The nightmare that parenthood can turn into presented to us in the form of intense colic that Vedu started suffering from the middle of the second week. My family had gone back and Hari and I were left with a “chechi” who had come to help us out until we went to Kerala in two weeks. We didn’t understand why she suddenly started crying every evening and night for 3 to 4 hours together, without even being able to feed properly for long. Screaming the house down would be an understatement to describe the way she used to cry. She would writhe in pain as if her tiny body couldn’t take what was happening inside her. I can still vividly remember the expression on her face in the very short breaks in between when the pain would subside a bit – a scared look almost as if she was afraid when the pain would hit again. That look on her face still remains and will always remain a fresh wound in my mind and will haunt me as long as I live.
As clueless parents, we thought of different options to soothe her; but nothing worked. It was by the third or fourth occurrence that we realized it was colic. We understood later that my body was making way too much milk and gulping down the milk that was coming out too fast was causing this. But at the time there was no one who could tell us why this was happening or how to ease this, not even her doctor, as it was too early to stabilize the milk production. The result was 5 whole weeks of holding her upright almost all day and all night to ease her gas and doing whatever we could to calm her when the pain was at its peak, even though nothing really worked.
I used to break down and cry intensely in the beginning as I couldn’t bear to see her screaming in pain and even Hari used to well up sometimes. But soon we realized it was a phase she had to grow out of and crying about it was only going to drive us insane too. That realization helped us stay strong. We had reached Kerala in the meanwhile and were still taking care of her all by ourselves during her colic episodes. We would spend every night sitting by each other, taking turns at holding her, listening to the deafening wailing all night long. People used to tell us that it would soon become a chapter in our life that we would laugh about later. But I know I will never be able to laugh about a phase where my little baby went through such unbearable pain.
A day after Hari came back to Hyderabad leaving Vedu and me with my family, we took her to a doctor there who suggested regulating her feed and sleep pattern. And just like it started, her colic ended. We were taken aback by how easy it seemed. I heaved a sigh of relief thinking that my baby would finally be happy again. She was, for a whole week after that.
I had already started missing Hari and was so looking forward to travelling back home in a couple of weeks when Vedu started crying again, almost all the time. This time though it was not out of pain. She was having major trouble sleeping. At 6 weeks when every other baby sleeps around 15-16 hours a day, she was hardly sleeping for 10 hours. Every time we put her to sleep, she would wake up in less than 15 minutes. She just couldn’t sleep on her own no matter how much she tried. And even if she did manage to sleep in our arms somehow, she would jump up every now and then. As time went on, putting her on the bed became a near-impossible task as she would wake up and cry the moment she touched the bed. I thought of it as a short phase which would pass by the time we were to travel back.
With every passing day she became more and more cranky all day and would not let us put her down even when she was awake. And as the sleep trouble became more frustrating to her, the more she started coming to me for feeds. I was tired of feeding her every hour and still never getting to see a smile on her face. Someone or the other had to hold her almost always. The only other option was letting her cry it out and get exhausted. I didn’t know what to do. My parents didn’t know what to do either. The saddest part was that she was getting more agitated when I was anywhere near her. She had started recognizing me by my smell very strongly. Even at times when she was sitting in my parents’ arms without much trouble, the moment I entered the room she would literally smell me out and start crying to be fed, not because she was hungry, but because she was tired. The highly erratic feed pattern also led to issues with my milk stabilization leaving me in immense pain due to breast engorgement every other day and keeping me awake all night.
Soon I started crumbling under the pressure. I was worried about how she was never happy or content. I was worried about how she was getting crankier around me when kids are ideally supposed to be calmed down by their mother’s presence. I was even more worried about the fact that others got to see her smile at least sometimes while I was reduced to nothing but a feeding machine that could calm her down only if I let her suckle and had to stay away from her at other times for her sake. Honestly, I was jealous of everyone for being able to hold her that at the rare times when she was calm in my arms, if someone dared to even come in front of her or call her name, I would yell at them for trying to take her away from me.
My biggest worry was not any of these though. It might sound extremely selfish. But I was worried the most about how I was going to lose my independence once I got back to Hyderabad if she continued to be the same. From the time Hari and I got married we were taking care of everything around home by ourselves. We never liked employing someone to help with household work because we were never very comfortable with even having people over, except close friends and family. It was always our private space and the idea of some lady going through each and every room was never appealing to us. Moreover, I enjoyed doing the household chores to the core, even during my pregnancy, as I was very particular about how things were done, and I knew I would never be happy if I couldn’t do it myself. It was not me trying to be a ‘super lady’ as my neighbours used to make fun of me, but just me being myself. And at least once in a while I wanted some time to write or do something that I loved. But I wasn’t sure anymore if I would be able to do it. It would be physically impossible to hold a baby all day and emotionally exhausting listening to her cry all the time. I felt as if I would end up losing myself. And that fear hit me the most.
Vedu’s doctor kept reassuring me that some babies had more trouble sleeping and it was a phase that would pass once they start playing more and getting more interested in other things. I tried clinging on to that ray of hope. But day by day, I went into a depression like I had never gone through before. The confidence I had of being able to do things without relying on anyone else was shattered completely and I was at an all time low when it came to having any hope of being happy ever again. I could not sleep and eating had become a ritual only so that my milk production would not get affected. Apart from Hari, my family and a very close friend of mine, no one had any idea of what I was going through. When people made funny or seemingly harmless comments like “If the baby gets into the habit of being held always, she will never lie down again” or “This is just the beginning; things are only going to get more terrifying from here”, they didn’t know I was getting more and more shattered inside. A normal me would have ignored or laughed at such comments; but with the state of mind I was in, I kept getting more and more depressed.
I had no control over my emotions and kept crying out of anger, irritation and a feeling of helplessness. And the worst part was that at such times when I hit rock bottom, I kept thinking why I ever threw away my peaceful life knowingly and got into the trap I found myself in. I kept wishing for some way to turn back time and go back to our old life where we didn’t have to worry about another human being and be happy the way we were. Immediately afterwards, I would see her little face and feel totally guilty for even thinking that way when I was probably the only person she trusted in the whole world. It was not her choice, but ours, to bring her into the world and now that she was here I was wishing we hadn’t. That feeling of guilt made me even more depressed. Hari was never impatient or angry listening to these ramblings and wailing, even when he was at work and kept telling me it was simply a bad phase. He even came down for just a weekend in between to make sure I was okay.
At some point I was so scared that it was a delayed postpartum depression I was suffering from and even consulted a psychiatrist. He told me it was nothing but a magnified version of the emotional roller coaster I had gone through in my first month of pregnancy, because my body was going back to normal and the hormones were playing with my mind. Coming from a professional, that gave me a little bit of hope and I tried to stop thinking too much about things I had no control over. I decided to travel back to Hyderabad by March end, by which time Vedu would be almost three months old, and see how things turned out. Amma said she would come with me and stay for two or three days to help me get started all over again. I told myself to give up the tendency to be too controlling and get help for things around home if it just wasn’t working out.
Vedu was definitely improving and was getting more playful by the time she completed two months. She would lie down for a little more time than before and my parents were happily bragging about how she was no trouble at all now. I wanted to believe that and tried staying more positive as my hormones started settling. But every now and then I would think about how she was still sleeping in our arms for hours and getting irritable after lying down for 10 or 15 minutes. As the date of travel got closer I started getting more and more nervous. But I knew I had to face my fear and go with the flow if I had to get my life back. Thus on the morning of March 28th I flew back home like a soldier going to the battleground.
(To be contd..)