How Reading Helped A New Mother Stay Sane
July 18, 2018
So, in 2015, when I found myself pregnant and nine months away from becoming nourisher-in-chief, a new mother that is, it was books I turned to. From the pregnancy bible What To Expect When You’re Expecting to Gita Arjun’s Passport To A Healthy Pregnancy to Lalita Iyer’s I’m Pregnant, Not Terminally Ill, You Idiot!, I voraciously consumed every kind of pregnancy literature I could get my hands on, reading vast scientific explanations on topics such as foetal heartbeat, what really sets off labour, and breast crawls. I became a kind of pregnancy/ birthing geek.
It was an uncertain and shaky period albeit one punctuated by fleeting moments of joy that a new life brings to a family. With limited mobility and potential for activities, I surrendered to books. The written word would be the one solid constant in my now changing world. In the absence of a small bottle of Felix Felicis, books are a great substitute. Instant mood-lifters and evocative of far-away lands, books allow you the luxury of travel without moving an inch from your bed, a boon to someone who has just had a baby. I read in the post-partum period like a possessed woman. When the baby slept or when a feed had finished, I’d happily embrace my tiny windows of sanity by plunging headlong into a book.
The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Society is an absolutely charming book about an undercover society formed during World War II when the Germans occupied the Channel Islands. The book brought into my life the magic of written correspondences and kindred spirits. It also allowed me to empathise with the comparative deprivation of other people’s lives while I had been diminished to a temporarily sorry existence by having to share my body and physical space with a tiny human being. Reading about people reading, loving and making lasting relationships, all while living through wars and uncertain times, shook me out of my self-pitying state and allowed me to embrace my bountiful privilege.
I chanced upon The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma, a memoir about a father and daughter who promise to read together every night and do so for 3,219 nights in a row, withstanding everything from divorce and sore throats to adolescent dates, proms, and sleepovers. It is a remarkable moment for the reader when the last reading happens just before the author moves into her college dorm. Not only was the commitment to the streak impressive, but glimpses of an ordinary life, often short of cash (but never of books and good literature and love) and the understated dad-daughter relationship, bereft of overt displays of affection but divulging occasional vignettes of wisdom, was an absolute comfort to read post-partum. It drove home the point that there is no such thing as a perfect parent, just a parent who is ‘present’ for the child while physically present.
Ozma’s father writes in the foreword, “If a child sees something in a parent that the child aspires to, he or she will copy that parent and be content. If children feel that a parent is living a life that shows compassion and understanding, patience and love, that child will not have to reach a stage of rebellion against that parent.” This book strengthened my resolve to always surround my son with books and actively begin reading to him from the time he was five days old. I realised that I will always think of books as life-vests and anchors in the inevitably bittersweet journey of parenting and keep revisiting this book throughout.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one of those women I look up to and an author whose works I hugely admire. Dear Ijeawele Or A Feminist Manifesto In Fifteen Suggestions, a letter Adichie writes to her friend, was a shining beacon epitomising resolve and conviction, instructive of how to raise a child with feminist values. It speaks to the mother as an individual rather than as a mother who also happens to be an individual, and this was the clincher for me. It is one of those books that actively made me want to be a better human being.
Featured Image: Some elements of this work have been taken from Vector Art by www.vecteezy.com
As a child, Hamsini Ravi, would read books all day and well into the night even after her parents switched off her lights in her bedroom, she also used to read as she walked on the road to visit her grandparents, who lived a few doors away. Both have prepared her to read on the Mumbai locals everyday, as an adult.
Read her articles here.