Imagine that celebrating Mother’s Day required giving an acceptance speech as in Hollywood award ceremonies. Last year, I would have been the self-obsessed ‘It girl’, speaking solely about how the travails of early motherhood had challenged and changed me. This year, I would be the gracious yesteryear heroine, opening the speech with “I share this award with my husband, without whom none of this would be possible — and not just biologically speaking!”
It takes a lot for me to share the spotlight and I am well aware that fathers get their own special day, but I still cannot reflect upon myself as a mother without acknowledging my husband’s contribution as a father. I hope that narrating the journey that brought me here will inspire other new parents to disregard cultural norms and discover how parenthood can deepen the marital bond.
In India, new mothers surround themselves with female relatives and domestic help, a literal representation of “it takes a village”. This leaves little room for the new father’s involvement, and his life usually proceeds as it did before the new addition. In America, where I grew up, the rarity of such a support system requires both parents to share the load from day one. As a naive young bride who had adapted to life in India very well, I assured my husband that this wouldn’t be expected of him, chirping, “You make the money and I will take care of the kids!”
I could have never anticipated that my son would be colicky and a terrible sleeper, and that for months on end, I would sleep for only two hours at a stretch. I lost any sense of stability as he and I changed residences thrice, and a variety of factors kept me from employing help. My “village” consisted of myself and my mother, and we crumbled easily in the face of this plump little Viking. My husband had been slightly more hands-on than the average Indian father, and I felt compelled to show extra gratitude in return. I thanked him profusely for every diaper change, knowing that for many of his peers this task was as foreign as breastfeeding. But it wasn’t enough, and one nervous breakdown and unexpected pregnancy later, we both finally got it: I was drowning, and he couldn’t save me by tossing out lifesavers in the form of nannies. He needed to get into the water with me.
So get in he did, venturing beyond diaper changes to tread the choppy waters of full-blown parenthood. He learned my technique of how to shampoo our child without letting soap get into his eyes, and I learned that my tall elegant husband is very comfortable assuming the washerwoman’s squat position.
Committed to sleep training, we grimaced listening to our son cry it out, then marvelled and high-fived when he fell into slumber. My husband developed the hyper-sensitivity characteristic of all parents of terrible sleepers: “Eye rub!” or “Yawn!” he would shout, sounding the alarm that our child needed to be put to bed. During these naps, my husband commanded monastic levels of quiet from everyone, including me.
We had always been a close-knit couple, socialising and even working together, but this was truly the first shared experience in our marriage. Together, we put everything we had into caring for this challenging, enigmatic being; our mutual biological investment, and we were both deeply sensitive to the results of our efforts. Our new connection became apparent even outside of our interactions with our son. When people asked after our child , we forwent polite answers to give humorous tirades on his fussiness. We exchanged looks of awe when we heard about other babies’ three-hour naps or saw them sitting quietly in restaurants. We laughed at the irony of our waiting all day for him to go to sleep, only to spend the evening watching videos of him on our phones.
But with great effort comes great reward. Every time my husband puts the kid to sleep, he returns to me with eyes shining, gushing about the way his little head fits perfectly onto his shoulder so that they become one. He gloats about our son’s attachment to him and laps up the dreamy grins he delivers just before he is set down in his crib. Of course, his non-diaper changing peers experience this same love for their children, but these precious moments are bound to be felt deeper by someone who has paid their dues to earn them. In fact, my husband feels everything deeper now, including respect and admiration for me as a mother.
Perhaps I will assert my place on the pedestal this Mother’s Day after all, illuminated by the spotlight of his recognition.