Goodbye, my old life

The initial excitement of being a new mum gave way to deep resentment but, one year on, I finally stopped trying to wish my old life back and started to celebrate the life of my baby

I am known to be a positive, cheerful and tenacious individual.

But nine months into motherhood, I was finding it too much to bear.

How could I be so blessed to have a child and yet hate my life so much?

Well-meaning friends and loved ones told me life would change forever when a child arrived.

They were right.

My husband and I steeled ourselves for sleep deprivation, copious amounts of washing and the constant changing of dirty diapers.


ST ILLUSTRATION: MANNY FRANCISCO

We are ready to enter this stage of life, we told ourselves. And we would do it sans maid - such was our resolve to be hands-on parents.

No amount of mental preparation or mutual psyching sessions with my spouse prepared me for the reality that is parenthood.

The initial excitement over the arrival of a new life and feelings of overwhelming gratitude to God for this gift soon gave way to deeper resentment than I had ever experienced in my life.

Adopting the breastfeeding- is-best approach that many mothers today advocate beset my breasts with problems I never knew existed.

Although infections such as mastitis and milk blisters on my nipples caused me to wince and cry out in pain at each feed, I pressed on doggedly.

This is good for my baby. I cannot and will not give up, was my mantra. I am still nursing her even as I write this.

When I returned to work after four months of maternity leave, my baby refused to be bottle-fed.

Rather than give in to her hunger strikes, I walked home from work every three hours to nurse her. The six journeys on foot to and from work took close to two hours each day.

I told myself that the treks were worthwhile because I was literally pouring out to fill the life of another.

But the truth was, such notions of self-sacrifice did nothing to reduce the drudgery of it all.

Physical exhaustion gave way to misery. I felt enslaved to my child, who was so helpless and dependent on me for her every need.

Beyond bottle-feeding difficulties, my daughter had a few month-long bouts of sickness.

Whenever we got down on our knees to wipe vomit off our floorboards, walls and clothes, my husband and I experienced the humble work that maids have to do.

Stench, sweat, self-pity and sleeplessness characterised those wretched nights.

Then came my baby's dislike for food, which made the process of weaning her highly frustrating.

My mother spent hours chopping, boiling and mashing ingredients to make tasty meals and hearty soups.

Alas, the morsels came right out of my baby's mouth.

I thought I was prepared for all the responsibilities that motherhood entailed.

But by my baby's ninth month of life on earth, I felt completely snowed under by the seemingly endless challenges that motherhood had heaped on me.

I ought to have known that this new life would give me little time for my husband and no time to do the things I enjoyed.

But experiencing that reality filled me with thoughts of escaping it.

Many nights, as I cradled my baby close and whispered into her ear that I loved her, my heart ached to be released from caring for her.

As a free-spirited extrovert and a journalist, I enjoy the feeling of waking up to a different rhythm every day. I also feel charged packing multiple appointments and activities into a day.

But babies need routine, sleep and attention.

Social events had to go and I could not meet up with friends as frequently as I used to.

There was a constant battle in my heart between what I wanted to do and what I knew I had to choose.

Those bitter battles in my mind sounded like this: You chose to embark on parenthood right? And now, you have no choice - because this is the very life you chose!

This angst was inflamed by a self-loathing for my post-pregnancy physique.

I felt ugly. I longed for my pre-pregnancy figure. Dressing up used to be fun, but it had now become a dreadful daily task of deciding what to wear to conceal tummy fat.

On my lowest of days, negativity consumed me and I wept and cursed my life. However, the emotional outbursts did nothing to soothe my spirit. I just felt like a terrible human being after them.

I was a mother. I had a child. I had a loving, supportive husband who did most of the household chores. There was so much to be thankful for.

Yet, I hated my life. Why, oh why, could I not embrace motherhood?

I shared my inner torment with my husband in July.

"You don't need to stop living the life you want to just because we have a Singhlet (our pet name for our daughter)," he said.

"But how?" I wailed, as I felt a surge of annoyance.

He could make that comment. Fatherhood had not made him fatter or deprived him of a social life.

Did I need professional help, I wondered. I Googled "signs of post-natal depression", but I did not fit the bill.

Although that was mildly comforting, I knew I had to find my way out of the fog.

My perspectives had to change. If I wanted to be a happy mother, I had to help myself.

Whenever a defeatist thought reared its ugly head, I prayed for cheer and positivity and re-focused my mind on counting my blessings.

I stopped trying to fit into my pre-pregnancy clothing. I bought myself new clothes and delighted in the purchases.

I stopped trying to be vulnerable around fellow mothers who were keen only to show how self-possessed they were and how well they had mastered motherhood. Confiding my struggles in "super mummies" had served only to decrease my self-worth.

I stopped trying to share my burdens with friends who were non-mothers because they could not truly empathise.

Most importantly, I stopped trying to wish my old life back and started to celebrate the life of my fast-developing baby.

She gazes in wonderment at everything and wakes up eager to begin the day, for the world is new and exciting to her.

Surely I, too, must embrace the new normal of my life with that same kind of attitude.

My journey into motherhood has only begun and there will be many more new experiences and challenges to come.

Last month, my heart swelled with pride as I celebrated my daughter's first birthday.

We've come so far, I told my husband the day she graduated from babyhood to toddlerhood.

He knows all too well what a roller-coaster ride the past year has been.

In just 12 months, I have had my self-image and self-identity severely tested, before self-recovery and renewal took place.

As I look back, I am quietly proud to see that from my old life has arisen a stronger, more resilient me.

Happy birthday, my new life.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 30, 2016, with the headline 'Goodbye, my old life'. Print Edition | Subscribe