Maternity impressions from the Himalayas

January 2012

After living for some years in India – at least the way I do – the little everyday’s challenges become eventually part of your routine; it is like having to get used to live with some kind of entity you have to deal with – weather you like it or not. Mainly it is all about stopping to complain and accept the things which you cannot change anyway.

However it looks pretty different once you have to go through all these situations with a little baby, especially if you are an extremely unorganized person as I am. Imagine this situation: The baby wakes up crying in the middle of a pitch black night during the chilly Himalayan winter.  According to the smell, the situation quickly becomes clear:

She has to be changed IMMEDIATELY!

The “surprise” is evidently oozing from all possible sides and for some reason the flashlight is not where it is supposed to be, so I try to find the light switch while stumbling over all kind of items which are lying on the floor.  In India most of the activities take place on the floor and I had completely forgotten to pick up several baby items, probably because I was too tired for that and had left it for later.

The baby cries harder, Mum gets more nervous and is shaking from the coldness which fills the room, but finally manages to find the switch – just to realize that the power is gone!

Okay, then Plan B: Candles!

The next mission is to find candles and matches in the dark. Then, light the wood stove to bring some warmth in the room – I also do not have much of a talent for lighting fire; if I was a sadhu, I would probably starve or freeze to death due to my poor fire skills.

Lighting

Have you ever tried to change a cloth diaper under candle light? I can tell you that it is no fun at all with a struggling baby and a flickering, dim light. Of course, there is no warm water available either, as the boiler is electric, too.  Anyways, somehow I manage to handle the situation and just when I finish changing the bed sheets and open the door to transport them out of the room, a miracle occurs: The electricity is back!

An organized person would probably store an emergency box for those cases near the bed. For some reason I never managed to do that. Due to all this action, the baby is of course wide awake and giggling happily – Mum wants to cry, but smiles at the short night and the long day which lies ahead.

In my opion in the West we have many silly complements and gadgets for children nobody actually really needs; but not having them might show that you are not a good parent, so the house is full of stuff you’ll probably never use. But I have to say that unless you are an Indian goddess with at least six arms, some of them are very, very useful! Many times I wished I had one of those baby seats where baby can sit, watch and play, while mom does something useful in the house with both of her hands.

Having a Baby in India also made me realize further cultural differences, of which I was completely unaware up to then.  The village ladies were shocked when they saw me going for a walk with a three week old baby.

“What are you doing? Are you crazy to walk around outside with such a small child? It is gonna get a fever!”

Winter during daytime here is actually really pleasant and I was also lucky to have some good baby clothes which my family kindly had sent me from Germany. By the way: Back there, we have a saying which goes “There is nothing such as bad weather, there are only bad clothes”

And I even heard that people in Scandinavian counties put their babies to sleep outdoors during winter when temperatures are below zero, because it is considered to be good for baby’s health. Well, different countries, other ways. In India, the baby should not leave the house during at least the first few months of her life.

Something's watching...

I was also criticized because I did not paint the baby’s eyes black with kajal. They say that this looks cute and is good for the child as well. …looks cute?!? I don’t know, maybe it is a matter of taste. I can’t help it, but whenever I see an Indian baby with this typical make-up which is supposed to keep the “evil eye” away, it reminds me of a sad panda bear. And if it was indeed good for health, then why are there posters in the pediatrician’s waiting room asking the parents to please not turn their children into sad panda bears?

But I also had plenty of great advices from the village ladies. From time to time they would visit us in our house, normally exactly then when I was taking a well deserved afternoon nap. Then they would watch how I breastfed my child giving me all kind of tips. A really nice one was: “You have to drink a lot of milk! More milk you drink the more milk the baby gets!” 

When the babies get a little older, then people have the habit to stop you on the street and greet the little one on mommy’s arm by gently slapping the babies face or pinching the cheeks – baby usually does not like that very much.

Twice a month or so the governmental nurses come to the governmental school, which lies just in front of our house to do routine check ups and provide vaccination for the local kids of several ages. I think that the method for weight control is really funny: They hang the kids into some kind of cloth and then hook the bundle onto a butcher’s scale. Sometimes they would make the kids swing in it and they really love it! I always wondered though, why most of the local ladies who brought their children there were always carrying some kind of leafy stick in their hand. I first thought that they did so because of some superstition, like the evil eye. Later I found out that the plant is actually a stinging nettle, used to threaten or punish the children in case of misbehavior. I have touched those nettles accidentally and my skin burned for several hours! Not nice!

From the Western side I had to hear many times that we were spoiling our child too much, because we let her sleep with us in the same bed. I had the thought that maybe Western kids are actually more spoiled because they usually not only have their very own bed, but even their very own room! But seriously, what better than having your baby sleeping next to you? If you breastfeed, you just turn around and plug it directly onto the source and that’s it – no need to really wake or stand up, wander to another room, take the baby out of bed, etc…

And it also makes my favorite part of the day happen:

Opening my eyes in the morning to see first of all this beautiful, innocent, little person, who somehow managed to make her way into this crazy world right next to me….

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Sprinkle, sprinkle, little star…

The next morning after our daughter was born I found myself in the kitchen making coffee. Actually I was full of energy and felt great. Our neighbour already had heard about the good news and stepped in for a visit.  When he saw me in the kitchen, his eyes became big like saucers.

 “What are you doing in the kitchen?!?”

he asked. With the coffee maker in my hand I answered with a grin

“Coffee!?!”

He asked me for a small plastic jug and said that he would be back in a minute, dashing out of the door. Indeed, he came back pretty quickly and immediately started to sprinkle a liquid from the jug with the help of a leafy twig not only over me and my coffee, but also all over the place.

“What is it?”

I wanted to know

“Cow urine. Purifying!”

he said.

He also told me that from now on I was not to enter the kitchen and that I had to stay in my room for the next ten days.

Right, I forgot!

Women after giving birth or while they are having their period are considered impure in India, and so is everything they touch. I assumed that it was not a very good idea to ask him if he wanted a cup of coffee…

I shook my head and once more was amazed about the cultural differences: A perfect and beautiful little being just came into life through my body and I was impure, but cow piss was not?!?

cow2

I think that actually in case of confinement after birth the true reason behind it is to give the woman a real rest from all the hard work in an Indian household, to take care of her changing body and to get to know the newborn. Maybe one day women told men something about impurity so they would understand and respect that very womanly matter, I don’t know. Birth and its details are exclusively considered a ladies’ issue here, so people were pretty shocked when they learned that Baba was not only present during birth, but in fact received the baby with his own hands.

Menstruation, of course, is also a big mystery to most common Indian men, just to tell you that once I went to buy diapers and the shop keeper gave me sanitary pads! During these days of the month women are also not allowed to step into the kitchen and are supposed to keep a physical distance to others. On the last day she has to undergo a purification ceremony and wash her hair. In this case, too, I personally think that in the beginning women had the need to be with themselves to connect to their strong meditative energies that are part of the menstrual cycle. Somehow knowledge got lost, forgotten and manipulated and therefore at some point turned “impure”.  Maybe because men were scared of the unknown and the energies involved. But, even if it seems so, in the West it is not much better: Menstruation is considered nothing but an annoying monthly phenomenon. But the sacredness, wisdom and deepness behind it has mostly been forgotten.

Anyways, it might be nice for the new mother to get a total rest and in Indian families there are usually several females living in the same household or at least present after a child was born. They are allowed to step into the “polluted” room where mother and baby are resting and are there for all their needs.

Well, Baba and I were alone. Was I supposed to die of thirst if I needed a glass of water when Baba was not in the house, because I couldn’t step into the kitchen?!?  We managed it our own way and the house would be sprinkled anyways again and again with cow piss if visitors would come by; and like that it would be purified again! Problem solved!

A Himalayan Home Birth

October 2011

My due date was approaching. I tried to keep calm and to put aside all the expectations about my baby’s birth. I meditated as often as possible (which I admit was actually not too often, as I am one of these persons that finds a hundred excuses before eventually sitting down). Inside of myself was the only place I truly could find and feel peace.

One day suddenly something very revealing happened to me:

I JUST KNEW!

I knew that since always an ancient knowledge was dwelling inside of me: The knowledge of all the women who gave birth before me; ancestral women connected with nature, and above all connected to their own spirit. Women all over the world have experienced birth since the existence of mankind. I suddenly had the absolute certainty that I had given birth in thousands of previous incarnations, that my body and soul knew exactly what they had to do and that there was absolutely no need to worry about anything.

To some, this might sound a bit New Age, but well, this is what happened. After that I felt free and completely fearless, as if a huge burden had been taken off my shoulders. It was simply amazing!

embarazo

Sure, something might go wrong during birth. But only might, not will!

Unfortunately nowadays pregnancy and delivery are being treated like some kind of disease. It is not! Much of what we hear and the precautions we ought to take disconnect us from ourselves if we don’t take care. So, we mostly approach pregnancy and birth rather with fear than with joy and confidence.

Just think about all the movies where women are lying on a bed, sweating and screaming from the tops of their lungs during labour, while someone shouts at them “Push, puuuuush!”.

It does not have to be like that. If the checkups turn out fine, the mother is healthy and the baby is in the right position, there is not much to worry about. It is the most amazing thing a woman can go through, however the experience might be. Nobody can ever take it away from you, as only you really know what it feels like, because every pregnancy and delivery is unique.

My doctor had calculated the expected date of delivery for 4th November; I thought that it would be rather cool if the baby would come on 01.11.2011. But the baby did not agree with me. On the morning of 29th October I had sometimes pulling sensations in my abdomen. On my multiple internet researches I had read that some days before labour the body starts to prepare itself and it described this kind of sensation. That was probably it.

How are you supposed to know how something feels like if you never felt it before?

The sensation came and went from time to time all day long, but I didn’t pay too much attention to it. However, I realized that in a few days the baby would be born. In the evening, the intervals were every time shorter and I thought that maybe tomorrow or the day after I would be a Mum.

That day the alcoholic midwife’s husband had come to visit and we were sitting in front of the TV watching one of those stupid Bollywood movies, that doesn’t make much sense.

Well, by the evening, those light contractions were getting every time shorter and I started to suspect that the baby was on its way.

The day I met the midwife she had talked a lot about the importance of an enema, which seemed to be an indispensable item she needed to assist me and that I had to buy together with all the injections and painkillers she had written down for me. I never had an enema administrated before and the thought of it made me shiver. I even had nightmares! Maybe this is why I suddenly had constantly the feeling that I had to go urgently to the toilet. So I was going in and out of the toilet without any success, while the men were sitting in front of the TV screen absorbed in the movie.

“Excuse me!” I said during one of my toilet walks

“Maybe it would be time to go and get your wife?”

So the midwife’s husband jumped on his motorbike to fetch his wife. I asked Baba to bring a bucket into the room, just in case. I really wanted to stop going to the bathroom: I didn’t want to have to tell my child some day something like

“Well, my child, you were born into an Indian squat Toilet…”

As soon as the guy left, the sensations became more intense. I call them sensations, because it was not really painful. I imagined them to become stronger and less bearable, but they didn’t. I had other type of cramps due to a bad stomach in other occasions that were much worse than what I was feeling at that moment.

Then, suddenly my body took over and did it all alone without my interference. I did not do anything by my own will, my body knew better, and so I followed its instructions and let everything happen. Mentally I was in some kind of lucid trance, which is difficult to describe.

I went to our bedroom. Baba kind of seemed not to know very well what to do and how to help me, as I told him to just let me be. Thus he went on watching TV observing me from the corner of his eyes. Suddenly I shouted at him

“Turn the stupid TV off and come here!”

I didn’t want to welcome the child with some hysterically screaming women and fighting Bollywood heroes in the background.

My body had adopted a half squatting position and I just had time to tell Baba that I thought that I could feel the head and a moment later he held the baby in his hands! Only about ten minutes had passed since my body had taken over control.

What better start into life could there possibly be than being caught by the hands of your own loving father?

Baba and baby

We sat on a blanket on the floor leaning against the cupboard holding our little daughter in our arms. There we sat, in silence, amazed, incredibly happy and were unable to take our eyes away from this perfect little creature that had just emerged from my body. She was not too small like the doctor had predicted and all was in its place. Everything was in perfect harmony!

One thing I could not exactly find out on google was where to cut the umbilical cord, but I had read that it was actually good to not do so straight away and that some people even kept the placenta in a pot carrying it around with the baby until the cord fell off by itself. Thus, I was not worried about that.

Some minutes later the midwife dashed into the house, sober and SHOCKED! An endless stream of words bubbled out of her mouth:

“Oh my god! What are you doing, why are you sitting, you have to lie down, what happened, you people, blablabla…”

Man, what was her problem? I looked at her blankly and shrugged, thinking that it was my good luck that she hadn’t come in time. She would most probably have driven me crazy! All was the way it should be, at least for us! She explained Baba how to put the threads around the cord and where to cut it and then she checked on me. That was it, her job was done.

After that I took a hip bath in hot water with brandy. I even had a small sip of the brandy as recommended by the nurse and I have to say that it really felt good. I didn’t feel tired or anything, but was more in a party mood instead. There I sat in my blue plastic tub filled with brandy-water, with a glass in my hand observing how she cleaned and dressed the little girl. After the men had each a glass of brandy and she drank the rest of the bottle.

Bringing a child into this world was the most enriching and overwhelming experience I have ever had. If I was able to do this, I was able to do whatever I wished in this world. It made me feel sort of almighty and immensely proud of myself.

Comment

I think I have not mentioned that some years ago I had to undergo a cervix operation. They had to cut out a pretty big piece. It was the beginning of a cancer caused by the HPV virus. I defeated the virus and the following routine checkups turned out fine, but I have been told that I might not be able to have children and that getting pregnant or carrying out a child would be very problematic. I just wanted to share this information to let women, who might be affected by the same problem know, that they don’t necessarily have to despair.

LOVE TO ALL!