The Confinement Period

Read about my pregnancy, childbirth – part 1, childbirth – part 2 and the days after

Try as I might, I am not able to write about the confinement period. It is much too painful. If my being away from the blogosphere (not just writing, reading even) is any indication, you can infer that I still haven’t gotten over it. And that was the very reason I stayed away from posting further.

Anyway… Moving on…

Once back from the hospital I was left with my baby and myself. For 4 days I was the sole caregiver for my baby- nursing, changing, putting him to sleep. Fortunately for me, the training I had handling my younger cousins as a kid, kicked in. I did not find it too difficult. It must have been the hormones too that kept my energy up. Although I am a fairly energetic person, I actually started appreciating myself more during this time. I was losing blood, losing sleep, was in a lot of pain and was out of a harrowing childbirth experience only a few days back and I still had the energy to take care of a baby…I was in love with myself all over again. My movements were very slow since the stitches hadn’t dried as yet. Sitting down took me one whole minute while getting up took me double that time. Every step, every cough, every sneeze was painful. I still could not sleep on my tummy. And even when I slept on my sides, the sheets were almost always wet with milk.

My doctor had prescribed painkillers for me to be taken twice a day for the next 5 days. I could continue to take ​them​ for another 5 days if the pain did not subside by then. In addition I also had an ointment for external application on the stitches 2-3 times a day, as needed. I had also been prescribed a calcium-vitamin syrup to be taken once a day for a month. And because everyone around me, except me, were worrying about breast-milk production, the doctor had also written down a prescription for​ lactation-inducing granule​s​, just in case. ​I used the painkillers only for 5 days, the ointment for a fortnight and the syrup for the entire one month. I also had to take about 15 ml of Dashamularishta on an empty stomach every morning for a month. Dashamularishta is a very foul-smelling, very bad tasting Ayurvedic preparation, the taste of which I could not camouflage by holding my nose shut tight and releasing after putting honey in my mouth (Some say that Dashamularishta induces breastmilk production, some say it decreases. I did not know at the time and I would advice anyone to consult some ayurvedic practitioner before taking it). If no one remembered to give it to me, I never reminded them.

Meanwhile I was contemplating resigning from work. I had decided ages ago that if I were to have a baby, I would want to be around and raise him/her myself rather than have someone else look after him/her. I had even told 2-3 friends at work that I was resigning. Every one of them told me to wait. “Wait and see if you can handle it… Or at least take a sabbatical and come back an year later na… Don’t be hasty,” they all told me. It was true, I could take a sabbatical. I had friends who had come back to work in 5-6 months and they were managing it with help from their family in looking after their baby. Could I do it? Moreover the work wasn’t hectic, leads and managers were understanding and encouraging, colleagues were nice and the pay was good too. Speaking to Ashwin about it was not very helpful. “Its your decision. Its up to you,” he said. In the back of my mind I knew I was resigning but I was somehow hesitant to seal it. I decided to wait a few more days before I spoke to my manager.

​My baby took some time for his eyes to be fixed. Maybe a week or so. I was exclusively breastfeeding him. He was satisfied with one side at a time and I offered him the other side the next time. Every single person other than my baby made me feel inadequate. I had had enough of arguing about it and so I offered him Lactogen. I did this exactly three times (like I do most things in my life). The first time I offered him Lactogen, I was crying out of guilt and hurt. The second time, the hurt was more, the guilt a little less. Then a few days later, my baby suddenly started vomiting after feeds. He did this 4-5 times and I was worried that somehow something I ate must have caused this. So I proceeded to give him Lactogen. He drank almost the entire bottle and slept. I was relieved that he Zdid not vomit. But then about 20 minutes later he woke up and threw up every drop of it. That day I vowed that I won’t feed him lactogen till he was at least 6 months old. Later when I called the doctor and he had prescribed medicine, he told me, “Never doubt yourself. Breastmilk is the best. Even if you are sick, continue to breastfeed. It won’t affect your baby.”

Over the next few days, my baby spent more and more time feeding. Breastfeeding was way too painful and so I used to feed him from one side one day and the other side the other day (expressing breastmilk was painful and inefficient. I bought a breast pump later on which made expressing easier). The pain was relatively less when I did this. Those who had nonsense to say about this kept saying. At first I heeded their advice and offered him the other side in spite of the pain but over time I realized that those who were giv+ing me gyaan had neither first hand experience nor knew anything for real. It was all vague half-knowledge passed on as real “wise advice”. After heeding a few at first, I knew better than to listen to them any more.

Meanwhile my hunger was even greater than it was during my second trimester. Fifteen idlis? Sure. Six dosas? Oh yes. Four big chapathis? Easy. Platefuls of rice, curry, side dish. One glass of coffee with breakfast and evening tiffin, and four litres of water in a day. Breastfeeding sure was exhausting. Only god knew how much I weighed. I did not care right then.

On my baby’s 8th day, Bai (my post natal care lady, balanthire mai) arrived. Oh, she was a such a blessing. After a week of being alone with my baby, I finally had someone to help me. I could finally eat my breakfast/lunch in one sitting. I could also use the loo for more than 30 seconds without having to come running out to console a screaming baby. Bai also bathed him and me for the next 38 days. The days were a little better than before. Nights remained almost the same. I wouldn’t wake up her up unless absolutely necessary.

The 12th day was my baby’s naming ceremony. The family had planned a “baarso” (naming our baby 12 names) and “ponthra mukha” (the great grandmother seeing the great grandson for the first time that day). Most parents would have thought of baby names much earlier. The names I had arrived at were already taken by friends for their babies and was left with only two names, both of which Ashwin did not like. He hadn’t come up with any name until it was five minutes before the start of the havan (holy fire). Although I loved the name he had selected, I was a little sceptical for he would be roll number 1 in school/college. 😛 Anyway, the 12 names were ready; 11 to be made public and 1 secret between the father and son, only to be revealed during the latter’s brahmopadesham. After the havan, he was placed in the decorated cradle and 12 names spoken into his ear. He was named Damodar (family deity), Laxmikanth and Chakradhar (as per calendar and suggested by the priest). Ashwin named him Abhay, I named him Tanmay and Pratheek. The rest of the folks named him Namith, Parashar, Anirudh, Ananthkrishna and Giridhar. Phew, one small baby, so many names !! 😛 Next was the ear-piercing ceremony. I could not stand by and watch it. I was standing in a corner blocking my ears and crying instead. He did not cry much, and thankfully, he slept like a log after that for the rest of the day, waking only at 7:00 PM.

At around three weeks Abhay developed colic. Although I had no idea at the time what happened to my otherwise happy Fearless who would fall silent as soon as I held him, kept crying like crazy. It began at around 3:00 in the afternoon. Feeding did not work, taking him around did not work, nothing else worked. Only thing that could stop his screams were to let him feed for as long as he wanted. This went on, on and off, with breaks for my dinner and toilet, during which he kept on screaming, until past his bedtime. He used to sleep for a few seconds, pee, cry, feed, pee, cry, sleep, cry, feed, and so on… This went on until 4:30 AM. With no sleep and exhaustion from the feeding I started to see black and white spots. In the end, I had only enough energy to hand over my baby to Bai. I think I fell unconscious after this. I woke up a little after 8. The house was silent. Fearless wasn’t next to me, nor was Ashwin. Bai wasn’t around and none of the regular sounds. God knows it was the worst minute of my life. Fearing the worst I got up to look for my baby. Thankfully he was sleeping soundly. Ashwin was sleeping on the sofa outside and Bai had gone to the terrace to wash clothes. A silent prayer and thanks to God was all I could do. It was Sunday and the doctor would not be available at the clinic. So I waited an hour to call the doctor on his mobile. He immediately said it was colic and told me to give him some drops. Oh, it worked like magic. If only I knew about this my baby would not have to suffer so much and I could have been spared of the heartache.

The 40 days were almost up. In this time Bai and I were closer than my parents and I. She was the only one who understood me under that roof. We used to spend a few minutes each night, after Abhay slept to tell each other our life stories. Her life was tragic but it was amazing how she took it all in her stride. She worked hard and put her kids through school and they were now well settled. One of them, though, died in a car accident along with his 2 year old child and cousin on New Year’s Day (2014). She had called to tell that. I pray to God to give her the strength to bear it.

Chandrakanth called to tell that we now had to pay 15k instead of 12k that was initially agreed upon. He had already charged us an two thousand (which he had initially said was one thousand) for the oils, dashamularishta, etc making the total paid to him 16k out of which only 12k would be Bai’s. Some argument followed and we finally decided to pay 2k more, i.e 14k. There was nothing else to do.

Two days before Bai was to leave, I told her I would bathe my baby and that she should stand by and supervise. Within the first week of staying with us she too had realized that my mom couldn’t do it. My mom who was all, “I’ll bathe him, I’ll bathe him” before Bai came, was all “What if he slips and falls?” after that. So I decided I would do it myself. Anyway my stitches had dried by then and the pain was long gone (i.e, within 20 days). The first day of massaging/bathing my baby, I was a little nervous and had to be helped up after the massage and when sitting down again in the bathroom to bathe. I even had to be corrected in a few places. The second day I was able to do it myself without any intervention, the third day I was almost a pro in massaging/bathing my baby. I was aware that from the next day onwards I would again be on my own and Bai knew it too. The last night she kept telling me to get some help and that she would have stayed herself if she hadn’t had other obligations. She would be travelling to Mumbai the end of that week to take care of another baby/mother. She left the next day and I was back being alone.

The days that followed were even worse than before. Because Bai wasn’t there, my meals now happened in 3 or more sittings, my loo visits were restricted to 30 seconds or less. No matter how deep a sleep my baby would be in, he somehow sensed that I was away and would start screaming. Also, now he slept a bit lesser than before and of course the timings were all off. He wanted to play when I was most sleepy and wanted to sleep when I was most active. Result was that my sleeplessness kept getting worse by the day.

My typical day began at around 5:00 AM when my baby started to push his legs up and indicate he wanted to pass stool. The next one hour was spent holding his leg up and changing him after the usual 2-3 urinations. After that he fed once. If he slept, well and good but if not, sit with him and play till his next feed time around 7:00 or 7:30. My breakfast would stretch from 8:30 – 9:00. After that I would massage and bathe my baby. Feed and put him to sleep and go bathe myself. He would sleep for 3 hours straight after his bath. But then if I thought I could sleep now, I was mistaken. My mom made sure that she had one or the other reason to keep me up. “Eat and then sleep”, or “I am going to bathe. The maid may come any time, let her in” or any such stupid reasons. I already had difficulty sleeping during the day. Add to that these silly reasons, I would be frustrated beyond crazy. And, if by chance I fell asleep, she would find reasons to wake me up. “I’ll just go upstairs and come”, “Do you have change for Rs. 500?” or simply run the mixie in the adjoining kitchen without locking the bedroom door properly. Requesting, warning, threatening, nothing worked with her. So I gave up even trying to sleep at this time. By lunch time, Abhay would be up and the same routine would follow. By the time I had put him back to sleep and was about to sleep myself, she would be done with her afternoon nap and come asking if I wanted to have coffee. If I said ok, well and good. If I said no, she would make one anyway and wake me up saying the coffee would go cold. So I gave up trying to sleep at this time too. At 10:00 or so I would start putting him to bed. He woke up every 2 hours for feeds and of course the umpteen changes of clothing. I also tried bathing him in the nights instead of mornings so that he as well as I could at least get 3 hours of sleep at one stretch. Everyone was against it but I had long given up listening to them. The night time bathing worked for 2 weeks but he was back at waking every two hours after that. So I went back to the old schedule.

During this time my sleep was being affected so badly that I was barely getting 2 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period. Once I woke in the night, I could not go back to sleep. Sleeping during the day was impossible. I was slowly turning into a zombie. I could no longer look people in the eye because I was capable only of cold, blank stares. I was no longer talking to anyone because I was bitter. I was no longer smiling. I was feeling more hatred, no love. More tears, no smiles. I was crying the entire night, night after night, hating myself and everyone around me, save my baby. I was supposed to be happier and was supposed to be celebrating with my baby. But that wasn’t happening. It was as if I was living through hell. Thankfully this time I was not alone. My baby kept me sane. My baby was the only one who kept me going. Because, if not for him, I would probably have been confined to psychiatric treatment for life. This went on for more than a week. I was exhausted beyond repair and was mostly like a zombie on automatic mode. This, and the multiple swaddle changes during the night were draining me more than anything. So I messaged my friend who was then in Singapore. She had delivered her second child the previous year and was not only handling the new baby alone but also taking care of her first born who was 4-5 years old then. I messaged how she managed all that when having to handle one baby itself was exhausting me so much. She replied with two words: “Use diaper”. It was as if a bulb was turned on in my brain. And it worked. Why hadn’t I thought of this before? He slept longer and fitter. And somehow so did I. I guess subconsciously I had decided that enough was enough. When I woke up that morning I had decided three things. One, I was no longer going to pretend that all was OK. Enough harm done and better late than never. Two. I was resigning from work. I was going to look after my baby myself. I was not ready to allow anyone else other than myself and my husband to take care of my baby. And three, I was going back to Bangalore.

With these things decided, I called up my husband who was coming to Mangalore that weekend and told him I was going with him. Ashwin agreed. I called up my manager and told him about my decision to resign and he was supportive of my decision. My baby was around 7 weeks old now. Everyone told me stay or at least take my mom with me. But I refused. I was determined to get away from there. If not, I was sure I would go mad. No matter what reason they came up with, I stood my ground like a stubborn mule – either Ashwin takes us with him or I go to Bangalore by myself with my baby. I had the keys to the house anyway. They had to agree eventually. After this my mood improved immensely. But then we had to wait for one more week before going since there was a ritual of taking the baby to the temple and that had to be done only after so many days, etc etc. But now I had something to look forward to – going home – and that made the days and nights bearable.

In the two months, my baby was growing fast and how! He was the sweetest smelling baby, the loveliest of creations, born out of love…and no amount of negativity could affect my love for my baby. Once his eyes were fixed, he started to look at me (and everything and everyone) with those lovely unblinking eyes. He loved light. No matter how I turned him, he always turned his head towards the light. Darken the room completely and bring a lighted incense stick and he would stare at that. It was funny. After a few days, he started getting curious about the fan. He would stare at it for hours together. On doctor’s advice, I used to give him “tummy time” (putting the baby on his tummy an hour or so after his meals. I used to do it after 30-45 minutes since he demanded a feed within that time). It worked and he did not have to suffer any more colic episodes. He started smiling at around 6 weeks and by 8 weeks, started following objects around. He was amusing to watch the expressions he gave in his sleep. Such varied expressions on that small face. I could sit and watch him for hours. Those were the times I forgot all my troubles.

Finally the day arrived that we were to go to Bangalore. Though I knew it was going to be hard, even harder than now given that I had to cook and clean in addition to looking after my baby, there was a sense of happiness too. It was as if a big boulder had been lifted off my shoulders. Knowing Ashwin, I was kinda prepared for zero help from him with regards to our baby. Well, at least he was used to my moody tantrums and wouldn’t wake me unnecessarily for stupid reasons. And that was enough. For now.

To be continued…