Friday, October 5, 2012
Guest post: "Knowing Jahanara" by Noorulain Noor
Knowing Jahanara - or how I fell in love with sunrises, learned the meanings of priority and compromise, redefined happiness, and came to be known as a hermit - and how I came to know myself in the process
Jahanara means “happiness of the world.” She certainly is the happiness of my world, tottering on her chubby, unsteady legs around the living room of our small townhouse, turning around with her fountain-like ponytail and smiling at me with all of five teeth over the mess of scattered DVDs that she’s made - again! At 11 months, she understands the meaning of “no” and smiles in rebellion every time her parents utter that word across the room. She also has a killer stink-eye! If I take something away from her, a favorite toy for instance, which just happens to be the remote control, she narrows her cat-like upturned eyes, scrunches her forehead, commands her full lips to create a smile-scowl and grunts deeply in her throat. “How dare you, Mama?” she seems to be saying.
I am not a naturally affectionate person. I feel uncomfortable with showing too much love - unnecessary hugs, kisses, or words of love, which is why my emails to close friends and family often overcompensate. “Lots of love,” “xox,” “hugs and kisses” are my frequent sign-offs. It all changes when I am with Jahan, of course. It is a strange switch in personality and demeanor - I suddenly become more vulnerable, both willing to give and able to receive love and its representations. It was a rapid change for me, too. When I was pregnant with her, I made tall claims, which I am embarrassed about now. “I will continue my life as I want. Just because I am having a baby, doesn’t mean I must be completely and solely devoted to her.” Unlike many other women, I did not feel a kinship with the baby in-utero. I felt uncomfortable and tired and resentful. I remember when I saw her for the first time. I wanted to feel a rush of emotion and cry or laugh or scream or something. Instead, I just felt a sense of semi-relief - the ordeal was over. I did it! Elation. And foreboding - what comes next?
It was odd to feel responsible for this little person at first. Within a day or two, something so monumental changed in me that I cannot contain it in words. It was as if I existed solely for the purpose of nurturing and protecting Jahan. Everything I did was because of her - I ate because the baby needed nourishment, I slept because the baby needed her mother to be rested and attentive, and that was the extent of my existence. It was as though I didn’t want anything or anyone else. I was fully content in providing for this little being with a small wrinkle between her eyes.
As Jahan grew, I learned more about my parenting style. I would call it rule and result oriented. I wanted certain results and so I set up appropriate rules. No one was to engage Jahanara in play or activity after 9PM. Her room was only lit enough to change diapers and feed her during the night so she would learn it was night time, not play time. Her feeding patterns, number of wet/dirty diapers, and sleep periods were diligently recorded in a journal for the first month. By the second month of Jahan’s life, I had created a somewhat predictable routine for her. By month 6, she was sleeping through the night (6 hours at a stretch) and 12 hours total at night, waking up only for a feeding and diaper change.
It wasn’t as easy and smooth as I have made it sound. I raised more than a few pair of eyebrows with my methods. If some family or social gathering interfered with Jahan’s bedtime or naptime, I begged off and didn’t attend. My social activities were limited to an infrequent run to the grocery store and work every day. All of my household supplies were delivered by the box with a smile - Amazon. Between work and Jahan (I started work when Jahan was 3 months old), my social life vanished. This was my personal choice because I wanted to have a rewarding career. I didn’t want to walk into work exhausted from a night with a sleepless baby. I also have a 1.5 hour commute to work each way so I could not risk getting tired to the point of falling asleep at the wheel. The slightest interruption to Jahan’s sleep schedule set me off like a rocket. “Pocket-rocket” my husband began to call me, referring to my small frame and extra-large temper.
Friendships suffered. Relationships, too. At one point, my husband accused me of making the baby “anti-social,” because I refused to go out during those early months. Relatives and friends criticized me “Make the baby stay up an extra hour or two - it’s not the end of the world.” “Who’s the one suffering? You - because you are missing out on everything.” “You are such an obsessive, by-the-book mom. If the baby book says to put her down at 8PM, god forbid we make you stay anywhere a minute past that!”
The philosophy was simple - Jahan was my priority, everything else, a compromise. It was difficult for me to implement this to say the least. I felt alone, questioned and criticized by people, especially other women, who did not agree with the way I was raising my baby, but who were not living my life. They were not leaving at the butt crack of dawn for a full day of work in a different city just so they could come back at a decent hour of the afternoon to spend quality time with their newborn. They were not trying to manage the demands of a career and family that had just acquired another very demanding member. This led me to become defensive and actively and loudly voice my choices as a mother and justify them. To say that it caused strain in relationships would be an understatement. I was looking for support and respect in a time that was most difficult for me, but somehow I had to listen to other people’s offended complaints about how I was being unreasonable and insensitive with no regard to the hormonal, physical, and emotional changes I was going through.
In retrospect, I am proud of myself for sticking to my principles and plans during those early months. I am happy that despite everything, my periodic episodes of despair and depression, my restlessness and anxiety, I was still able to maintain a rather wholesome home environment by giving my baby the love and attention she needed, giving her a predictable routine she could rely on so she would eat, sleep, play, thrive, and having a hot tasty meal ready for my family at least a few times a week if not every day.
I learned to draw support from people who gave it much more readily than others. Strangers, strangely, were so appreciative of my life when they saw it from a distance. Store clerks, people in the park, work acquaintances marveled at the way my days began and ended smooth as a machine. There were challenges of course, teething, aches and pains, and bad nights in general, but the establishment of a routine helped us fall back into a pattern readily. My best friends, Rebecca and Rachel, gave me the most love and support in addition to my immediate family. “If someone thinks you are not a good mother,” Rebecca said one day when I was particularly distressed, “they don’t know you - and you shouldn’t care about them.” They took me out for walks, massages, food and were satisfied to stay in and watch movies at home when I said I didn’t feel like leaving the baby. In addition, my sisters stood up for me like a wall “Mama knows best,” and fended all the criticism away from me. In the last 11 months, I could not have remained myself if it weren’t for these amazing women.
We are in a happy place now, Jahan and I. I need to be happy and satisfied to give the most positive upbringing to my child. Absolutely nothing and no one else matters in this equation. Secondary to this, I have to be a good partner to my husband whose support has given me the confidence to create and implement the rules of parenting I want. And together we have created a home that we want to come back to every night. I am focusing on little things that make me happy these days. I try to hug my husband more to make up for the cold anger that he is sometimes subjected to - spillover effects, nothing more. Jahan loves to go shopping, loves to play with other babies, and absolutely adores Elmo! She has mastered her social smile and gives it indiscriminately - in the process she wins the heart of everyone she comes across. She wakes up well-rested every morning with the most cheerful cackle you can imagine after 12 hours of sleep. We have a lovely bedtime routine for her. We go to the park as a family after dinner, Jahan gets her bath at 7:30, watches Elmo while drinking her bottle, gets her tiny teeth brushed with Daddy’s help, hears her favorite lullaby and I put her down at 8PM. She is asleep on her own by 8:15 on most nights. My favorite part of the day is between 6 and 6:30 in the morning while Jahan nurses still asleep and I look outside my bedroom window as the sky becomes lighter. She is a warm comforting weight in my arms, nestling close to me, happily asleep. We cuddle this way after she nurses for some time. With the sun rising steadily, I put her down in her crib and get ready for work. My days are usually beautiful because of this blissful beginning.
Noorulain Noor is a medical researcher and a writer. To read more by her, visit her blog.