On a quiet, little warm Monday morning at 10.05 AM on October 24th, I joined a quiet uncommon and unassuming league of men in the world who are fathers. She was in a hurry and despite a chance to be born on a more famous day like Children’s Day (her original due date), she chose to gate crash into earth and throw all our schedules out of gear. A night earlier, as I spoke to S, there were no indications that she had decided to be born to us ahead of schedule but then who has ever said that Family Planning was an accurate scientific pursuit.
Under normal circumstances, the points of emotional crisis for a man and a woman are probably different – for a man, it is when he retires and for a non-working woman, when her kid leaves the home in pursuit of a job or more critically, a marriage; so the child leaving the parent will always happen, so some of us may wonder whether this ‘perceived happiness’ is worth it? I remember asking S a long time back why women ever wanted to be mothers when there was so much pain involved and she tried to reason something about maternal emotions and joy which I have never really understood.
I know couples who have opted out of parenthood and I don’t want to stand on a pedestal and claim that they are missing out on something that we are experiencing. We take informed decisions based on what we want out of life and we can be happy even if we don’t have to follow suit like everyone else – this is not a right or wrong decision but make sure that you are fully aware of the consequences of the decision either way. Parental and relatives’ compulsions always exist in India but you must go for it if both of you want it and not someone else. After all, you are primarily responsible for taking care of the child and the baby should not be a way to buy peace.
Anyway, in Feb this year, after we had agreed to expand our two member family, we realized that we were expecting a visit from the stork in the second week of November. S was happy while I remained in my normal state of blissful stoicism; by now thankfully, she had understood that this was not a negative reaction but more in tune with the way I approach such moments.
The moment the doctor confirmed the news of our impending parenthood, we were showered with advice from all quarters – some glad that we were joining the band wagon, some wondering why we wanted to do so and others indifferent about but still advising us as a matter of formality. Ss iron levels were quite low; most women in India are anaemic so it’s not exactly a bolt from the blue discovery but iron levels of 5.5 are still pretty low and needs iron pumping. So, she was injected iron through IV regularly to boost iron levels and leafy vegetables made a more conspicuous presence in our diets.
The first 3 months had its share of morning sickness which can be distressing as a young husband to see, especially when S was alone at home but I think we did ride through it without too many difficulties. Helping extensively in the household is important during these times (not to suggest that this should not be done otherwise) and except for the occasion of the passing away of her grandfather, it was largely manageable even though it was just the two of us in Bombay. As they say, keep the wife happier during these times so that the entire process goes through smoothly and the baby comes through under pleasant circumstances. Eventually, in July, I left her in Palakkad to spend a prolonged relapse into bachelorhood in Bombay.
Oct 23rd was a Sunday whose only claim to fame was that it was our marriage anniversary (2nd). S was quite tired that day and when we spoke at night, she mentioned experiencing pain in her legs but this was not out of the ordinary and so we left it at that. The next day morning, FIL suddenly called up at around 6 AM saying that S had been admitted in the hospital due to bleeding early in the morning and that the doctor suspected that she was experiencing labour pains. It woke me up amidst not so happy dreams after a late night viewing of Oru Minnaminunginte Nurunguvettam where the female protagonist dies during pregnancy!!! But I was still unsure on what to do; I had heard of women staying in hospital for a week or so and returning without anything happening and so I wondered what if it were the same situation?
I went about my daily work until at around 10.20, FIL called again and informed that it was a normal delivery and it was a baby girl! And just like that I was now a father!!! S was fine but the network was poor in the hospital room and so I could talk to her only once I reach the hospital. Of all the people, I wanted to tell my father first that I had become a father but unfortunately, he was not contactable and by the time, I could reach him, he had got the news…
I reached Palakkad the next day morning but I spent a lot of time during the journey imagining how I had to react. Would she look at me, smile at me, show any signs of recognition? When I hold the baby, would I panic or would there be joy – an unprecedented event had happened in our lives but was I up to the moment? S had already written-off my reaction to the event; she strongly suspected my ability to embrace moments of happiness (she reckons that the Lokpal Bill has a greater chance to get me animated than seeing the baby)!!! Life would never be the same again as she takes centre stage in our lives; was I ready to step back from being individualistic?
I entered the room a little before she turned a day old and there she lay in front of me - a tiny lump of pink flesh in a huddled state, blissfully unaware of the commotion of people trooping in and out at regular intervals in adjacent rooms and ours. A soft, fluffy mass of flesh of 3 kg who had been created by HIM from absolutely nothing was in deep slumber. But of course, this was no defining cinematic melodramatic moment; I felt completely normal, concerned more at the condition of S than the baby.
I had never seen such a young baby in my life so far and was more scared of hurting her than feeling her. During the course of the next week after being discharged, I held her occasionally on my lap (holding in my hands needs one more leap of courage) and spent a lot of time observing her as she kicked wildly in the air and performed complex yogic postures with ease – sweet little moments!!!
The common reaction that you get from people other than congratulations is asking how you feel now. I am unsure on how to answer the question; honestly, there is no seventh heaven feeling, no inclination to break into a jig and shout aloud but a state of quiet little happiness and even relief that the end of the delivery, both are safe and sound and there’s nothing to worry. But this is not dismissive of the thought of fathering a child – as DJ had told me earlier, let her recognize you and then you realize how different the perspective becomes.
This is not a sudden feeling, bonding comes through with time and rushing into passing judgments on how one must feel is not proper. But you can’t deny it, it was my..our baby and even with closed eyes, she drew herself to me. It’s kind of unexplainable but babies do manage to quieten you and absorb your senses when they are present – there is no umbilical cord between a father and a baby, it probably forms gradually as she recognizes you as the man responsible for her existence on this earth.
When I wondered about what does it mean to be a dad, this conversation between Lal and Nedumudi Venu in Dasharatham came to my mind – can’t explain this better, especially when he says ...ente makkal appachannu villikumbol swargathil irikkinu poleya....
While I am constrained to use words like ‘our bundle of joy’ and ‘cute’ (who’s ever seen or heard of a baby who isn’t cute - even I was cute when young, can you beat that???), there was a tinge of happiness on seeing her – this little thing will call me ‘Achcha’ (yes Achcha only and not Dad!!!) and look to me in future to guide her in her life (will she?). I realise that I still keep referring to her as ‘it’ which will fade only once we decide a name for her (which is probably the only parental privilege that modern day parents may have - giving a name to their kids!!!).
Many of us are inclined to attribute a lot of our failings to our upbringing but when we have our children, we realise how skewed an assessment it is. It is pretty easy to blame someone else for our problems than take responsibility for our actions, I presume…Time will tell us how well we were able to justice to this responsibility...