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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