Why you can never be really ‘ready’ for a baby

Mother and babyWhen I was growing up, I thought I would get married by 27, because that’s when I would find the perfect guy, settle in my dream job and ace it. I would have a baby at 30. And would swing back into my career by 35.

30 came and went, and I neither had the dream job nor the man. The baby of course had flown off the radar. My mother treated me like a time-bomb with every oncoming birthday. Soon, relatives stopped asking me when I would settle down. Meanwhile, the rest of my friends were busy tying the knot and popping babies. I was busy playing the cool aunt and buying books that no one else would buy for them.

One day, I was 35. And I was told that I had totally missed the man and baby bus.

In the next five years, dream job, man and baby happened. I didn’t plan it this way. But I think the fact that I had stopped thinking about them had something to do with it.

Was I ready? Hell no. Being a cat lady, playing aunt all those years, buying baby clothes, books and toys, playing peekaboo was hardly a qualification. I had no idea how one tiny person can change your life so irreversibly, enough for you to never be able to find factory settings again. I still go to bed wondering if I could, just for one day, wake up single. And the strange part is, I have a good kid, and he is really fun and kind and sensitive and bright  and I had no idea of the person I could be without him around. Does that mean I was ready for a child? No.

My friend A’s kid and mine share the same name. Hers is 16, mine is 6. She and I are the same age. Hmm, maybe it’s a good thing to have kids early, I thought. You can just get on with the rest of your life soon. She has entered the second phase in her career, and is pursuing her new entrepreneurial role with renewed vigor. We met last year. And then she told me about the black hole her life had been for the better part of the last 20 years. And then I felt bad that I was backpacking the countryside and switching boyfriends when she was tending to two kids, trying to get a new degree to stay relevant and managing a home.

When someone tells you what is the right time to have a baby, they are actually talking body time. Which is also fairly subjective, because your body is not readier just because it is younger neither is it less able because it is older. I never thought I would be able to dissect it this way, but there are three things in close competition in this whole phenomenon of baby-readiness: the biological clock, the career clock and the emotional clock. For the purpose of convenience, let me divide this into three time zones when babies are usually had: the 20s, the 30s, the 40s. The inbetweeners get the worst deal. And ironically, this is the time when most women are choosing to have kids- the early thirties.

The flip side to this is: women who have their kids in their twenties actually have a shot at getting their life back in their forties. On the contrary, women who have kids late have been there, done that, hopefully ticked off some items on their bucket list by the time the child comes along.

But no matter how much you factor in and how ready you are with a plan C, D and Z, a baby is one thing that will most certainly throw you off the loop and leave you wondering: is this what I bargained for? And worse, you will use your situation to feel that sense of entitlement because others did it to you and you will never forgive them.

Motherhood is the most irreversible thing that can ever happen to you. And yet it is the one thing that is the least thought through. Most women end up having babies either when it’s too early for them to actually evaluate what’s happening, or too late for them to have the luxury of thinking it through.

I can’t really tell you when you are ready for motherhood but I can take a good guess at when you are not:

  1. You are not ready because you have a stable job you love: The job will be the most difficult thing to navigate post baby, because it will always demand a rational side of you that will often run in short supply. Plus there will be more able, less baggage workers dying to take your place when you are busy planning night feeds.
  2. You are not ready because you have a willing partner: Once the sperm contribution has been made, partners often tend to run out the door and invent meetings and difficult work projects that keep them as far away from home as possible. If this is non-negotiable, you need to have that talk before you jump into sex on ovulation days.
  3. You are not ready if you think having kids is fulfilling. Or noble. You are better off winning medals at sport or cracking sales targets. There is nothing fulfilling about never knowing if you are good enough.
  4. You are not ready if you think having a child will take your marriage to another level: On the contrary, this will be the most trying time of your marriage, but no one will tell you that because reproduction just means more companies can sell you more things for the rest of your life. And there is a lot of money to be made.
  5. You are not ready because the child has two sets of grandparents intact: After the initial photo-opps, most grandparents are difficult to sustain as a constant presence in the child’s life and involve careful engineering or emotional blackmail of the highest kind.
  6. You are not ready because all your friends have babies: There is no guarantee that their babies will be willing play-dates or holiday-worthy. Or that you still like them.
  7. You are not ready because you have had a cat. Cats do not ask you to read the same book 19 times.
  8. You are not ready because you were a really good baby sitter for your friends: There is always an exit plan for other people’s kids. None for your own.
  9. You are not ready because you like children: Children as playmates and amusement devices and children as things to care for 24X7X365 are very different things.
  10. You are not ready because you have enough money: It is never enough. Remember the black hole?
  11. You will never feel grown-up enough to know what to do, be a role model, give hope and direction to a small innocent child who will never tire of questions.
  12. You are not ready because you have a stable marriage: There is no such thing.

I find the whole process of “waiting until you’re ready” to be a ridiculous idea, because it’s based on the premise that one can actually “prepare” for parenthood. It’s a baby. It’s as unpredictable as you are.

So where is this going? My two bits: You are truly ready for a baby when you are truly ready for yourself. Because the extremes of who you are and what you can or cannot endure fully sink in post motherhood. And it is not always a happy place to visit, because you never know what you are going to find out. But if you really want to have a child, you are as ready as you will ever be.

(A version of this post previously appeared in the White Swan foundation for Mental Health website here)

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Two pink lines too late

2pinklinesBY LAKSHMI IYER

I remember the evening. I remember the lights and sounds muffled, trickling upstairs through the gaps in the doors. I remember the dust, the tendrils of hair coiled at the corner. I remember the smell of the clothes, damp and piled in the laundry basket in the corner. But, most of all I remember the utter lack of feeling.

I remember later when I shared the news with family and friends, they would ask, wide eyed and eager: “How did you feel?”

I was standing by the stove one early morning when it happened, a wave of dizziness. I felt the earth give away, the recessed lights swim before my eyes, a darkness envelop me before it was gone and I was back on solid ground again. I blinked. I looked around. Nothing had changed. The stir-fry in front of me sizzled and crackled giving off a delicious aroma.

I stood in front of my vanity, ready for my shower. Mirrors do not lie, I told myself as I looked at my reflection. Ten pounds, which is what I had as a return gift from my niece’s first birthday just a month ago on the west coast. I looked at the scale which stood a mute witness to all of the emotions raging within me. Water weight I concluded as I realized I was due to start my period. I took one last look at my bare torso and wished for just a minute that it was the body of a pregnant woman before I stepped into the shower.

Two days later, the app reminded me I was four days late. Slowly, uneasily, reminders of a past that I had boxed and put away surfaced. The hyper awakened state in which I functioned as each period neared. I remembered the methodical way in which my mind filed away each twinge, each pain as a potential symptom. I also remembered the deliberate nature of each minute, each hour ticking away to the next period or a baby.  Twelve years since I married my husband. Nine years spent ruing my fertility. Four years spent raising children who came to me from another mother. I should have this pat by now.

I was a week late. I broached the subject with my husband. He scoffed at the idea. I felt hurt. I looked back on my history. Three IUIs, One injectable cycle, Two IVFs, I would have scoffed too. I let the hurt slide and hauled my PMSing self to bed. I lay there, in the semi darkness, every sound amplified. The room felt suspended in the middle of nowhere, timeless and claustrophobic at the same moment. I tossed and turned. I was not sure what I was afraid of. Was it the possibility I could be pregnant? Was it that the test would be negative and I will have to go back to figuring out what was making me late?

The sounds from the TV filtered upstairs. The twins were giggling along. The husband was cleaning the house. On an impulse I slid out of bed, pulled a jean and tee and strode out of the house saying I needed a break. Not waiting to hear the reply, I pulled the Prius out of the garage and drove out into the sunlight. The dashboard read 4:00 PM.

4:25 PM. I am home, in the bathroom. My fingers tremble as I tear open the package. I sit down to steady myself. I find a cup and dropper from the supplies closet. I take a deep breath and do the deed. I set the test on the floor, and set a timer on my phone. And I watch.

I watch as the liquid travels along the strip. I see it move past the control line. I see the second line in the wet zone. I wait. My mind is spinning with possibilities. The control turns deep pink. Each second seems like eternity. A ghost of a line appears on the second. I am looking, but not seeing. I stare at the test till the timer goes off.

In that window is a line. Not the dark line that would put an end to the misery but a ghost of a pink line, shimmering and swaying till there are dots in my eyes. I look because I cannot turn away. I cannot think. I cannot move. After what seems eternity, I pull my clothes on, wash my hands and walk downstairs. The TV sounds louder. The sunlight seems harsh. The dust motes are swarming in the air in a band of sunlight streaming in from the top windows. Everything looks magnified

I am too overcome by the implications of what I have seen to function. As if on autopilot, I pack the test away, remembering to take a picture for posterity. I wash my hands again and walk downstairs to the world I know and I am comfortable in.

Numb, Empty, Scared and Afraid.

About the author:

Lakshmi Iyer is mom to three, an open adoption advocate and a blogger. She resides on the East Coast of U.S.A with her husband and three daughters. On most days, she can be found by the stove serving up hot food. When she is not cooking, she recounts the mundane-ness of her life in startling detail on her blog Saying it aloud!. She also blogs occasionally for The Huffington Post. She is on Twitter as @lakshgiri.

Marissa Mayer’s maternity leave is her problem. Choosing her as a role model is yours.

Marissa Mayer

So Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo announced (yet again) that she was taking limited time off for the birth of her twin girls in December. “Limited time” here refers to two weeks. Yes, you heard right.

Depending on where you are in the spectrum of mothers, babies, careers and work-life balance, this is either a complete blow or totally motivating. This is also incongruous at a time when companies like Flipkart in India have just started warming up to extending maternity leave

I have been hearing a lot of “how dare she?” and “what does this mean for mothers?” and “how can she set a precedent?” and other such outcries on social media and it’s amusing that history has repeated itself so soon. The reactions were not very different three years ago, and I had responded here to Mayer’s first micro maternity leave announcement.

A few months later, in a lean-in blog post, Mayer explained the circumstances surrounding her decision:

After 13 years of really hard work at Google, I had been envisioning a glorious six-month maternity leave. However, if I took the new job, a long leave couldn’t happen. The responsibilities were too big, and time was of the essence—it just wouldn’t be fair to the company, the employees, the board, or the shareholders for me to be in the role, but out for an extended period of time.’

Soon after that, she issued an internal memo to her employees on introducing a ban on working from home. Needless to say, the memo sparked a debate on whether remote working leads to greater productivity and job satisfaction or kills creativity and is just a chance to slack off.

Is this the same woman? Doesn’t this sound dichotomous?

But then, motherhood is the biggest dichotomy anyway. There are ways and ways of negotiating it and there is no right or wrong about any of them. There are those like my mother who get on with it, leaving the baby with family and formula (those were the glorious joint family days). She was a school teacher, so her hours were good. She loved her job and retired from the same school 36 years later. There are others who do daycare, nannies, grandparents, or a combination thereof, depending on what their sanity or salary can afford. There are those, who like me, decide that jobs can be got back, but baby time can’t, and plunge into full-time baby care.

If you do the former, you are often looked at sceptically as someone who chose career over motherhood, money over emotional bonding, bottle over breast. If you choose the latter, you are looked upon as someone who was using motherhood as an excuse to sit at home and ‘do nothing’, who is an emotional sucker waiting to be manipulated by her child, who wanted out of the rat race and has found her way.

Not that quitting work is an option for most women – you need a partner who is willing to put the bread on the table, sometimes jam and cheese too, for an indefinite period of time, while you play primary caregiver to the baby.

So damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Your reasons for going back could be as compelling as your reasons for staying at home. Money, of course is the biggest reason, considering that two incomes are better than one, now that there is an additional member in the family.

What about caregiving to the newborns, you may ask. It’s evident that Mayer won’t be breastfeeding her twins (most of the times, twins are not breastfed anyway as there is never enough milk). It’s silly to even ask if she has support because she can afford the entire daycare industry. She can build one right next door to Yahoo if she so chooses.

And why is no one questioning her husband’s paternity leave? Isn’t that equally important in a power couple scenario? Why is he not being judged for that?

It strikes me as odd that we are discussing Marissa Mayer only when it comes to her maternity leave, and never for the work she does (which must be a lot, as Yahoo! CEO). And that, I think is a greater crime against feminism than questioning the signs she is sending out, coming to work two weeks after popping twins.

If she joined Yahoo as CEO when she was 28 weeks pregnant, her game is clearly different from millions of other mommies. So why judge her for playing what is clearly not every woman’s game?

Of course, the US has a dismal maternity leave policy and surely the law in the country should be strengthened to guarantee paid parental leave. But the jury on when is it okay for mothers to return to work post-childbirth is still out there. I would certainly judge her if she applied the same rules to her employees, but she hasn’t done that yet, has she? In fact she has changed maternity leave policies and granted eight weeks or more of paid maternity leave.

The point is, none of you is Marissa Mayer, and so your motivations will never be same as hers; her stakes are very different from yours. She signed up to be the CEO of Yahoo, not a maternity leave role model; she is only doing what it takes to keep her equity as a CEO intact. If she has decided that much rides on her FaceTime with the investors of a much crumbling Yahoo, that is her strategy. It need not be yours.

Marissa Mayer is not asking you to give up your maternity leave for your career. If that’s what you are reading as a subtext of her decision, that is clearly your problem, not hers.

(A version of this post appeared in indusparent.com)

(image courtesy: glamour.com)

Babies in the time of Flipkart

Every day, on social media and often, in real life, I interact with several mothers, thanks to my blog and columns on parenting. Most of them are clever, bright, funny, passionate, feminist, zesty, have very clear views on politics and the economy, know their films, know their books, know their children and are hugely resourceful and enterprising. A few have real ‘jobs’, but most are winging it as food bloggers, book reviewers, children’s activity conductors, dress designers, script writers, home bakers, freelance journalists, trainers and teachers.

At some point, all of them had formal jobs, jobs they were good at, jobs they tried hard to keep, but sooner or later, gave up, in pursuit of work-life balance (read: raising children). I am sure they all gave their best shot at having it all, before they redefined their ‘all’.

Six years into motherhood, one attempt at going back to the race (when my child was 4), one attempt at running away to a hill with my child to teach in a school (so I have daycare sorted), and I am still figuring out how to wing it.

The question always is: What if?

What if all these women, me included, had employers who were empathetic about their post-child status, what if their HR departments had policies that were more flexible, what if they all had access to the most phenomenal day care. Would they still be doing what they are doing?

I had heard, of course, that a few corporates, IT companies, banks and NGOs were sympathetic to this transition and did offer extended leave, sabbaticals, flexitime options, consultancy options and even day-care facilities. But by and large, women had come to terms with the fact that there were compromises post baby and putting career on hold is probably one of them.

One mother I knew, who quit her job as COO of a bank soon after the baby, was magnanimous enough to say that she didn’t expect the organisation to make those compromises for her, nor did she expect to be paid for having a child. I was shocked at the lack of dissent.

Yes, there was a murmur about ‘working from home’, but I had to yet see a respectable organization putting it into practice or paying fairly for it. ‘Flexitime’ was a euphemism for ‘this job is so dull, you may want to throw up’.

Through Talking Tours, a Times of India initiative to get women back to the ramp, I travelled a great deal in 2013-14, meeting hundreds of women from various cities in India, who had been derailed from the workplace because of babydom. Every single one of them cited harsh company policies that eventually shafted them from the workplace.

Enter Flipkart.

This online retailer announced on Monday that it will now offer six months paid leave plus four months of flexible working option with pay to mothers. Above this, it is also offering an extended maternity leave of up to 1 year of career break without pay, after which they can return to available jobs at that point of time.

Among other benefits that are also a part of the new package, women get a transport reimbursement benefit of Rs 600 per day during the last two months of pregnancy. Women are also entitled to a reserved parking slot for 2 months before and after child delivery. Flipkart is also working on a proposal to pay 50% of day care charges at high-standard facilities for children up to 4 years of age.

Is this for real? Where were they when I could have used them?

The Indian Labour Law prescribes a compulsory paid maternity leave of twelve weeks to all female employees. No company is liable to offer anything more. In this context, Flipkart’s move is unprecedented. “Flipkart needs to be able to attract more women talent,” Deepali Tamhane, senior director, product management, said in an interaction with the media, explaining the announcement.

Good on you, I wanted to cheer from the wings.

Others were soon to follow. Samsung electronics which has a 42 % female work force, has plans to allow female workers two years’ paid maternity leave as opposed to one that they currently offer. The move was an effort to support prospective moms, as a Samsung official said on Sunday.

Earlier in March this year, Vodafone offered global maternity equality. Their new policy includes a minimum of 16 weeks fully-paid maternity leave. It was a strategic move to cut the costs incurred when women employees leave to have children. “There are a lot of hidden costs when you lose women to maternity: retraining, recruiting, business disruption,” said Sharon Doherty, the group’s Organisation and People Development Director, who developed the policy.

Virgin Atlantic went further: new dads will be given up to a year’s paternity leave on full salary as part of a new policy unveiled by Richard Branson.

Nice, I thought. It’s time we noticed that fathers make babies too.

In January, You Tube CEO Susan Wojcicki – who believes that maternity leave is good for mothers, babies and business – announced an 18-week fully-paid maternity leave policy. Mothers, she believes, come back to the workforce with newer insights post a longer break.

But elsewhere, companies still have an all-or-none policy and are largely unwilling to negotiate working terms for a new mother. I know several women who were forced to quit as a result of this. It is as though organisations do not want to acknowledge the logistics that comes with motherhood; it is treated as a sort of exotic inconvenience and they would rather you deal with it separately from work.

Just before I went on maternity leave at one of India’s largest media houses where I had been working for three and a half years, I had a glimpse into my future at work. A new mommy returned after her three-month maternity leave, hoping to get an extension. She was in for a rude shock when she was told that it wouldn’t be possible, neither was flexitime an option. It was all or none. Since she was still in her postpartum melancholia, and hadn’t yet figured out baby-care and other such, she did the first thing that came to her mind – she quit. Two months later, the same thing happened to another mom.

We don’t want to set a precedent,’ both were told, although the nature of their jobs could have easily allowed flexitime. It conjured up images of all the women in the organisation thronging to claim maternity perks.

How a company with a fifty percent female workforce had no contingency plan for new mothers was difficult to digest. Like it was some natural calamity they were totally unprepared for. No matter how resilient you are, most women are in shock at the callousness at work on returning from their maternity leave. In several subtle and not-so-subtle ways, being pregnant at the workplace seems to indicate that you no longer ‘count’, that you are now just someone who is ‘passing through’, that you may or may not continue working, that you might be ‘too preoccupied with baby thoughts’ to focus on your career. What you don’t realise is that right from the time you were pregnant, the tone for your eventual marginalisation has been set.

Incidentally, when I returned from my 12-week maternity leave, I was at first shocked, and then relieved to find out that I had been transferred from a pivotal role with one section of the paper to a not-so-pivotal one in another section, a fact told to me rather casually on the phone by the HR department a few days before resuming work. My new boss was clearly not happy to see me; evidently she had no say in the matter of my transfer. ‘So why did you opt for this section?’ she asked.

‘I didn’t,’ I said. ‘I wasn’t asked, I was told.’

It was not a great way to begin.

She asked me nothing about the baby, how I was doing, or coping. Instead, she said, ‘I actually thought you wouldn’t come back. I stayed home for eight years after my daughter was born. Do you really need the job?’

It was not the greatest welcome back line, but I swallowed it.

Six months later, I quit.

Antara, a friend of mine pointed out that by spending time rearing her child, a mother is actually contributing to the country’s GDP, because it is these children who will add to the productivity of the nation. Turns out my company didn’t get the memo on this.

KPMG recently did a study about the positive economic impact of giving more maternity benefits. According to them, the costs of a more generous maternity provision were outweighed by the costs of replacing women leaving the workforce. I used to often wonder why couldn’t companies factor in motherhood when hiring women and have policies laid down so that it’s not a case-to-case negotiation with one’s superior? Why can’t pregnancy and motherhood be treated as a natural phase of a working woman’s life? It’s not like having a child is a sort of hobby or incurable disease the woman has suddenly developed.

Things are looking brighter with all these announcements and I do hope it makes smart, successful women reconsider their position vis-à-vis having children.

My friend Rebecca and I were having a chat a few weeks ago about babies. She is 32, has been married for 8 years and the pressure to have a baby is high. But she is in a great place in her life, having just taken up an entrepreneurial venture and flying high with it. From being the eager one in the duo to have a baby, she is now unsure and turned to me for advice. I found myself telling her, “First, you have to find a really sexy way to stay relevant. And it can’t be cupcakes.”

Now, it seems, there is Flipkart.

(A version of this post appeared on catchnews.com)

 

Dad bods and other things that make this mommy-not-go-lightly

I am wary of hanging out in high estrogen networks, especially those predominated by women chiefly talking about motherhood. Because when I do, I am usually close to busting a capillary somewhere (usually my head). One thing that always gets my goat is gratitude. To their husbands. The fathers of their children. For just showing up occasionally.

I met a friend after a decade (during which she had got married and produced a child) and five minutes into the conversation, she explained how she could be out on a Sunday, because her husband “does everything for the kid” once a week.

Another friend, recently separated, shared that her (ex) husband “looks after” their child thrice a week and “manages everything”. In her voice I sensed an irony in the fact that the separation actually taught him a few things about fatherhood.

I have friends who hand their husbands the hands-on tag with such generosity, even for something as miniscule as changing one diaper a day or giving the baby a burp a day for a fleeting three weeks. Or being able to order takeaway dinner.

May be times have regressed. Or perhaps my parents were really ahead of their time without even knowing it. Because I never saw gratitude in my mother for my father when it came to childcare. I don’t think it struck my father to even expect it. Things got done, and it didn’t matter which gender did it.

So I don’t see why men get points just for showing up. And why women glorify their existence for the rest of their life by reminding themselves that they have the “biggest job in the whole world”.

First, it’s not a job, because in a job, you get paid, there are perks, and if you do well, you get promoted. It is at best, the biggest voluntary service program. And which is why men don’t apply for the job, because they know it doesn’t do anything for their résumé. And women spend the rest of their lives in angst, clutching their babies like they were their consolation prize.

It was bad timing that in the same week, I was asked by a newspaper to give my two bits on Kate’s post baby body. The sad thing is, women measure their birth victories by how soon they are able to get back into their old clothes or do what they used to do before they were pregnant (which could include smoking, drinking, clubbing till 4 a.m., or just going for a run on the beach, getting into their favorite bikini, whatever). They also measure it by how soon they can be ‘seen’ out there post birth. Technically, these benchmarks have been set by women for other women, which is a bit messed up, because we are trained to embrace the sisterhood and all that.

But the longer a woman takes to come out ‘in the open’, the faster she gets labeled a loser. Any woman will feel more jubilant if she shows no outward signs of having produced a child – protruding belly, dark circles, fat arms, sagging breasts. Or someone tells her, ‘Gosh, you look just the same as before!’ If she looks better than fellow singletons, great! If she can still score, even better! Every woman is measured by her ability to get ‘up and about’ in record time. I had so much to say about this that it took up a few chapters in my book.

I still can’t get over the brutal dissection of Aishwarya Rai’s post baby body, and now, Kate Middleton for the second time. And it seems most of the world doesn’t know that the tummy doesn’t shrink back like a spring post childbirth and was amused to spot a bump on Kate, as she came out, otherwise flawless, immaculate hair and makeup, waving breezily at the world, 12 hours post birth.

It was even worse that in the same week, there was much media (read twitter) attention to dad bods. Ridiculous as it might sound, it’s a trend worldwide which celebrates ‘flabby dad bods’ while women with ‘mom bods’ are pressured to maintain flawless physiques.So yes, the poor fathers’ lives have already been affected so much since childbirth, all they needed to assuage their grief was for us to be kinder to their bods (read junk food and beer bellies) post baby. So now, I’m supposed to look at Prince William and Abhishek Bachchan’s bodies with new eyes? And applaud Aishwarya for finally getting Vogue-cover-worthy? This is beyond pathetic.

What’s most ironic about this so-called “dad bod” is that his flabby trunk is further embellishment to his fatherhood resume. A man who can boast a “dad bod” is a man who doesn’t waste time on such frivolous matters such as working out every night. Of course not, he’s too busy being a provider and taking care of his family, and managing everything worldly and wise, thanks very much.

In the meantime, women all over the world are protesting the “Dad bod” phenomenon, hoping that it will open the doors for “Mom bods” in the same way. It won’t. Because mothers never get points just for showing up. And “Mom bods” will always be viewed as something in transition, a work in progress, a person waiting to redeem herself.

 

(A version of this post appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 18th May, 2015)

How a daddy met his nurture side and loved it

BY NITIN PUJAR

Women who give birth have often ranted about the physical and mind-numbing body changes that they endure during the conception and postpartum processes. They own this kind of physicality of process that they thumb all males down with and, of course, never let their men forget for the rest of their life.

And I have seen all sorts of women personas go through this: the quiet pregnant woman who is nothing more than slightly plump through her ten month process of being mollycoddled by everyone around her, to the glaring ‘the-world-is-so-unfair’ working woman who is a shrieking banshee at work as well as home through her pregnant months..

One thing is common to all women who are pregnant: the presumption that men do not, will not and cannot understand what they are going through. And yes, that is physically true. But what is not true is that they don’t go through their own sets of peeves, fears and personality swings through this process.

I was suitably abused for not understanding anything about anything, for the entire nine months by my daughter’s mother while she was being tracked through a series of doctor visits in the womb. The doctors, some male and a couple of delightful females, kept looking at me quizzically as I seemed chilled and question-less while I interjected with nods and paper napkins when they were reached out for. I was asked by the mother of my daughter to read up tomes of day-by-day pregnancy symptoms and indicators and told the books were written for the Americans and so were irrelevant. The doctors had the ‘eyes rolled up’ look of having to deal with the over-involved couple, all the time. Though to be fair, I said very little.

The mother of the mother, both in-law and out-law, would call in and ask inane questions about their daughter’s (in-law and out-law) eating habits and so on and proffer advise to me about what their daughter should be drinking or such. All this was of course followed by the wife asking me what they said and then, being told in turn about how they don’t know anything. See? Makes sense, right?

My clients, my work and my life in general had ceased to be meaningful to my wife or should I say irrelevant. Which was fine because they all understood what it meant to be in the generic thankless process of being ‘becoming’ a father. They sympathized, or in most cases if they were men, did not even ask about it or talk about it.

‘Lamaze’ or something (laa-maaz) classes were paid for and thankfully not attended due to the fact that they were inconveniently timed for the wife (who worked till the last possible day ). Some sensitive friend of hers had done them with their respective loving wife and so we had to pay and forget about it and never mention it, ever. (“Never, ever”..like Arnab Goswami famously says).

Then there was that last minute panic outside the labour room of the Christian missionary-run hospital which forbade me from entering the labour room!! This is where the macho, male assertion that one will be there with the wife even if one were to be jailed for it, worked. Not that my wife noticed or has even spoken of it ever after.

Yes, it was horror inducing to see all the animal reality of mammalian birthing and the equally horrifying cutting and suturing and casual mayhem of a surgical labour room. In the middle of the timing the breathing I asked my wife “Shucks, what if it’s a boy? I have not thought of a name!!” She just looked at me with her cold stare and shrieked, “You are supposed to help me push, not ask me questions!”

And then of course, the moment when the tall woman who is now my teen daughter came into the world with nary a whimper, but a happy cough and sniffle, I was all relived that I did not have to think of a name. But what I was never prepared for was the stunning sense of nurture that washed over all my senses as I was given this tiny bundle of helplessness to hold. It is a trip that was never experienced before and never ever after. It is a physical, chemical and mental zoning out that makes for a whole lifetime of waiting.

 

About the author:

Nitin Pujar enjoys the never ending luxury of being curious about all of the women in his life, while trying to decipher them, knowing he can never do so.

The Politics of Thin

I used to be thin. Like, stick-insect thin. This was before stick insects became fashionable.

My mother asked me when I was 14 if I had grown breasts. Fact is, they were more like insect bites, but I was too proud to tell the truth. I said yes. She promptly went and got me a bra. It was a dream come true. Me? Bra? Finally!

Yes, it bothered me that I was 14 and still no boobs! But then, I knew all the answers in class. I always put my hand up when the teacher asked a question. I had good handwriting. I aced composition writing.

I thought that would get me the boys.

Wrong.

The bra didn’t feel as great as they said it would. For the most part, I was just fidgety and adjusting. I felt like I had to stop the bra from overriding my non-existent boobs and so it was all clumsy. It still is, actually, but I seem to have developed a nonchalance about it.

I reckon Amma was a bit worried that I still hadn’t got my periods. I wondered too, because every other day some girl in my class would stain and they would all whisk her away as if it was some kind of conspiracy they didn’t want me in on. I longed for the day when I would stain and be whisked away. It never came. Instead, I got my first period when I was at home, studying for my class 10 board exams. There was no audience, no one to high-five. I hated it. I had just turned into a woman and there was nobody I could scream it to? So I jumped in front of the mirror… and that didn’t go very well.

I told Amma when she returned from work and she just heaved a sigh of relief, like I had checked a huge box.

The boobs took their time, but one day I was a proud 32B. Along the way, I dated wrong guys, underwire bras and several wrong shampoos, met my hair, grew an ass, and realized it looked great in shorts.

I moved from a 24 waist to a 26, which was a more womanly size, I thought. I had moved from thin to voluptuous. It was a shift, but I didn’t mind it.

32B cups and size-26 jeans were my best friends for years. Size zero still wasn’t in yet, so I basked in my glory. I had good limbs, a décolletage when I needed one, my ass was as perky as ever and there was no dearth of sales I went to and the clothes I bought. “Extra Small”, I’d proudly announce even as the sales girl tried to hand me a Small. I was the size to envy. I bought tiny little skirts, boots, ultra short shorts in which I could flaunt my bronze legs, singlets and tank tops that revealed my bone structure, LBDs and the gang. I was the girl who would float in someone else’s clothes every time I had a sleepover, and I could never got enough of, “Oh god, how tiny are you?”

I always thought the only way to be was tiny or big, but never in between. I liked big girls. They had so much gravitas. They filled chairs, they made you make room for them, they never sucked their stomach in, they looked so cool when they smoked and they could really carry off jewelry. When I grew up, I wanted to be big, I thought. Never medium. Medium was nothing. Medium was neither here nor there. Medium had no personality, no gravitas, no backstory.

Cut to pregnancy, motherhood, nursing and more boobs. I added on 15 kilos and dropped them in the next six months post-delivery. I was back in my size 28 jeans. What post-baby body were they talking about?

Losers, I thought.

They hated me for it. Like they hated me for getting pregnant when I was 40.

May be it was voodoo, but three years post-baby, I was somehow something of a blob. When I last checked, my rib cage, waist and hips were the same dimension as each other. I am square. I’m Rani Mukherji, I thought. I always wonder why women are so delighted when someone else puts on weight and not them. Is it because you have just lowered the bar for them? Is it because it gives them someone else to point a finger at to deem: Work in Progress? I also find the same delight on women’s faces when hot girl ends up with not-so-hot guy.

It was official. I had moved from XS to S to M.

This is it, I thought. This is the beginning of the end. I am Medium. I am nothing.

I stopped buying anything that had a waist (including jeans) because I didn’t have one anymore. Empire line dresses and leggings never said no, no matter how much I grew. I passionately embraced them. Maxis were the new me.

And then I found saris. I always loved their drape and how they could do as much or as little as you wanted. I had quite a few that I had stacked up in a trunk (in my youthful body phase that was all about flaunting limbs, the poor sari had taken a backseat). There they were, inviting me to start all over again.

photo(9)I found new joy in blouses. Funky, psychedelic, elegant, elaborate—I bought any fabric I liked and imagined it as a blouse. Sometimes I mixed them up and gave them totally new identities. I serial-dated tailors till I found the right guy. It never bothered me when a blouse didn’t have a sari to flirt with. If the blouse rocks, the sari will find its way, I thought. And it did. Friends were suddenly gifting me saris, I became a hand-me-down mascot. Each time I visited my mother, an old sari beckoned me. My measurements are locked up in a nice little book with my tailor. He doesn’t judge me. He never will.

2014iphone 010In an age where relationships are as old as Facebook accounts, perhaps no one will now remember that I had a thin past. But thin is not a mother’s best friend. Thin is not inclusive. Thin is not “Moms Like Us”. Thin is what people who ‘got stuff done’ were.

My mother recently told me I’ve never looked healthier in my life. I read this as: This is the fattest I’ve ever looked. It’s a bit depressing to know that your mother thinks you were all wrong for most of your life. But I still smiled.

When men ask me if I’ve put on weight, I say, “I gave birth. What’s your excuse?”

When I go clubbing or am invited for cocktails, I don’t think sexy anymore. I think comfy, snug, no-bra, something in which I don’t have to fidget too much, fabric that flaunts the nice bits and camouflages the not-so flattering bits. I still have legs. Although I’m yet to fathom what has happened to the rest of my body. The last time I wore an LBD, my Facebook profile picture got 120 likes. “Hot mamma!” one said. No one noticed that it was very clever dressing. (Should have bought it in other colors too, I thought). People still want to believe in the idea of thin-me.

photo(13)I don’t have aspirational jeans in my closet waiting to motivate me. If I don’t fit into them, someone else will. I have regular hand-me-down dates with women who still have the body for clothes I once had a body for. Surprisingly, it makes me happy to see them in clothes that once fit me so well. I’m also happy to take clothes from big girls who are happy to see their small clothes on me.

Medium is a whole new ecosystem for me. I have gathered enough equanimity to glide over the politics of thin and pretend I have left the room. I have made my peace with my contours or the lack thereof. I have stopped treating my body like a Work in Progress. I might have occasional flings with Spanx, but Spanx will never be someone who can move into my life. Thin is past tense and I’m happy to let it stay that way. The boobs and ass are here to stay, and so are the pelvic wattle and the thick waist.

But the last time I went to a store and wanted to try something, and the lady assistant said, “Wait, this is Large. I will get you Medium,” I was grateful. Ever. So. Grateful.

(I originally wrote this post for theladiesfinger.com)