A mother delivers a child. To ensure the beep of texts don't disturb the new mother recovering in the hospital, her relatives send congratulatory messages on her husband's phone instead. Once home, her friends and family send flowers and yakhni to help her feel better. There are no unannounced visitors turning up at her place with an expectation of a celebration feast...
Said no one ever.
Instead, when a woman gives birth to a baby in Pakistan, the exact opposite rings true.
After having her membranes ruptured and being subjected to the horror of enema, a new mum is made to be a part of a giant circus; patties and barfis grace the trolley, aunties of all shapes and sizes flutter around sharing their own breastfeeding experiences, and their husbands sit for hours on end talking about Pakistan’s deteriorating economic conditions, all the while the poor NM shifts uncomfortably on the sofa, trying to find a position which would make the pain from the stitches less unpleasant.
But one always wonders and ask, why?
Why is a new mother not given space to recover from the fatigue of childbirth?
Why is she not given a chance to rest, develop a bond with her newborn?
Why is she not given time to understand and accept the life-changing impact childbirth has had on her mind, body and emotions?
Any woman who has given birth in Pakistan will vouch for the fact that she has craved some privacy and a break from non-stop mehman nawazi right after her delivery. Sadly, in our culture and society, it is wishful thinking to expect a pause.
But how can we —well-meaning friends and relatives of new mothers —make sure we're not in their way?
Here's a brief guide on how to be cognisant of a new mother's space, privacy and time. Know that this guide stands as an act of goodwill that could potentially make our desi culture more bearable for new mothers, and perhaps women in general.
What to avoid:
Don't be the first one to show up
Hold your horses when you hear that a child has been born in your distant family and try not to be the first one to make a visit to the hospital.
If you absolutely must go, because breathing is becoming an issue without having a look at the child, make your visit short. Sitting for three hours and happily gobbling down the hospital canteen sandwiches while the mother secretly prays for your departure is not a nice thing to do. Come, give balloons and make a swift exit.
Addendum to rule no.1: For khaloos and phuppas, please know that the new mother is not comfortable performing breastfeeding escapades in your presence. Congratulate, and wait outside while your female family members perform their salam dua rituals inside.
Always ask! Unannounced arrivals are not welcome
Do not land up at the new mom's home without prior announcement.
It is good manners to first send a text to ask about her availability and readiness to receive guests. Your unannounced arrival is will not qualify as rehmat. Instead, it shall be branded as zehmat while the new mother tries to catch up on her sleep or is busy trying to make the baby latch on.
If you land with your freshly ironed lawn jorha and blow-dry while the she smells like baby vomit, I can assure you, she will be uncomfortable and perhaps secretly detest you for putting her in such a situation.
Addendum to rule no.2: If you REALLY care about the new mother, send her a text, express your love, and request her to tell you when she is well enough to meet people. Allow her to make that decision.
Don't expect to be fed, please
If you must consume your chai with snacks, BRING THE SNACKS.
Tell her “I’m coming and bringing the food.” Please do not make the poor mother (who, by the way, has also stayed up all night with the newborn) scurry around like a mouse, trying to produce a lavish trolley for you.
This is a difficult time for the new mother AND her mother. Give them a break.
Keep your unsolicited advice zipped in your branded purses
No one wants to hear it, especially a new mother.
She doesn’t need to hear yet another story about “You know what I would do?” because you’re not the first aunty bombarding her with unwanted information. You’re probably the 50th.
Let her figure it out. If she has questions, she’ll ask. Your relentless intrusion makes her feel like her parenting is not up to the mark. So, if she isn’t using the ‘gol takiya’ to shape the head of her baby, please remember that Brad Pitt’s mum didn’t either. And his head, and everything else, turned out to be more than fine.
Talk about other topics with her and help her believe that life beyond a needy baby, a bleeding vagina and cracked nipples does exist.
Never forget that giving birth is and always will be the most painful experience
Don’t tell the new mother that she needs to cut back on her moaning and groaning or that she isn’t the first one to produce a child.
Yes, most women in the world go through childbirth. But it doesn’t take rocket science to understand that it hurts EACH woman, and it hurts EACH time, whether it’s her first child or 10th.
Show you have a heart that can feel the pain of another woman. Because pain is not a competition. Acknowledging that the woman is going through a difficult time will not diminish the intensity of the pain you experienced when you gave birth. This is HER time to crib, so allow her the liberty. Sensitivity in such a situation is paramount.
Here are some things you should be doing:
Going the 'extra mile'
If the brief guide knocked some sense into you and you want to cheer up the NM you plan to visit next week, here are some gift ideas for going that extra mile and making her feel special:
- A piece of clothing in her new, post-delivery size
- A voucher for a massage at home
- A voucher for that much-needed facial or mani-pedi
- Ordering her a big bowl of dessert from her favourite home-based chef
- Personal care items such a jar of scented body butter or bath salts
- A few hours of house help, like a cook or a nanny
More importantly, here's what you can also do to go that 'extra mile':
- A flask of hot yakhni
- Booking a dinner date for her and her husband while YOU offer to stay home with the kids
- Movie tickets and a treat to snacks with her girl-gang
- Sending some tea items for uncouth and incorrigible guests who will surely arrive at the door without announcing
To sum up, new mothers have been through a huge physical ordeal and are battling with a hurricane of emotions, fatigue and weakness. They just need some pampering, as well as relatives and friends who understand her right to some space and kindness.
Because those are the things she'll always remember and cherish forever.
Lecturer turned blogger, Mahvish Ahmed is a mama in boots, trotting through Europe, fighting the rain, catching trams and sipping warm coffee if/when her toddler naps. Find her on Instagram here.