through crazed, laboring eyes and hissed: “YES, OF COURSE I want an epidural!” If I didn’t want the full arsenal of pain-numbing narcotics, I would have opted to have my baby in a field.

Earth mother’s natural birth story

A few months prior to giving birth, I had started following a holistic naturopath who documented the entirety of her earth mother pregnancy, which she spent deep in the California woods, nurturing her deceptively slender yet somehow still very pregnant frame on soy milk, wild berries, and completely organic everything. She walked barefoot for 10 miles every day toward the end of her confinement to collect free-range eggs for breakfast. And followed it up with a drink of ice-cold distilled unicorn tears from a natural spring deep in the forest. She fashioned 200 thread count diapers from homespun hemp, which she had harvested with her own fair hands. She even stitched biodegradable onesies from tree leaves! This reprehensible forest nymph both fascinated and repulsed me.

Perhaps this was the way to do it? A 100% percent natural birth.

She chronicled every detail of her pregnancy online, and I followed it avidly, convinced of the superiority of her approach. Till its culmination.

A home birth, in her kitchen at 1 a.m. She went into labor at 5 p.m., ran a leisurely bath, walked another half marathon, felt a slight case of the munchies at around 10 p.m., whisked up a batch of gluten-free artisanal pancakes with one hand before going into active labor. She breathed through her pains, and washed the mixing bowl that had once been the receptacle for the said gluten-free pancake batter, only to find herself standing against her dining table at 1 a.m., nursing a baby, its umbilical cord freshly snipped by none other than herself.

Well, that’s how she had written about it.

This level of stiff upper lip stoicism was unheard of, at least to me. And I applauded this woman’s dedication to her principles. I vowed I too would have an all-natural birth, unsullied by the noise and distractions of modern medicine. A fully natural home birth, surrounded by my nearest and dearest. Myself, the serene epicenter of this idyllic scene.

Then my internet crush uploaded the actual footage of her home birth.

Painful. Sweating. Contorted. Red-faced, and that was just me after watching it.

I vowed that I would opt for as unnatural a birth as possible. I wanted no part of this earth mother nonsense.

No time for an epidural

So of course I requested an epidural, and if at all possible, a cesarean. An all-you-can-eat buffet of lovely pain-numbing chemicals. The 12-year-old looked at me askance while I babbled incoherently about an optional cesarean.

But despite my carefully made plans, somewhere between being denied entry to the labor ward and my water breaking, my insufficiently dilated cervix had dilated to a point that an epidural was no longer a possibility, or indeed, a necessity. I went straight from “Ooh, that stings!” to the full-on scream-out-loud pangs of active labor.

On being denied an epidural, I requested a quick bullet to the head and a quiet funeral in lieu of the promised epidural. The 12-year-old refused, point-blank. At this point, more 12-year-olds had congregated to clock me at the height of my indignity. They regarded me with clinical detachment. This was a teaching hospital. I was the learning specimen.

Red-faced, in agony, legs apart. The irony of a lifetime of enforced modesty drilled into the feminine psyche came home to roost, and I let loose a shrill cackle.

The 12-year-olds jumped. This was not part of the script. But okay. The on-duty 12-year-old instructed me to push. I glaringly complied. But push as I would, my recalcitrant child had decided to be fashionably late. Eventually, he had to be cajoled forth with a device that looked not dissimilar to a stainless steel handheld vacuum cleaner.

He came caterwauling into this world at 3 a.m. Arriving comically cone-shaped and exceedingly bad-tempered by way of the aforesaid messy vacuum delivery. Less comically, he was blue for a full thirty seconds before adopting the pink shade that is more characteristic of healthy infants.

I counted ten little fingers and ten little toes and he spared me a tight-lipped imperious glance, little fists tightly balled, miniature brow furrowed. In that instant, he reminded me disconcertingly of my mother-in-law, a lovely albeit slightly terrifying woman. Then he was whisked away in a little trolley to the NICU to ascertain the cause of his temporary blueness. I was both relieved and mortified.

The mom gig begins

We met again the next morning. Him slick in a spanking new onesie, myself resplendent in a hospital-issued backless paper smock. He glared at me. I was clearly not the mother he had had in mind. I picked him up. He cried. I put him down. He calmed down. I had been judged and found wanting. That was the beginning.

Everywhere I looked I saw people. People who very clearly had been born. Self-evident though this fact may have been, it had never quite struck home that each living breathing being around me, Nobel laureates, nose-breathers and bearers of eye-watering B.O. alike, every single one of them had made their way into this world via a devastated birth canal or a jagged C-section scar. I was both awed and slightly underwhelmed.

All these people were testimony to a lifetime of Kegels and the ever-present specter of adult incontinence. Had they been worth it? Was I worth it to my mom? Was anyone?

My baby regarded me from the vantage point of his father’s arms. He had a mom. I was that mom. What had I gotten us into!

The hospital refused to keep him. So I had to bring him home. I cried the first three nights. He cried. We both cried in chorus.

I felt like I’d been beaten up with a baseball bat, and a little person who looked like a disapproving turtle kept projectile vomiting on me. Since I’m not bone deep evil and he was completely dependent on me, albeit very obviously judgmental of my parenting skills, I did the mom gig to the best of my limited ability. The sleepless nights, changing diaper after diaper after diaper, the panicked runs to the doctor every time he so much as sniffled.

Mom judgments follow

But I continued to feel out of place and very very out of my depth. Other moms sharing cute pictures of their little ones left me cold. I couldn’t fathom the dedication with which these women logged every milestone of their child’s life into beribboned journals. Baby’s first lock of hair, baby’s first step, baby’s first solid. I felt like an imposter. Still, the less of a mom I felt, the more effort I made. Over my dead body shall my child grow up into a juvenile delinquent over any failing on my part.

Despite this fact, everywhere I went, judgment followed me. The first time I left the house with him, I took him to a local mall. He was fussing, so I unstrapped him from his pram, held him lovingly in my arms till he nodded off again. I exited the mall only to realize I’d left him on the store’s central sweater display on my way out. I was that mother.

I introduced a pacifier, only to be told I had damned him to a lifetime of crooked teeth. When we co-slept, I was informed attachment parenting would be the cause of his someday future divorce. When we slept apart, I was a cruel and unloving mother. And so it went.

But time passes pretty quickly. After a year, he stopped looking like my mother-in-law. That helped. She’s a lovely woman but no one wants to breastfeed a miniature version of their mother-in-law. It’s disconcerting.

He started talking, that helped even more. The glares turned out to be mostly gas. I felt less judged.

He weaned early. So, co-sleeping became a moot issue. He decided he preferred his thumb to his pacifier. I bought a baby harness. I never forgot him anywhere else.

Happy like a birthday cake

Then one day, while I was attempting to work out in that never-ending battle against the bulge, he stopped me in my tracks and very solemnly announced: “Mama, that’s not how you do it. First you recite ‘Rolly Polly, Rolly Polly, Up, Up, Up.’ Then you roll forward. You’ll be happy. Like a birthday cake.”

I know birthday cakes are not technically capable of emoting. But if my 2-year-old says so, who am I to object? As inanimate edibles go, birthday cakes do have the sort of festive cheer we aim at when we think of happiness. I laughed so hard that day. It’s the first time I remember thinking of him as an actual person. An incredible little human being who had noticed that birthday cakes are happy-looking, and maybe his dour old Mama should lighten up and be more like one. Long story short. Somewhere in that moment, I realized I loved my funny little person and his conviction that a birthday cake was the thing to be. I even had another one in the knowledge that the magical mom moment does eventually happen, even for people who didn’t get that perfect set of cue cards from life.

P.S. The first baby was a deceptive PR sample. And I’m fairly sure the second one is possessed. But I keep him because he reminds me of myself.

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