The Changes that Come with Motherhood : Mamma Love Series

Becoming  a mother is a transformative experience for a woman! The physical, psychological and emotional changes that accompany are often hard for many mammas to express in words. While many may associate the birth of motherhood with the birth of a baby, motherhood truly begins in pregnancy. 

As part of the Mamma Love Series, I approached a few mothers to share with us the changes they have experienced in their journey of being mothers. Each of these mammas have had different experiences and births, reiterating that even with something as universal as motherhood, no two paths are the same. 

How has becoming a mother changed you as a person? Is it anything like you imagined it to be? 

“Motherhood cannot be imagined, only experienced”, begins Apoorva, mother of a 3 year old from Chennai, India. “I started putting my unborn baby’s needs before my own and made so many lifestyle changes in such a short span of time. I was never a morning person, but when I was pregnant, I was up every single day at 5 am to practice prenatal yoga. Once my baby was born, even the slightest movement or fuss would wake me; it was such a contrast to the heavy sleeper that I was who would sleep through blaring alarms.” 

Karuna, mother of a toddler from Bangalore, India opens up about her experience, “ I lost my mother at a young age. Losing her was hard, and as I grew, I began to feel strongly about becoming a mother. I have always feared hospitals, blood draws and injections,” she says, “but when the time came, I had to have a Caesarean Section due to birth canal issues and embraced the situation. Women are designed such that despite the pain, sleep deprivation and hormonal changes, we put our baby’s needs before our own. This was the first change I observed in myself.” About her breastfeeding experience, she adds, “I had latching issues and received a lot of advice from so many people. It finally got sorted only when I went to a professional for assistance.” Her advice to other mammas is, “When it comes to breastfeeding, a lot of people have a lot of opinions. I have realised that no matter what people say, do your own research, find the right person for help and make decisions based on what works for you and your baby.” 

Dhivya, mamma of a 4 year old from Basel, Switzerland shares how motherhood has changed her, “Every single woman changes once she becomes a mother. The biggest change in me has been the happiness my daughter brings into my life with her positivity and innocence. We learn to look at life through their eyes.

How important is self-care for a mamma & how do you think she can fit this in with a busy lifestyle?

“Self-care is very important for new mothers,” emphasises Dhivya. “Newborns consume a lot of our time and in this, we forget ourselves. The mental, physical and emotional changes, along with just the drill of a new routine with a newborn can make a mother feel very low. So, taking some time out for yourself is so important. Don’t hesitate to leave the baby with a family member or a sitter for some time to take a break. You are not a bad mother for doing that! Do what you like to do in that time. It can be watching your favourite show or a fitness activity, a massage, book or meeting a few friends. You won’t  realise how refreshed this can make you feel until you try!” 

Drawing from her practice of self-care, Apoorva feels, “If you want your baby to be happy and satisfied, you as a mother need to be happy and healthy, both mentally and physically. Dealing with a child patiently every single day is simply not possible without self-care. Self-care can be anything from watching a show to heading outdoors, listening to some music, talking to a friend or just treating yourself to a peaceful shower. These things can do wonders to relax you. Once you are relaxed, you can jump right back to being a mother!”

Karuna feels the lack of awareness of a mother’s physical and mental health in many societies is something that needs more focus and care. “With the enormous changes that happen in a woman’s body during and after pregnancy, a lot of people fail to recognise the importance of self-care.” From her experience of being a mother and interacting with other mothers, Karuna says, “Being pressed for time, if a mother can get a jump start to her day with a peaceful shower before the baby wakes up, she can begin her day refreshed.” She emphasises that physical exercise is so important for a mother to feel healthy mentally and physically. “Even if you cannot steal time to go for an individual workout, just involve your child while you are doing yoga or going for a walk. You can even wear your baby on a short hike, if you are up for it! 

Abirami Apoorva

What kind of mindset will help expectant mammas embrace motherhood?

“Be positive and prepared to take things as they come,” says Dhivya. “A first time mother may have countless difficulties; breastfeeding might be an issue, latching might be an issue, baby might cry endlessly, but remember that you are not alone in this. Every mother goes through these difficulties. So, stay calm and just be open to taking things as they come.”

“The first few months make you feel like you never have enough energy and sleep!” sighs Apoorva. So, her mantra is being prepared, “Having all of baby’s things ready and the nursery ready made me very calm. I also made sure to have a strong support system. This can be anyone from your parents to your husband or even a nanny.” She smiles and adds, “Oh, just be open to changes; the baby will change your life for the better!”

Karuna’s go-to mindset is, “I CAN DO IT!”

Sometimes, expectant first-time mothers make detailed plans on how they want their life after the baby to be. What would your advice to them be? 

Both Karuna & Apoorva instantly say, “It is good to make plans before the baby arrives but important to be flexible and open. Being rigid causes unnecessary stress.” Apoorva also adds, “Take each day at a time and proceed keeping in mind what is best for you and your baby.”

Drawing from her experience, Dhivya says, Planning things may and may not work. There are a lot of if’s and but’s when it comes to parenting. One thing that works is trying things in motherhood. Some women fix that they will breastfeed for 18-24 months but are unable to after the first few months. So, while having plans is wonderful, make alternate plans and just be open to accepting circumstances if things don’t work the way you imagined.” 

Is there something you have learnt in this journey that you want to share with another mamma? 

“The first two months are so critical, so bond with your baby,” says Karuna who is also a Montessori guide. “Having eye contact with your baby while they breastfeed can make you both feel even more connected. Talk to your babies, respect them, challenge them!” she adds. “Never hesitate to share your worries with someone who has a kind and non-judgemental ear. This can even be a therapist.” Her biggest advice is, “Mammas, let your partners also be involved. Give them the space to bond with the baby and just back off when they are interacting with them.”

“Everything is a phase and things are bound to change,” reflects Dhivya, as she looks back on her journey so far. “Do not fret over milestones; different babies do things at different times. Just widen your circle and have a network of mammas to talk to about your experiences. This will give you perspective and also lessen your worries.” 

For Apoorva, taking time out for oneself as a mother is vital to having everything else together. “Never hesitate to ask or look out for help from a professional or family member.” She says, “Being a first time mamma can be outright overwhelming on several days. So, seek help, keep yourself happy, be your best self and most importantly, forgive yourself.”

Preparing for a Child; Preparing for Motherhood

The arrival of a child is one of the most defining moments in a couple’s life. In many ways, it signifies the birth of a family. If a child is born from a loving and trusting relationship, most women look forward to this phase in their lives. But pregnancy is not just about the impending birth, it is also about the huge transition towards motherhood. Many mammas spend a large portion of their pregnancies sifting through umpteen options and information revolving around their unborn baby. A major part of pregnancy thus passes and before they realise it, they are facing childbirth and the inevitable role change. We forget that a mamma is born when her baby is born and needs nurture, comfort and reassurance herself. 

The journey towards motherhood requires just as much thought, time and preparation. A small care package with moral, psychological and physical support can be a source of strength and support during the transition.

Personal Support: Something or Someone to lean on

The days and weeks following the arrival of a baby is often overwhelming for a new mamma. A personal care package carefully put together during pregnancy might come in handy during this time. 

  • A hospital buddy 

The moment a baby is born, the attention immediately and naturally shifts from the mother to the baby. While the whole world spins around the baby, having someone exclusively for the mamma can be just the support she needs. Someone whom she trusts – a parent, partner or friend – who is around and able to regularly check on her can be the emotional nourishment that sees her through those vulnerable moments.  

  • A chore buddy

In many cultures, chore buddies are typically the grandparents of the baby. In some other cultures, friends usually pitch in as much as they can. New parents have a lot to grapple with and in this phase, having to worry about shopping, food and laundry might take a toll on resting and recovering. Planning for a chore buddy during pregnancy might be one of the best gifts a mamma can give herself for the fourth trimester.

  • A reflective journal/ friend

A reflective journal can be a best friend in those initial months. When we want to pour our racing thoughts somewhere, a journal might come in handy. This journal can hold some of those emotions, those overwhelming feelings, joy over small wins, a string of  gratitudes, frustrations and worries. For those mothers who find that talking works better than documenting, reaching out to a friend can lend the same kind of support. Sometimes, talking to someone outside might give just the perspective needed to support their own changing dynamics. Both a journal and a friend can show how far we have come and also guide us when it is time to seek help. 

  • A support group 

The power of a support group in helping new mothers is largely undervalued. A support group is a small group of mothers, all going through or having recently gone through the changes of motherhood. The members in this group often answer and support each other because they are all walking in similar shoes. Finding or creating a small support group during pregnancy might make the journey towards motherhood smoother while also being a source of great strength in the fourth trimester. 

Excerpt from Promoting Maternal & Infant Health in the 4th Trimester: “Mothers may be anxious about their baby for good reason and providers must respect that perspective as valuable and valid. In order to support maternal and paternal role attainment, it is important to affirm and encourage all that is going well with the parent–infant relationship and caretaking. Women need affirmation of their newly acquired abilities as mothers; they are very sensitive to any perception of guilt or shaming.”

Professional support: Reaching Out 

After the high of the birth, most women who have had a relatively smooth birthing experience return home and this is when everything starts to feel real: the cycles of breastfeeding, sleep deprivation, the sway of emotions, soreness, tiredness and the drastic hormonal changes. In most countries, a new mother is typically not scheduled to see a doctor for up to several weeks postpartum. While new parents are swamped with the task of ensuring everything is progressing well with the baby, mothers are often not asked how they are coping with the changes. 

Excerpt from Postnatal Care for Mothers & Newborns: According to the WHO, as of 2013, “at 10-14 days after birth, all women should be asked about resolution of mild, transitory postpartum depression, also known as postpartum blues. If symptoms have not resolved, the woman’s psychological well-being should continue to be assessed for postpartum depression, and if symptoms persist, evaluated. Women should further be observed for any risks, signs and symptoms of domestic abuse. They should be told whom to contact for advice and management.”

Despite WHO recommendations, the reality is that most women are left to navigate the changes in surroundings where symptoms of postpartum blues or depression go unnoticed. Putting together a self-care team prior to the baby can help new mothers know that they do not have to navigate every crisis alone. 

  • Breastfeeding Support 

The uncertainty and questions surrounding breastfeeding are not only plentiful, but emerge in the weeks following childbirth. It might help to see a lactation consultant who can reassure new mothers and help them navigate any crisis that might be brewing in their breastfeeding journey. Sometimes, having a professional perspective from someone who deals with many women going through breastfeeding changes is far more reassuring than talking only to a small group of women who share anecdotes from their personal experiences.

  • Postpartum Physical Support  

Many mammas suffer from postpartum perineal pain and some even develop infection from a cut or torn perineum. They return home after childbirth with little or no information on urinary incontinence, back pain, organ prolapse or pelvic-floor weakness. The toll that pregnancy and childbirth takes on women must never be overlooked; mammas need to feel no shame in reaching out to a doctor or physical therapy for support in  the weeks and months following childbirth.

  • Postpartum Psychological Support

According to the WHO, about 10% of pregnant women and 13% of women who have just given birth experience depression. In developing countries this is even higher, at 15.6% during pregnancy and 19.8% after child birth. So, postpartum depression and depression during pregnancy is all too real! By neglecting this important transition, we put new mothers and babies at risk. If a new mamma feels consistently low, it is important to reach out for psychiatric help. 

Excerpt from Promoting Maternal & Infant Health in the 4th Trimester: “Listening to women and families, whose opinions and needs often go unexpressed or unheard, or both, is foundational to providing high-quality care. Well-meaning providers and practitioners may assume they know what new mothers want and need, and should do a better job of asking them, phrasing questions in a manner that solicits their goals and engages them in program design and development. It is likewise important to honor mothers and fathers as experts about their babies. Truly, no one can know or understand the infant as well as the baby’s primary caregivers.”

The Fourth Trimester Agenda

  • Eat. Sleep. Love.

The fourth trimester to every pregnancy is often the most neglected. A mother has months to prepare for childbirth but soon after the baby arrives, her body goes through a sea of immediate changes necessitating plenty of support and rest. This is a period when the mother-baby dyad must continue to to be looked at as a single entity. The mamma needs external support to sync up to her baby’s schedule, eat healthy, nutritious and simple food, sleep when she feels the need to sleep and have plenty of time to cuddle with her newborn. When this is offered, she has better chances at being able to address the needs of her baby.

By nurturing a new mother, we are not just nurturing the bond between her and her baby, but also supporting the emotional & physical wellness of the next generation.

  • Music. Mindfulness. Positivity 

Being in a positive frame of mind is the best gift a mamma can give herself and her baby. But, it might be challenging to wonder how to keep this positivity alive when the body is going through changes. So, creating a playlist of songs that lift you up or put a smile on your face, collecting a few books that help you be mindful and joyful  and surrounding yourself with people who lift you up are treasures to keep at your arm’s reach for those blue days.

  • Keeping visitors to a minimum

Sometimes, new mothers are faced with a swarm of well-meaning visitors in the days following birth. While this may be just the source of strength for some, some others find that socialising is overwhelming for both the baby and themselves. From the outside, it is important to respect a mother’s wish and honour this space. The time to socialise will come and when you feel ready, you can step out of your cocoon.

  • Making gratitude your friend

Perhaps the most forgotten of all virtues is gratitude – a dear friend to keep close during trying times. Devoting a few moments in a day to just focus on things that are going well can drastically help shift ourselves to a more positive frame of mind. This simple practice can help significantly improve the quality of our lives and also give us perspective when everything seems to be spiralling down.

In The Fourth Trimester Companion, Cynthia Gabriel says, “The work of mothering and fathering is slow paced and repetitive. Parenting challenges can be measured in hours, while joy is measured in moments. If you can believe the difficult moments are just as normal, as necessary as the delightful moments, you will come out of the 4th trimester with more stamina and reserves for the months ahead. 

The fourth trimester should ideally be a nesting retreat for a mamma and her baby. This is a time when we continue to look at the duo as a single unit, depending on each other for physical and psychological support. From the outside, we can offer them plenty of support, understanding and nurture to adapt to their new lives. It takes a village to raise a new mamma and it is the responsibility of all those who surround her to make this beautiful phase as comfortable as possible.

 

The Importance of Practising Gratitude with Young Children : Part 2 : HOW?

Part 1 of this article focuses on Why it is important to practice gratitude with young children. In Part 2, let us look at  a few different ways in which we can practice gratitude with young children.


Children under 3 are different from those over 3. Very young children are less articulate and require verbalisation from our end. However, this does not mean we cannot engage in dialogue with them. We can use their coos and babbles or their few words as a response in our interactions. With children over 3, we can expect more response by encouraging reflection through prompts and also by presenting events of the day that urge reflection. 

How might this be?

  • With Children Under 3

Let us assume a parent is talking to their toddler at the end of the day. The parent can casually talk about some of the events of the day. “Today, we went to the park that has the giant fountain and you played with your new blue ball. Do you remember who got you the ball?” (pause) “Yes, thatha (grandpa) got you the ball. You laughed so much while playing with the ball. Tomorrow, lets go again to play with the ball and I can take a video of you to share with thatha. He will be happy to see that you like it.”

Initially, babies and toddlers observe and may coo, babble or say a few words in response to the conversation. It maybe something liketha” for thatha or “ba” for ball or something else in connection with the incident. Regardless of the response, the aim of this simple practice is to bring the incident back to focus, acknowledge the emotions experienced and highlight the intention behind the contribution (in this case, grandpa’s gift).

  • With Children from 3 – 6 years  

If older children are habituated to unwinding with gratitude, they might share some experiences. “I played on the swing with Mudra.” or “I liked the dosa today.” While helping children express experiences that spark a feeling of gratitude, we can also probe further to help them understand emotions around gratitude, building perspective. “Why do you think thatha came all the way to play cricket with you? (pause) Do you think it is because he cares for you and enjoys having time with you?” Children in this age group can also be helped to reciprocate acts of kindness with kindness. “How did you show/tell thatha you were happy he came?” Maybe tomorrow, when he comes, you can give him a hug.

Gratitude Part 2

  • With Children in a Community 

In a communal setting with several children, this can be done in groups. The adult can help the children in the group bring their attention to benevolent acts, such as “Do you know who washed all the hand towels for lunch today?” or “Radha Akka swept the veranda clean so that some of you can work outside after lunch.” By highlighting these acts, children understand that kind gestures are valued in the community and gradually begin to reciprocate with kindness.

In “Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude can make you Happier”, Robert .A. Emmons says, “The momentary experience of gratitude is not the same as having a well-honed grateful disposition : although at one moment their emotional experiences might be identical, a person who always seem to have a deeply grateful heart no matter what the circumstance is very different from another who is simply appreciative of a gift he has recently received.” 

So, what is important? 

  • Being Consistent

Routines are a reliable way for children to integrate a practice into their daily lives. Creating a simple gratitude practice for children and sticking to it makes this yet another bedtime ritual, much like brushing teeth or bathing. While routines do help children look forward to and predict their day better, it is our responsibility as adults to prioritise and value these practices until children are themselves able to to consistently fulfil them. 

  • Enabling Recollection 

Helping children reflect on their day allows them to look back at events in their lives and focus on those that make them feel thankful. As adults, we often look at events that make us complain, “Oh, the traffic was just horrible today” or “ I wonder why my manager always picks on me”. Instead, we can focus on simple things that light up our lives. Reflection not only allows children to gain perspective, but also helps them recollect incidents which is crucial in practicing gratitude.

In The Whole Brain Child, Dan Siegel says “ Memory is like so many functions of the brain : the more we exercise it, the stronger it becomes. That means that when you give your children lots of practice at remembering – by having them tell and retell their own stories – you improve their ability to integrate their memory.

  • Being a Representative of Gratitude

Perhaps, with young children, the most important of all is for adults in their lives to share their own experiences that spark gratefulness. “I am so thankful to Papa and you for waiting in the car for almost an hour to pick me up this evening.” or “I was so touched when you shared the last chocolate with your sister.”  This gives them examples of how, as adults, we also end our day with  gratitude.

The Importance of Practicing Gratitude with Young Children : Part 1 : WHY?

The word gratitude brings to mind a feeling of thankfulness; an acceptance of circumstances and an acknowledgement of the gift of life.

But, does gratitude end with just the feeling or is it much more than a fleeting feeling of thankfulness?

When we choose to make a habit of gratefulness by adopting an attitude of gratitude, we are making a long term investment in the mental and physical well being of not just ourselves but of those around us, as well. A grateful disposition is probably the best gift we can give our children to take with them into adulthood. 

“It is gratitude that enables us to receive and it is gratitude that motivates us to repay by returning the goodness that we have been given. In short, it is gratitude that enables us to be fully human.”

Robert .A. Emmons,Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude can make you Happier

Gratitude & Children

With children under the age of six, gratitude begins as a subtle and indirect ritual which gradually becomes a more active and involved process. This can be as simple as a conversation at the end of the day between a parent and child or a teacher and a small group of children. The adult in the picture brings to focus some of the events of the day and helps the children pin emotions around them that focus on gratitude.

Young children understand a lot more than they can speak and by giving words to emotions that they feel, we give them the opportunity to narrow down these emotions to specific words. “Were you relieved when Mudra brought you a tissue when you fell at the park today?” or “You seemed delighted to set the table for dinner.” The words that surround gratitude such as joy, thankful, relief and happiness are simply highlighted in this practice with children.

Why?

  • Learning to Unwind with Gratitude 

Studies have shown that adults who spend a few moments each day journaling at least three things that they are grateful for have better mental & physical health, sleep & exercise better and tend to avoid depression. Although young children may seem inherently more joyful, practicing gratitude is a habit that will stay with them through life. It can be a simple bedtime ritual just like brushing their teeth.

In its own way, gratitude is a kind of prayer; instead of asking, we show our children to give thanks. Gratitude is a dynamic and open prayer where we recollect events of the day and be thankful for how those events have enriched and shaped us.

  • Acknowledging Collective Effort 

Gratitude helps children acknowledge that so many people and circumstances come together to sustain us.  Let us take a family, for example. Different members of the family support each other in different ways. Every member of the family is a contributor – tangible or intangible and every presence makes a difference. Many of us often take our closest family and friends, the ones who always love and support us, for granted. When we help our children acknowledge such presence in their lives, and when we ourselves acknowledge the same with our children, they begin to understand that life is made beautiful by the collective effort of so many.

  • Gratitude in the face of Adversities 

When a child has had a painful experience – falling down, an argument with a friend or sibling or losing something, we often try to either suppress or dismiss the experience. “Do not talk about the park or he will remember he fell down and start crying again” or “Stop crying! It is not such a big deal.” 

Instead if we talk about the experience, for example, “Today, what happened at the park?” (pause) “You fell down and cried. It must have been painful. Do you remember what happened after that?” (pause) “Yes, Mudra came running with a tissue and helped you. I am so grateful you have a friend like Mudra.” (pause) “Do you remember what we did after that? (pause) “We went to the doctor and he gave you an injection. You were scared. I held your hands and stayed close by. Did that make you feel better?” (pause) “Now, you are back at home and resting. Once you feel better, we can go back to playing in the park.” 

When we talk about trying experiences and help our children find hope even in those circumstances, it shows them perspective. It helps them always try and look at things to be grateful for even in adverse circumstances.

  • Spontaneous Thank You’s! 

How often we ask, rather nudge and even force children to say Thank You! As aware as we of the power of these words, we seem content with the words more than the feeling. With children, we expect instant responses.  While our children might say the words out of fear or compulsion, do we stop to think if they really are thankful? Instead, by talking to children through simple conversations such as, “I am so thankful for grandpa. He came all the way just to play with you”, we help them become aware that a certain person has done an act of kindness for another. It helps our children gradually build a habit of reflecting on the act of the other person. “Why did grandpa come? Does he really love and care for me?” 

When we think of it this way, we help our children build a web of emotions around benevolent acts. These will eventually lead to spontaneous thank you’s. Such thank you’s will stem from a deep sense of gratitude and give the words their true value.

“Childhood maybe the optimal time to promote healthy attitudes and the prevention of problems, and gratitude training could play an important role in any program designed to foster well-being. As in adults, gratitude may be a very valuable tool that children can use to negotiate both the ups and the downs in their lives.”

Robert .A. Emmons,Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude can make you Happier

As indirect as the practice of gratitude is with young children under the age of six, it is like a seed that we plant in childhood and nurture with love and care. This seed of happiness will eventually instil a genuine sense of gratefulness and is possibly one of the most invaluable gifts we can offer our children.


Stay tuned for Part 2 of the same article on the different ways in which we can practice Gratitude with Children under 6 at home and in communities. 

 

Savi Paaty Series : The Squirrel & its Three Stripes

Savi Paaty Series is a tribute to oral stories. I have created this in memory of my beloved grandmother – Savi Paaty. Each story in the series is a story within a story. Although oral stories are becoming a lost art, it is time we revive and bring them back to life, into our homes and schools, back into our children’s lives. 


Here is a story of Apoo, Abi and Janu – three siblings who live in Coimbatore, India and love listening to Savi Paaty’s stories. Savitri Paaty, whom the children fondly call Savi Paaty, always parted her hair in the centre, wore bright silk sarees and used the pallu of the sarees to repeatedly polish her already sparkling diamond nose-pin. Apoo, the eldest of the three siblings at 8 years, loves playing basketball, spends most of her time out in the open, climbing trees, and sporting new scars on her knees every day. Abi, at 7 years is Apoo’s closest confidant. He loves his cars and precious mechanic set. He never fails to bring the set out, screw, un-screw and explore the parts of his dashing wheels collection. Janu, the youngest at 5 years, tries hard to join in with her siblings in climbing trees and fixing cars, but secretly loves playing with her kitchen set and making ‘green-medicine’ with the fallen leaves on the porch.

It was a bright and sunny morning in April; the three siblings had made plans to go swimming later in the day. Apoo was the first of the three to wake up; she came and sat on the திண்ணை (stone bench in the porch) with a glass of Boost in her hand, watching some squirrels chase up and down the neem tree. She was still groggy and waking up, while the squirrels were briskly and busily playing run and catch! Savi Paaty was sitting on the easy-chair, her morning spot, with a ஜெபமாலை (prayer beads), busily chanting away “Asaadhya Saadhagam”, a sloka of her beloved monkey-god – Hanuman. She sometimes participated in the children’s conversation and then went back to chanting. Paaty had already clocked around 400 chants since she was up from 4 in the morning. Right now, she was waiting for her second dose of filter coffee.

Apoo was just finishing up her glass of Boost and using her fingers to lick away the last of the chocolate paste, when Abi and Janu entered the porch. Abi came running down and joined Apoo on the திண்ணை, while Janu who was rubbing her eyes and yawning, sat on Paaty’s lap. Apoo quickly updated Abi on the squirrels and now, they were chatting away. 

Apoo said, “Look at these squirrels Abi! Look how fast they are running on the tree.” Abi ran up to the neem tree to inspect the squirrels closely. He wanted to tell Apoo that even he can run as fast as the squirrels, in fact faster! As he was craning his neck to get a closer view, he saw a squirrel jump up to a higher branch. Abi was now ready to climb the tree, when Paaty suddenly said, “Do you know why squirrels have 3 white stripes on their body?” Janu, who was until now slouching on Paaty’s lap, sat up straight and turned towards Paaty. Abi came running back to the திண்ணை and Apoo wiped the sticky Boost paste on her dress – washing hands had to wait! The children became attentive. They knew their beloved Savi Paaty always had lovely stories up her sleeve. 

Paaty, with her expressive eyes and hand gestures, began, “Long, long ago, there lived a brave and beautiful princess called Sita. She was married to Prince Rama of Ayodhya. Once, when they were in the forest, Ravana of Lanka came in his pushpaka vimana, and took Sita away to Lanka.” Apoo and Janu gasped. It was Abi who broke the silence by asking, “pushkapa vimam?” Paaty immediately said “It’s push-pa-ka vi-maa-nam, Abi – Ravana’s mighty aeroplane” and continued “Rama and his brother Lakshmana were distraught and sought the help of the vanara senai.” Apoo, now asked, “Paaty, what is vanara senai?” and Paaty clarified that they are an army of monkeys and bears. She said “Rama and Lakshmana needed a lot of help to reach Lanka because they needed a bridge to get across the sea.” 

Abi was puzzled, confused even! He wanted to know how monkeys and bears can build bridges. He said, “Paaty, but monkeys and bears cannot build bridges, only big people can!” Apoo, promptly said, “Abi, you keep quiet, this is just a story!” Paaty went on, “… So the monkeys and bears were lifting heavy stones and carrying them to the water. It was difficult, manual labour that required a lot of strength. Suddenly, they noticed a small squirrel on the side. It was carrying small pebbles with a lot of effort and dropping them in the water. This little squirrel went about its work in full earnest. The monkeys and bears found this very amusing and started mocking the squirrel.” The silence was palpable in the air, with the three children listening to Paaty with rapt attention.

Paaty continued the story, “… One bear went straight to the squirrel and said, “Ai Anile (squirrel in Tamil), you think you can build a mighty bridge for Rama with these tiny pebbles? Look how small and tiny you and your pebbles are! You need to be big and strong like us. Your tiny pebbles will drown in the water. Now clear this place up and go from here!!” She said, “The little squirrel was upset and hurt by the bear’s statement. It really wanted to help Rama find Sita. Rama, on hearing this, went and lifted the squirrel up and ran his finger on the body of the squirrel to acknowledge its contribution.” Paaty showed her three fingers and drew the stripes in the air to describe to the children Rama’s action. “The little squirrel proudly wore its honour of stripes and went back to collecting more pebbles.” Paaty concluded her story by telling her grandchildren that we must never mock at people, however small their contribution. She said, “Like Rama, we must be humble and acknowledge everyone for their effort and good intentions.” 

As she was finishing, her second dose of coffee came right up and Paaty said, “Now, you three go in and help Amma. Apoo, you can peel the carrots, Abi you can help set the table” and she looked at Janu and said “You must eat on your own today without Amma having to feed you and then see how your work is acknowledged.” Saying thus, Paaty went back to her ஜெபமாலை and filter coffee. 

The three children stood up and went inside – they had their contributions to make!

Peeling Cucumbers

Peeling is a challenging activity that aids young children’s developing muscle strength. The repetitive action of peeling helps them gain control over their fine motor skills and also draws them into bouts of focus and concentration. Peeling not only engages their tiny fingers but also their mind in a constructive activity whilst building judgement and coordination. 

Who is this for?

I would begin around 2.5 – 3 years depending on the fine motor skill of the child. 

Things Required

  • 1 medium sized cucumber/carrot
  • 1 cutting board
  • 1 sturdy and small peeler (I prefer Y peelers) 
  • 1 medium sized bowl for peels 

Preparation

I have observed that children have a better latch over the peel when the edges of the vegetable are cut. This can be done by the adult while the child watches. I also prefer not to hold and guide the child’s hand while they are peeling. This gives adults complete control but a very false sense of ‘peeling’ to the eager child. If you find that you are anxious, increase the challenge gradually by having them collaborate in the process. Also, refrain from telling them how to peel because this shifts attention from peeling to talking. Instead, just show them how it is done and have them repeat after you. 

As always, you are the best judge of what works well for your child in your kitchen! 

Illustrated Guide 

I like to begin with an invitation, “Let me show you how to peel a cucumber today.” Introduce everything at the table, else tell the child what is required and gather them together. 

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Let the child smell, feel and touch the cucumber. Wash the vegetable at the sink and discard the edges. 

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Show the child the peeler. Point to the blade and mention that it is sharp and used only for peeling the vegetable.

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Hold the cucumber down using your non-dominant hand to give support and hold the peeler using full support of your palm and fingers. This gives children better support when they repeat after. 

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Begin at one end of the cucumber and point to the blade touching the peel.

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Exaggerate applying pressure and glide from end to end, pausing in between to watch the peel come off. 

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Place the peeler down and pick up the peel and place it in the bowl for peels. It is nice to point to the color difference where the peel is removed and touch and feel the cucumber. 

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Rotate around and continue peeling. Let the child peel however they can. You can offer to hold the cucumber for support. 

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Once the cucumber has been peeled, the peels can be put in compost. Guide the child to put the other items away or for wash. 

Short Guide

  • I like to begin with an invitation, “Let me show you how to peel  a cucumber today.” 
  • Introduce everything at the table, else tell the child what is required and gather them together. 
  • Let the child smell, feel and touch the cucumber. 
  • Wash the vegetable at the sink and discard the edges. 
  • Show the child the peeler. Point to the blade and mention that it is sharp and used only for peeling the vegetable. 
  • Hold the cucumber down using your non-dominant hand to give support and hold the peeler using full support of your palm and fingers. This gives children better support when they repeat after. 
  • Begin at one end of the cucumber and point to the blade touching the peel. 
  • Exaggerate applying pressure and glide from end to end, pausing in between to watch the peel come off. 
  • Place the peeler down and pick up the peel and place it in the bowl for peels. 
  • It is nice to point to the color difference where the peel is removed and touch and feel the cucumber. 
  • Rotate around and continue peeling. 
  • Let the child peel however they can. You can offer to hold the cucumber for support. 
  • Once the cucumber has been peeled, the peels can be put in compost. 
  • Guide the child to put the other items away or for wash. 

Note : You can also cut the cucumber in half to prevent it from rolling. I have used Persian Cucumbers. Use whatever is locally available. 

My Journey as a Working Mother: From One Mamma to Another

They say a mother is born when her child is born. Motherhood can be a journey of varied emotions – love, protection, anxiety, frustration and guilt. With more mothers balancing work at home as well as in society, the dynamics of motherhood as well as parenting are changing tremendously.

So, we approached a wonderfully compassionate, working Mamma of a four year old to share with us the joys and learnings of her parenting journey.

Hi Dhivyaa, tell us about yourself and your family.

Hi, I am Dhivyaa Naveen Kumar, a working mother. I moved to Basel, Switzerland in 2012 soon after my marriage and my husband and I have a 3.5 year old daughter named Mila.

Can you share your birthing experience with us?

I actually had a very trying birthing experience; it was not very pleasant. During pregnancy, I had hyperemesis gravidarum which is a case of excessive nausea and vomiting. This lasted my entire first trimester and I couldn’t keep even water down. This led to excessive weight loss and I was on infusions during this period. Eventually, things got better in the second trimester. I went to work until the end of 36 weeks gestation and went on maternity break when my doctor advised me to do so.

During labour, after almost 24 hours, just as I was pushing, my daughter got stuck. Although the doctors tried hard for a normal birth, they had to eventually go for an emergency cesarean section. This led to a lot of physical and emotional pain before, during and after my daughter’s birth.

How soon after Mila did you get back to work?

We had only 12 weeks of paid maternity leave in Switzerland. As a new mother, this naturally increased my anxiety and I had symptoms of postpartum depression; thankfully I was not on any medication. The only medicine for me was my child. I kept admiring her smile and holding her against my skin. Skin-skin contact with the baby is helpful not just for the baby but for the mother as well.

What steps did you take to prepare yourself and your baby before getting back to work full-time?

Mila was completely on breast milk until about 14-15 weeks. She already fell into a routine and would feed every 3-4 hours. Around the 15th week, I began pumping milk and feeding from the bottle. She thankfully took to the bottle immediately although I was worried that she would refuse. After the 15th week, I started pumping milk for two feeds at home and gradually, I increased this to three feeds. I used to pump and store the excess milk in the fridge. I wanted to give her milk as fresh as possible and so would pump and store in the fridge only for a day. The most important tip I can give a working mother who wants to breastfeed her baby is to never change the timing for pumping milk. Once you fix a time and routine and stick to it, even during weekends, the flow is consistent. Although, this might get stressful, it is better than not having consistent flow.

Eventually, I asked my husband and my mother or mother-in-law to begin feeding Mila from the bottle. Just a week before I went back to work, we began transitioning her to this routine.

What steps did you and your husband take to help Mila adapt to a new environment and caregivers? And, what steps did you take to emotionally support yourself from being away from her?

This was the most challenging phase for us. My daughter was with my mother and mother-in-law soon after I went back to work, which was when she was around 19 weeks. So, she was still with family members at home. But once they left at around 32 weeks, we had to send her to a daycare. I was able to trust my family even though I had to go back to work but it was not easy for me to leave her in a completely new environment with many other babies. I could not imagine how she would sleep peacefully or eat well and this used to worry me a lot. Thankfully, we found a place that is literally a 2 minute walk from home. The daycare centre had a transition phase where I could spend a couple of days with Mila. We could also observe how they took care of the other babies. This gave me a lot of confidence and I began to have trust that she was in safe hands. Mila did cry a lot initially after the big separation from home and I used to cry on my way to work, but gradually, she settled down with all the fun activities she could do at school like singing, painting, outdoor walks and was happy to go.

Pumping milk at work is not an easy experience both physically and emotionally. How did you deal with this and what kind of support did you receive?

I made it a point to pump milk regularly at work at the fixed time and thankfully, I had the support to do so. Although, initially, I used to miss my daughter and our skin-skin bonding, I used to watch her videos and pictures while pumping at work. We both fell into a routine; Mila used to drink milk around 8 times a day. Three meals were from a bottle with expressed milk and the other meals were directly from me at home. I would feed her from my breast at 7 am, then leave for work at 7.30 am. I pumped consistently at 10am, 1pm and 4pm. I used to store the pumped milk in the fridge at my workplace for her next day meal.

For interested parents, I used the Medela swing maxi double electric breast pump which worked like a charm. And for storing milk, the lid on the bottles came with labels to mark the date and time. They also came with a tray which helped me organise them by time and date in the fridge.

Did Mila find it difficult to transition between breast and bottle everyday? How did you address challenges around this?

Right from the first day, luckily, Mila never had difficulty transitioning between bottle and my breast. I did notice that she used to wake up a lot more in the nights and feed directly from me. Gradually, as I started weaning her, she used to feed from my breast only in the nights. I started replacing every ‘expressed-milk’ meal with solid foods. By the 7th month, I stopped pumping milk at work. However, until she turned three, she used to wake up in the nights to feed from me. I attributed this to her longing for skin-skin contact and bonding with me and enjoyed it.

How did you manage to strike some kind of balance between healing after a cesarean section, being available for Mila and also working both at home and outside?

I have to thank several people for this. My husband is my biggest support and shares all the household chores with me. There is no task in the house that is done only by me. I also have to thank my work environment as I never had to bring back any work home. In the initial months, my mother-in-law and mother helped me a lot. I definitely have to thank Mila’s caretakers at her daycare who gave me the trust and confidence.

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We made this work by always waking up and going to bed on time. We tried and planned ahead. For example, it would take me only 5 minutes to come up with a meal plan, but this saves time and energy instead of worrying what to cook and what to shop everyday. I also learnt to listen to my body and never pushed myself beyond a certain limit. When I knew I couldn’t handle something, I learnt to ask for help and look for alternative solutions. On those days when the routine becomes mundane, we helped each other or just went out as a family to break the repetition. I also helped my body and mind heal by engaging in activities like swimming and running, watching movies once in a while and taking breaks to relax when needed. All of this helped me rejuvenate and get better.

Many working mothers go through a lot of emotional turmoil for not being with their baby the whole day. Did you also experience this? 

Yes, of course I did. Hundreds of thoughts ran in head. “Did I dress her appropriately for the weather?, “Will she eat?”, “Will she be happy?”, etc. I used to chat quickly with her guides at drop off and pickup. I started noting down what she ate, how long she slept and how she was. In the mornings, I used to update the guides at daycare on how her morning was so far, which helped them plan better and I used to ask them the same at pickup. I had an open and honest relationship with the guides at daycare which helped me communicate my needs clearly with them.  At home, my husband participated in all household chores and has been my biggest support. It was he who took care of Mila during most of her sick days. Only because it is a 50-50 partnership, we have been able to keep the family going smoothly. 

From your experience, what kind of support do you think working mothers require from family and society?

I strongly believe that fathers play an equal role in raising a child. We did not have a baby-sitter. We just used to take turns in being with Mila and did our best to balance it all out. Our society must understand that fathers are important figures in children’ lives and willingly offer emotional and physical support to mothers and fathers who work both at home and outside. Of course, every family has their own style and there really is no right or wrong way in parenting. We need to figure out between each other and go from there.

We all do what is best for our children. It is important for us as mothers, as women, to be strong, positive and have faith in what we are doing. Everybody likes to advise us but I have learnt to take what makes sense to me. 

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Can you please share a word of support and love to other mothers in similar situations?  

Dear Mammas,

Please speak out when you think something is not correct and ask for help when you cannot do something. There is no shame in asking for help!

Don’t blame yourself and think that it is always ‘you’ who is responsible for your child. Many of us hold onto our children tightly; we must learn to let go and find trustworthy people to engage with and interact with our children. Being with different people will help our children socialize better and grow.

Take some time for yourselves. Be grateful when people around you respect your feelings and, again, speak out when you need something. You get only when you ask for something. Lastly, stay positive and pat yourself on the back once in a while for doing the best that you can!