I was only twenty when I became a mother. While my contemporaries were trying to kickstart their careers, I was running between two hospitals – one where I was the patient and the other where my baby was admitted into the NICU. I must admit, there was a sense of isolation from the outside world for me. I was trying to formulate a sense of who I was while at the same time learning to be a mother and it was anything but easy.

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Being a mother didn’t come naturally to me. I was awkward, holding the baby with all his tubes and figuring out how to fit his head into the crook of my elbow and feeling terrified at the same time. The nurses were slightly impatient – ‘Never held a baby before ma?’ they clicked their tongues.

No, I wanted to tell them. I’ve held older babies, not one that was just removed from my body and who was in critical condition because his lungs weren’t functioning.

I didn’t know what it was to be a mother, but I felt something keenly inside me when I returned to my hospital and lay down on the bed, the crib beside me empty, crying into my pillow because I had to leave the baby back in the NICU. In those fifteen days that seemed endless, I went from feeling awkward to feeling fiercely possessive of this child whose face I had barely seen.

‘What if he thinks some nurse is his mother?’ I asked my husband. Rather incongruously, in my head that moment was the cartoon of a duckling imprinting on Jerry and following him around in a Tom and Jerry cartoon. My husband had no answer. We would wait outside the NICU where the names of all the babies were put up on whiteboards.

We hadn’t named him yet and every day, I would stare at the words – ‘Baby of Andaleeb’, trying to gain some sort of strength from the words. He’s my baby. I’m a mother. The words continued to remain strange and unreal to me.

I had to grow into the words and feel them envelop me and it took its own sweet time. When he was finally declared out of danger and we could take him, there was so much joy and then panic as well. How does one sleep with a tiny little baby next to them? Because of his condition, putting him in a crib was out of the question. Yet, sleeping next to him I was constantly worried that I would turn in my sleep and inadvertently crush him. It took time and patience, sleepless nights and dark circles that have never really gone for mom radar to kick in, to wake up on hearing the baby cry.

The strange thing is that I bonded with my mother only after becoming one. Until then, we were often at odds with each other – I resented her for controlling me and she wanted me to be more malleable – but then, who wouldn’t bond with the person who let you sleep a little while longer, especially when you were sleep deprived like crazy? Today, the three of us share an interesting dynamic – both my son and I call up my mother to complain about each other because with just twenty years between us we end up fighting like siblings and we need her to mediate between us often.

Picture Credit: Celina Photography
Picture Credit: Celina Photography

Now, after nearly twenty years of being a mother, I’ve realised that the learning never stops. From nappy rash and nebulizer visits to the paediatrician to worrying about which college course would be appropriate and how to help him chart a career path (if he’ll let me), I’ve begun to realise that there’s no mould to fit into and we each grow into our own motherhood gloves and learn to wield them like a gauntlet.

Andaleeb Wajid is a writer who lives in Bangalore. She writes contemporary romance, dabbles in horror and writes fiction for young adults. The views are authors own.

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