Becoming a parent: Nothing goes to plan


If there’s one thing you can be certain of, ahead of becoming a parent, it is that nearly nothing will go to plan. The perfect, compassionate, smart, supportive, baby and mamma loving mid-wife will have a personal crisis the very night you go into labour. She will call and half feign an apology and say you’re going to be fine, that its going to be an awesome delivery, and you’re going to do swell without her by your side.

You would have certainly not slept as much and as well as you would have hoped as all the well-meaning nursing staff and mamma and papa friends had advised you to do before the marathon that labour usually is — and I’m not even going into the birthing itself. (Who ever told you the pain is natural needs to go take a walk.)

When labour starts, you will not be the picture of serenity, sitting criss cross apple sauce, breathing in and breathing out, calmly, rhythmically, shallowly, as your friendly neighbourhood pre-natal expert had so lovingly taught you to do the moment labour starts.

You will be by turn taken aback and too soon horrified at the intensity of the jabs, how they/it/whatever is in command, NOT, no not for a moment, you. You will have no shame in crawling the walls of your room, or whichever room you find yourself in when the jabs return, stifling a little cry, contorting your body in the most amazing ways to find some position of moderate comfort or escape from this incredible experience.

And no, you will almost not remember that all of this is about a little creature inside who is preparing to come out.

When you get on the phone to speak to the hospital you have selected for their emphasis on empathy, natural birth and mamma-baby centricity, you will not take too kindly to the trained, flat voice that you are met with which says the pain you are feeling is not yet good enough to come in with.

‘Jeez, lady, what do YOU know???!!!’ is what you will want to scream at the voice but instead, you will be caught mid-way in this primordial, involuntary convulsion that will make you feel infantile and make you do your breathing on the phone while the voice on the other end holds politely and encourages you to do your good work as though you were a young, anxious school-girl.

A couple of minutes or many minutes later when you are able to impress them with your raspy breath and they finally say what you’ve been dying to hear — ‘yes, you can come now’ — you will be suddenly aware that this is last time you are going to leave home as a woman with large tummy that has baby inside. And you will almost laugh and choke that your mind is able to think about this while being caught up in said primordial drama.

For all the tedious and loving preparations you and your partner may have made in reading up about, scouring for and investing in water birthing paraphernalia, you will not be flooded with images of how sublime the birthing is going to be. You will be consumed as you descend the stairs from your first floor flat (if that’s where you happen to live) or as you go down in a clunky lift while holding on tightly to your mum’s or partner’s hand/arm/wrist about how long anyone can possibly stay alive feeling the convulsions you are feeling and what if anything can make it stop.

When the cabbie comes, in the dead of the night (why is it always the dead of the night?) to fetch you and your attendants and the attending bags and said paraphernalia to the hospital, you will not be in the least interested in the small talk he will try his hand at. Although somewhere in your head you will wonder whether he understands the significance of his current undertaking, whether he has done it before and whether if the need should so arise, would he help with an emergency birth en route?

When you get through the gates of the tucked away entrance to the maternity ward, you will not be in a mood for wall-mounted phones with speakers attached. You will want someone to usher you in, show you your room, and leave you be.

If you’re lucky the room will not be chock a block with machines, artificial breathing equipment for an emergency, sterile trays, bright white light or anything at all that reminds you this is not home or a friend’s home or a hotel.

At which point I have to say, I managed in the middle of all this, to have a moment of epiphany. When all the ushering in rituals had died down, when a young, attractive, Greek mid wife had done her thing of poking me (why oh why is it necessary?) to make sure the baby was alright and at the same time inserted quickly a monitor on her head (while telling me the pain was worth it and gushing with pride on my behalf that the baby had a head full of hair, unheard of in the Nordic!), when I was happy to see my tired and spent attendants take a nap in their respective corners, I found myself marvelling at the quiet night outside, the geometic beauty of the street lights on the highway twinkling below, the reassuring and familiar sound of the rocking chair I was sitting on, rocking rhythmically to the dance of my body, and even if only for a few, brief moments, content and calm by myself with this creature inside me, on the cusp of being born, bewildered, moved and entirely accepting of whatever was going to come.

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A mother’s lament – life’s unfinished business


There is something fundamentally different in your world view when you become a mum (and from what I can see in my mother, a grand mum.)

I remember being rather cocky, stupidly cerebral and over-confident in the face of illness (especially of course rather cruelly when it concerned someone not so close) and the associated although often unstated thoughts and fears about death.

Now that I am a mum, I relate entirely and horribly completely with my own mother’s sorrow and fear of passing away – too soon (when are we as children ready anyway?); but unlike me, none of her fears have to do with her fear of death itself but the unfinished business of helping me raise my little girl in the wonderful, loving and mindful way that she and she alone has made possible, nurtured and protected; and of being my strongest source of support and irreplaceable, steadfast friend (‘what will happen to my girl when I’m gone, who is she going to have?,’ is what she told her beloved niece, my cousin).

To her face, of course I want to be positive, strong and stoic – I find myself saying we are going to the doctors because we want to know what is wrong – and no matter what they find, even with the heart, there is something we can do to help it feel less strain to help it do its work better.

But after 6 visits to the doctors in so many days in the searing heat, I understand her weariness and exhaustion.

Tests done so far confirm the heart is carrying a load and in all probably will need help of some kind; that the days of being ad-hoc in terms of treatment for various closely related conditions are over. And yet hearing doctors tell her that her heart of all things has been affected is hard to take – for someone who has prided herself in never having to medicate herself for anything other than the flu or minor conditions, I understand it feels like a horrible shock to have to face being told that your most vital organ needs careful and regular looking after.

And yet, I want to believe we are going to come through — for her sake, my sake, my little girl’s sake and the family’s sake – and that this is just the beginning of much deserved, greater attention to her for the first time in our life as a family and her life as a mum and grand-mum.

Celebrating the parent who is present


In having lost one parent much sooner than any of my close friends did, I have spent a great deal of time and heart in thinking about and celebrating my father’s spirit and presence and mourning his passing.

But I have never paid enough tribute to the parent who he left behind, who is alive, here and now, and whose daily and unending labour of love has given my young child and me the rock-solid home, refuge and tireless attention and care that enables and defines who we are and who we have become in our lives together, each in our own person, and together as a family.

Always the seemingly more reticent of the two, my mother was the quiet strength beside my expressive and gregarious father. Far apart in age, from different cultural, linguistic and social backgrounds, the two were always one of the best examples to me of a loving and respectful companionship.

During my teen years, when I was drawn a great deal to books and as a result of that drawn to and mesmerised by my father’s formidable intellect, I can never forget how he gently but firmly reprimanded me for seeming to put him on a pedestal writing in one of his letters to me at boarding school that the example my mother set with her effortless integrity, unflinching humility and unconditional humanity were by far the more coveted virtues, no matter how scintillating being widely read or a word he loathed, being intellectual seemed to be.

I have never forgotten that. Both for what it taught me about me and my blinkered view then and for the renewed admiration and love I felt for the way he loved my mother.

Although my mother has of course told me over the course of the years, that the usual, gendered differences existed between them too, she has always said my father was rare in considering her at all times with the deepest respect for being the kind of woman she was and for the kind of mindful, attentive and unbelievably generous mother she became.

I cannot ever be grateful enough to her for having always let me make my decisions, no matter how flawed, and often contrary to her expressed wishes or opinions, for never withholding her support, labour and love simply because I have found myself face down after following some of my mad plans, for having stuck her neck out for my young child and me when I have needed someone to rely on unconditionally and for being the kind of loving, patient and fun ‘present in the moment’ grandma who despite her getting older and frailer never whines or protests or grudges the entire lack of ‘me time’ and who runs this house and home for us in a way that makes the hardest and most invisible work and labour seem like a cake walk.

An unobtrusive, luminous thing


I have never thought of it like this – the special kind of ‘empty’ unstructured time you get to have when you are mainly home watching over a young child – gives you moments that you never expected – or ways of looking at the same, familiar sights, in an entirely new way.

Nearly 20 years ago, when my parents were able to invest in this house and make it their own, they took great pride in giving it personal touches to mark their particular aesthetic sensibility on its walls and interiors – my father would have thrown his head back and guffawed if he was around to read this – ‘sensibility?’ he would have said – ‘what exactly does that pretentious word mean anyway?!’

Both shared an interest in the crafts, both were drawn to simple, earthy design, and both had discovered a wonderful architect at a local Laurie Baker centre not too far from our new, and for the first time, owned home.

So even though resources were tight and a complete makeover was impossible, they found ingenuous ways with the architect, now part of the family as son and brother, to remove the sordidness of a banal, basic flat.

One of the improvements they decided to add was to cut a long room into two by building a trademark Laurie Baker feature – an exposed brick arch – which discreetly announced the separation of two spaces – a dining and living room area – and my father in his desire to add his own flourish to it requested Anna (the architect) to insert asymmetrical marble planks underneath the two half arches adjoining the main structure.

I used to be a tad embarrassed by their incongruity, the fact that they didn’t look like marble and that they were asymmetrical. But I knew better than to argue with my father about it.

Yesterday, as T and I lay in the hall, with our old water cooler blowing lovely cool air towards us and further on down the length of the house, I noticed light bouncing off the marble plank as though it were a piece of glass, and I thought to myself, what a wonderful quirky presence it brings to an otherwise deliberately draped and darkened space to stave off the hot sun; a quiet, unobtrusive, luminous thing.

And that reminded me of my father of course and I thought 9 years after his passing I’m at greater peace with my grief over his physical absence and quite certain in ways that sound ludicrous and mad that he is not and can never really be ever gone.

To be reminded of who you are


Old, dear friends can surprise you in the most unexpected and heart-warming ways.

You could have been out of touch for decades and not known much at all about the million small and big events that have swept up in their lives and yet, when you sit down with them, with faces (your own and theirs), enriched by the often difficult, challenging and at times gut-wrenching choices they and you have made, you can return, in an instant, to the closeness you had long-lost.

And what can make you gladder still is when such old friends can effortlessly reach out and establish an easy and deep affection with your young child — not because they want to please you or be polite, but because loving children is to them, as it is to you, one of the most natural things in the world and their wonder at the miracle of the birth and existence of a young person can remind you of your own, now often forgotten wonder — submerged as you often are in the necessary although uninspiring humdrum of the everyday.

In the past few months, I have had the wonderful chance to have had two such old friends of mine pass by our home. And although neither is much like the other, what both do have in common is an unwavering respect of young children, the ability to effortlessly fit in to a home centred around the child’s needs, and an unbridled enthusiasm in celebrating play, spiritedness and mischief.

Thank you, both!

A sentimental state of mind


It sounds like such sentimental trash. But it’s true. Old friends, true friends, good friends morph themselves to do and be exactly what you need when you reach out to them.

You could have last spoken to them years ago, last seen them a decade ago, last exchanged real news of each other’s lives even further away in time gone by, and yet, when you reconnect, all the good things are right there to be had, unconditionally.

Isn’t that amazing.

They will tell you the nice lies when needed — that the clothes look great, that the grey hairs peeking out suit you, that life is a shit, (sometimes!) that your choice of restaurant is impeccable even if they drove half way across town to get there — all in all, reassure you when you are all but crumpled, and make you feel like the best thing on earth when you have all but given up.

What would I do without them?

One day I shall perhaps flesh this out and give them names!

But until then, please know, all of you out there, whom I have been so inattentive to, for so many years, that without your love and support and ungrudging presence as and when I have called around, keeps me ‘on the path’, keeps me sane, keeps me happy, keeps me keen.

What more could I possibly ask for?!

Celebrating ceremony


On festivals, birthdays and other anniversaries that marked our lives, my father would wake up earlier than usual to have a bath (or shower, as is known in most other parts of the world) after which he considered himself ready for the rest of the morning.

Although he didn’t care a hoot for any of the other prescriptions that he grew up with, this was one rule that was close to his heart. That one was not really fit to greet the world, until one had bathed away the night’s langour.

On such special days, before he went in for his bath, he would hover around his cupboard housing his neatly stacked rows of kurtas. And after some deliberation and sometimes consultation first with my mother and then me he would decide on the one that he thought best suited the occasion and his mood on the day.

At the time, all this deliberation used to crack us up. It was like watching a royal production that took its time and came on stage only when its sole actor felt really prepared for the lights.

But now, when I look back on it, I feel fond and proud — and deeply grateful to have grown up around someone like him who taught me to look for and respect detail; to value deliberations — and to give my all in marking special days for myself and those around me.