An Amma is always an Amma
One year ago, on the 24th of November, my twin boys were born. Yanked out of my humongous belly at 35 weeks—at least 3 weeks too early—as I struggled to keep my blood pressure at normal levels. I had been in and out of hospital a couple of times before for various reasons but this time, I was in pain, my BP wasn’t showing signs of settling, and too much delay would threaten their lives and mine. On a sunny Monday morning, I was wheeled into the OT. I asked my uncle, the gynecologist who had so patiently taken care of me through the term and was now about to hand my babies to me, how long it would take; he said matter-of-factly, “Just 10 minutes” and proceeded to chat with the pediatrician—our neighbor and Avanee’s pediatrician since birth, a senior gentleman we have great faith in.
Shortly after my legs went numb, I heard the pediatrician say “Ram aur Shyam!” What? “It’s two boys,” my uncle clarified. I heard weak cries, and before I could take a proper look at them, I was pushed into sedation. I was relieved to hear a fleeting comment about them being ok and remember mentioning to the kind senior lady anesthetist that my daughter will probably be a little disappointed because she wanted at least one sister. I didn’t get to see them after they were born; I didn’t get to see them for three days after they were born. I am diabetic; so, the babies’ sugar levels had dropped drastically and needed to be shifted immediately to a neonatal intensive care hospital about 15 minutes away from the hospital I was in.
I was in the recovery room for a day. On the evening of their birth, when I started slipping back into consciousness, my husband and mother showed me the single phone camera picture that they managed to grab before the NICU nurses bundled the boys up in what looked like a plastic paper folder, the type you use to file away important bills, and whisked them away. They were swaddled in blue and pink wraps, their hair hastily cleaned, still sticky from the fluid they lived in for 35 weeks. Their weights were not scarily low, so they looked quite like normal, healthy newborns, but as I looked at the picture, I had trouble coming to terms with the fact that they were mine. I hadn’t held them, felt them, smelled them, whispered anything into their tiny ears, or felt overwhelmed and humbled at the wonder of their birth. They were distinctly non-identical. Thank goodness. I kept asking them what had happened. Why were they taken away from me like this? Was it anything very serious? I was sure they were hiding something from me. But I kept slipping back into deep sleep and dreaming all sorts of strange dreams.
The next day, I was allowed to go back to my room. The catheter was taken off, and the IV fluids were gone the day after that. I was restless. By now, I was mentally alert and my body was recovering from surgery and getting ready for motherhood. But there were no kids in sight. Avanee had come to the hospital to see me several times and returned disappointed for not being able to see her brothers. I began getting up and busying myself rearranging the sparse hospital room or drawing curtains or tucking the sheets—just to keep myself occupied. On day three, I broke down in front of my parents over something really trivial—I think I got angry about the bed sheet not being tucked properly and then just burst into a bucket of tears. When will I get to see my children? Was there a curse worse than to have birthed and not seen your offspring? And then, suddenly, we got a call saying one of the boys was fit enough to be brought back to me. Ayaan came to me that day, and Abheer the next. I swallowed my tears and held them. My boys. My shockingly cute, wrapped-like-a-cocoon boys. Tiny frowns on their faces. Smelling of formula and baby powder. It could be my imagination, but it looked like they calmed down and breathed more easy when I held them to my bosom. Suddenly, the milk began to flow, and I finally felt like a mother.
35 weeks together. Born just a minute apart. And, Abheer and Ayaan are so different. Appearances, personalities, everything. It’s been a year, and I know every parent says this, but time does seem to have flown past. It was a difficult period—we were making some tough decisions about our life choices as a family when we discovered the pregnancy. When the radiologist at the screening clinic showed us, “This is one sac, and this is the other sac,” we blurted “WHAT?!” and she left the room to give us a moment to come to terms with the idea. The moment she shut the door, M and I looked at each other, our jaws dropped to the floor. He was the first to break the silence. “We are going to do this. We can do this.” Inside, I was relieved. I had had trouble conceiving Avanee, and I didn’t want to be thankless to the superpowers that trusted me to be a mother. It was such a relief to have a life partner that agreed with me without me having to even present my opinion. It was a difficult pregnancy—it was uncomfortable, painful, ridden with diabetes and BP-related issues, and I had two books (The Gore Family Cookbook and my upcoming book) to write and photograph during the time. I was on bed rest for almost the whole term, and when my caregivers went away for a while or took a shower, I would slip out of bed on the sly, stand precariously on inadequate stools and quickly shoot images or type out that chapter I had been writing in my head as I lay in bed with a belly that grew at an enormous speed.
Shortly after their birth and a little later, when they both gave up breast milk, I decided to get back to work. As I write this, I am away in southern India, working on a restaurant consultancy project when I probably should be home, getting hyper about planning the boys’ big first birthday party. But, work needs to be done. Sometimes, no—often, I wonder if I am a terrible, selfish, impatient mother. I haven’t been able to do for the boys half the things that I could for Avanee. I won’t try to justify it by saying it is difficult when you have three kids. But, I try. Both M and I do. We have more staff at home now, but we have categorically decided not to employ any 24-hour help so that we can have our time as family. We’ve made compromises—we use disposable diapers instead of cloth, and we use more cereal than we did for Avanee. It makes me angry and frustrated with myself for not being able to do enough. For not being able to read to them often enough. Or dance with them in my arms. Or sit on the windowsill and yap in baby talk. For not giving Avanee enough attention. And yet, everyone around me says we’re doing great. What do they know?
And then, yesterday. At the airport lounge, a woman carrying several bags on her back and hands and wearing a baby on the front, came and sat next to me. She was struggling to take off the bags and mix her baby’s meal. I offered to help, and as I measured out the warm water out of a thermos into the carefully sterilized feeding bottle, still feeling terribly sleep deprived after a night of baby distress at home, I realized that there’s no escaping motherhood. A baby crying, hungry, sleepy—your own or someone else’s—will always make you uncomfortable and you will always want to get up and do something to help ease the situation. I may not have been the ideal mother, but I am a mother. All the time. Even when I am working hundreds of kilometers away.
Thank you, Abheer, Ayaan, and Avanee, for choosing me to be your Amma.