A few days ago on 8th March it was International Women’s Day and this year’s theme was #BreaktheBias. I came across so many articles talking about how to #BreaktheBias in our work place. I have been working in the corporate world for about 16 years now and I completely agree that we still have to make many changes to get gender equality, but it made me think about gender equality at home or in our society.
Is it not important to #BreaktheBias at home and have shared responsibilities?
I felt it was important for me to share my thoughts on this.
5 years ago I got married to a Kai and decided to leave my whole life behind in India and relocate to Germany with him. For me this was a very natural decision, it’s always the woman who has to relocate when she gets married.
One year into our marriage we decided to get pregnant, again a very natural thing for me in our society: You get married and the next logical step for any married woman is to have a baby.
So we welcomed our first son into this world, it was beautiful and somewhere the independent working woman was replaced by a mother who could only think about her child.
I have no regrets, I have enjoyed every moment of being a mom, but just like that three years passed and we decided to get pregnant again.
But this time during my pregnancy I started missing the woman I was before I became a mother and before I got married.
Getting married and having children seemed like I was expected to make all the sacrifice and all the responsibility was on me.
I feel blessed that I am married to a very understanding man, who without me telling him my problems and how I felt decided to apply for 11 months Elternzeit .
What is Elternzeit:
In Germany parents are allowed to take up to one year time off from their work to take care of their children. This scheme can be used by both the father or the mother, but as our society teaches us: It’s a women’s job to take care of the children and it’s a man’s job to work and earn money, hence hardly any father takes much time off.
And I think you need to be brave enough to apply for it, the reason I use the word “brave” is because our society is still not ready to accept that men can also stay at home and take care of kids.
But Kai changed this thought process, decided to apply for 11 months and as expected everyone around us started questioning his decision.
I still remember people would ask: Why do you want to take such a long parental leave? He would say my wife left her country, her family her friends basically her whole life to come and stay with me. This is the least I can do for her, it’s hard to manage two kids and I would like to help her to be an independent working woman again, too.
People have questioned him if it is his job to take care of kids, change diapers, feed them, shower them, and he has only one answer: They are my children as well, hence they are my responsibility, too.
I know it’s very hard for my husband to take this stand for me, but I am glad he did. I feel we need more of such men who can stand against the society and question the role responsibility of a man and a woman.
Let’s #BreaktheBias and normalize shared responsibility.
If you are a first time mom I am sure there are lots of things going through your mind, but if you are an expat mom like me things get even more complicated. There are so many things I had to do all alone before my baby came, that I didn’t have time to do research about a lot of things, one of them was Colostrum.
During my second pregnancy I made it a point to read up on the same and here is what I finally found out.
As adults the milk that we drink is pretty consistent in appearance, taste, and nutrition. But breast milk is different, it changes in the days following your child’s birth. During pregnancy and when we begin breastfeeding, women’s bodies produce colostrum. After few days the milk comes in and changes to more mature breast milk.
So what is Colostrum?
Colostrum is an early form of breast milk that the body produces during pregnancy and for at least few days following childbirth. It’s an incredibly nutritious, protective and healthy form of breast milk that is very important in baby’s first days
So what does it look like?
Being a first time mom you may get confused, so this is what I observed: Compared to breast milk, Colostrum is usually stickier, thicker and more yellow in color. It is lower in volume and has a slower flow than breast milk. You may not usually feel like your breasts are full until the regular breast milk comes in.
But why is it so important?
One big question that led me to do so much research was to understand the importance of Colostrum. In the days immediately following birth, new-borns need the protective effects of colostrum more than they need nutrition from breast milk. Colostrum is easier to breastfeed and digest for new-borns, plus it has a natural laxative effect which is good for their health. Essentially, colostrum is breast milk with training wheels. Colostrum also contains the following:
Antibodies: protect the baby from germs and boosts his immune system. Leukocytes: white cells that fight bacteria and viruses Lactobacillus: a type of bacteria that helps protect the intestine Nutrition: colostrum has more immunization properties than nutritious properties, but it’s healthy, too. It is low in fat and sugar and high in carbohydrates and protein.
How can babies get the most benefits?
Now comes the big question, something I learnt after my first pregnancy, in the first few days following your baby’s birth you should try to breastfeed eight to twelve times every 24 hours (or more if possible). This prevents engorgement and helps in maintaining the supply of milk, while making sure your baby is getting all the protective benefits of Colostrum.
But what if you are like me and for some reason you are not able to breastfeed? I would say, try and talk to some professional. There are lactation specialist also present in the hospital. I know there are lots of benefits to breastfeeding, but having said that: Remember it’s your decision to breastfeed or bottle feed! Never feel judged, it’s your body and your decision.
I feel the moment you get pregnant you start getting judged for every single decision you take from that time on. And then, that big question that everyone will keep asking you is: “Are you planning to breastfeed or give bottled milk?”. To tell you the truth, I knew the benefits of breastfeeding, but before I could make a qualified decision, I felt being judged and finally, nearing my due date, I decided that I would be breastfeeding.
But like they say “man proposes and god disposes” this is exactly what happened.
I was fully prepared to start breastfeeding, but when I gave birth somehow my body did not produce milk immediately. I decided to keep pushing myself and I kept trying, but during a check-up of Robin in the first days at the hospital the doctors noticed that Robin was losing too much weight. Upon asking me, if I was feeding milk, I promptly responded that I am breastfeeding.
Being a first time mom, how do you even know, if you are able to breastfeed or not? Is your baby able to latch on or not? And the biggest question, are you even producing enough milk or not? Trust me you can find all the information online, but whom do you verify it with? Whom can you ask? I felt, if I ask anyone or tell anyone that I am not able to breastfeed, I will be judged. Maybe they might even think I am not a good mom. Anyways the doctor that time didn’t ask me any further questions, but just told me that Robin losing weight is not a good sign and I should consider bottle milk, which is readily available at the hospital.
I was hesitant at first, Robin was only supposed to drink breastmilk, but my husband said he would not want to take a chance and would like to give Robin a bottle of milk and make sure he maintains his weight. With a heavy heart I had to agree and we both were shocked how Robin finished a whole bottle of milk in one go. Seeing this my husband decided that he would rather give my son additional bottle milk, because he was also not sure if Robin was able to latch and drink.
But I was not happy, I wanted to breast feed. I remember coming back home and how I was sitting with Robin for hours holding him and trying to feed him. Trust me, my struggle was real and it was really hard with the thought in mind “What will people say, if I tell them that we gave Robin bottled milk?”. It was haunting me.
As for my husband he continued giving him bottle milk just to make sure that Robin was getting enough food but he could also see that I was not happy, my plan of breastfeed was not working.
What we didn’t know is that you can actually get professional help. There are Lactation consultants, they are experts who can help you in making sure your baby is able to get breastmilk. We only got to know about them slightly late, by then my son was able to breastfeed, but we decided to mix feed our son- That means we would give him two times bottled milk and the rest of the time we would breastfeed.
I later tried to analyze what went wrong and why I was not able to breastfeed in the first go. The biggest reason was, I had no one to guide me and help me with that process. Unfortunately my mother was not able to travel when I gave birth and I was all alone in this foreign country. I really had no one to ask. Even though my mom was trying her best to give me tips over the phone but that was not sufficient. So if you are like me in this similar situation I would suggest that you talk to someone and if that doesn’t help try to get an appointment with a Lactation consultant.
All I want to say you will not be considered weak, if you ask for help and trust me no matter what you do you will always be judged.
I was getting judged when I had to bottle feed my son for the first time, I got judged when I was mix feeding him and then when he was breast feeding completely I was getting judged: “Why am I still breastfeeding?”. (Actually, I was breastfeeding till my son was 21 months old and I am not ashamed of that. as per WHO you can breast feed till 3 years and its actually good for your child’s immune system.) So, I stopped thinking about others and only about what is best for me and my son. I think it is your body and your baby. You should make a decision, if you want to bottle feed or breastfeed and when you want to stop breastfeeding. It is no one’s business to tell you how to be a good mother or how a good mother should be. You are a great mother to your new-born, if you care about his nutrition and the decision you take regarding the feeding should be yours and only your decision. Don’t let someone tell you what is good for your child. You are the mother and you know best.
I am a mother to a beautiful 3 year old boy, and being a mom is for sure the best phase of my life. Having said that being a mom is also a very tough job, especially if you are in a foreign country and when you don’t have any support system.
It was very hard for me to look at myself in the mirror. I just could not recognize myself. It felt like there’s a different person looking back at me.
My body looked different. I had put on 5 kg extra weight, I had dark circles around my eyes, my face was dull, my hair was in a mess, in fact it would be right to say that I was in a mess. Every time I saw it, I told myself it is normal to look this way because I’m a mother now. Who cares if I can’t fit into those pre-pregnancy dresses or jeans, who cares if my hair is in a mess, who cares if my skin looks dull and lifeless?
In the process I always avoided getting my pictures clicked and trust me when I say this today I hardly have any pictures of me and my son. It’s heart-breaking.
Anyway this phase was not only a physically difficult one for me, but also emotionally and mentally. I was going through a lot, with less sleep, that feeling of always being tired and to top that the feeling that it’s me and my son against the rest of the world.
I started going into depression, but one fine day I told myself:
This could not be normal and if I don’t ask for help now I will lose my self completely.
What I had to do is change my outlook towards things. I told myself I am a mother now, but first of all I was an independent women, who was managing work, home and life all by herself. Why can’t I manage these different roles now and also be myself. So the first thing I did was:
1. Talk to my partner
Trust me this is so important and it can make a huge difference if you share your feelings with your partner. The problem is most of the time we think: Why do we have to tell him everything, can he not understand? I just had a baby! Why is it so hard for him to understand that giving birth is so painful and now I’m also taking care of his baby? But we forget that the same way our life has changed after giving birth, our partners life has, too. Maybe not physically, but mentally. He too is dealing with this new lifestyle change and talking, letting him know how you are feeling and asking for help will not make you look weak, but will make your relationship with your partner more stronger.
Is the best love. Try to think of the time when you were young. You would try to put that extra effort to do a little bit of makeup before stepping out. You would try the new products launched in the market for your face and hair. Then what happened? Now suddenly all you are concerned about is the latest baby products. It’s very normal. I have gone through that phase where I have been thinking: I must get some good hair and face products and have ended up buying only baby products in the end.
It is normal to put yourself second when it comes to your child but in the process of being a mom don’t forget yourself.
While shopping for new baby clothes try and buy something for yourself, try and pamper yourself at times.
Try to take out some time for manicure, pedicure or just a relaxing face massage. Get that hair salon appointment that you have been avoiding to take because you didn’t have time, change the colour of your hair or just get a new hair cut. Trust me when you come out of the parlour you will feel like a new person.
3. Me time
Something which I didn’t realize how important it was for me to feel normal again, but my husband pushed me from the start to have some me time. It’s basically some alone time with yourself and maybe in this time you can relax a little bit, take a longer nap or a long bath, maybe read a book or just go and do some exercises. Just some time all for yourself, where you don’t have to think about feeding or changing the diaper of your baby. Trust me when you are done with your me time you will have so much more energy for your child.
4. Plan an evening out with your girlfriends
Again something that really helped me. Going out with people who don’t have kids will help you feel that nothing has changed and it’s still you.
Don’t misunderstand me when I say, you should try and plan something with your girlfriends who don’t have kids, because I am sure your are already on playdates where you meet your girlfriends who have kids. No offence most conversation topics during these meetings are the kids.
I feel, at times you need to go out with friends like during your old times and talk about other things. You will see you will also feel your brain is more active because for once you are not having conversations about babies.
5. Get back to some routine
Like you have some routine for your child, try to make a routine for yourself. Taking care of a child without anyone’s support is very tough. You need to manage everything and hence it’s important that you give your body and mind enough rest. Making a routine will help you follow a schedule and not to get lost.
6. Try to have a hobby
I am sure when you were young you had many hobbies, but as we grow up these hobbies take a back seat. I feel this is a right time to try and get back to your hobby. Something that you like to do and by the end of it you will also feel accomplished.
For example, maybe your hobby was to paint then make a painting, if your hobby was to dance then learn a new dance form. Rediscover yourself through these hobbies.
This is something I always recommend to do. Every night before going to sleep take out 10 mins and just forget everything and meditate. This activity will help you in many ways. For example, it will help you relax after a whole day of running around with your child. Your mind needs to unwind. It will also help you calm down and get ready for a good night sleep.
These were just few of the things that have helped me. I am sure there can be many more but one thing is constant and that is: You need to share your feelings and concerns with your partner. Keeping feelings inside and trying to look strong is the worst you can do to yourself and your relation.
Because trust me, he is no fortune-teller who will know that you are in pain and need help. You need to ask for help.
As per me, I am still in the process of rediscovering myself. It is hard, but I am determined not to lose myself in the process of being a mother.