The Components of Motherhood

As published in the New Indian Express

Motherhood: being a mother; so much has been written about it already.

And today I’ve decided to write about it, again. After all, it is one of the biggest things that define me, no matter how I try to pretend it doesn’t.

I’ve tried to write something for a while, now. I’ve touched upon the subject several times. However, I have failed to talk about it in real terms; what it actually is, and I have a feeling I will fail again.

Motherhood is subjective. No two experiences are exactly the same, although some common threads may run through every scenario.

Motherhood is also an inescapable, all encompassing cloud of guilt and love. Both exist in their purest forms, for a mother and to a certain extent, for a mother to be.

As I look at my children, it is impossible for me to separate my existence from theirs. Although the umbilical cord has been cut physically, a more metaphorical, metaphysical one exists. This cord will never be severed, cannot be removed, not even by death.

I know this, because I see it in the eyes of mothers who have lost a child, and in the eyes of a child who has lost their mother. I see the one who has been lost, there still, like a watchful shadow, and there they shall remain, the silence in between words, in the space in between two worlds, summoned occasionally in a memory, a smell or a sound.

As I look at my children, one girl and one boy, one moon and one sun, as my daughter likes to say, I feel a weight upon my chest. All at once, it is a comfort and a burden. I only feel the burden during the nights when they do not sleep because of a fever or a cough, but that burden I will willingly carry just so my children can sleep in peace.

It’s funny how priorities shift. If we go out, I want my daughter to look like the most beautiful girl in the room. I will accessorise her like a little doll until all I can spare for myself is a quick shower and 15 minutes to dress and adorn myself in any haphazard way I can.

My tiger stripes and panda eyes don’t bother me so much these days, not when I look at my son hold his cricket bat or emulate his older sister when she does her homework. As he scribbles indecipherable symbols on to a page with crayon, I can see, the way only a mother can, all his potential brilliance, something beyond the ordinary and I am so very proud! Both of my children, I am sure, are destined for greatness.

I can take a million photographs of them and look at them again and again and again. I can watch candid videos of a giggle or a tumble countless times and still yearn to go back and watch, a few times more.

My children, as for any mother, are miracles to be witnessed with eyes wide and heart open.

I wonder why. Evolutionists will say a mother’s love serves to protect her future line. Is that why I growl like a panther at the very thought of anyone harming my offspring? Is it really so primal?

Oh, the guilt! Let’s not forget the guilt. That awful feeling chases you around your own mind until you succumb. In that space between logic and reason, a mother will find a place for blame, three quarters of it resting with herself, because surely there was someway to prevent this.

“If only, if only, if only,” a voice whispers in the dark.

Yes, love, pride and guilt. That is what motherhood is, light and dark, the sun and the space between the stars.

It lifts you up so you can see the face of the divine, exhilarated at the sheer heights you have achieved, but the fear of the fall and the very brightness of that which you were never meant to see, leaves you blinded. All can become black in an instant.

No, this is motherhood: love, pride, guilt and fear.


What a week!

what a weekWell, what a couple of weeks! Let me list all the major events that have happened starting with the 4th July…my birthday, no less!
  • Our power was cut off on the 4th July in the flat we were due to move out of on the 6th July.
  • We had to spend the first night in our new flat with no hot water and AC in only one room.
  • We finally moved on the 6th July. 
  • On the evening of the 7th we watched Murray play his way to Wimbledon victory after the TV and cable was installed (but that’s another story completely!
  • On the 8th July, early morning, my son had a suspected Asthma attack. We had to rush him to hospital.
  • On the 10th July, after my son managed to recover a little, I managed to make a meeting with the finance officer for an NGO called Calcutta Rescue. Will be visiting one of their two schools next week.
  • To make the meeting on time, I took my first solo trip in a famous big yellow taxi. (plays havoc with your hair)
  • I have decided, that I really, really want a cat! (one befriended me during the meeting and fell asleep between my feet)
Out of all of these things, obviously the most meaningful and painful was watching my little 2 year old gasping for air at 1 am on a muggy Calcutta night.
Exhausted after the move, I went to bed relatively early, at about 10 and I fell into a deep sleep until I heard a rasping cry coming from my son’s room. The sound was a gasping, wheezing desperate attempt to breathe. I saw the confusion on his face while he looked to me to make it better.
My husband was watching a movie on the TV we had installed and had just gone into the bathroom to get ready for bed. I banged on the door, demanded he come out.  He saw the panic in my eyes, he heard the pain in my son’s cry and we both, at that moment didn’t know what to do. After about a minute, I suggested we call a friend and neighbour. They have children of their own, they must know what to do, where to go, I thought. They exceeded our expectations. Not only did they send down someone to sit with my daughter as she slept but our friend drove us in his own car to the hospital, spoke to the emergency on-call doctor and waited with us until things were resolved. He gave us the name of a good paediatrician, whom we would see in the morning, and then proceeded to drive us to various pharmacies for the meds we were prescribed. We came to a few ’24 hour’ pharmacies; all were closed. Finally we found one in a nearby hospital which had the antibiotics we were told we needed and we breathed a sigh of relief.
That night I was cursing India. Where was our beloved NHS? Where was the painfully slow, yet always there, helpline? Where was 999? But thinking about it, the situation we were in, I don’t think there was time to wait. We would have had to get in the car and drive to A&E and we would have had to possibly wait in the waiting area with the drunken and broken limbed, afraid of MRSA. Here, we were seen straight away. The hospital was clean, the staff were friendly and doing their best, I really could not complain, but we would not have known where to go or who to ask for, were we on our own.
Let me explain…my son was rushed to hospital on an earlier occasion,  on our wedding anniversary, about a month after we arrived in Calcutta. He had swallowed a blood pressure tablet, somehow prying open the container it was in. The hospital that was suggested at that time was not the same as the one we visited this time. It was dirty and grey and we were asked to go from one room to the next, up the stairs and down the stairs until finally we came to rest in the maternity ward where women were preparing to give birth. My husband was not allowed in with me and my son refused to have his blood pressure measured with the one child sized blood pressure reading machine, whatever that’s called. It was a lonely experience. They wanted to keep us there but I refused, all they would do is observe. If needed they would administer some emergency treatment. I’m glad I went home…the NHS, although ailing and aging, was always going to be better with children and anxious mothers than this.
Basically, what I’m trying to say is this: healthcare, even paid healthcare, in India is not the same for everyone. The poor have it worse! If you’ve got cash you’ve also got your health taken care of but doctors, like the one in the Emergency Room  almost ask us to decide on the best course of treatment. We are the customer, after all. How perplexing that was! “You could do this or you could do that. I’m suggesting this, but it’s up to you.” 
I suppose to a certain extent the NHS is going in the same direction, but their reasons are different; they don’t want to be sued! “But this is what the patient wanted, M’ Lord.”
Free or even affordable, quality healthcare in the UK is not so hard with a meagre 64 million people to cater for, but for 1 billion people and counting, with literacy skills not as developed as in the West, with suspicion and religion sometimes barring the way, it’s always going to be a struggle. This is what my husband keeps pointing out to me as I complain and compare.
But one thing I do know…there are people out there, like our friend, the superhero who rushed us to hospital, like the kind nurse who was trying to distract my son as he was given a nebulizer, like the woman from Calcutta Rescue who wants the children and families under her care to be given the same aspirations and hopes as her own son. There are people out there who care enough to go that extra mile so the world is not such a scary place, even for those who think they are all alone.

“A wise man should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings, and learn how by his own thought to derive benefit from his illnesses.”