Motherhood is about being Imperfect in a Perfect way

During a complicated first pregnancy, Sameera Reddy, a well-known Bollywood actress, gained 30 kilos. Though she lost it all when her body was ready, she takes umbrage at the body shaming she had to face from ‘random aunties’. She believes that each mother is entitled to gain and lose weight while having a baby. Now pregnant with her second child, she opens up about her son, post-partum depression, being judged for the weight gain and how she learnt to cope with it. She speaks to MINAL KHONA from Mumbai

Sameera and I go back a long way. I have known her since she was 15, and have interacted with her and her two supermodel sisters, Sushama and Meghana, several times over the years. Sameera has imbibed her mother’s legendary warmth as well as her uninhibited candour and humour. With healthy doses of both, she shares the details of her experiences as a first-time mother. Sameera was in her mid-thirties when she conceived for the first time. Married to Akshai Varde, an entrepreneur who has a motorcycle accessorizing business, it was all she could have asked for. “It was an easy transition for me to make, from an actress to a wife and mother, because it was what I wanted. I got married in January 2014 and my baby boy, Hans, was born in May 2015.”

Sameera did not have an easy time during her first pregnancy. From a fit and sexy figure, she went on to add 30 kilos. “Earlier, I was always in control of my body. I was very fit as that was expected of me as an actress. Once I got married, I was on medication for prolactinoma – to balance the levels of a hormone called prolactin – as it was in excess in my body and would not let me conceive. A few months into my pregnancy, I developed a condition called placenta previa – where the placenta is very close to the cervix and it causes vaginal bleeding. So I couldn’t do normal things like bending or even exercises that were jerky. So, from the fourth to the ninth month, I lay flat on the bed because I had started bleeding. I gained 30 kilos during that time.” From being sexy and well turned out, Sameera became heavier than she had ever been her entire life. Once, when she stepped out for a coffee, a producer she had worked with didn’t recognise her because of the weight gain. She says, “I had been on top of my game working in movies down South and in Bollywood. I was not used to these kilos on me and there was nothing I could do about it at that point in time.” Due to the placenta previa condition, plus the fact that the umbilical cord was wrapped around her baby’s neck, Sameera had to undergo a Caesarean at Aggarwal Nursing Home though she was keen on a normal birth. Her son Hans was “an easy child. He was no trouble at all and he was a happy baby. I am a completely

hands-on mother; I give my best to him. I don’t even have a nanny. Despite that, I suffered from post-

partum depression. The more I breastfed him the more depressed I got. I wanted to feel happy but I

wasn’t. It took me a while to understand and accept the depression. Till then, I used to go to the bathroom and cry my eyes out. Only my husband knew about it but there was nothing he could do”.

Added to that were the rude stares and unkind remarks from people. Sameera recalls, “As an actress,

I know that fame is part of the deal, and it is what I signed up for, where one is judged by one’s looks. We ourselves put undue pressure on our bodies and the way we look. It is the nature of the beast and, after a point, it becomes part of how we even judge ourselves. But it can be harrowing. Once, I took my baby in his pram to the park, and some random woman came up to me and said, ‘Aren’t you Sameera Reddy the actress? How come you have put on so much weight?’ I felt miserable about

it. More than the men, it was the women who would stare and pass comments. I felt so judged and pressured at the fat shaming I faced. As a teenager, I used to be compared to my supermodel sisters all the time [they are on the petite side while I am taller]. I used to struggle to feel good about myself and these reactions took me back to those days and I just retreated into my shell. All these perfect pictures people post on social media is a lot of humbug – the truth is, no one’s life is as perfect as it is

made out to be on Instagram and Facebook.”

Being judged for her weight gain, and trying to lose it and failing, only added to her depression and Sameera would feel ashamed and insecure and cry – it became a vicious cycle. This continued for one year. “I breastfed my baby for one whole year; and I don’t know if it is a myth that you lose weight while breastfeeding because I didn’t. But, when I stopped breastfeeding him, I started losing weight. Ten months after his birth, I put aside all my fears and decided to shrug off the judgmental looks

and the critical voice in my head. I am not a gym person but I went back to swimming, and did Pilates and yoga.

I also made dietary changes where I ate only vegetarian food – several small meals a day. Lying on the bed for so many months had made my back weak but once I lost weight I got back my strength too.”

Other actresses in Bollywood have had babies and gone back to their svelte figures. Just like Sameera

was fat-shamed, currently, Neha Dhupia, another Bollywood actress who recently had a baby, is being

trolled on social media for weight gain. Sameera insists it is different for each one of them. “Kareena lost all the post-pregnancy weight very fast, as did Rani Mukherjee.

Neha, too, I am sure will follow her own process and lose it when she has to, though I believe she is totally owning it and shutting the trolls up well and good. What people don’t get is that everyone’s constitution is different. And every new mother needs her time and space to get fit. It is in bad taste – trolling and fat shaming anyone. That is why we have to put it out there – being in the limelight

we gave them the right to comment – but I implore them to change their mind-set. Only women have the ability to give birth – it makes me feel so empowered and in awe of the female anatomy. Why be ashamed of the changes we go through after the miracle of birth?”

Sameera went back to her earlier fit self within a year of starting her exercise routine. “Today, I want women who have had a baby to know that it is OK to just be. Your body will take its own time to heal and repair itself. It is not worth the stress – comparing yourself to others. I have a newfound sense of self and I am no longer scared of being judged. Maybe the first time I was too caught up in this image of what the world perceived me to be, with this imaginary gun to my head that I had to lose weight or maintain a certain kind of figure. Much as I loved my son and being with him, I felt lost as a woman

because I was out of shape. Now, when I look back, I think I was stupid to buy into all that. But it was a good learning experience.”

Sameera is currently pregnant with her second baby. She is glowing and not worried or disturbed by

the minimal weight gain. “I still have marginal placenta previa, but I balance it out between resting and going out. My son talks to my baby bump and I am a lot happier. I don’t have any of the insecurities I had last time around. Motherhood is about being imperfect in a perfect way. I am in a state of grace and gratitude because I feel so blessed. I have hit rock bottom and come out of it and

I know the value of this peace. I am back to being my bubbly, happy self. And I would like to tell all mothers-to-be out there – this is the most beautiful time of your life, please enjoy it and have respect for your bodies and the life you are creating.” I also ask her about surrogacy – a birthing option

many celebrities are opting for. Her stand is very clear – surrogacy is for those who struggle to have a baby naturally. “I believe if you can have a baby on your own, then you should certainly not opt for surrogacy. But I have heard several mothers say they will opt for a surrogate for their second or third baby because they don’t want to ruin their figures or gain weight again. That is a very selfish thing to do. Surrogacy is for those people really pining to have kids but unable to do so due to medical reasons. They are the ones who deserve to have kids and choose this method. But, to each her own;

I can’t force people to change their mind on what is an individual choice.” She concludes with the fervent hope that this time she will be able to have a VBAC (vaginal birth after Caesarean) and her doctor, Dr Gayatri Rao of Women’s Hospital, has assured her she will try her best to ensure Sameera has a VBAC.

In Sameera’s story, there is a lesson for all mothers-to-be out there – to stay strong and confident in the face of any criticism. For, creating a new life is a miracle in itself. Don’t let the world or harsh words diminish it for you.

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