22 April, 2014

The TamBrahm Series (Part 10) - The Newborn Arrives ....

(Image courtesy : penciljammers.com via Google)

For the sake of continuity, here's the link to Part 9 of The TamBrahm Series

The arrival of a baby is one of those events that pretty much affect people the world over, the same way.  The jaw dropping wonder, those little tiny fingers and toes that makes the heart do flip flops on its own and the typical drunk look or the slightly irritated look that newborn babies often have, which are sure to make their families derive and reach their own conclusions as to whether the baby is debating about Einstein’s Theory of Relativity or Newton’s Law of Gravity or is simply trying to decide between crying out of hunger, crying out of cold or crying just for the sake of crying. 

Behold the newly minted parents, people !   That glazed look, that slack jawed grin and that feeling of responsibility that just hit them a few milliseconds back with the force of a ten ton truck !!!  Yes !  They’re still pretty much in shock that they have this little being, a whole new life to care for and raise - a very humbling feeling, in my honest opinion.  Coming back to the moot point, TamBrahm families are pretty much the same in reacting to newborn babies – believe that, people. 

In a ultra traditional TamBrahm family, once the newborn has made its arrival into this world, the maternal grandparents or relatives from the mother’s family (of course – it always is that way !) make their way to the residence of the father’s family, their arms laden with sugar and bananas.  Who in the world thought of that combination, I wonder.  Given the fact that Type 2 Diabetes is hugely making its presence felt among people of Indian origin, I think it is about time people give this particular tradition a serious think.  A couple of kgs of sugar and a riot of bananas to feed the whole building ??  Given the rate at which the population is increasing and given the sugar-banana tradition, put together a few TamBrahm families sporting brand new newborns and we could have a BanaTina festival, right there, right then.  The Tomatina festival in Spain would have to beat a rather hasty retreat.  In fact, it could be incentive enough for Bollywood and Tollywood to come together and produce a movie on the lines of a BanaTina festival.  Who knows ?  The TamBrahm BanaTina's could well set a trend !!

The newly minted mother, in the meanwhile, would be in the process of rediscovering the meaning of the word “zen”.   She will also discover pretty soon (if she hasn’t, already) that people around her have suddenly started to view her as a walking talking Aarey Milk Colony (a company that has herds of buffaloes which produce milk (surprise !!) and the company markets the same rather successfully.  Ergo …. the name Aarey, for those of you not familiar with the Indian context, is synonymous with milk)  She is expected to turn into some sort of milk vending machine, just like that.  Snap your fingers and see the milk flow kinds.  No people, no.  What the mamis with the blings fail to realize right then is that for us TamBrahm mothers too, breast milk is controlled by the hormones in the body.  Oh !  Surpriiiissseeeee !!!  For the senior TamBrahm mamis however, all these hormones wormones do not make any sense.   

I remember feeling the full force of the mami brigade when I’d just had Macadamia.  A whole posse of blingy bling mamis would float in and out and there would be statements flying across and around like “oh ! the baby was asleep”  “her nose looks like her great grandmother’s nose” “her ears look like her great grandfather’s ears” and then like hungry eagles eyeing hapless prey on the ground, they would zoom in on what they think is a very pertinent issue at that point of time “have you started breastfeeding ?” .   Now why the whole world needs to know the answer to a question like that has always been beyond me …. even more so when one is a newly minted mom, for whom just about everything is confusing and  bewildering right then. 

One is led to believe that breast milk is something like the River Ganga flowing out on demand.  It is not, people !!  Even all those mantrams and prayers said during the seemantham to augment lactation need for the human brain to send the right hormones to get the whole lactation process started.  What no one helpfully points out to the new mom then is the fact that it is quite normal for the whole  process to take a couple of days (sometimes longer sometimes not so long).  I remember thinking, much to my dismay then, that it was me something was wrong with, the way people were reacting to the fact that Macadamia needed to be formula fed for the first couple of days until I could start nursing her.  Even statements like “the baby is hungry but you have no milk to feed her” used to be quite commonly and insensitively thrown my way.  My dear know it all mamis of the bling bling fame, it is not the fault of the new mother and it does not help trying to be "helpful" that way.   It does not do anything in alleviating fears or concerns that new mothers might have (and trust me, at that point of time, they have loads of them).  It just makes them worse, it just makes them feel bad about themselves and about not being able to “provide” for their baby. 

What would indeed help loads at times like these is someone reassuring and encouraging, someone who tries to put a new mother’s fears at rest and tries to ease her concerns by giving sensible answers to questions rather than mouthing sentences that have simply been handed down generation to generation.  My grandmother's grandmother said that to my grandmother and my grandmother said that to my mother who, in turn, said it to me and so I'm saying it to you !!!  Huh ???!!!  What weird logic is that ?  

It would help and calm a new mother’s fears to know from someone who has already been through this experience that it is perfectly normal for it to take a couple of days or more for the body to start lactating.  It would help a new mother to know that there could indeed be latching problems and issues and that these need patience and that one needs to persevere and that it is as much a learning process for the newborn baby to learn to feed as it is for the new mother to feed her baby.   It does not help to have people fling statements like “Oh ! you don’t know how to feed your baby”  or “ Oh ! There must be something wrong with your boob/s then”.  These are convenient but end of the day, they do not help one bit. 

If the new parents happen to have an over zealous paediatrician, their joys would simply be compounded overnight – literally.  Now, the usual practice in India when it comes to choosing a doctor, is pretty much going by your neighbour’s hearsay.  The same pretty much applies to the TamBrahm community too.  Which is precisely how I ended up with an obstetrician whose idea of a labour / delivery room was a converted bathroom in a residential building in Bombay.  One look at the OR in that nursing home was enough to make me decide that come hell or high water, I was going to push that baby out.  There was no way in heaven, given even the minutest of choices, that I was going to end up in THAT Operating Room !!  Some incentive that, huh !  Actually, one look at that OR would work really well in putting women off a C-Section.  It looked like one of those torture chambers from a set that had belonged to one of the movies from The Nightmare on Elm Street series.  I remember thinking very clearly and praying that the operating lights wouldn’t detach themselves from the ceiling and land on someone being operated upon.  I can imagine the said obstetrician looking all officious and saying “Oh !  we brought the lights down because I needed more light to operate” !!  Yes, people, it was that dicey !  If you’re wondering as to why I did not change doctors then, it was because I was due anyday soon and like I mentioned earlier, I was about as dainty as a beached whale.  Trundling along to “find” another obstetrician right then seemed more difficult than possibly a ride on the Battlestar Galactica in Universal Studios. 

The situation thus, is rather dexterously poised with the newborn, struggling to adjust to this noisy, bright world into which it has (quite literally) been pushed, the new mother who is going through a whole new learning curve and suddenly discovers that being able to sleep four hours straight was a luxury, the new father who is beginning to look more flummoxed, confused and sleep deprived with eyes wider and more baffled than deer caught in headlights. 

Another rather famous piece of advice that was given to me when Macadamia was born was "don't use diapers" - as in don't use disposable diapers.  Oh well !  Those little triangle pieces of cloth are next to nothing, truth be told.  God alone knows what possessed me to accede to that particular suggestion from the helpful angels around me but fact remains that I did.  No wonder then that I spent the first couple of months looking like a raccoon that had been electrocuted into dumb silence.  I guess that happens when one is terribly sleep deprived and surrounded by all sorts of Einsteins and Blaise Pascals.   

Now, if a new mom has been deemed as "not lactating enough" to fill her newborn's tummy (it was later that I realized that my newborn then used to keep crying because she was colicky and not because she was hungry all the time, as I'd been rather helpfully led to believe), all sorts of magic potions and concoctions make their way into the new mother's life.  Had someone turned this into a movie, it would have easily put Harry Potter's potions to shame.  One such magic potion given to my mom by some helpful soul involved a whole head of garlic (not a pod, people - a whole head of garlic), peeled and crushed, boiled in milk.  Rather helpfully, she asked my mom to then strain the milk, add some sugar so that it tasted good (yeah, sure !) and of course, I was asked to drink it all.  It helped wonderfully - as an emetic !!  Just the strong smell of that concoction turned my insides out and I spent the rest of the night retching and throwing up all the non existent food in my stomach.  When the helpful soul heard of this, she did remark "Oh Good !  It would have removed all impurities from the system" !  Excuse me ???!!!!  What impurities ?  It removed a good couple of layers from my intestinal tract !!  

Speaking of the intestinal tract brings me to the topic of food.  Now, in a TamBrahm household, new mothers have this "special diet" to follow.  They have to avoid root vegetables of any sort because that makes the baby colicky.  They have to avoid yoghurt because that too, apparently does something to the newborn - I didn't bother ask.  They have to avoid oil and spice because I'm sure that does something to the newborns too.  Basically, they have a select, gourmet choice of 4-5 vegetables.  It is indeed an experience of the highest order in sadism and masochism.  Truth be told, for a foodie like me, this diet for 42 days hurt way more than 10 hours of labour did.

I was fed (I know I am making myself sound like one of those cows from Kobe,Japan which are fed on the best of things so that they make the best beef steaks on someone's plate) a pure diet of okra or methi leaves or cabbage. One of those three vegetables would be cooked in ghee (which was never one of my favourites to begin with) and loads of cumin seeds (which aid digestion) and loads of methi seeds (which aid lactation, so it is said).  This was my diet for about 41 days, by the end of which, I was pretty sure my taste buds had died.  On the 42nd day, when I was given a tablespoon of some tomato dish with coconut, trust me, I almost turned delirious - deliriously happy that my taste buds were still alive and kicking.  Stubbornly spunky souls, those tastebuds !!
The new family is indeed complete, for now.  We shall join them in part 11 of The TamBrahm Saga, when the family starts to decide upon a name for the baby.  We shall also join them as they celebrate the newborn’s arrival at home with a naming ceremony and the kaapu ceremony.

Stay tuned, folks !

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