Congratulations! You’ve been blessed!

‘Do you think I should attend the pregnancy classes?’

‘What for?’

‘I don’t know? Prepare me for the whole thing?’

Lesson learnt: never laugh with a mouthful of coke. First, the stains from the spray are hard to take out, especially if we have white linen at hand and second, it burns the nasal passage. And then the onlookers simply write you off, as does the eager mom-to-be.

‘Won’t help.’ That’s the only reply I could manage while muffling the still bubbling laughter and wiping the stains – damn, will have to bleach the darn thing!

All moms have flashbacks when they see their own kind waddle around like ducks, resting one palm gingerly on the bump.  I did too. Around 13 years back, the pregnancy kits were not considered trustworthy. So, I had to take that trip to the laboratory holding a small container, conspicuously wrapped in tissue paper. And then as I whispered across the counter to know what to do with it, a heavily accented voice hollered, ‘Pregnancy test? Remove the urine sample bottle from the bag and keep it there after writing your name on it.’ So now, not only me, but the entire bunch of people, holding their respective bottles, also knew that I was getting myself tested. Some aunties eyed me suspiciously. I don’t blame them – I don’t wear the traditional marital markers. So, to give them the excitement for the day I acted even more suspicious.

Next morning, another trip to the laboratory was made and a different bunch of people came to know that I was expecting, thanks to the beaming lady who handed me the report and declared, ‘positive hai.’ I mumbled an  embarrassed thanks, which now made this bunch grow suspicious. Damn! I should have swooned and fainted. That would have given them the gossip of the day.

For a brief period of about ten days, I believed I’d be the woman from the advertisement – wearing a floral pregnancy dress, holding a delicate bunch of flowers, glowing skin, hair flowing behind me and, the man gifting me a pack of gourmet chocolates. Precisely ten days later, the morning sickness set in. And just like that, I hated the model from that commercial- the one that walks around with a tiny bump and a coy smile. Anyone who asked me to stay happy for the baby’s sake was my enemy. Try puking every half an hour with triggers ranging from onions to the cologne that the man wore. The poor man, by the way, mostly had the expression of a soldier tiptoeing across a minefield – one stray step and I’d explode.

The sickness subsided and appetite came back – with a vengeance. I kept gaining and the doctor casually kept telling me it would all go away. It is water retention, she said. It will subside the moment the baby pops, she said. What a bunch of lies! She never warned me against gorging 12 paranthas at a go and, no one else stopped me thanks to the doting mother-in-law who firmly believed that I should eat whatever I desired and whenever- questioning quantities consumed got one of the house-helps nearly fired. To put it clearly, I wasn’t eating for two- I was eating for the entire garrison. Nine months saw me swell up to the extent that the only thing I could fit into were these huge gowns that, in todays times, would neatly fit a Nano car with some room to spare. If I sat, I couldn’t stand. If I stood, walking was an effort.

The doctor also didn’t warn me that I would have to leave modesty behind when I finally arrived at the hospital for the C-section that was scheduled for the next morning. Why the hell can’t those gown be wider, longer and, the strings sturdier? The night was spent clutching the gown with one hand and balancing the belly with the other while tossing and turning. Morning was violently brought upon by the sound of a wheel chair squeaking in, being pushed by this heavily built attending lady who didn’t look very happy with her job. Pushing her sleeves back while briefly jerking her head to signal towards the wheelchair didn’t make her any less forbidding.

‘Wheelchair? Why?’ I can walk.’

‘Procedure.’ She pushed her sleeve further up and I relented.

When you are pushed along those never ending corridors, all you can see are those overhead lights – not the drab paintings on the walls or the poster telling you about dangers of smoking or the ward boys nodding politely to my undertaker. Anyway, after what seemed like the longest ride, we finally reached the Operation Theatre.

‘Subah mein gaya?’ the undertaker thundered again.

‘Gaya? Kahan?’ As far as I knew, I spent the morning trying to catch my last stretch of forty winks. Then, not so politely nor softly she made it clear much to my embarrassment and the ward boys’ benefit that she was referring to the functioning of the digestive system. After a sheepish affirmative she jerked her head again to signal towards a flat, narrow bed.

‘There? I won’t fit!’ Another jerk and a scowl later I waddled to the bed and lay there waiting for my turn. From then on, it seemed like every nurse that passed by my bed, jabbed me with a needle just for her morning dose of entertainment. Finally the doctor arrived. The mask, scrub hat and the dull green gown made me clutch the gown tighter and my blood pressure soar by at least ten points. The Anaesthesiologist started injecting the sedatives into the IV line, which by now felt like an extension of my vein. Maybe I should have named it.

When I finally woke up, the world seemed like two dimensions trying to merge into each other. The nurse blurred and seemed like talking from the far end of the corridor but the clanging of instrument against the metal tray was loud enough to burst my eardrums. That day, like the rest of the days that followed, was a blur. By evening, I was oriented enough to know that I had given birth to this mousey little fella – again far removed from the chirpy infants from the advertisement. He cried. A lot. And then I cried. A lot.

Then started a deluge of people – all of them wanting to know how I felt. I smiled a well-practiced weak smile. After all, telling them that I felt like I had been run over by a truck, which promptly backed up and squished me again, wasn’t exactly a thing that new mums would do. I was supposed to feel blessed with maternal love oozing out of every pore. Again – a myth. All I felt was a pulling pain in my abdomen, a scratchy throat, and a strong urge to slap everyone who walked through the door. I think my scrawny mouse felt the same.

Over the next few days and the coming years, everybody who came within an earshot gave me parenting advice and they obstinately continue to do so. The first few days also saw the two of us gauge each other and decide grudgingly that we were each other’s first true love- as long as it didn’t involve odd numbered chocolates. The last piece in the box somehow still challenges the selflessness of the love.

Like any relationship, we had our own set of disagreements. In the first month it was about feeding at a particular time, second month – about wearing any clothes, third month saw him realize his affinity to being carried around like a monkey. And from there on, began the longest roller coaster ride – when you are least expecting it, you are plunged down the tracks causing your lungs to explode, screaming. That’s the exact reaction when your 3 year old walks up to you and introduces a shy girl as his girlfriend whom he intended to marry or when your 2 year old pukes everything on your face after you have spent an hour trying to feed him.

‘So when does the water break?’ My about-to-pop friend broke the trail of thought.

I just shook my head, ‘the water breaking, my love, is the least of your worries. Once the baby’s out, that’s when the real ride starts. The ride never slows down, never gets mundane and, always has sharp twists and turns – enough to keep your vocal chords in ace condition.’

‘So cloth diapers versus regular ones? I heard diapers cause nappy rash?’

I swear if there had been a mouthful of coke left, I would have gulped it and deliberately sprayed it. For her, right now, prospective nappy rashes are synonymous to a catastrophe.  I try, again, to tell her to calm down and enjoy the most peaceful phase of her life.

‘Acha, is it a problem if I didn’t exercise much during pregnancy?’

Sigh! She chooses to ignore the pearls of wisdom but then she will have her own rules and expectations violently shaken along the way.  Children do that – they love you and scare you at the same time. They invigorate you and exhaust you all in a day’s work. They sit with you on the roller coaster and watch you scream your lungs out with a satisfied smile plastered on their face. And the ride never ends –  – every time  you feel things are rhythmic and life is finally slowing down, the roller coaster hits a roadblock or makes that sharp turn which tosses all hope of balance out of the window. I continue to clutch the handlebars, and let out blood curdling screams as the ride gets geared up for the mother of all drops – the teenage.