I felt like not returning to work after maternity leave. “Do not warm the milk in the microwave.” I told Jane, my house help, for the umpteenth time. I strutted around the house in my kitten heels, anxious, as I debated on whether I indeed wanted to go back to work.
Maternity leave had to come to an end. I looked at my baby’s face as I fought back tears. There she was, giving me a toothless grin, oblivious of the day ahead.
What would I do without her? I wondered as I held her close to me.
Eventually, I left the house having successfully resisted the urge to call in sick. The journey to work was longer than usual. As I drove, I had to hold onto the steering wheel tightly to keep myself from calling Jane every ten minutes. I called her as soon as I got to work. I wanted a blow by blow account of my baby’s day.
“Is she awake?”
“What time did she wake up?”
“Is she crying?”
“Have you changed her diaper?”
“Mama Alaine,” replied Jane, as she tried to interrupt the barrage of questions that I directed at her. “She is fine. She has fed well and she is kicking on her mat,” she went on.
I wanted to repeat my instructions over the phone once again but I held back. There was only so much I could tell Jane without overwhelming her. I hung up as I choked on tears, feeling depressed! My little person was doing fine without me. On the other end the adult, also known as ‘mama’, was a messy, teary bag of emotions.
I felt inadequate as a mother.
For some strange reason, I felt like I had betrayed her. Mothers are fierce and present, I have often been told. Yet here I was, miles away from her, pretending to be working hard while worrying over every little detail of her life.
It’s the details that trigger the anxious moments: the temperature of the breast milk from the fridge, the brand of wipes, the positioning of the bottle as she feeds, the texture of the blanket, the number of diapers she soils.
I cannot tell you the number of times I Googled the details while looking at my phone nervously. My supervisor probably read my mood that morning and gave me a wide berth. I was glad he did because my mind was miles beyond the confines of my cubicle.
Before I knew it, lunch time had come. I absent mindedly warmed my food in the office microwave. My colleague, Wendy, caught up with me as I was staring at the timer of the microwave.
“Hey. You are back! You have gained a lot of weight! “She said as she extended a hug.
I gave her a quick, icy hug as I smiled through her last statement.
How insensitive! I thought to myself as I sifted through the first response that came to my mind. I have motherhood to thank for my sifting abilities. My first response, as I have learnt, is rarely the most appropriate response when I am upset.
I wanted to tell her that my weight gain during pregnancy and birth or lack of it was the last thing on my mind. I wanted to tell her that after labouring for hours in the hospital and having an emergency Caesarean section, my body was still hurting in ways I could not describe. My pee still had the scent of antibiotics. I still had nightmares about the ice cold feel of the anaesthesia, coursing through my veins.
I wanted to tell her that every time I looked at my body, all I saw was a miracle and that was enough for me. I wanted to tell her I have a daughter. I want her to know women’s bodies change over the course of their lives. Change of body size due to pregnancy is not an abomination. I wanted to tell her that she is a mother who should know better.
I did not know how to articulate that without attacking her as a person so I kept quiet.
Awkward silence ensued after our feelingless hug. She must have noticed something was off because she tried to break the ice with questions about the baby. I muttered something under my breath before excusing myself.
The rest of the day zoomed past me. I barely got any work done on that day in spite of being a stickler for productivity.
By 3pm, I could not take it anymore. Flexi-time for mothers is not part of the policy at my work place. The desire to see my baby trumped over that. I dashed out on the door and cruised home like an enraged elephant on steroids.
There is something animalistic and divine about motherhood. It’s in the laser sharp instincts that mothers have. It is in the potent desire to look after our babies. It is in the seventh, tenth or fifteenth arm you develop as a mother: you can eat, talk, call and still attend to your baby.
I got home to a baby who was calmer than a breeze on a hot, January afternoon.
She welcomed me by burping over my clothes before giving me that toothless grin.
The worry melted away as I held her. We spent the evening playing, screaming, and feeding before we retired for the day. I looked forward to the next day with a measure of relief and anxiety.