I am a fan of Prince Harry, and I applaud him for saying that he was “incredibly proud” of his wife, and “How any woman does what they do is beyond comprehension”, when he announced the birth of Baby Sussex.
Since royal and regal (FYI, we have yet to use ‘imperial’ and ‘majestic’ as social media comments) are rather sought after attributes here, I am hoping that noble fathers and families will take their cue from the happy Prince (pun) and begin to appreciate what a new mother has to endure.
The pressure to conceive begins immediately after marriage; prior to that there is the pressure to marry; prior to that there is the pressure to maintain or acquire certain ideals to be an eligible candidate for a grand alliance; prior to that there is the pressure to develop in a particular way in order to be on the right path to becoming a ‘good girl’ or one whose potential ‘bhalo bou aar maa’ virtues are universally feted; prior to that there is the pressure to be or become forsha; and when in the womb there is the pressure to be delivered as a boy.
There is one train of thought that espouses that matrimony is essential to the self- worth of the female, and women attain respectability and status through marriage and subsequent childbirth. If it were so simple! Acquiring the status of Mrs or Maa is not necessarily accompanied with maternal autonomy, or a (to be or not to be) mother’s power to make independent decisions using her own experiences, education, reasoning and instinct.
If one is ‘blessed’ enough to conceive, it can sometimes be in the guise of ‘shorir kharap’ until the first trimester is over, and the gestation is more secure or apparent. And throughout the pregnancy the baby carrier or the (to be) mother is told what food to eat, what to avoid, how to rest and exercise, where to go and not to, and sometimes for superstitious reasons, whom and where all not to discuss birthing issues with.
All this for the delivery of a healthy baby for the husband’s khushi, and therein lies her shukh.
Once the baby is born, she is very lucky if she resembles the father; and in the case of a boy, his mother is very lucky. Baby’s name? Often enough the murubbis are deeply offended if they are not consulted.
After birth, there is the deluge of advice on merits of breastfeeding versus demerits of the formula, accompanied with particular stress on the best nutrition for lactating mothers in order that the baby remains in optimum health, and not to mention the continuous stream of instructions on other natal and marital issues because clearly it is best to bombard new mums during recovery from a C-section or periods of intense sleep deprivation, muscular pain and bleeding.
So yes, thank you Harry for articulating the emotional and physical challenges that first - time mothers face day in and day out, and sometimes without respite. Though we live in a culture that offers various networks of support for pregnant women and those with newborns, it rarely allows them full ownership of their unique experience or of the baby.
I too wonder how women cope with perhaps the most significant change in their lives, as they negotiate their journey through relentless unsolicited advice, harsh criticism, interference, and insensitivity and apathy to their emotional well - being.
Chintamoni grew up in Dhaka, where she will always belong, but never quite fit in. She is an enthusiastic traveller, a compulsive procrastinator, and a contumelious raconteur.