Mother’s Day and what I think it should be

Dipsy and her baby in the bath

Dipsy and her baby in the bath

A few weeks back, our teletubby, Dipsy had a baby. Now Dipsy was gifted to Re by my dear friend Roshni and has been with us for five years, and is still one of the most cared-for dolls we have. This little one was a gift from Sahajo, one of my students at the school I taught for a year, to Re, and was a tinier version of Dipsy.

Re immediately had to make sense of it and pronounced that Dipsy had a baby now. From then on, mother and baby were inseparable. Wherever Dipsy went, her baby went. They bathed together, they slept together, they ate together, they played together. They were a unit.

Hmmm, I thought, as I went into flashback mode of my first few years of being a mom. This is the real deal, isn’t it? You and your baby are a unit.  You are stuck, and sometimes, not in a nice way. Dipsy’s life will now revolve around her baby and her baby will have to be factored in, whatever she wishes to do from now on.

Re seemed to read my mind. The next day, Dipsy was promptly sent off to ‘a party’ as a part of a skit that he put together ( and there are several of those, as he is a single child) . He asked Dipsy to leave as he took her baby to the pool and assured her that he will look after her. Dipsy was free! She had a life!

It was liberating to have a child like him who believed in setting his mother free. Perhaps he knew that as long as his circle of love was still intact and the rest of the family made him feel secure, mamma could also do the things she wanted to every once in a while. Things that may not involve him.

Last week, I was Dipsy. I’ve been away in Srilanka. On a holiday. Alone. When I say “alone”, people still roll their eyes. It’s as though I have vetoed the power of making decisions for myself, and myself alone, once I became a mother. It’s as though not having my child with me on holiday is an unpardonable offense. And the strange thing is, he is with me, in the armadillos I spot, in the shells I collect, in the things I think he would have said.

Finding me in Cape Weligama, Srilanka

Finding me in Cape Weligama, Srilanka

I found some of my thoughts voiced in Radhika Vaz’s stand up act that I attended in Mumbai a few weeks ago. Titled “Older, angrier, hairier”,  she spoke, among other things, on how womanhood is defined by body image, marriage and babies and how your rites of passage are constantly chalked out by other people. She spoke to me, especially in how women are constantly reconfiguring their lives to fit into either their men’s or their children’s lives. I have done this, I thought, but at least I know it.

Ironically, I received three requests to write for Mother’s Day specials during this week. One wanted me to write a light, frothy piece on the cool and liberated mom. Another wanted me to tell mothers how to be cool. A third wanted a list of things one can do to celebrate mother’s day. I turned all of them down.

Because to me, this is what Mother’s Day should be all about. To have the power to say no. To, every once in a while, make yourself a priority. To empower yourself and your children enough to not abuse the whole umbilical cord business. To be able to, every once in a while, access the part of you that got lost somewhere in the whole motherhood business.

It’s also about having the power to say yes. To an inner voice, a calling that leads you somewhere, and it doesn’t matter where it takes you, as long as you are willing to go. And this year is my year of ‘go’.

Because if that’s not what Mother’s Day, means to me, then it has no business to exist.

 

(This post first appeared as my column in the Pune Mirror on 27th April, 2015)

 

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Lost in Translation: Mom in Tokyo

various baby food options availableBY ALOKANANDA MUKHERJEE

Thank GOD, the parcel was out but I was scared. Dead scared that they were sending us home alone with something about which we hardly knew much. Well, I was equipped with knowledge. I knew about burping the baby, bathing her, feeding her every two hours. I had helped my friends with babies in times of need. Yet I was apprehensive on how we would fare as parents.

Postpartum pains, bowel movements, elderly advice, booby politics, a hand-me-down breast pump and a month later I came face to face with a thought that we are to leave for Japan. Good thing for my husband for sure, he had stayed in the country for three years before and was rejoining the same company, but for me not really. My settling down with the baby with ample help from the M and MIL were shattered. Sleepless nights began again. Misha was a darling. She slept all night since she was just a few days old. The “everything will be fine” husband assured again that “we will manage”, but I knew that this was probably the end of my dreams and plans.

The day came and we did move to Japan with a 3 month old Misha. The long flight went off smoothly, apart from the continuous wailing at the Yokohama station, but the feeding rooms across stations helped me pacify her and here began my first experience of the country. She was exclusively breast fed till 6 months.

The Indian doctors had advised us to give her food jars when she was 6 months. But the “only Japanese” labels makes it difficult for us to understand, and good or not was another issue altogether. So home cooked pureed food it was. That meant more back-breaking work for me. Barely two and a half people at home and each ate a different kind of food, with too many variations. The baby had to be introduced to new flavors and a variety to top it all. Once again I went to seek the blessings of “Google baba,” and the first food for her was avocado.

I was never a tech geek. But today, Google translate is one of the most cherished tools on my phone. It even translates labels for me. The biggest concern of staying in Japan is that you hardly know what you are buying. The milk is milk because there is a cow on the cartoon. And if you want to know what percentage of fat it has, may god help you.
Having said that language is a big constraint, Japanese are very helpful and polite people. All babies are required to register at the block office and treatments along with vaccinations for babies are free. The baby record book is detailed and even has a few English pages. I was overwhelmed because the lady at the ward office was using the Google translate as well, but she was translating Japanese so that I understand that in English. Then there was a search for a English speaking pediatric, which we found easily and thankfully.

Misha is a happy and hungry child. She loves the ladies in the train who usually cuddle her for her Indian features. She flashes those gummy smiles at the old women who are amused that she is “kawai”(cute) and “indie”. Maybe she misses the coochiecoo of grandmothers back home and the big Indian joint family.

I miss home too. And realize that it’s important to be thankful for whatever you have. A maid, a clean house, clean clothes and many other little things are not your birthrights. Having lived here for a few months, I have realized that there is a language of motherhood. Whenever I come across a woman who is accompanying a baby, we look at each other and smile. Maybe to say, “yes we understand”, in spite of having nothing apart from that pint size baby in common. Smile truly is the universal language that doesn’t require a Google translate.

 

About the author:

Alokananda is a dreamer and a full time mommy who thinks human babies are not too different from her kittens.

Twice over: What I’ve learnt from having two kids

BY NIDHI D. BRUCE

When they told me that it would be easier the second time around, I laughed! How could it be any easier? It isn’t like a new baby would grow up by itself – I was prepared for the challenges. Maybe that’s what was different. The first time around – I had no doubt that I would be the perfect mother. The second time over I had no doubt – there was nothing like a perfect mother.

Between the two of them I can safely say that I am the perpetual mother in training, never looking to graduate any further. Is there anything more that I have learnt and unlearnt in the seven years of being a parent and one year of being a mother of two? Yes, there is some stuff.

It is ok

 It really is. Most of the stuff that happens – nosebleeds, a temperature of 103 deg Fahrenheit, an exam paper with a dog drawn on it, and errrm even a ball point pen scratch doodle on a LED screen.

There rarely is a child who won’t fall ill or in trouble.  As grievous as the consequences may feel like – right at that moment – in the bigger picture it is just another incident. Something that the passage of time will swallow.

Last week, while clearing papers from my desk, I found a doctor’s diagnosis of viral conjunctivitis for my son. The note was dated Oct ’14. And for the life of me I cannot remember the time when he had conjunctivitis. I am sure it must have been earth shatteringly scary at that point of time – but hey – it passed. And clearly, the experience has not left me permanently scarred for life!

A new normal

 If life ever teaches you how to embrace a normal curve – it is after making you a parent. There is a lot that your kid will do that the world considers normal – and you will heave a sigh of relief. But then your child will sometimes decide not to conform. She will decide that talking in words is not worth her while, till she turns three. Whoever said that humans walk before they are eighteen months old? Where is it mandated that the right hand is the hand to use?

Bringing up baby will make you uncomfortable. It will find you second-guessing yourself and your decisions all the time. Well meaning strangers will aid in the process. Your child will not care. And neither should you.

All the examples I cited above? That’s my kids. They march to their own drummer. For years, my daughter would not talk more than a few words. She was a happy, energetic child otherwise. I fretted and prayed, cried and consulted specialists. Then of course, she slowly started talking and I lost track of my fretting. When my son didn’t walk till 12..13..14….17 months people bombarded me with questions and explanations. Now that the kid is running amok all over the place, I’d like to ask all those people to come and babysit.

She is not you

The very minute a child pops out – the ‘kiske jaise dikhta hai’ game begins. I have great admiration for people who can trace genealogies from a scrunched up, waxy ball of pink – which is essentially what a newborn baby is. There will be long discussions and disagreements about whose eyebrows the child has inherited. And if, a mole on the toe indicates a saint or a world-conquerer.

All these are harmless games that one must abide with. But there is also the nagging doubt within all of us: that, we may have somehow bequeathed our kids traits that we do not like in ourselves.

My daughter just has to be a little withdrawn in a social setting and I fret: Is she like me? All childhood memories of feeling distinctly uncomfortable in large groups come rushing in. I would go and sulk in a room, preferably under a bed.  Sometimes my daughter does that too – and my heart breaks. But then there is so much to her that is not me. Of course, she is not me. She is She – and I have to let her be. At least I know now, that all that she wants when hiding under the bed is some quiet and maybe a cuddle later.

Days are long

..but years are short. This is especially true in the early years. There will be unending chores, illnesses, setbacks and endless nights stretching into long long days.  But sooner rather than later, it will all end. Those cheeks will get just a little less plump, you will no longer have sudden assaults of projectile vomiting to deal with nor will you spend the rest of your life running around with a pair of training pants.

When my daughter first came in to the hospital to see her newborn brother, she looked suddenly huge. Compared to the teensy little being that I had just given birth to, she was louder, hairier and just – oh, not such a baby anymore. My heart just despaired with the sudden realization that for six years the baby I had held so close to my heart was actually not a baby really.

She had once been a squiggly little worm just like her brother – but now she is all grown up. She has taught my husband and me a thing or two about life. Mostly how it is like to have it upended by someone shorter than my forearm.

Yes –  babies have that effect on us. They come in innocuously enough – but shake up our lives in ways that we cannot ever prepare for. Like I said in the beginning, two kids later there are some things that I have learnt – but there is a lot that I still cannot claim to know.

 

About the author:

Nidhi D. Bruce is a freelance writer. She writes about parenting, lifestyle, travel, trends and insights. She lives in Mumbai with her husband and two kids, who depend on her for all their daily machinations – or so she would like to believe! Find her at winparenting.com or @TypeWriterMom 

Lost and found in motherhood

Last week, I went to visit my mother with Re. Once there, he told me he wanted to stay on for a hundred days.

I did a quick mental somersault and tried not to look excited. I was already plotting what to do for the next 100 hours. This sounded like a dream come true. I was going to be child-free for the next few days (hopefully). I was finally going to be a girl alone! Was this for real?

I made a hasty exit from my mother’s house before he changed his mind. I was not even careful to conceal my excitement. I have never driven so fast in my life. I was high on freedom. I couldn’t wait to spend the rest of the week with me!

First, I went on a sleep overdrive. I never realised I was such a deep sleeper until this week. I didn’t even know I missed sleep so much. I didn’t know that given a chance, I could dream in the afternoons too.

You are told you will lose a part of yourself when you become a mother. So you lose yourself. Then you are told you probably won’t be able to do all the things you’re used to doing. So you stop all the things you had fun doing, things that defined you, that made you you. You are told you will be transformed by this experience in ways you could never imagine and no one could ever accurately describe to you. You start looking for your halo. A few years later, you find there is none. It was never meant to be. And there are no motherhood rehabilitation centres. It’s as though losing yourself was just a rite of passage of becoming a mother.

I knew motherhood wouldn’t be easy, but I had no idea just how hard it would be. And sadly,  the wisdom of motherhood doesn’t came attached with a pair of ovaries. Most of us are still fumbling around, doing things by trial and error, because the books are rubbish anyway. What they call ‘instinct’ is things you figure out as you go along. Some of the changes were absolutely not okay with me but it was up to me to renegotiate my way back into the world.

The good thing was, like most things in life I could do motherhood in moderation. There were days when I felt so much love for Re that I felt I needed little else. There were days when I missed the me I was so much that I felt Re was getting in the way

I was a get up and go woman. I quit jobs, I found jobs. I quit careers, I found careers. I quit men, I found men. I always went travelling in between. Sometimes I even travelled alone.

No, even the all-encompassing love for my child never made me lose sight of the woman I was. I was constantly rearranging my life so that the self-respecting feminist, the loving mother and the ambitious writer could coexist. It was hard. It still is.

When women say motherhood changed them, the danger is that sometimes the change makes them unrecognizable. Few mothers have the time and self-love to indulge in contemplations and machinations of selfhood. Most days they play a false version of their true depleted self, keeping others at a distance, saying only what is expected from a mother: “I’m thrilled, it’s amazing, such an incredible journey, I’m loving every second of it.” I did it too. I did the blissed out new mother dance for a while, while a little bit of my selfhood got obliterated. Fortunately I was totally and completely aware of it when it was happening. I realized motherhood couldn’t complete me. Only I could.

I realised Re deserves better. He deserves the fuller, happier version of his mother. His mother, the reader. The writer. The feminist. The traveller.

Unlike most women, I am unafraid in mother-love. I don’t worry over Re growing into a teen, a man, having to make choices and mistakes, feeling confusion, anger, sorrow, regret. I don’t dread his heartbreaks. I don’t pre-mourn his future disappointments, injuries, illnesses, and setbacks.

Now, after  five years of making difficult choices, negotiating day in and day out, there is still a lot left of me. I am raring to go, write more books, write fiction, write for children, do new things with my life, travel, teach, perhaps even study. Mother-love was not enough for me to feel me. I needed more, and I went after it. That was the only way I could retain my selfhood. That’s the only way I want Re to remember me when I’m gone. Not someone who lost herself in him.

 

(This post first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 16th Feb, 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.

Doing the pregnancy math

So what does it take to get pregnant? One might think it is the easiest thing on earth, considering that at least three millions sperms enter your body during unprotected intercourse. Surely one of them should be fit enough to make a baby? But there are technicalities:
Is it the right day of the month?
Is it the right time of the day?
Are these sperms motile enough, or do they need some ‘speed’ to be able to make it?
Is there any sperm at all?
How lazy is your egg/ovary?
Okay, once the sperm and the egg have done their bit, do they have enough room/conditions to survive in your uterus? Is your uterus classic, deluxe, super-deluxe or a suite?
Are your numbers good? Haemoglobin, platelets, WBCs, amniotic fluid, sugar levels, thyroid, other hormone levels?
If you beat all the odds and still get pregnant, congratulations!

It’s simpler in the movies. All it took for a Bollywood heroine of yore to get pregnant was a stormy, rainy night, a fireplace, a man and a song. I always wondered: How is it that sexual intercourse (even if it was the first time) always happened in her ovulation window, her most fertile time of the month? How is it that the hero never suffered from lazy sperm syndrome? Or she, a lazy egg?

(The above is an excerpt from my book  “I’m Pregnant, Not Terminally Ill, You Idiot!”)

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I’m Pregnant, Not Terminally Ill, You Idiot!

I'm Pregnant, Not Terminally Ill, You Idiot!Today, I held my second baby in my hands. It felt surreal, perhaps a bit more surreal than when I held Re for the first time. It also took longer to make than Re, but it was immensely more satisfying. The book will be in the stores soon, and you can pre-order on any of the portals below at fabulous discounts. Here is an excerpt, to begin with:

**

‘You will know when you become a mother,’ my mother always told me.
‘Why should I wait so long? Tell me now, I will understand,’ the cheeky me would always retort.
‘No, you won’t,’ she would say, almost resignedly. ‘You just wait and watch.’
And so I waited.
It is very difficult to point out exactly when motherhood begins.
Is it when you finally decide you don’t care if the bra is ugly or not, but it bloody well be comfortable?
Is it when your husband’s boxers suddenly become the most comfortable underwear ever?
Is it when you suppress the urge to scream ‘ASSHOLE!’ at the biker who overtook you from the left in peak traffic, thinking, What if the baby hears?
Is it when pulling your boob out in public becomes the most natural thing to do, and you don’t care if the taxi driver is taking a good look in the rear-view mirror while your partner is desperately looking for something to cover you with?
Is it when you realise that your breast is the solution to all cries, big and small?
Or does motherhood begin when, a week after you missed your period, you finally decided to take the pregnancy test?
Or when you surreptitiously bought the pregnancy kit from the chemist, rushed home to douse it with your urine, waited
with bated breath for the verdict, and decided, yes, there must be something growing inside me?
Or when you were pacing up and down the house, waiting for your husband to come home so you could tell him, ‘I have some news!’?
Or when you held a report in your hands that enlisted the potency of the pregnancy hormone in your body?
Or when the sonologist pointed to something on the screen and said, ‘Can you see that? That is the baby’s spine!’? When you squinted your eyes, trying to look intelligently at a visual you could make no head or tail of? When you mumbled a ‘Yes!’ just so you don’t end up looking like a cold, non-maternal bitch?
Or does it all begin when you felt the first sign of movement within you? The first kick?
Or the day you ate an ice-cream cone and heard someone devouring it inside you within seconds?
Or when you suppressed the urge to run across the street with your very pregnant belly and decided to wait for the green signal instead?
Or when you were handed, along with a baby, a card that read, ‘Infant of (your name here)’ at the hospital, post-delivery?
Or when you turned over in bed, and decided you have to be careful, as you might roll a tiny someone else over, or crush him or her?
Or when someone infinitesimally small latched on to you and began to suckle, and you and your husband gave each other a we-made-this look?
It is hard to decide exactly when you become a mother.
But this book is not about motherhood really. For starters, it is about you, and not about the baby. The you that sometimes gets
lost in the whole pregnancy and motherhood journey. The you that can be angry, sad, silly, excited, confused, wicked, rude, girl, slut and everything un-mommy. The you that is spending lonely nights, tossing around in bed with a heavy belly, while the husband is watching television. The you that is silently cursing, muttering, wondering why sleep is so elusive when the world is expecting you to ‘talk to the baby’ or ‘think good thoughts’.
The you that sometimes looks at your significant other and wonders: Is that the father of my child?
The you that shudders to think how much your life is going to change with motherhood. And how irreversibly.
The you that hasn’t really fathomed how to do motherhood.
The you that sometimes wants to make it all go away – the man, the marriage, the pregnancy – and be footloose and fancy-free again.
The you that knows that soon, your goals and ambitions may not be a priority and that you will always have to put someone else’s interest before yours.
The you that is excited and petrified about motherhood, yet has no clue what it really means.
The you that will wonder (mostly in anger), Now why didn’t anyone tell me that?
The you that will never be the same you again.
This book is about the Jekyll and Hyde of being pregnant. And being a mother. It’s about the happy stuff, but it’s also about the ugly stuff – the stuff that makes you mean, even vicious, while still feeling oodles of love for the thing you just created. The stuff that makes it okay to kill anyone who comes in your way of doing things the way you think is right for your baby.
Because it’s far from rosy out there. And it’s not about knowing when your ‘foetus’ will be the shape of a lemon, an avocado, an aubergine or a pumpkin. Or when will it grow a heart, a brain,
lungs or kidneys. This book is not about finding out how to get your body or your sex life back.
I only summoned the courage to write it when my husband read a sort of chapter and told me it had him riveted. And he wasn’t even pregnant.
Perhaps it should have been written during my pregnancy. Or during my baby’s initial months, in real time, when one could feel it all, much more intensely.
Perhaps. But it would have been too raw, too real, too debilitating.
A friend even suggested I get pregnant again and do it like a diary – he just escaped getting disfigured by me.
So it took time. It took healing. It took really long to feel ‘me’
again.

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