In popular culture -- foisted by images of perfectly-dressed women cooing at yawning newborns -- motherhood is perfect, pastel and minus dark circles or back aches. But in reality, for many first-time mothers, it can be daunting to cope with the sudden physical and emotional changes that childbirth brings. Add to that taking care of a newborn and in Indian homes, the responsibility often rests only with the woman. Often after childbirth, the focus is so much on the child's well-being that mothers tend to get ignored. We spoke to some women who revealed the things they weren't told about pregnancies and childbirth, sometimes even by doctors. They wish they were better informed as that would help them cope better.
1. I had trouble breastfeeding.
"The whole world romanticises childbirth. But motherhood is equivalent to a storm -- there are so many changes that you go through physically, mentally, and emotionally. Everyone portrays breastfeeding as natural, but it is a learnt art. It doesn't come naturally. You have another human sucking on you 24/7. For many, the act can be repulsive. I am wounded and sore after childbirth, and on top of that, dealing with this human stuck on me. It is glorified as the way a mother and child bonds, but I didn't become comfortable with it immediately. It took time.
Everyone portrays breastfeeding as natural, but it is a learnt art. It doesn't come naturally. You have another human sucking on you 24/7.
"Initially, I wasn't prepared for what was coming. My mother, mother-in-law and nurses weren't exactly helpful. They said, 'just shove the nipple into the mouth of the baby, it's that easy'. Only, it was far from easy. I had milk but the baby couldn't latch on to my breast. We tried many things: expressing and plastic nipple, but eventually, I switched to bottle-feeding completely. And because I couldn't start breast-feeding the baby, I felt people were judging me. In fact, the nurses in the hospital made it very clear that it was a big failure on my part that I couldn't breast-feed the baby. Also, initially the I was fed up of the feeding exercise. It felt like you are not supposed to sleep or laugh or have visitors, you have to feed. "
-- Saloni Nair, Mumbai
2. I still get back pain after an epidural.
"If you get an epidural, you can get back pain after childbirth. The doctors don't tell you about it. Rather, it is something you discover on your own. It persists for the first six or seven months, it starts fading. Now, it is crops up sometimes. It is not debilitating but it is a like a spasm, which fades away over time. You may feel it when you lift stuff and your child."
-- Priya Khanna, Delhi (name changed)
3. You don't forge a bond with your baby instantly
"A cousin had told me that you're not going to love the baby instantly. That's true -- it takes you some time to bond with it. The first feeling is amazing but when you get down to the reality in the first three months it is crazy because it is pooping, crying and breast-feeding round the clock. Eventually, when the kid makes eye contact, the bond grows."
-- Ruchita Shah, Mumbai, founder First Moms Club
4. Your skin changes.
"Your skin goes for a toss during pregnancy because of the hormonal changes going on in your body. You can get pigmentation, or suddenly develop acne during pregnancy. I got moles during pregnancy which never went away. My sister got freckles."
-- Gunjan Matreja, Delhi
5. It makes you more vulnerable to thyroid and diabetes.
"A week after delivery, I got myself tested and found that I had got thyroid. It is fairly common for mothers to develop thyroid, diabetes and allergies during pregnancy or after childbirth. The thyroid problem contributed to a brief spell of postpartum depression. I remember that one day, I asked my mom to watch my baby for a while, locked myself in a room and just howled. I had to go on medication for the thyroid, but it stayed for the next three years. It is now under control because of diet and exercise, but I still need to get it tested every three months."
-- Ruchita Shah, Mumbai, founder, First Moms Club
6. Postpartum depression is real and difficult.
"The hospital I went to in Chennai allowed neither my husband nor my mother into the delivery room. I had a really long and delayed labour without anyone to talk to, followed by a C-section, and that might have led to postpartum depression. One month after the delivery, I felt that I could not take care of my child. I breast fed him but without interest.
The doctor did not tell me that my chances of getting postpartum depression was higher since I had diabetes.
I felt quite inadequate to handle it all on my own and could not stop crying. When I went for a routine monthly checkup, I told my gynaecologist about how hopeless I felt and she referred me to a good psychologist. I have been on medication since, and 4-5 months later, I was able to take care of my son on my own. I was unaware of postpartum depression as an illness. The doctor did not tell me that my chances of getting postpartum depression was higher since I had diabetes.
-- Parvathy Jayakrishnan, Bengaluru.
5. You can develop carpal tunnel syndrome
"I developed carpal tunnel syndrome during my first pregnancy. It is a side-effect of pregnancy, as a result of which you feel pain, tingling and numbness in your hands, especially when you hold them in a single position for a long stretch of time. So when I would feed my baby, my hand would go numb and I would need someone to lift her for me. Thankfully I had read about it so I could recognise the symptoms, but my doctor said it was not related to pregnancy. I still haven't recovered from it."
-- Gunjan Matreja, Delhi
6. You can get severely constipated.
"I faced constipation during the second and third trimester of my pregnancy. I was also constipated for a week after giving birth, and even developed anal pustules. Finally, I had to be given laxatives and enema to recover."
-- Rani Singh, Mumbai (name changed)
7. You get painful contractions even after childbirth.
"You have a lot of contractions on and off after childbirth, especially if you've had a C-section. Your uterus is bloated for the next four to six weeks. As your uterus is gradually contracting back to its original size, you get contractions that can be quite painful. You have to be careful as your uterus is still healing."
-- Saloni Nair, Mumbai
8. There's nothing you can do to prevent stretch marks.
"My doctor did not inform me about stretch marks or any creams to prevent it. When I asked him, he said there was no remedy and that the ads were fake. No one talks about stretch marks. Even if you ask the doctor, everybody brushes it under the carpet. They either say it doesn't happen. If you do have them though, there is no cure for it and it doesn't go away."
-- Gunjan Matreja, Delhi
9. Your menstrual cycle can change for good.
"I had had irregular periods before I got pregnant but never had any pain during that period. However, giving birth to my first child in 2013, they became heavy and painful. Now, every month during menstruation I get intense back pain have to take a painkiller like Brufen every month to survive those three days."
-- Reema Singh, Mumbai (name changed)
10. You can have an unexpected C-section.
I was planning to have a normal delivery because everything was normal during my pregnancy. However, the doctor did an emergency C-section, which they claim was necessary because the baby's heartbeat was dropping. I have no idea till date whether that was genuine or not. On the day of my delivery, first everything was fine, then the hospital did some internal check up and started preparing a story that baby's head is big. They said the labour will take time as I was not dilated enough. Finally they took me inside a room and gave an injection through IV for started labor pain.
So yes, they were screaming all over and they took me to the OT, and got the undertaking signed by me when I was almost half unconscious from the general anaesthesia.
Within five minutes of that injection the doctor started screaming at the nurse, saying that this heavy dose and now the baby is under stress and stuff. Because I was fine throughout the pregnancy, the sudden change was so scary. At that moment and in that condition we were helpless, we couldn't argue with them. All we wanted was a healthy baby. So yes, they were screaming all over and they took me to the OT, and got the undertaking signed by me when I was almost half unconscious from the general anaesthesia. Now I know that there is a possibility that this might be an actual emergency and there was actual foetal distress but still till date I have a gut feeling that they staged this all, because they didn't even wait for my labour to get started.
-- Rachna Seth, Delhi (name changed on request)
11. The pain after a C-section is like being hit by a vehicle.
I had a last-minute C-section with genera anesthesia. There is intense pain immediately after the operation, which is almost like being hit by a truck. Your body has been cut open. After this hits you, you are supine and bed-bound. You have a child to look after and an operation to recover from. You also immediately have to breastfeed. The pain management is also very dependent on the whims of the doctor.
When I wanted my painkiller dosage to be increased, the hospital staff asked me why I was complaining so much, and that I should bear the pain since being a mother was very difficult.
When I wanted my painkiller dosage to be increased, the hospital staff asked me why I was complaining so much, and that I should bear the pain since being a mother was very difficult. I had to spend six days there, which were the worst of my life. I sat in pain and cried, in front of doctors and nurses, but no one came up and said you might have postpartum depression. The actual operation pain goes away after 5-6 days, but you can't bend, do heavy work, lift weights, or squat for the first six months.
-- Ashmita Saluja, Delhi (name changed on request)
12. Your breasts get sore and painful.
You start lactating soon after delivery. You have to constantly pump it, otherwise the milk becomes hard and your breasts get painful. I used to pump it and keep it in a bottle and give the baby pumped milk later. The milk becomes hard. That is a constant process till you breastfeed. As the baby sucks less and less, it reduces.
I wanted to start bottle feed with supplements, but everyone in the family was against it... I didn't have a say where my body was concerned.
Moreover, when the baby is sucking at your breast nine or ten times a day, your nipples become raw, swollen and painful. I wanted to reduce breastfeeding and start bottle feed with supplements, but everyone in the family would insist that I breastfeed for the child's good. I didn't have a say where my body was concerned.
-- Priyanshi Chatterji, Kolkata (name changed on request)