What it’s like to have a second child with zero family support

I was an accident, conceived seven months after my sister was born. Amma told me once how she had to wean Divya away from her breast because her milk supply decreased drastically when she became pregnant. That, by the way, should be proof enough that breastfeeding isn’t enough of a contraceptive to rely on.

Lots of parents speak of how much easier it is to have a second child after the first one because you get used to the routine. That’s what my parents assumed it would be with me too. Amma is an architect. Before she had me, she used to work part time at one of those big architectural firms called Something and Associates. Her mother-in-law used to look after Divya when she wasn’t at home, so she probably assumed that things would be the same after I popped out of her vagina too. That only goes to say that you should never rely on unspoken understandings.

Imagine what it’s like when you find yourself back in your husband’s house just three months after your second kid came along after being pampered wholeheartedly in your own mother’s house. Imagine, also, when you find that, instead of the support you thought you’d be given, you were left alone all day with two high-energy, dependent children. To make things worse, the mother-in-law has made extra rules for just you to follow. One of them is no going into the kitchen without taking a bath. This doesn’t apply to anyone else in the house, certainly not to her beloved son. Without being able to leave a frisky toddler and a fussy newborn alone, you have no way to bathe, which means you can’t enter the kitchen, which mean you don’t eat until your husband comes home from work in the evening and takes over with the kids.

Why was the mother-in-law not at home to help out, you might ask. Amma believes that she was very disappointed when her second grandchild turned out to be another girl. My grandmother denies this, wholeheartedly, as she does every other thing I write here. Nevertheless, she and my grandfather would get up in the morning, finish their pujas, have breakfast and then head out to relatives’ houses. One relative a day was their motto. Once, when Amma asked them when they’d be home, my granddad snapped, “Are we your servants, accountable to you for all our actions?”

I ask my mother time and again why she put up with it. Why she didn’t wake up one day, pick up her kids (or leave them, whichever) and walk out on her husband and his family. At which point she always says, “I wanted my children to have a father.” And then I say, “Why? Why was that so important?” She replies, “My sister had recently divorced her husband, and my own mother was very upset over it, blaming herself entirely for not having raised her daughter well enough to make her marriage last. I knew that if I were to leave my husband too, she wouldn’t be able to bear the stigma. So I stayed.”

Nice, isn’t it? You’re expected to put your kids - and even your mother - before your own comfort and happiness. I wonder what family values we’re imparting in our kids. To the boys - you can do what you like with your wife; she won’t leave you because she fears the taboo around divorce. To the girls - do whatever you need to to keep your family together, no matter how much you have to sacrifice in the process.

Anyway, after making her live on a diet of bread and jam for more than six months (he did nothing to intervene with the no-kitchen-before-bath rule), my dad finally realised that Amma had become so thin that she looked sickly. Not surprising, is it, burning about 700 calories a day breastfeeding and trying to compensate for it with maida and sugar. Appa then rented the ground floor of his parents’ house so that Amma could cook and eat what she liked whenever she felt like it. A few more months later, she finally told her parents what she was going through, and her dad - yes, my grandfather - stepped up. He helped us move very close to his house, so that he and my grandmother could chip in to help with us kids. That’s why my earliest memories are of running around their big garden with my sister, both in our petticoats, while Amma’s mother tried to chase us down, saree tucked in at waist, to give us a bath.

And we lived happily ever after.

Is there a moral to this story? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s - “Don’t allow your family values to overpower your own sense of happiness.” Is that all? Not quite. Maybe we should also consider the title of this story and say - “Don’t have a second child unless you’re one hundred and seventy-seven percent sure that your family will support you in it.”