World Breastfeeding Week – how we made it through.

Breastfeeding momma

Of all the things that are changing as Arjun is growing up, the thing that I miss the most is breastfeeding. My little baby being nourished and nurtured at my breast. I am not kidding when I tell you that I list it as an accomplishment when I take stock of life. It was not easy, no. Breastfeeding him exclusively for 6 months and then continuing it for another 6 months before the baby self-weaned – took up all of my reserve of determination. Hours of sitting at the same place nursing the child, feeding on demand and being available 24*7 and practically not having even a few minutes to yourself; it was all worth it.

Now I am not going to give any gyaan on breastfeeding, but all you women out there, it is the best gift to give your child. And I say this from personal experience. When the baby starts feeding, some hormones get released in your body, and the calm and peace which you feel at that time is unparalleled. Of course, you have to be in that moment, with the baby, not wishing to be somewhere else, but once you clear your brain of all your to-do lists, it can be a perfect zen-time. And the baby immensely benefits from mothers milk. From the closeness, from the attachment and also the customised nourishment that he is getting. Mother’s milk has everything your baby needs, on that day, modified as per signals received by the mother’s body during the previous feeding session. If this had to be explained in one word, I would call it miraculous.

And there were so many things I could do because the baby was breastfed. Arjun and I took a 28 hour long journey to San Francisco, just the two of us when he was 9 months old. I must have fed him 20 times in those 28 hours, but I did not have to carry any bottles, any formula, no sterilisation. Every time he would make a sound, I would start nursing him and it would instantly calm him. No fuss, no crying. A lady in the plane remarked later on that she didn’t know there was a baby on board.

Of course it took an army of supporters. My husband, my mom, my mother-in-law, so many of my friends and relatives, the very supportive pro-breastfeeding paediatrician, my lactation consultant and the Breastfeeding support for Indian Mothers group on Facebook. Each one had a huge role to play, especially in the first 2 months when baby and I were still getting used to each other, and I would cry at the drop of a hat. But we all did stick through it, and its been the most wondrous journey of my life.

Its now a year and a half since Arjun stopped feeding, and how I miss those moments. The baby would be mine alone at that time and I would be his. In sync with each other.

Arjun is quite an independent child now, stays away from mom and dad even for a week when we go away for meetings. Sometimes he is so engrossed in his play doh that he wont realise its been 2 hours since he spoke to anyone. But then there are days when he wont even let me go pee after coming back from work. Every minute after and before office hours have to be spent with him. Physically and mentally. No phone, no laptop, no talking to any other person. Just him. Momma, lets paint. Mom look at how I can jump, momma help me make a ball of clay, mum lets go to the garden, momma let me hug you (for the fiftieth time in the last hour) , mom you feed me, give me water, let me sit in your lap, let me play with your ears, I will comb your hair, you brush my teeth, teach me a new song, let me sleep in your lap like a baby and so on. An endless list of demands over your time and space.

But I wont have it any other way. If he was indifferent to me, or disinterested in doing activities with me, I. Will. Die. This might be my only chance at being a mom, and I want to cling to every minute of it.

Unable to decide if we should have one more child or not, it is in these moments  that I sometimes ask this 2.5 year old ‘Should we make one more baby in momma’s stomach?’

With the profoundness of a toddler, he quickly asks me ‘Then who will I call momma? Maybe then I will have to start calling my grandma as my mom’. Heartbroken I tell him, ‘Hey! I will still be your mom. Always.’ ‘But what if the other baby takes you to his home?’, he gets puzzled. My little baby doesn’t understand the concept of expanding the family, but he definitely understands that he doesn’t want to share his mom.

Well, for now, this is my only baby. The baby I created inside me, and nurtured wholly for 6 months on the milk that I made. Customised for him.

It is true that breastfeeding can be tricky and its a matter of personal choice. And all of us are still awesome parents even if we don’t do things in this way or another, but I firmly believe that Breast is Best. So all you gorgeous feeding mammas, hang in there.

Happy Breastfeeding Week y’all!

Love,

Rutvika

Of stories that touch the heart and don’t let you go.

 

Our class teacher in school Ms. Nelson used to read out stories from the Bible to us, in the first hour called ‘Value Education’. I had very little understanding  of the Bible and don’t remember most of the stories, but I remember being enchanted when she used to read out about Jacob and Esau, David and Goliath. A short and plump Keralite christian, she used to wear more gold to school than my mom wore to weddings. When she sat there in the classroom on a wooden chair, sunlight shining in her hair from a window on the right, she looked angelic. The power of stories was manifesting itself through her.

I have been lucky to have had many people tell me stories. From contemporary books, from mythology, from their own works. My grandma often used to tell me stories of Shivaji Maharaj, as grandmothers often do – at bedtime. The dashing Hirkani who climbed down a dangerous fort in the dark of the night because her baby was alone at home at the foothills, ‘Gad aala pun Sinha gela’ story where Tanaji Malusare left his son’s wedding to go re-capture Kondana fort for Shivaji, how Shivaji cut three of Shaista Khan’s fingers in a skirmish and escaped and so on.  Bright, fierce and valorous stories perfect for a little girl. And the smell of my grandmother’s cotton saree and as I lay close to her.

Now in adulthood the stories continue, but are rarely fictional. Stranger than any others I have heard before, but true. A baby who died while taking birth because the family was opposed to a C-section, a young girl who gets bullied in the school because she is different, a teenage boy who slips into depression and doesn’t know how to overcome it, stories of long unhappy marriages, ungrateful kids and the list is endless. Sometimes there is a dark cloud hanging over me and I can’t see through it.

The silver lining to all this is my 2 year old child and the stories he tells. Of the plants he planted with his grandfather and how there was a bud which bloomed into a flower. Of Jugnu, the little boy from Vikas Khanna’s book who loses his rolling pin on the way back from school. Of fishes who are having a birthday party and giraffes who call him Daddy. Life would have been difficult if it was made up of only adults.

And then yesterday I watched the movie Room, adapted from a book by the same name. Heartbreakingly beautiful. I had read the book a year back and knew the plot, the ending, everything. But I couldn’t stop crying for the entire two hours of the movie. I struggled between abandoning the movie and going to bed to hug my sleeping child and watching this hauntingly realistic story of Joy and her baby Jack who were held in captivity for several years. Its a story of their escape and of finding themselves in this big world. There was one scene when Joy says to her boy Jack that she is not a good Ma. Jack without skipping a beat tells her ‘May be, but you are the Ma.’ You should watch the movie and feel it for yourself how that line pierces the most vulnerable part of your heart.

There will always be two types of stories in this world. The good and the bad. The ones which make you cry. With pain or with joy. Of little girls and strong women, of boys and their banter. The ones which make you recoil from the storyteller and some which will make you hug them. We cannot hide from any of them. All that we can do is listen with an open mind and be kind with our words. And make our own stories and tell them. So someone out there says ‘this too shall pass’ or someone else sees a light at the end of a dark tunnel on hearing your words. We have all been through it, in varying measures and different circumstances. But we are here, now. And that’s what matters.

Next month I will be visiting my granny, my only surviving grandparent. I am going to ask her to tell me a story. She will start with one where her old friend was abandoned by her son, but I will tell her to stop. Please ajji, not this one. Tell me one where everyone is happy, everything feels good. “You know too much about the world now to believe any of those” is what she will tell me. I will sigh and put my head in her lap. Lets go back to Shivaji Maharaj, ajji. And perhaps we will.

Rutvika

Going to school : Mom is more petrified than the child

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Arjun is two years old now. Which means he will soon have to start play school, nursery etc etc and get in the rigamarole of people telling him how to do stuff. Not to say that we don’t, but he barely listens to us and convinces – coaxes, pampers or ignores us and goes his own way. He has also learnt fake crying and does it with eyes wide open to check our reaction. But all of this won’t be tolerated in school. One playgroup teacher in fact even told us that she doesn’t let kids in her class use the toilet except in the designated break time. Kids need to learn discipline. I am not sure how she imposes this on snotty 3 years olds, but we excluded that play school from our (very)short-list.

In the last two weeks, we have visited 5 playschools in our area. And rejected each one of them. For very peculiar reasons. The first one had a “counsellor” on board. They identify what problem your child has and direct them to specialist doctors on their panel. The administrator of that school proudly listed the kids whose problems were identified – ‘A has sensory problem’, ‘B has walking problem’, ‘C has talking problem’ and so on. I am sure they will find some problem with my boy – “not a party-goer, hates loud noise” might be topping the list. And while I understand that adults can sometimes need counselling, the idea to have a counsellor for toddlers rebuffs me. This nursery struck off.

In contrast to this one, we went to a traditional playgroup, the one which has been around in the same place for last 25 years. Replete with leaking taps and paint peeling off the walls. They believed in keeping it simple. And while it ensured that they had no hyper specialised doctors on board, I kept wondering if the carpet was damp with fresh water or umm, otherwise. Those guys need to refurbish to let in a lot more light and make it habitable. Another one neatly erased from the list.

The other two were tiny, looked like covered parking spots. Basically set up in place of shops on the ground floor of residential buildings. They were sparkly and bright with animal murals painted on the walls. A little play area with plastic slides and building blocks.  But I wasn’t comfortable with either of them. I can’t say why other than the fact that it felt I would be leaving my baby in a converted shop.

Perhaps, I am just not ready to let my baby go out into the world. I am wary of public scrutiny. If he is very active, has ten things up his sleeve, he will be labelled ‘hyper-active’, if he sits quietly in the room, he will be termed ‘anti-social’. Whatever he does will not be confirming to the usual standards of normalcy. And with that people will judge me. As a mother. Me and my husband as parents. And even his grand-parents because he spends a lot of time during the day with them when we go to work. Now I have read enough self help books and articles and TED talks to know that I shouldn’t let it matter to me. But how do I protect my boy from all of this?

But finally, this weekend we found a school which prima facie seems to be in line with our beliefs. More focus on books, less on gadgets; a teacher who didn’t squirm when Arjun refused to enter the school, one who wasn’t shouting instructions but talking softly, giving importance to sending at-least one fruit with the tiffin box, etc etc. In isolation these are little things, shouldn’t matter much, but the whole as a belief system matters a lot.

Like most babies, Arjun is a sensitive little dude. Cries when Jack fell down the hill, or Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. We have to make amendments in the song and assure him that Jack and Humpty Dumpty are both okay. He is the one with a lot of hugs, lot of Eskimo kisses and is constantly making us tea, cupcakes, dosa with his plastic kitchen set. He is currently obsessed with mannequins and wants to go and touch all of them outside the shops in the market. Tells us that the mannequins are not real but believes when I say that they sleep at night and we can’t go see them. He is weird that way. But I would go to any length to protect his imagination, his story telling and his firm conviction that his baby cream can cure anything in the world.

And I am sure eventually he will be a master in self-help and give gyaan to us, but for now, it is our responsibility to take care of this little Peppa Pig.

Love,

Rutvika

Oh baby, don’t grow up so fast.

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Arjun, my almost two year old boy is at an age, where he can make sense of the little things going on around him. He can explain , argue, try to convince or throw a tantrum as the last resort. Many times he says things to us which we have previously said to him. When I hurt my finger with a kitchen knife, he came running with his baby lotion and told me to apply it and it will get well very soon. When his father coughed during a meal, he quickly pointed out that he should take smaller bites and eat slowly. Stuff that we tell him sooner or later comes back at us. He knows which clothes I wear to work and which clothes on the weekends. So last Saturday when I wanted to go meet a friend for lunch, I told him I am going to office and you take a nap with your baba. He looked at my jeans and gleefully exclaimed that I am not wearing office clothes, so I can’t go to the office. It’s hard to say anything to that when you feel half proud about your child’s supposed intelligence and half stupid to be so simplistic that a 2 year old has already figured you out. But that’s what it is. Many times we have to talk in spellings now, because he knows his mother tongue Marathi very well, and can also pick up on most commonly used English words. Often you will find us talking like this – ‘Should we take him s-w-i-m-m-i-n-g in the evening?’ or ‘Don’t bring that a-p-p-l-e in front of him till he finishes dinner’ et cetera.

But this baby boy is wary of loud places and crowded rooms. Any new people make him nervous and he starts saying he wants to go home. When I took him to a Mentor Me India meeting a few weeks back because no one was at home to baby-sit him, he cried non-stop till I quickly called an Uber to go home. But as soon as I showed him that an Uber was on the way, he stopped crying. A fellow mentor asked him that if you understand what is happening then why are you crying? Arjun replied with a wail to ensure that I don’t cancel the cab. He was uncomfortable there for whatever reasons, and he was communicating it to me in the best way he could. Now so many times it happens that I want to literally and figuratively run out of a place. Especially dark rooms with small windows. I have yet not been able to articulate why. Then how can I expect him to do that? But nevertheless I feel exasperated at times and wish he was more ‘social’. More like me than his dad who also needs a lot of alone time.

Currently Arjun’s grandma has gone to the USA for a few weeks to spend time with her granddaughter. Naturally he is quite upset that his beloved ajji can’t be seen anywhere. Without any frame of reference of a month or a week, I was worried how to tell him that she will come back soon, but after many days and many nights. He cried for the first two days but now he tells himself every morning that ajji has gone to US to bring his cousin Sara to Mumbai so that they can play together. Suddenly he misses her less, because it’s for a special cause. It is so that he gets back not only ajji but also Saru-tai, his cousin. Poor baby Arjun is set for another heartbreak in a few weeks, but for now he is waiting. And valiantly assures me that ajji will come back soon when I say that I miss her too.

These new generation kids are really smart I tell you. Making sense of the world faster than us. My two and half year old nephew can unlock any cellphone, take selfies and photos. And if there is no password, he can even play his favourite Youtube videos! My friends’ similar aged son can identify cars whizzing by. His toy cars include a Lamborghini, Bugatti, Ferrari etc. And I can’t even recognise my white Activa scooter without seeing the number plate. I often wonder how can we match up to these kids? How do we keep them stimulated without binding them to dozens of activity classes? If you have any tips, I am very keen to hear.

And of course things are not so sensible every day. There are times when Arjun is crying unconsolably because he wants to wear the same soiled diaper from the dustbin or he has had a bad dream at 3 am and wants to go to the park right now to see the horse or some other absurd idea at an ungodly time and I want to disappear from this life. Wake up in another era when I had my brain to myself and was not muddled with concern, worry, and a whole another individual. But then that’s why parenting is a two person job (mostly). Akshay takes over and asks me to shoo away when I am running out of patience. It true that it takes a village to raise a child. If it were just the baby and me I would have gone crazy long back.

End of this month little baby turns two, he just switched from rear-facing baby car seat to front facing big-boy seat. I cling to his baby ways of doing things, his sweet smell, the way he asks me to pick him up and hold him, the way he wil hold my face in both his hands and prevent me from talking to anyone else. Because it won’t last long. Soon his non-stop chatter will turn into reserved one-word sentences. Cuddles will be hard to come by and the grown up air will surround him. I better enjoy each moment now, and go give him a nose-to-nose Eskimo kiss. Right now.

Xoxo.

Rutvika

 

 

A letter to my yet-to-be born nephews

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Arjun and his cousin Malhaar

Flashback April 2014 : This was a little before I got pregnant. Although I initially wrote it for K and N, I read it a few times to Arjun when he was growing within me.

**

My best friend and my favorite cousin are going to have a baby in just a couple of months. I am incredibly fond of both these women but work and distance separates me from meeting them as often as I would have liked. It limits the opportunities that I have to tell their soon-to-be-born kids of how kick-ass their moms are. And how this is the one and only time when they can see their mom at the workplace, in meetings, experiencing the daily conundrum of life, be a part of everything that’s going on and still be aloof.

I want to tell those little ones (I am not sure what I should call them, the doctor also doesn’t refer to them as babies till they are born, so I will be calling them little ones), that –

“Mommy is incredibly proud to host you for 9 months as a part of her and this is the time when you will be undividedly hers, and she yours. Of course, later on you will be a priority too, don’t grumble in there, your mommy can feel it. But while you are cocooned inside, have a fun time. Your mom is eating different foods. I am sure you must be playing a guessing game of ‘what-mom-ate’ based on the tastes and smells you get. Yes you are right, there are a lot of different tastes, sweet, sour, salty, spicy, but momma is protecting you from the bitter taste, and she most always will.

Little one, I have known your mom since she was a very young. She is sweet yet determined, organised yet crazy and loving yet stern. I wish to tell you these things because at times you may find she is talking mildly in a soft voice and sometimes as if she is commanding an army. Dont worry little one, it is just the situation that demands your mom to act that way. But in her heart she is always the kind girl.

It is still a few months before you arrive and yet all arrangements for you have been made. That doesn’t mean you should hurry up, oh darling, take your own time in there. Because you will be spending the next 100 years on this land, but just the nine months inside. So fully utilize this time, get in a lot of nutrition (mommy is really eating for two) and become a big fat baby while you come out. Recognize your mom’s scent, hear the way her stomach grumbles when she is hungry, feel the tremble of her shiver when she sees a scary thing and notice her goosebumps when she reads something emotional. She is your shield little one, and yet she will let a few things seep in so that you are not utterly shocked once you come out.

You dont know the concept of gravity yet, but when you do, you will be able to appreciate how your mom held you up in her stomach, and how her back must have hurt. Of course the version you are seeing of her is the slower one currently, because she has to protect you. Oh but let me tell you, she is one fire-brand. You haven’t seen her kick a football so hard that it goes out of the field or watched her get into a train full of people, where it seems not another person can get in. You haven’t seen her hop on a bike and zoom off with your dad or brave the snow and dashingly go off to buy groceries. And you will see how once you are 2 years old and running around, she can run behind you but way faster than you. She can toss you in the air and swoop you up, and you will feel as if you are flying. She will tickle the hell out of you and laugh so hard, that you will think this is the best moment in life.

She will do a lot of things for you little one, but you are doing good too. Your kicks reassure her, your swelling size makes her confident. Uncomfortable, but confident. Your movement makes her feel alive inside and the nudge of your toe lets her know you are eager and connecting. She can feel your heartbeat and that is what keeps her going.

Love you little one, more than you can ever know. ”

Rutvika Charegaonkar

“I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different.”

― Kurt Vonnegut