Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Parenting debates and me

(1) It has been 10 months since Fluffy's birth.

(2) When she was born, I told myself that I would do my best to stay the hell away from parenting debates.

(3) So far, I've done a pretty good job of it.

(4) Then Jamie Oliver, my one true food love, went and said something about breastfeeding and stirred up a hornet's nest. All mothers everywhere were a step short of flashing their milk laden boobs at him to prove a point about how he needs to shut up. Women were talking about their guilt, shame and choices and "no boobs, no opinion" was the mantra.

(5) It took me almost 48 hours online before I found a sane voice that said - yes, he's a man, but he's also a dad of four who has seen first-hand the impact of breastfeeding babies. He also knows about diet and nutrition, so it's alright if he is alarmed at breastfeeding stats in his country and wants to tell more women to kindly breastfeed because it is good for babies.

(6) Jamie Oliver also went on record to clarify that the statistics did worry him and he knew that it wasn't always easy for new mothers to breastfeed. All he meant to say was if your body is cooperating, then kindly breastfeed.

(7) All my sanctimommy impulses were up and I went on a Twitter rant .

(8) Later that night I also engaged in a very thoughtful debate on the same topic. I realised that I was probably being an asshole earlier, so, I deleted said rant. I also realised that this subject needed a longer post, hence this list.

(9) Now that you have some context, let's proceed into paragraphs!

First off, I am still breastfeeding Fluffy. I breastfed exclusively until she was 6 months and I then started solids with feeds in between. I started formula @ 8months. Right now, I nurse her to sleep for day naps and night sleep.

When I was pregnant, pretty much all doctor's rooms were filled with pictures and charts about breastfeeding and how it is beneficial. I also spent a lot of time online to read up about it. There were also lots of women who shared their painful stories of not being able to because of various reasons - some didn't lactate at all, some did lactate but weren't producing enough, some lactated but had to get back to work, so chose not to breastfeed and put their babies on formula asap, some mothers had adopted their babies so breastfeeding was not even a criteria, some simply chose not to. I realised then that being a mother is not defined by how you choose to nourish your child in the initial days of being a mother.

All that being said, science supports the claim that breastfeeding your baby is a better option. There is no arguing that. The nutrients it provides are still being studied and trying to be replicated by companies who are manufacturing formula. Even if they do get the formula right, mass manufacturing it is going to be difficult. The entire industry wants to replicate breastmilk, not eliminate the need for it. No matter what happens, a doctor will advice an expectant mother to try and breastfeed, at least for the first three months. This tendency to let breastfeeding be the first option isn't going anywhere and it's time we all accept it.

Now, if women are feeling shamed, then that depends on the person putting the point across. On either side. If a breastfeeding advocate makes a point in a way that makes a non-breastfeeding mother guilty or ashamed, then that is absolutely wrong. There is no need to shame someone for any reason. Each woman has her own reason behind the choices she makes. I am a formula baby. My mother had to go back to work after three months, and my grandmother and aunts were the ones who took care of me. Back in 1984, breast pumps weren't common place. My mother thankfully had a good support system, so she never felt that she was doing anything wrong by giving me lactogen. In fact, she wanted me to try out formula for Fluffy and I told her I would, but not immediately.

Those of us who have the option of a healthy and supportive environment when we have babies should consider ourselves lucky. Every time we sit in our happy environments and dismiss other mothers for their choices or circumstances, we're literally losing hold of the sisterhood. And that's a big NO. I don't know what it is about parenthood that seems to bring out the most self-righteous assholery in our natures. Why do we want to shame other mothers? Okay, so your baby isn't throwing an epic tantrum, doesn't mean that a mother whose baby is trowing a tantrum is a bad mother. There's no need to get sanctimonious about it. For any reason. It cannot be difficult to empathise or even sympathise with a mother who is having a difficult time of parenthood. Be there, be supportive. How is it difficult to do that?

As for breastfeeding itself - I am an advocate. I will always be one. IF mothers choose not to or can't or came by parenting via surrogacy or adoption, then, I will support their choices and cheer them on and probably hold their hand through their baby's all-nighters! It is not for us to shame mothers, it is for us to ensure that mothers are made to feel like they aren't alone with a tiny new baby.

There is also another aspect to breastfeeding and that is nutritional support. For a new mother lactating is not enough, your body needs to be nourished in order to produce milk. And this shit about "women in poor countries breastfeed, it doesn't matter if you aren't eating" is just misguided. You need to be consuming healthy quantities of food in order for your body to produce the milk your baby needs. If you aren't eating at all or eating enough it will, in the long term, affect how much milk you are able to produce and, in turn, how much your baby is consuming. It doesn't mean you go overboard and eat everything in sight! Eat good food, well prepared and nutritious. Some women may not have the means to do it, and that is a problem that needs to be addressed by those working in the field (any person jumping in saying rural women need to be thought about will get a slap from me, When I say women, I mean all women. differentiating is not helping! Bleddee!)

Breastfeeding women aren't perched high looking down on women who aren't. I remember when my boobs hurt and I thought fluffy was latching on wrong only to discover that breastfeeding doesn't automatically absolve you of anything. There's infinite ways to shame women and it doesn't matter what you're doing right or wrong, someone somewhere will find a way to find fault with you. And take it from me, the person shaming you will be another woman. It's such a shitty vicious cycle. The worst part? The shamer is often found bitching about how things are difficult and not everyone understands what women go through. I have no words for those kind of hypocrisies. I am also guilty of saying things like this. And it is a constant struggle for me to get past my own baggage to truly empathise. 


It is getting impossible to have a sensible debate. Every time someone makes a point, rather than understand or let that person explain further, we jump into the fray like rabid dogs and silence common sense. This whole conversation around breastfeeding for example, men wanting to have a say in it is mildly ridiculous, but, if they would like to encourage women to consider breastfeeding as a nutrition option without making other women feel guilty or shamed, then I am all for the support. Whether we like it or not, most policy makers are men and if more of them are coming on board and encouraging a better quality of parenting for mothers everywhere, choices notwithstanding, then let them come on board. Because there is a small issue with the "no boobs, no opinion" argument, it is excluding those people who want to offer a genuine helping hand in letting these issues come to the fore and for conversations to begin and develop into healthy discussions and debate.

I just hope that as time goes by, simple issues like this don't have to be hotly debated and that each mother makes the decisions she wants to make without having to justify it to anyone. Least of all to other mothers!

And this long, rambling post is precisely why I don't want to engage with parents man. We're all fucking insane!




Monday, February 1, 2016

Why on earth are we so rude?

You know who I am? That guy online who can't stop from saying something thoroughly nasty.

And of late I've been subject to a litany of insults. Short of calling the guy out for being a sexist, misogynistic whatsit, I resorted to empty hyperbole to get him off my back. And thankfully, he took the bait. In his defense, I wasn't being very articulate. I was intentionally being dense, and he decided it was time to school me on how to make an intelligent point. Then someone else joined it and it got ugly. 

I won't divulge more details.

That entire interaction left me with a bad taste in my mouth. It made me realise how rude we have become. Ever since things have gone online, everyone with an internet connection who can read has been articulating themselves. Sometimes they do it behind the beil of anonymity. Sometimes they tout culture. And many more such instances. People like me? We think we know better and it is our place to police common sense. When I was younger, and far more actively involved in online groups, I was quite serious, and at times vehement about this specific job. Recently, however, I am just exhausted. Exhausted by the constant need to validate one's intelligence and superiority. I mean, we are living in a time when it is a crime for a person to post about their life on their page. Yes, it is annoying that even pizza or thali meals is centred around Instagram/Facebook/Twitter, but who am I to decide that I'm better than you because I'd rather eat the pizza than photograph it?

I'm just very disillusioned with online conversation these days, which is precisely why I'd rather spam my wall with baby pictures and dog pictures than tell everyone what I'm thinking!


Saturday, January 2, 2016

Long time no see

Every new mother with a blog will tell you that time is a precious commodity for them. I used to be a judgy little shit and think they were just inefficient. And I had a baby last year. I am not judging anything or anyone right now. Because today, after only god knows how long, I shampooed my hair. There was no screaming, no incessant crying. I almost said a prayer of thanks!

But this kind of joy is short lived. I don't know when I am going to get this kind of time next. 

I just felt that the momentous event of a hair shampoo deserved a mention.

Signing out.

P.S. I'm now blogging via the app. So, no more long breaks!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Helen Aller's picture, and my birth story

"What do you mean labour pain? You didn't have labour pain. You took the easy way out. You haven't experienced actual childbirth until you've had a normal birth. Without any epidural." -- a visitor, 6 weeks after Ammu's birth.


 ************
 
It's not often that I think ahout my labour. But last week, an image was shared on my Facebook wall and that picture took me back to the wee hours of May 15.

At around 3am on May 15, my back hurt. Not my usual it'll-go-away-if-I-rest-it-long-enough kind of pain, but this was different. At the time, I was in the 37th week of my pregnancy. It was the home stretch. My mum and I were going to pack my hospital bag over the weekend and I was also going to call the stem cell registry to store Ammu's cord blood. That was the plan. Well, to be more specific, that was my plan. Ammu, on the other hand, had something entirely different envisioned for herself.

************


May 12, 2015.

It's a Tuesday. I look like a whale. Or something. Most people who've seen me this pregnant, think I look amazing for someone this pregnant. "You don't look like you're going to have a baby in three weeks" is what I heard. I didn't have to buy an entirely new wardrobe. The few maternity tops I did buy were meant to serve as nursing tops too, so, it was a dual-purpose investment. The night before, I'd gone to Chap Chay at The Raintree, St.Mary's Road. It was my aunt's birthday. Thankfully, I didn't empty the contents of my stomach immediately after. The walk from the car park to my OB/GYN office was getting harder to do as the days went by. In the waiting room, the number of old faces had decreased. By some strange miracle, I got a single digit token number, and got called in early. I had my third trimester scan reports with me, they were taken to rule out IUGR. The doctor gave me my usual physical exam, perused my scans and said, "Everything's fine. I'm a little worried about your weight gain, you won't realise it now, but after your baby is born,  you will feel every single kilo you've put on." 

I smiled at her. At 37 weeks, honestly, what more could I do about losing weight? So, I asked her about my birth plan. "Everything looks okay. We'll go in for a normal birth. The chances of a c-section are very low. Unless there's some unforeseen development in the labour room, I don't see why we should opt for anything other than a normal birth." I was so relived when I left. Since the beginning of my pregnancy, the only thing I worried about was what kind of birth I was going to have. Between eating well, and trying to get in whatever little exercise I could, I was praying that I'd have a normal birth. 


************

May 13, 2015.

Something's wrong. I mean, my anti-nausea pills should be working. But, who the hell am I kidding? Doxinate NEVER worked for me; all through my first trimester, I threw up my anti-nausea meds and my prenatal vitamin pills as whole, undigested pills. It was a sight to behold. Truly.

So, here I am, again. Trimester three. The kind of nausea I hoped I'd never have ever again. Doxinate has obviously decided to not work and just dissolve in my digestive juices with no effect whatsoever. Standing at the sink and throwing up was simply not what I'd thought I'd be doing this late in my pregnancy. And my nausea has this nasty tendency to be a 24-hour episode. Going back to the doctor isn't going to help. She can't give me any other medication. 


************

May 14, 2015.

Still throwing up. Every heave has me clutching my stomach, terrified. I'm frantically texting my friend in the Netherlands. She's pregnant too. We keep checking in on each other. Her son is due in July. She has a rather extreme case of Hyperemesis Garivardum. She's on a nasal feeding tube. We keep consoling each other. Marveling that we're both mothers now. I tell her that I'm waiting to get rid of my goddamned nausea medication. 

I spend the entire day feeling super uncomfortable. I sat on my sofa the whole day, being miserable and upset. I tell Amma that my friend P asked me about getting my hospital bag ready. "We'll do it during the weekend. We'll take the red bag."


************

May 15, 2015.

It's 3am. I'm awake. Man, this baby won't quit! I need to sleep. I'm exhausted from all the vomiting. But my back begins to hurt and I need to go to the loo. Something's off. This isn't the normal kind of ache. I'm pacing the room. I wake my mother up. She says, it's nothing, it'll go away and that I need to lie down. I do. But the pain is so intense that I can't sleep on my back, I keep tossing and turning. By 4am, I tell my mother that I'm spotting and that we need to go to the hospital.

We wake up my dad, I go to change my clothes. I have a cold shower and change into a nightdress, and take my file and get ready to leave. I call my husband to tell him I'm going. We call the immediate family to let them know. Everyone else thinks that this is a false alarm. They happen. I'm the only one who doesn't. I've already started timing my contractions. They're ten minutes apart.

By the time we reach the hospital, it's 4.30 and there's no one there, kind of. My dad being the army guy, goes into officer mode and starts ordering people around. I'm wheeled into the labour ward at around 5.15am. The nurses have told me that I'm in labour. I've changed out of my home clothes and into hospital gear. I'm busy on Whatsapp. The nurse tells me to please pretend that I have labour pain. The strap on a fetal monitor and I can hear Ammu's heartbeat. It's reassuring somehow. Tells me that she's okay.

My contractions are now 5 minutes apart. By this time I've had two pelvic exams. I'm in excruciaitng pain. Dilation is on track, but there's a huddle. Huddles in hospital rooms worry me. They're waiting for my OB/GYN to arrive. By now, I've been in labour for 6 hours. My doctor arrives, one more pelvic exam, and her glove comes out looking yellow. She says "meconium staining". There's one more huddle. It's 10am now, and I'm freaking out. My contractions are a couple of minutes apart. I'm no longer ashamed of screaming my damn head off. In less than a minute, there's all kinds of things happening. I'm asked to get onto another bed, they're going to move me to the OT. As I get up, and battle one more contraction, my water breaks. It's greenish. The nurse gasps. She puts a rush on my trip to the OT.

As I'm wheeled, I see amma running to me. "She pooped. They need to get her out." Amma looks so worried. I walked out of the labour room at 5.30 to tell her I'm fine, and she has to go home and get my a toothbrush and an overnight bag, and baby clothes. She'd reached the hospital a few minutes ago.

I'm taken to a swanky room. Something's hissing in the background. The give me the anesthetic. The frame is placed, and many other things are happening, the only thing I know is that I feel like I'm in an episode of Grey's. The Oxygen is seriously getting to me. I'm high on pure Oxygen. Who would have thought that? The doctor huddle continues and someone keeps tapping my face asking me to stay awake. And then there's a scream. My child has arrived. And someone is pulling some kind of black string up in the air. She's taken away, and I continue watching the black string come up from time to time. Suddenly, I ask the anesthesiologist "Is it a boy or a girl?". "WHY DIDN'T YOU SHOW HER HER BABY?", and she continued to pull that damn string! Someone brings over a pink, warm bundle to me "It's a girl." "Hi baby," I say. I want to get up and hold her, but I'm strapped down and that cursed string is still flying in the air!

The surgery is done, I'm wheeled out to the post-op room. And then to recovery. I haven't seen my daughter yet. My phone battery has died. I want to talk to my husband. I feel so disconnected from everything. I can only hear people barking instructions about getting her a mosquito net, and god knows what else. Everything happened so fast. I also can't feel my legs.

I keep falling asleep. When I'm awake, I'm trying to nurse my baby, who wants no part of it. She's sleeping and doesn't like being disturbed. I spend the night huddled with her. I'm in a lot of pain, but frankly, I don't care. There's an impossibly tiny person lying next to me, with long fingers and toes, pink skin and silky black hair. I can't believe that I'm a mother. I'm waiting for the Hallmark moment to hit me. It doesn't.

Everyone is excited. They're visiting, snapping photographs. Asking me about names, whether I'm glad she's a girl, so many questions. I just want to get my IV off my hand and eat some real food. I want to go home and sleep. I want to be alone with my baby. I want to bathe. I want to walk like a normal person. I want to see what my scar looks like.


************

August 27, 2015

It's 1.10 am as I type this. Ammu is asleep. I want to sleep too, but I feel like I'm doing something dangerous. Staying awake well after my newborn is asleep. It's like I'm tempting fate. I don't want to, but I couldn't resist. It's been a week since I encountered Helen Aller's moving image. I keep going to her page and looking at it. It was taken off because Facebook is an idiot, and after the image went viral and common sense prevailed the image is back online.

Looking at that image only made me think about the day Ammu was born, my first glimpse of her, the days I spent not being able to feel anything because I went from pregnant to being mom so fast! I remember seemingly endless nights, my absolute extreme mood swings, my being the last person in the room to be fasicnated by her. I remember trying to hold on to her while she decided that the best way to feed was by pretending she was superman and hauling her tiny legs high up! She's only three months old and there's already so much to remember!

Thank you for that photograph Helen Aller. Every time I look at it, I erase every ridiculous comment people make about c-sections.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Since 2006

Once upon a time, I used to address my life online with the moniker "Lizzie Borden". For those of you in the know, wondering why on earth I chose an ax murderer to talk about my life, I played Lizzie Borden in a play.





Those days, I posted everything on my blog. From life stories, to poetry to the things I wrote.

Then I decided to branch off and have separate blogs for my fiction and my personal journal. And wouldn't you know it, the journal got filled up faster than I could churn out my work articles!

I shut down the Lizzie Borden blog and the email ID it was linked to. In 2008, I created my current email ID and in 2009 December The Shh Diaries were born. Somehow, writing here about the things that I think about and the things that matter to me seems easier. And initially, like all bloggers I wanted an active comments section.

I stopped worrying about it all, though. I didn't want an active comments section. Not after that "Open Letter to a Delhi Boy" went viral and that girl apparently got all manner of indecencies thrown at her. I was glad for this corner of the internet where I could peacefully write about my life and hate on people I disliked and went my way to do my thing. The occasional comment would pop-up and make me happy and I would engage with the person who left a message here, but otherwise things have been mostly quiet.

These days, I've been posting on Google+ and Twitter about any new posts on the blog, hoping that this time around the things I want to share will be read by people and they would leave a comment about it. Not happening. That's when I remembered that this blogging format is pretty dead. The blogs that are being followed either need a viral post to become famous or be helmed by a famous person or just be hella more interesting than my musings about everything.

The quiet out here makes me think about other things, though. What if my book does get finished and get published? And as an aftermath, in the quest to get to know me better, people troll this blog and pick up something and go online with it and say "Shruthi Padmanabhan's views on feminism will shock you" or something and a damn hate campaign takes off? This is usually the point where my rational self steps in and corrects my emotional self. The thoughts I've put online are not thoughts I'm ashamed of. They're not things I would never say in person to the people I know. I've been known to say and do far worse than I let on online.

As I read more and more about the death and temporary resurgence of longform, I wonder how much longer I'm going to keep this blog active. Because honestly, without this space, I wouldn't have any place to try out my experimental sentence structures and tampering with vocabulary. Maybe it is time to get back to that unfinished masterpiece after all!


Thursday, July 9, 2015

It Never Rains in Chennai...

...but when it does, it's something else!

Before I get into this, let me tell you why I'm talking about the rains when my weather app says - "38 degrees but feels like 42"!!! -

Narayani wrote about her first memories of the monsoon and tagged me. I would have written this earlier and passed this along, but, Fluff keeps me super busy and disinterested in typing anything longer than a Facebook status update!

So, anyway, here goes:

When we were kids, I remember waking up at the crack of dawn and dawdling at what I can only describe as a human chain that formed at the landing of the staircase that led up to our house in Kilpauk. My grandmother, my aunts, my uncle and my mum would all be lined up. Sid and me? We'd pretend to be useful running out of the house with empty buckets.

You see, our next door neighbour had a handpump and that was our only source of water. The compound house we lived in didn't have a pump, so, we had to fill water up in the mornings and evenings to use in the kitchen and bathrooms. Those were the days we used water very carefully and didn't waste a single drop! Madras was experiencing a drought. To the point where one of our relatives, who was a state minister, invited us over to their house where they had a regular supply of water tankers, to bathe (a shampoo bath!).

Thinking back on those days now, it seems ridiculous. But the memories of my old baby bath tub being coverted into a water storage bucket and lines of brightly coloured plastic kodams filled with water are still vivid.

Why drought when the original intention was to talk to you about my monsoon memories? Because it doesn't rain in Chennai!

We're a coastal city, we have cyclone warnings every year. Some years it even rains in Feburary/March, but for the most part my city doesn't experience a monsoon like the rest of the country does, not until October.

When the rest of the country airs its woolens and the advertising is about winter creams and thermal inners is when we sit in the muggy pre-rain outdoors and watch as the clouds build up and listen to the rain fall and store it as a precious memory. Because when the agni nakshatram heat hits us in May, that cool breeze before the rain is what sustains us until October and November.

My favourite monsoon memory, however, is dated 2005/2006. I was studying at Madras Univeristy then. On campus. My classroom was on the top floor. Other than us and the Computer Science departments, everything else was terrace. And the view! Right out into the Bay of Bengal! The unfortunate fact was that we had to sit on the parapet outside the loo to take in the sight of the endless ocean!

One afternoon, Jeya and I were sitting on that parapet watching the sea. We had class, and we didn't want to go. We never wanted to go to class, that's a whole other thing. I don't remember what we were talking about, but, we were both looking at the sea ahead of us. And then we saw it. Clouds. Dark. Almost black. Moving above the sea. Coming from opposite directions and looking like they were headed straight for each other. There was a thin grey wall underneath them, telling us that there was rain where these clouds loomed. The terrace  tiles in front of us were dry as a bone and yet, somewhere on the sea was rain.

As we watched, part amazed, part awed, the clouds met and before we could comprehend what we'd witnessed they headed straight for us. A thick wall of rain, heavy and noisy and cool. Jeya and I watched as it covered inch after inch of the terrace before flying over us and into a parched city. We were both a little too excited to pretend we were grown women doing our masters degrees. I don't even know if I've managed to explain it properly over here.

The reason this stands out for me is because until then, rains were all about reaching a place with great difficulty. It almost always rained when I had to catch my bus for school or college and almost always I was late or I got splashed by some car or I arrived looking rather shabby. I didn't have the time or inclination to appreciate the romance of the monsoon or anything pleasant about anything to do with the rains. My clothes had to be iron-dried and my socks almost always got the worst of it. I had to always wear proper footwear because travelling by bus meant I didn't have a dry space to change shoes.

I always complained about the rains. I still do. Objectively, I see how pretty it is and how lovely everything looks once it's been washed in the cleanest and purest water, but reality had a whole other picture for me and frankly I didn't care for it. It took me until my early twenties and that afternoon sitting on the parapet to really appreciate what the rains were all about.

For those of you who are coastal children who have seen the rains come in like this, I'm sure you've also tried explaining the rain coming in. For those of you who've never seen something like this, I think it's time to visit coastal India. Seriously. You have to see it to believe how beautiful that sight is.

 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Mommy Blog?



MY DAUGHTER HAS ARRIVED LADIES AND GENTS!

Yup. After all that, I'm a mother now. May 15, 10.21am.

She came out protesting, kicking and screaming. I mean, I would too if I was three weeks early!

I'm not sure what my feelings are at this point. I'm the least fascinated person in the room. I think that's what happens when you're the one struggling to get out of bed with some semblance of normalcy because you're stitches are still healing and you've lost pretty much all control of your core muscles because of your c-section. I need help doing small things like bend to fill up a bottle of water, but that's getting better. Thankfully, my op hasn't affected much more than simple every day movements, so, I can deal with Fluffy as needed.

While everyone is busy being fascinated with her, I'm just enjoying not being heavily pregnant! I mean, I can bend now to put lotion on my feet, to soap my legs, and to pick up something and not feel like I'm about to fall over! It's so much fun! I mean, don't get me wrong, I love all the time I get to spend with my little one, and sometimes holding her over my shoulder just because I can, but to go from being a constantly itchy balloon who couldn't wear her usual slippers to a deflated, non-rashy version of myself is beyond joyous!

I'm glad that my post-pregnant self is what it is. I can't imagine having to deal with more craziness with my body now that she's here. As for the hormonal nonsense that everyone talks about, that's for me to deal with, no? I knew what I was signing up for. The other motherhood feels and all I can discuss!

Which brings me to the title of this post. Will I be more mommy blog and less Ranteshwari? Only time will tell.

Until then,

HOLY SHIT I'M A MOTHER!