This article originally appeared on Images in May 2016.
After decades of fighting the inevitable, I have to admit I’m turning into my mother.
The countdown began on the cool December afternoon my son was born. It was as if the moment I became a mother myself, the words ‘jub tum maa bano gi tau samajh aega’ echoed from the depths of Mother Earth herself. At the time I wasn’t listening. As the doctors and nurses cleaned and stitched up my limp, exhausted body, all I could focus on was this tiny little person lying by my side.
On the day he was born, my little boy emerged from me screaming and was soon laid face down on my body for some skin to skin contact. I couldn’t see his face; what I remember most vividly is his perfect little right ear. He was wailing loudly and I wanted so badly to soothe him but I couldn’t move. I tried to gently reassure him that everything was okay, that we had both made it through his birth, that the worst was over.
We lay together for some time in the labour room as I didn’t have the energy to get up. By the time I finally made it to the private room we had booked for the night, my son was already there meeting his extended family. I remember asking for him the minute I had settled into bed -- I wanted him close to me so I could see him and touch him again. I didn’t want us to be apart.
The pangs of motherhood I experienced so vividly that day started emerging during my pregnancy. In those challenging 9 months, my every action was determined by the impact it might have on my baby.
When I found out I was expecting I started eating meat (I'd been a vegetarian before) because I didn't want my baby to develop any deficiencies. I did what all mothers do, each her own way: put the child first.
I would talk and read to him in my womb, trying to bond with him before his birth. I craved sugar and junk food but I was careful to limit my intake because I didn't want to fill his little body with chemicals. I was a vegetarian before pregnancy but I started eating meat while I was expecting as I didn't want him to develop any deficiencies. I chose not to use Epidural anesthesia during labour because I was afraid that it may lead to the use of forceps and I was worried this may hurt his little body.
Through these decisions I did what all mothers do, each her own way: put the child first. It was a challenge but by experiencing aches and pains and witnessing miraculous moments like the first time I heard his heartbeat or felt him kick, I knew I was being molded for the greatest challenge of all.
And it's not all emotional. According to science, the psychological changes I experienced are neurological. Psychologists claim it’s extremely likely that the flood of hormones during pregnancy permanently alters the human brain. This same flood of hormones during pregnancy and the postpartum phase increase activity in the amygdala, the area in the brain that controls empathy, fear, anxiety and social interaction.
This increased activity makes a mother hypersensitive to her child’s needs and helps her bond with her baby. Through a phenomenon known as ‘microchimerism’, fetuses share cells with their mothers and these cells remain in a mother’s body for many years. Doctors have suggested, that these leftover fetal cells may produce chemicals that influence the mother’s biology, allowing fetuses to manipulate her from within.
There is a possibility that a mother’s body changes to accommodate her child’s needs, such as in the case of breast milk which alters itself to fight any illness sensed in the child. A mother's sensitivity to her child's needs and her ability to meet those needs seem to be embedded in her DNA. In other words, the fierce intensity to motherhood; the passionate love and constant worry a mother has for her child begins with neurological reactions in the brain.
The words of Osho, the mystic, resonate with me. According to him, ‘the moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new.’
Four months have now passed and everyday is an adventure. Every day I try hard to be the best version of myself because nothing else is as important to me as being the best mother for my son and meeting all his needs.
It’s true! That crazy flood of hormones that wreaked havoc on my body and my husband’s peace of mind did more than just make a baby, it molded me into a mother.
The weeks that followed my son’s birth were full of angst, exhaustion, pain and joy. Four months have now passed and everyday is an adventure. Some moments I'm so exhausted that all I want to do is hand him over to someone for just a few minutes so I can simply eat or take a bath. But when I do, soon enough my heart starts to ache with worry and I miss him so much I can’t think straight.
I often wonder if I can fulfill the role of the ever-loving, saintly person a mother is meant to be. It all still feels so very new and yet powerful and overwhelming enough to have fully engaged the very core of my being.
Every day I try hard to be the best version of myself because nothing else is as important to me as being the best mother for my son and meeting all his needs.
He came of my body and so he feels like a part of me. And yet I can also see him as an individual who will one day leave the nest to build a life of his own. As his mother, it is my job to support, encourage and cultivate his autonomy and independence. And yet my heart holds him close as if we were still as one, like we were for 9 months.
The day he was born I became two people, with one of us carrying around my heart.
This article originally appeared on Images in May 2016.