Anyone with a pulse can care better for my child

So I wasn’t really the nurturing, maternal type ever.  I could never see myself as a mother when I was a teen or even in my early (ok fine! even mid) 20s. I don’t think it is a default setting as a woman and I definitely didn’t find anything amiss.

So ever since I have become a mother, I have been plagued with self-doubt. Am I cut out for this? What if I am a terrible mom? What if my child realizes he could have gotten better? I am someone who revisits conversations from 10 years ago on what I could have said differently so I am no stranger to anxiety or self-doubt. But this felt different.

The difference was while I believed I was totally not cut out for this, it seemed like everybody else around me also had little confidence in my ability to keep my child alive, safe and raise him well. Take him out for a walk and someone would tell me to cover his head and ears. Next time someone else would tell me to not cover him up so much for he could get overheated. “Don’t carry him in wrap, it’s awful for his spine”, they said. “That carrier is not ergonomic maybe you should try a wrap?” someone else said. “How could you carry him in your arms to cross the road? It is ridiculously unsafe” said the nth person.

There was an entire phase when strangers would walk up to me asking if I am not feeding my child enough because he is reed thin. Eventually when I had to start formula, I cannot keep track of the number of people who thought it was their moral responsibility to tell me about the virtues of breastfeeding as though I wouldn’t have gotten the memo. I worked in Nestle for crying out loud. I once got breastfeeding advice from a man on a plane! I will do a separate post on breastfeeding itself but long story short, I really wish people who breastfeed chill out a little. There is no need to behave like vegans on this one. Ha! So many offences in one stroke.

Every time this happened, I would come back home and wonder how is it possible that everyone knows more than me. I asked my mom and she laughed it off saying as many mouths that many opinions. She asked me to trust my instinct and said I would know what is best for my child. I figured then would not be a good time to confess about how I don’t seem to possess any such instinct.  I google every movement of my child only to end up worrying that he might be in grave danger at all times if I believe parenting websites. I mean why shatter the good faith one person seems to have in me.

But the gnawing feeling does not really vanish ever. On good days, the voice in my head says, “this child is too good. He deserves better than you.” On the more trying ones, it doesn’t have to say anything. The “I told you so” hangs in the air.

When I step back and think about where any or all of this is coming from, I am also struck by how this happens only to me and not my husband. No one ever walks up to my husband to tell him how he can do better. The mere fact that he is choosing to spend time with his child is more than good enough. So many people mention to me how lucky I am that he is such a good parent. I am truly grateful and yes he is exceptionally good with our child. But the bar feels low. It is like you can be a great dad but whatever you do as a mom, you do because you are a mom.

I was not expecting a medal or recognition on a regular basis for what I do. This is not like how I say I don’t want gifts but expect them on my anniversary and birthday. I am being honest here. I am not ranting about how underappreciated mothers are because I know how much I have taken my own for granted. Yes universe I hear you. You can stop laughing now.  I am just pondering out loud on how while I didn’t want constant praise, I never really signed up for the best mom award either. And yet, here I am in a race that I didn’t know I was running.

I am not looking for praise, but I am looking forward to a time when someone doesn’t think I am fucking up my child.

Till then, “come on anxiety naanum neevum kai kothundu nadakalam” (Translation: Come on anxiety, let us hold hands and walk together)

Tip #2:

Don’t go and creepily appreciate some mom extra just because of this. It is incredibly fake and there is a month of May to do just that. So save it. Unless someone is harming their child (literally harming. Not in the ‘in 20 years from now he will need therapy because he fell asleep while nursing’ kind of way) don’t say anything. Trust me your silence will be so valued that you might even be offered a pedestal in the temple they are building for my husband.

 

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Normal or…

One of the most often asked in the first few months after giving birth has been “normal or…” It’s a question left hanging where many don’t even want to take the dreaded C- word. I always found it very strange that it is perfectly all right to ask such a private question and I can explain why. Whenever I have been asked this question and I have replied back saying “yes I had a vaginal birth” people immediately broke eye contact and/or changed topics. If you cannot handle hearing the word vagina, why would you ask this question? But it is incredible how an assumed shared experience makes it perfectly all right to suddenly ask someone a question about their nether region.

My problem with this question stems from the intent. If you were asking me this out of concern for my well being and recovery, it is a different story. But we all know that in most cases, it is a question to evaluate if someone has suffered the right amount and is worthy of the respect given along with the title of “mother”.

The conversation around this began around the third trimester when conversationally I would be asked if I had a birthing plan. And my response had always been “my plan is to get this thing out”. After a laughter that clearly indicated no amusement, would begin this conversation on how these days women just prefer a C-section because it’s easier and can be fit into a busy work schedule. This would be followed by a tsk tsk and how doctors also just prefer a C-section. The unspoken message in the air being how women these days don’t have it in them to bear the pain or prioritize their lives over this miracle of birth.

Important side note: There are many reasons why one would choose a birthing experience over another. I am not advocating for any one way. What I am assuming is that women are capable of identifying and gathering information they need to best make a choice that would suit their needs. Novel concept?

Post birth is the next competition of hours in labour. I have stopped answering the question on hours of labour simply because every single time I have, the response has been how someone else had x + few more hours of pain. Then there is the epidural conversation. Now I am someone who is not embarrassed to say I am pro-drugs. I am in favour of the medical advancements being made and if there is a way to manage pain without causing significant harm there is nothing like it. I have absolutely nothing to prove or so I thought. But when the time came, I did feel like a lesser mortal asking for help.

I was left wondering how we ended up with such an idealization of birth. How did we come to make gold standards of many things that are particularly difficult for many women especially for those who choose to maintain an identity outside of motherhood. Of course, if you want to visualize that your body is opening up like some flower while listening to some Tibetan chants, you should be free to do so but what is unfair is for anyone to wield their choice with exaggerated benefits of a method that is impractical, unpleasant and quite frankly impossible for many women.

Yes “natural” is good but not everything that happened in the olden days is necessarily the best (infant mortality and maternal mortality rates can probably attest to this). The movement around this began with the intent of giving women the choice to make informed decisions pertaining to their bodies but has become another way to control, dominate and judge women. What this results in many a time are unrealistic expectations and a feeling of guilt even before the parenting journey has begun.

We need important conversations around abuse during birthing, informed consent, taking women’s pain more seriously and empowering women to feel their best while focusing on the health of the unborn. Instead what we have devolved into is a slugfest of wearing pain as honour and a sense of martyrdom to justify inadequate support.

Now as promised:

Handy tip while visiting a new mom:

When you are about to ask someone if they had a “normal or….” delivery, pause. Think about why you want to know.

  • Is it out of care?
  • Is it to share your birthing story when it is not warranted?
  • Is it to share some new found nugget of gold on child birth that you cannot hold in?
  • Is it in any way shaming the person for the choices they may have made?

Think about these questions before asking. Irrespective of the experience they underwent, the person is healing. They don’t need your bullshit.

P.S: This didn’t fit in the post but I needed to get it off my chest. Your birthing experience doesn’t have to be about absolute suffering. Neither does it have to be magical or pure or <insert any word typically used with getting high>. It can be – meh, whatever, okayish or even I really don’t recall. It is FINE. There are shades in this spectrum my friend and you pick you.

 

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Next chapter: Motherhood

When I started writing about my struggles with infertility, I constantly felt isolated and saw all people with children as homogeneous and part of one large happy (albeit exclusionary) club. I could not have been more wrong. As the famous saying goes, “the grass on whichever side I am on sucks” – from the inside this club is ridiculously claustrophobic and strangely isolating at the same time.

Motherhood is peddled to be THE most magical experience, the MOST satisfying, the 42 to your life’s questions. I don’t think people are necessarily colluding to lie and convince others to have kids to ruin their lives; but at the same time I cannot help wonder why does no one talk about the banality of this experience with slivers of joy when you are awake enough to spot it. What keeps us from being honest about how fucked up it really is and admit that it is horrible at times without having to constantly caveat that we don’t necessarily hate our children. Why doesn’t anyone talk about how it feels to be trapped in a never-ending saga but hopelessly in love?

I have complained before about how exclusionary it is when people with children constantly say “you will not understand until you have kids”. I am going to try and put my experiences into words to bridge this divide. I think the more people we can have understanding how messed up all of this is, the better. This is not to say that I am the gold standard on anything and of course you can be a part of the #notallmoms camp. Maybe you felt you were born to fill this role, maybe your milk ducts were always your friend and maybe your child self-soothed to sleep. But I find the misery in the commonality of our experiences a lot richer than the uniqueness that we believe we are born into. So here goes nothing.

I will be writing about the non-existence of this instinct that I am supposed to have as a mother, what it means to secretly fear that your partner is the better parent and your child loves him more, the feeling of total inadequacy that began even before I was wheeled out of the labour room and dealing with the guilt of knowing how you ought to be grateful but instead are angry most of the time.

Other topics of conversation could include how most parenting websites seem to be written by white people, what it means to read about French parenting and realizing that it may not work in India, the different sounds of a breaking heart when your baby pees on the paper you wrote his day schedule on and most importantly small handy tips on what not to say to other parents. For example – suffering is not a competitive sport. If a new parent is complaining about lack of sleep or difficulty with feeding, it is not necessary for you to offer a worse story or remind them of terrible twos. Listen and offer coffee or something stronger. Be a friend.

Hop on! We have a lot of ground to cover and the same rules as before apply. Save your advice for another forum and your angst is always welcome.

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Saying NO to bullying by birds

It began one day when A was drying clothes in the balcony and I was giving him moral support out there. We were discussing how some of our t-shirts and tops were missing, when suddenly he noticed my Anokhi (this detail is relevant, trust me) top on a tree nearby. Without the height advantage, I had to lean out of the balcony on my toes to see the tree and that’s when this eagle swooped and clawed my head before flying away.

I ran inside and kneeled in sharp pain and saw A right next to me also kneeled, but doubled in laughter. Given that this was an unprecedented situation (and A wasn’t done laughing), I called my mom to ask for a home remedy for eagle scratches.

Me: Amma, an eagle attacked me and I have scratches on my head! What to do?

Amma: What did you do to the eagle? (Notice how even in this situation, my mom gives the benefit of the doubt to an unknown bird.)

Me: I didn’t do anything! My Anokhi top is on a tree and I was just seeing how I could get it back.

Amma: Anokhi va? Isn’t that the shop where simple cotton tops cost some 1000 rupees?

Me: (Mumbling in silence)

Amma: Appo ve I told you, 1000 rupees for a simple cotton top is too much, now see what happened.

Clearly, I was getting nowhere with Amma so I googled for “what to do when attacked by an eagle”. The few results that came up referenced babies or other small animals and all of them suggested calling a local sheriff. By then I knew if I have to get somewhere with this, it has to be Quora where all the crazy is. I was right and found a group of falconers from Dubai who suggested I get a tetanus shot. A and I drove to the doctor while I was figuring out if I had intentionally ever wronged birds. The clinic was shut and I really didn’t want to explain over phone why I am asking for tetanus shot for an angry bird scratch. So we dropped the plan and went home.

A few weeks later, I was in Bombay at home when I noticed an eagle staring into my room. I immediately took a picture, drew a red circle around the clearly visible eagle (Times Now style) and sent it to D (the best friend) as well as A. I wasn’t delusional to believe that the same eagle followed me from Bangalore but this clearly this wasn’t normal. While A responded with his usual LOLs, D was the one who took me seriously and suggested I could be under surveillance by a national network of eagles.

Over the next few months, I saw eagles perched on different trees around my house. I began limiting my visits to the balcony and as any woman, who has been stalked before, wondered what I had done to cause this nonsense.

I visited Delhi last month and was having lunch outdoors with a friend when I noticed some eagles being unduly aggressive. I naively chalked it up to Delhi and let that be.

Two days ago, I went to soak some sun in my balcony (Bangalore is cold you guys!) and an eagle swooped real close with no respect for my personal space. I ran back in and shut the balcony door. This was all the pigeons needed to decide I was easy and they began to get comfortable in my balcony. That was it. Something in me snapped and I decided I was no longer putting up with bullying by pigeons or eagles.

I went screaming into the balcony with a newspaper in my hand and scared the living daylights out of the pigeons (and possibly the uncle in the opposite house who was standing on the terrace for a smoke).

This is it. I am now reclaiming my home, my balcony, my space. Enough is enough, birds. Your time’s up.

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Not being treated like an adult because you are not a parent

One of the things that drives me bat shit crazy is how it is assumed that the husband and I just sit around on large wads of cash, doing absolutely nothing other than sipping on wine and watching Netflix. If you are suspicious about how an imaginary scenario can be so specific, it is simply because I basically strung together everything that has ever been asked about us simply because we don’t have kids.

It may come as a surprise, but we still have full-time jobs, bills to pay, taxes to worry about, medical appointments and other “fun” adulting things to do even though we don’t have to care for a tiny human. Whether it is at work or with extended family or with friends, there is always this awkward conversation where people try and guess what we do with all our “free” time or why do we need time off since we anyway don’t have “serious commitments”  like children.

The expectation to stay on longer at work, to show up for family stuff you didn’t sign up for, to cover for family friends is sometimes flattering, I mean who doesn’t like feeling wanted?! But the assumption that either of us are twiddling thumbs or don’t need to consciously carve out personal time is infuriating.

Statements like “You won’t understand, you do not have kids” or “you don’t know exhaustion until you have had sleepless nights with a baby” are simply exclusionary. Yes, I may not have the life experience of raising a human but neither am I sitting to watch paint dry. I am not taking away from the hard work that goes into parenting but when you look around you will see that everyone is trying. Working moms/dads, stay-at-home moms/dads, people with aging/ailing parents, people trying to pay off medical bills, people straddled with loans working different jobs, you name it. Some struggles are just less apparent than others.

I have read many articles such as this one or this one – some more kind than the others but most in a similar vein. Across many cultures where busyness is now a status symbol, it is hard for me to not see what you do as taking a moral high ground simply by being a parent. Feel free to vent and cry, I want to be there for you. But don’t pinch my cheeks and sigh when I offer help. Not advice – actual help. If someone is just offering you advice, feel free to kick them in their most vulnerable area.

Parenting is the most non-secret, secret club. Not being able to break into this club sucks big time and many times is bloody lonely. I love hearing about your kids, seeing their pictures – truly. I sympathize with your pregnancy struggles – really do. But I have been in enough situations where not being a member of this club keeps me out of so many conversations. I am not saying don’t have conversations on birth plans, how much/how little sleep your little one is getting or about switching from breastfeeding to formula or preschool selections or arranging for childcare. They are important to you, you are important to me therefore they are important to me. I am not blaming anyone at the slightest but for the sake of other women like me; I want to also say that many of us feel left out beyond a point. Also, it sucks when you chuckle or patronizingly smile when we share something from work or about struggling relationships.

All I want to say is that I may never understand what you are going through but I want to, and I am working on it. All I am asking for are two things:

1) Please return the favour and respect my life experiences as well

2) Allow and trust me to help you so that I can be/do better

#Endofrant

 

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Damn, Daniel

When the husband and I went through the battery of tests before starting treatments, we both got all reports as normal. Wait, let me rephrase that – all my reports were normal and his were spectacular! It was like the difference between our CAT scores – I scored enough to make the cut while he was above and beyond.

Side note: I have a serious issue when it comes to diagnostic tests, not just the ones related to fertility but generally for any medical procedure.  I believe the best value for money is either if I get a positive result (even if it means I have some life-threatening disease) or if I score spectacularly well across the range column typically given in the right side of the report. This whole being mid-range makes me feel mediocre and I refuse to pay good money to put myself down.

But I digress. This isn’t about me.

So as you may (or may not) know, for the IUI procedure I need to prepare by taking drugs during the entire cycle and he needs to prepare by being ready to offer a sample in a container. He once had the unfortunate experience of providing the sample in a bathroom where he could hear the guttural sounds of pigeons through a broken window. To prevent any further scarring, for this cycle we decided we will be getting the sample from home. We were told to be there at the clinic at 5:30 pm sharp because Daniel will be present to help prepare the sample.  The instructions for being on time were repeated a few times because Daniel is incredibly busy and we should not be wasting his time.

Taking these instructions seriously, we left home at 4:45 pm. It was tense because we planned to leave at 4:30 but didn’t know how best to carry the container with the sample. After a lot of back and forth, we narrowed down on a Nalli bag and off we went. As soon as we sat in the car, there was the choice between lowering windows and putting the AC on. I was fine with the windows solution since I feel cold with air conditioning irrespective of the time of the year but he was worried about pollution and general humidity. Since they were his swimmers, he won this round – we put the AC on full blast and drove at the top speed possible on Kanakpura Road (10 kmph).  I sat perfectly still holding the Nalli bag in front of one of the air vents and regularly turning it for all-around cooling which apparently is important as per so many refrigerator ads.

We reached at 5:30 pm sharp but as luck would have it, Daniel was stuck in traffic. So we waited – me with my Kindle, him with his book and his swimmers holding onto their dear lives. Soon a motorbike pulled up and Daniel rushed in. His client engagement game was on point, because he asked for our names and shook our hands while apologizing for the delay. I felt reassured that someone this well-mannered would be handling what goes inside of me (okay… that came out wrong). Taking the container off our hands, he was off to do what he does best.

After about 30 minutes, he called the husband into the lab. By then I was wrecked with nervousness wondering if the AC killed the swimmers (they are originally from Chennai and it was cold!). Within a minute, the husband came out looking both gray and unable to suppress his laughter. Daniel followed and asked, “Ma’am would you…” and before he could finish, the husband jumped in screaming NO! Daniel looked surprised and said, “The sample is super ma’am! Very good quality!” The husband by then took Daniel’s hands, thanked him profusely and tried sending him off. But Daniel being Daniel, took his time to thank me, wished me luck and as he was leaving reminded me again how sir’s sample was super.

The husband walked in sheepishly and confessed, “He made me see them and wanted you there as well! For what it’s worth they are moving superfast!  But what idiots, putting in so much hard work without realizing that the eggs are sitting in the other room!”

We both started laughing incredibly hard (think snorting, spit bubbles and on the floor) and were immeasurably judged by the receptionist.

We both couldn’t figure out why Daniel had to invite us individually to view the sample. The husband was however glad because he felt we would have offended Daniel if I had broken into my laughter fit. Maybe he is right…though I would never do anything to hurt Daniel’s feelings. He truly must love his job to express that kind of enthusiasm and I will not be the cloud that rains on his parade.

Damn, Daniel (at the risk of being so 2016) you are now inextricably tied to our lives!

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Temples, faith and dissonance

We were on this road trip with our parents to this temple called the Garbharakshambika literally translating into the Goddess who is the protector of the womb. It is located near Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu and believe it or not, is very easy to find using Google Maps.

Flashback: We have fielded many suggestions around applying some kumkum from some temple to wearing some thread on the left hand. A visit to this temple was something that came up over and over from relatives and it was something we never acted on. I was able to park it aside with the excuse of undergoing treatments and therefore not wanting to do road trips. But once we decided to stop all treatments, we lost that excuse and it was hard to ignore the plea of “there is no harm in trying”.  So off we went with a seething husband waiting to connect his fist to the face that made this suggestion in the first place.

What is strange about this temple is how new-age it is. There is a dedicated website (feel free to look it up. I have no intention of ruining my day with sponsored ads by posting the link here) explaining the history, instructions on how to consume the prasad and most importantly, how it can be couriered with blessing to U.S, UK, Canada etc. There are also testimonials but again all by NRIs as though domestic clientele is not worth bragging about.

As we were entering the temple, the lady selling flowers on the other side of the entrance, yelled out saying buying flowers as an offering is great for putrabhaagyam (fortune of having a son). That got the ball rolling.

Outside the administration room (where one goes to pay for the rituals and prasad) there is a board in Tamil explaining how there is no need to stop on-going medical treatments in order to make an offering at the temple. In fact, it strongly encouraged continuing with medical treatments.

Walk further in, there are cows grazing and women in three clear categories:

  • Category 1: Women here to pray to have a baby
  • Category 2: Heavily pregnant women who are praying for a safe birthing experience
  • Category 3: Women with babies who have come back to offer thanks

As everyone stands to look at the deity, the main priest offering prayers inside the sanctum summons the Category 1 women to line up with the ticket bought, a 5-rupee coin, a small bottle of nei/ghee (clarified butter) and a coconut. This isn’t some discrete announcement or a tacit understanding but more like an angry man bellowing at a room of about 50-60 people.

Then in groups of 4, we were asked to sit at the threshold of the sanctum and the priest took the stuff from our hands to rest it at the feet of the deity. Sitting there it is hard to not notice things like the palpable sadness in the women around me, the fact that our husbands are not expected to sit alongside us, that the priest is churlish to a point that makes me wonder if he is mad at us for not being able to do the one thing that is expected of us.

I was also incredibly conscious that I was basically sitting at a threshold of a temple asking for absolution. As a feminist, was I disrespecting the way paved for me by all the work done in the past? As an educated woman, did I fight hard enough against this? As an educator, am I no longer a role model for my students when I preach rationality? But what if this works, would I become a statistic on the website in the favour of this ritual? Was I going crazy thinking this would work?

The four of us were then asked to put some kolam on the threshold of the sanctum and place the 5-rupee coin on the design. Now the other three women drew a star with two intersecting triangles and in my head, I was like everyone obviously has seen/read the Da Vinci Code. But I cannot draw straight lines with a pencil let alone rice powder so I drew a basic flower imagining that I could place the 5-rupee coin at the centre. Clearly, I didn’t meet the brief since the priest scowled, redrew a star on top of my flower and placed the coin on top of it, not trusting me with anymore tasks.

We were then given back our small bottles of nei/ghee and sent on our way with instructions on consuming it for 48 days.  As I walked back to my family, I was struck by how even though I come from incredible privilege (caste, colour of my skin, ableness, education, economic background, access to medical care, voice, you name it) in this temple I shrunk my presence without being explicitly asked to do so. I walked slower, with lowered shoulders, I struggled to find my voice when the priest barked something at me and most importantly, I experienced guilt.

Fast forward: The 48-day thing didn’t work. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t hurt. The rational part of me, of course, didn’t think it would work. But clearly miracles happened to someone right?  I was just hoping it could have been me.

Other things I noticed:

  • This temple is dedicated to a goddess who is dedicated to solving only the women’s problems. There is another section in the temple with another god for men but guess what, that God deals with “general health problems”
  • There is an ecosystem around the temple where there are flowers to please the goddess and chappal stands. BUT there are also a few stores on the parallel street to the temple selling porn. Loving how this “ecosystem” is committed to the whole experience
  • All the paintings in the temple explaining the story have incredibly fair skinned people. Because you know, if you are dark-skinned and struggling with infertility then even God cannot save you
  • How the word “luck” was thrown around so many times and most of the women in Category 3 came with twins. Awfully coincidental?

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