Thinking good thoughts, my a#$%*!

In short, nothing in your life has changed, except that there is a spectator inside you who is taking it all in. The only way you can become the epitome of calm is if you stop going to work, travelling anywhere, talking to anyone, and just staying put and listening to Bach at home. Sure, there were fleeting moments of peace and quiet, when the husband would indulge me with his famous calf massage, pour me an occasional glass of wine or beer (yes!), and we would talk to the baby in dulcet tones. It felt like this was the best time of my life and I had never been so tranquil or centred before.
Till I went to work the next day. And found that life and the universe around me was pretty much the same as before. People were still being mean to animals. Trees were still being cut randomly. Drivers were still driving with their eyes shut and their brains locked up somewhere. Rich brats in posh cars were still pretending that a pot-hole-laden road was the expressway. Colleagues were still slacking off. Telemarketing pests and PR executives were still calling you at 2 p.m. Stock broking companies were still bulk-texting me hot tips at 6 a.m. My mother was still whining about my father.
In the midst of all this, you are expected to be this immaculate, calm mother who will give birth to this angel of a baby who will do everything right, stay happy, never cry and always sleep when you want it to. Such babies and mothers don’t exist and the sooner you learn that, the better it is for you. I found that when I came to terms with my imperfections instead of trying to fight them, I was able to be a much better mother.

(An excerpt from my book, “I’m Pregnant, Not Terminally Ill, You Idiot!”)

View the trailer here: http://youtu.be/DHKMZWyLwjI

 

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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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Tit-a-tete

(Circa 2009. December. When my boobs were my best friend.)

If pregnancy makes you shed your inhibitions (I actually posed in a bikini top for a mommy and baby magazine in week 37), motherhood destroys the last vestiges of it. May be it has to do with the fact that the whole of womankind now has a claim over your body and how to rectify (or optimise) it and therefore, nudity (part or whole) is never an issue for starters. Neither is talking about stuff as it is.

But the one thing motherhood doesn’t really prepare you for is a strange phenomenon called lactation politics. It’s as though every woman and her cow (pun intended) has an opinion (or some advice) on your lacto-barometer. Which is why questions like “Are you producing enough?” or “Is he exclusively breast?” or “No top feed?” or “Have you started pumping?” pepper every conversation, no matter whether the said party is one or six degrees of separation.

The problem with nursing is that whatever you do, you are upto scrutiny. ‘Have access, will ask/tell’ seems to be the norm. So your place in the mum hierarchy is decided by whether the baby latched on instantly, whether you have to supplement with formula, or are rich enough in the milk of human kindness (aarrrgh!) not to, and further, how long do you intend to nurse, when will you wean, are you having enough oats/methi/juices/milk/Bournvita/badam/whatever, have you turned to the bottle yet, etc etc.

It takes gumption to get this intrusive, I thought, but turns out, I was wrong. There is no such thing as subtlety in titspeak. Asking a woman if she’s doing well on the milk-front is like asking a man if his sperm count is okay, or whether he is getting an adequate erection. Would anyone do that? So why is it legitimate to subject the woman to such intense scrutiny?

On the other hand, may be it’s an opportunity for hitherto marginalized women to re-establish themselves in the power ladder through their lacto-quotient. “I could feed the whole of Bombay”… or “I have enough reserves for six months” or “I am leaking all the time” makes them look good vis-à-vis seemingly over-achiever mothers who have otherwise been ahead of the game.

I wondered what the big deal about, one wasn’t about to give competition to Nestle, all one needed was enough for the little one. And if anyone ever asked me about a rainy day, my answer was, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn. Anything more than what the boy needs is really a waste.”

Therein ends my tit-ology.

Kids versus kittens

(I wrote this article in 2005 for Man’s World magazine. It was for a column titled ‘Company of Women’. There was no man in sight then, forget boyfriend, husband or son. I read this now with a strange sense of irony. Poetic justice has been done, I guess)

It has been happening with unfailing regularity. Every year, one or more of my friends gets pregnant and I indulge them. Their baby talk, mother-in-law bitching, mother-bitching, hormonal mood swings, bra sizes going haywire, pothole disasters, tikki cravings, non-existent waists, salwar naadas slipping down, having to wear men’s underwear  (because it doesn’t cut the skin) , swollen feet, and more.

And I go shopping with them, and keep them company at their sonographers, while their bladders are ready to burst. Sometimes, as a token of appreciation, they do reluctantly give away sexy old tops from their wardrobe, which they spend hours sighing at, longing for the time when they can wear them, but knowing they never will be able to.

There’s more on their minds, usually paranoias – paranoia about having to go back to work, rather paranoia about not being to give up double income, paranoia of ayahs throttling pesky baby’s neck, or baby choking on the feeding bottle, paranoia of succumbing to the venerable mother-in-law or the mother for baby care, paranoia of not being able to have uninterrupted sex any more, at least for a couple of years, paranoia that soon, there will be no more friends left, coz they  will obviously be repelled by an overdose of baby talk,  paranoia of not being able to shake a leg at Girl-Power night at Mikanos, paranoia about not being in the bitching circuit (on account of vocabulary suddenly being limited to diapers and Farex consumption.)

Yesterday, my very pregnant friend Parul and I went shopping for what the shopkeepers of Mumbai refer to as “born baby” things. We bought some extremely mundane looking nappies, and baby-tops, a towel or two, a mosquito cover, a quilt, and a baby wrap. The bill was a cool 2500! I nearly died, but the funny thing was, Parul died too, as though she had no clue that babies are really so dear these days.

Contrary to that, look at my feline offspring. First of all, I didn’t have to go through “those nine months” and the incumbent labour that makes me want to kill my husband. Also, when I got Lupooh home, the only item on my baby-shopping list was a litter basket, which cost me a princely sum of Rs.60.  Other expenses were as follows. One time doctor’s fees for vaccines- Rs 800. Sterilization – Rs. 500. Cat food – Rs. 300 p m. The best part is,  I can still party like a swinger, not having to leave the Cinderella shoe behind when the clock strikes 12. I don’t have to worry about where he plays, whether he is into guns and swords and other violent things, or worse, computer games. Then there’s this thing about who does he hang out with? what is their vocabulary?  are they a bad influence on him? The worst is dreading the moment he starts using the f… word, spending sleepless nights on that blasted school admission , wondering whether you will actually have to sleep with the trustee or get a letter from the Chief Minister to get him into a school that has no playground, has 10×10 sized classrooms, where teachers are called “Miss” and the principal indulges in a private caning session every day, and who knows, tomorrow the apple of your eye could be summoned.

And then the baby kitty and the 21-year-old plan. I find it amusing that parents save up for their kids so that they get a fat sum when they are 21.  Do they really expect payback after that?  And what about those innumerable birthdays, and peer pressure holidays, what about karate lessons, and swimming, and math and gym?

Think about it. Animal sense pays! For one, he will never pee in your lap, or burp on your new linen blouse, or crap on your bed. He will always be at the door for you, not licking the wall, or pushing a bead up his nose. You never have to worry about how he is doing in class, or when is he going to tell you to shut up because you are too old and will never understand what is on his mind anyway.

Only one small thing. Lupooh can never call me “mamma”. And will last 12 years, at best. But then, unlike my mum, I will never have to worry about him “settling down”.

Fast forward mommy: What Marissa Mayer’s blink-and-miss maternity leave means to the rest of the world

Marissa Mayer is a woman who many love to hate – for having more zeroes in her salary than most people can ever dream of, for staying in the game through her pregnancy, for, in fact, raising the career bar by being hired as Yahoo CEO when six months pregnant. And now because she is back at work two weeks after having her baby, thereby availing the world’s shortest maternity leave. Time magazine called it the “blink-and-it’s-over ” maternity leave.
The internet is abuzz with debates over the sort of precedent she is setting for other working women. And, of course, a lot of ominous warnings are floating around about the perils of underestimating the challenges of motherhood and how she has no clue what’s coming to her.

The outraged argue that when women in power give the impression that maternity leave is dispensable, it is quite likely to send the wrong signals – that it’s easy, that taking time off is an unnecessary indulgence, that other women are making too big a deal of early motherhood months and that they are perhaps not so serious about their careers. Is the Mayer move then reflecting badly on other new mommies who choose to take time off to nurture their babies before getting back to work?

“This is a complex question that really has no easy answers. Are women who choose to take leave then, not committed enough to their careers?” asks Shilpa Phadke, professor at Tata Institute of Social Sciences and a mother to a two year-old. “On the one hand, one must support the right of individual women to make choices that they see as best for them, but equally one must consider what this means for the already fragile rights of women to maternity leave especially in countries such as the US. ”

The US maternity leave policy is rather dismal – it grants 12 weeks of ‘unpaid’ leave, as opposed to Canada which grants paid leave up to 15 weeks and a longer duration of unpaid leave if required. India, for the most part has a 12-week paid leave policy although some companies grant as much as 16-20 weeks. Britain, on the other hand, grants upto 52 weeks of leave, of which 39 are paid. In the rest of Europe, women can take as much as three years off to raise their newborns. Most employers like to claim that they are supportive of new mothers but it is obvious that women are grudged this ‘perk’ – by their male colleagues and even other women colleagues who either opted out of motherhood or stayed single. And perhaps that is why the urge to prove that they can get back in the game sooner than anyone else.

Outside of the Mayer universe, pregnancy is usually regarded as a really expensive hobby, a permanent state of impairment. For some women, the price to pay is their careers, for some, their children’s well-being and emotional security and to most, a race to get back in the game. Staying on top of things post baby is a struggle for all women, no matter what resources they have at their disposal. Perhaps that is why the three-month maternity leave is a key factor in helping new mothers with the transitioning from the cocoon of the nursery to the outside world. The choices are usually harsh. You either rush back to work when your baby is a few weeks old, leaving it in the care of family or strangers. Or, you stay a little longer to nurture them and return when you are both ready. But that is often the tricky part. When are both ready? At six months? At one year? Longer?

The fact remains that the longer you stay away from the race, the harder it is to get back. We all work out our own plan Bs – work from home, freelance, work flexitime, focus on our babies for a few years and not think about it. But these remain, at best, plan Bs. If all things were conducive, women would have liked their lives to go back to being exactly the same.

“I think all around the world, women have the fear that they will not be able to get back to their career with a small child to care for. That may the reason women are wrenching themselves away from their newborns. It is sad that women have to deny themselves care and rest just to prove that they are as good at their work, ” says Nigamaja, physiotherapist and childbirth educator.

While you are away, HR is busy computing your non-profitability. Barring a few foreign banks and MNCs, day-care is still an alien concept in India, flexitime is the biggest scam as far as your pay packet is concerned and breast pumps are still looked at as unidentified flying objects in most offices.

Australia-based Ruth Malik, who runs a birth support NGO in India, says the choices women make must vary according to individual situations. “I hope that Mayer does not become a dominant role model and women feel pressured to reach these dizzy heights. While I may make decisions differently, I feel the important thing is that it is her right to choose. Plus, she can afford all the support she can get” says Malik.

Gayatri Deshpande, a software professional and mother, says she chooses not to be judgemental about Mayer’s choices. She also applauds Yahoo for hiring a pregnant CEO in the first place. “Her choices must be based on who she is as a person. The position carries the weight of the well-being of employees and customers. Maybe she is a superwoman and has put in place a strong delegation plan, ” she says.

We don’t exactly know what Mayer’s plans for infant-management are. “I like to stay in the rhythm of things, ” is what she is reported to have told Fortune magazine. We must not forget that Marrisa Mayer is not a regular woman trying to keep her job, she is a super-duper star. She is a CEO, crisis management is her middle name.

Sonali Shivlani, a pregnancy and lactation counsellor, sums up the debate. “I really don’t believe that only stay-at-home women make good mothers. What makes good moms are women who are first satisfied with themselves – a feeling with gives them the space to attend to their children more wholeheartedly, ” says Shivlani.

(This article first appeared in the Times of India Crest edition on 20th Oct, 2012 under my byline. Link to the article is here:  http://www.timescrest.com/society/fast-forward-mommy-9052)