On extented breastfeeding

I’ve been wanting to start guest posts for some time now because there are many interesting, wise, brilliant mommies (and daddies) out there with some wonderful insights that we can all benefit from. Yesterday my friend Gau, one of the most gorgeous, intelligent, articulate and empathetic people i know put up an Instagram post that fired me up and i just had to share it! Here is her post:

This picture was otherwise only meant to be a #latergram post from a recent trip to continue documenting our nursing journey. I normally let some amount of naysaying slide and don’t preach the virtues of extended breastfeeding to an immature audience. Something happened a couple of days ago that made me extra protective of a bond I care so much for. I went to a doctor for a small infection and was prescribed some broad spectrum antibiotics. I forgot to ask earlier so called her up from home to ask if the meds were breastfeeding friendly. Here’s a snippet from our unpleasant conversation:

Me: Doc, I’m breastfeeding and wanted to know if it was safe to take the meds you prescribed.

Doc: (incredulously, because she had met my son earlier in the day) How old is your child?

Me: 2.7 years old

Doc: Then you can stop feeding him now. They say it’s useless to feed a child that old and you should stop now.

Me: I do not agree and even if I did, I can’t stop tonight which is when I need to start the course.

Doc: No but it’s useless and yes the meds are safe.

Me: Thank you and good bye!

Now I know that not all of the anti (extended) breastfeeding brigade goes around giving unsolicited “useless” advice to nursing mothers and not all doctors are morons. But the most basic facts of life have become so mangled and mired in hate or ignorance that right now I feel compelled to put in my two cents across to whoever is listening.
It is perfectly normal and natural to nurse a child until they self-wean (that is around the age of 6 or 7 years when they lose their baby teeth and along with that also their ability to latch). It is recommended to breastfeed a child for a minimum of two years – this has proven benefits for both the mother and the child. Beyond that age, breastmilk does not become useless overnight. A child nurses because it needs milk but not only for that. A mother’s milk is better for the child, even nutritionally, than another animal’s that is meant for its own young one. Human bodies are dynamic – under normal circumstances, a mother will continue to produce milk for as long as her child nurses. As the child grows, it finds emotional stability and security in this nursing bond with the mother. This aspect of the breastfeeding relationship is most underrated and least understood. The same people who encouraged me to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months later told me that breastfeeding after a certain age is “addictive” and I’m spoiling my son. If you hug your child 20 times a day, every day, you’re not spoiling them, are you? You’re also not cultivating bad habits to last a life time. To use the oft repeated yet meaningful line – children don’t spoil, they just grow up.
While I’m proud and thankful to be nursing my child for this long, I wouldn’t say it’s been easy. Another reason to be supportive of extended breastfeeding rather than discourage mothers by saying all the wrong things. Just as in any other relationship, the success of this one depends on the well-being of both the mother and the child. A mother may want out at any point and lead the way to a gentle and peaceful end of the relationship. Abrupt weaning can cause a lot of grief to both the mother and the child. There are support groups to help mothers in their breastfeeding journey – Breastfeeding Support for Indian Mothers is one such group and I’ve had the good fortune of meeting some amazingly strong and committed mothers (even fathers) here.
This post is about extended breastfeeding and nursing in public is a natural progression of this extension. 🙂 You can’t feed behind closed doors for three years, you should never have to. But more on that later.

This is the link to her Instagram account:https://www.instagram.com/gauriddg/

I weaned my daughter off prematurely at eight-and-a-half months because of a work related trip to Germany and it still makes my heart ache. Even in that short period, i experienced how unfriendly our society and conditions are for breastfeeding. And this is not just breastfeeding in public which is nightmarish in itself, but also support from near and dear ones at home who are quick to wonder “whether breastmilk is enough” and encourage us to switch to formula before really allowing us to take our time in learning and enjoying this beautiful, natural process.

Power to women like Gau who inspire and educate us with tales like these!

If you have breastfeeding stories of your own, i’d love to hear them.

Raising a “creative” child


For 25 out of the (almost) 30 years of my life I held some very fixed notions about creativity. To me, creative people looked a certain way: crinkly cotton skirts, scarves or stoles, lots of silver jewellery, kajal and a jhola bag. The older ‘Creatives’ wore beautiful saris and blouses and sometimes, these big, pretty bindis. I marveled at these Creatives and I knew without a doubt that I wasn’t one of them. I would look at my plain-Jane, T-shirt clad self in the mirror and wish with all my heart that I could be one of ‘them’ too. To me, creativity was a genetic disposition, something that some people just inherently had, just like I had straight hair.

Then, about 6 years back, two things happened that swept me off my feet, turned me upside down, shook all these thoughts out of my head and made me feel light-headed and clear and dizzy, like a new me. The first was that I met my husband. I would not say that he is the most creative person I know, but he is definitely one of the ‘free-est’ beings I’ve met. Free of rigid notions of how things should be and free of being ‘correct’ and ‘appropriate’. I would watch him dance and sing and act and mimic and paint and do exactly whatever the hell he wanted, without being conscious of anything else but his own pleasure and joy. He would encourage me to do theater and to send out my stories and when I would self-consciously say “ME??” he would always reply with an earnest “Yes” that made me feel like he saw much more of me than I even knew there was. Very slowly, I started becoming that person he saw.

The second thing was a book called ‘The Artist’s Way‘. I first read about that book in Robin Sharma’s ‘Who will cry when you die’ as one of his “things to do to make your life better” recommendations and being the self-improvement junkie that i am, the book landed up in my hands. The entire premise of the book is based on the simple ‘fact’ that each and every one of us is creative. A very simple statement, but one that made my eyes almost pop out of my sockets and pulse quicken. “She actually means that I am creative too! Is that possible? What if that’s true?”

I worked diligently with the book and to say that it changed my life would be the understatement of the decade. This blog is a direct outcome of that. So is Fabric Fables. Although old habits die hard and I still refuse to believe it when anybody says I’m creative, I am learning to be more comfortable with the thought every day that all of us are creative and that creativity can be uncovered and practiced. It is not a privilege gifted to a few but a basic tenet of living; you are creative and meant to create, simply as a virtue of being born and living on this earth.

Because my own process of unearthing my creativity was long and arduous, I take great care to make sure that Rumi knows how creative she is and that she grows up feeling free to create and make and be whatever she wants without a voice in her head constantly reminded her to ‘get real’ and ‘get a proper job’ and so on. As a child, her creativity flows naturally and freely but all this can and normally does quickly change, if we are not careful to safeguard it and nourish it. Out of all that I’ve read, experienced and gleaned over the years, these are some things to make a special note of while nurturing your child’s creative spirit:

  1. Avoiding Tags and Labels as far as possible

Nothing damages or bruises the creative spirit more than the voices we hear in our childhood, that say well-meaning things like “Looks like your brother is the artist in the family” after the child hands you a drawing or “She’s a good dancer but her voice is another matter altogether”. Labels. We are so quick to label and categorize. She’s good at arguing; “Lawyer honar ahe”, she does not like frocks: she’s a ‘tomboy’ and so on. They seem harmless, and to some extent, unavoidable, but when they are repeated to your child or even to other people about your child, they create a conviction that is hard to argue with or change later. If you try something with your child that he does not enjoy, just try again a few days later.  Let likes and dislikes be flexible and ever-changing and let your child know that he is allowed to change, grow into or out of something. Perseverance is very important, but not at the cost of removing the enchantment and pleasure of the sound of the violin or a foreign language altogether.

  1. Leaving lots of time for free play and boredom

With school taking up most of the day, and an after-school activity or two, children hardly find free time pockets to just play or do whatever they want. Sometimes, even play-time is carefully planned by parents who want their kids to put their time to good use instead of just sitting about in front of the TV or Tablet. But it is in this time that a new, fun, language or game gets invented. Also, toddlers don’t need to be provided with state-of-the-art toys. A spoon and vati from the kitchen can become a musical instrument, old shoe boxes can become a toy train – the lesser you provide, the more leg room there is, for their imagination to stretch out.

  1. Allowing the ‘Why’

Sometimes, it can be very exasperating to hear everything you say countered with a ‘why’. Sometimes, you find the time to answer the why, and at other times you just respond curtly with a “Because I say so.” Which is also perfectly OK because there are only 24 hours in a day, and dinner to be served, and laundry to be done, and a million other things to organize. But as far as possible, allow the why and allow the self-discovery of the answer too, as long as safety and hygiene allow it. “Why should I wear my shoes?” “Because your feet will get dirty otherwise and you’ll get hurt.” If your child does not fathom this, maybe you could allow a few shoe-less steps and let them see? And this grubbiness that makes most of us cringe, brings me to my last point of:

  1. Getting dirty

This is not to say that all the standards of hygiene and cleanliness in the house must be dropped but it is important for kids to indulge in some messy play and also for them to know that you are OK with it. Let them experience different textures with their own little fingers. For instance, you may want to allow them to mix their own dal and rice with their fingers, let them ‘help’ in the garden by digging up all the mud or ask them to squish the tomatoes for soup. Most dirty stains can be removed and most surfaces wiped down clean, so roll up your sleeves and get dirty too!

If you have any more inputs or other thoughts on creativity, I’d love to hear them!

Poor Dad, Rich Dad

Yesterday Rumi suddenly asked me “Tu shrimanta ahes ka” (Are you rich?) I burst into laughter. My God, where had she learnt that word? Probably from those appalling Marathi soaps that she loves to binge watch. “Ask Baba” I said, still laughing at the use of the word “Shrimanta” in that sweet voice. She asked Abhi and as he smiled at me, I’m sure even he was thinking of an argument we had had a couple of days back.

Abhi and I rarely ever argue. When we do, it is not so much of an argument as a full-blown intense fight, where the past, present and future are all dragged into the conversation. There are tears and there is sulking. There are one or two really awful days and then, when the clouds clear again, it is sunny and happy and just all gone in a few seconds. As we get older in our relationship, we have learnt not to mind these days as much. My tears have reduced and so has his sulkiness and we have made peace with these passionate outbursts.

Anyway, last week, when Abhi got home from work, he was very downcast. When we spoke about it, he said “Sometimes I just feel like a failure. I have been working for over a decade now. But what have I got to show for it? I want to give you and Rumi everything you ask for, without having to worry about the bank balance every month.”

My heart just went out to him. This man works so damn hard. His days begin at dawn every single morning. And he is giving us so much. I really enjoy the luxury of being at home with Rumi because of him. And our life is abundant and full of grace in every way. Our lovely house, the trips we take together, our indulgent dinners, mall excursions, everything. We are lacking for nothing.

I have a very fluid approach to money. I find that it is there when you need it. I never fret about it and I generally have what is called an ‘abundance mentality’, where I sometimes want to hug our cheap but very pretty blue curtains just because they are looking so lovely. Now this approach completely works for me so I tried to cheer Abhi up by saying things like “Maybe it’s in your mind that you’re feeling poor, would you really be happier with more money? ”, not realizing how incredibly trite it all sounded. He just glared at me and said “I’m trying to discuss a problem with you and you’re giving me all this positivity junk!” and left the room, leaving me very bewildered and hurt.

Later, when we spoke about these things, the first thing I did was I sat him down and thanked him. So much is written about all the sacrifices that mothers have to make, have we really given a thought to the things that men sacrifice when they become fathers? I don’t actually like to use the word ‘sacrifice’ for parenting Rumi, because giving birth to her was a decision that we took entirely for ourselves and I don’t ever want her to feel like we gave up anything for her. On the contrary, I want her to see us enjoy raising her and feeling fulfilled in the time that we spend together as a family. I want her to know how incredibly happy raising her makes us.

But it is true that we have to say “No” to a lot of things when we become parents. Sometimes they are invitations to the latest movie or play or party. Sometimes they are opportunities at the workplace. Many people find it incredible that I am still choosing to be at home with Rumi. At every age milestone from the time she turned one, I am asked whether she will be starting daycare or school soon (which obviously means I will be starting work, because apparently sitting at home is all play!). I am making this conscious choice of being at home, secure in the knowledge that my husband is working really hard to provide for the three of us. Double-income would be really welcome at this point but then we did not want to send Rumi to a daycare as yet, or have the grandparents become her babysitters. Nor did we want to see less of each other by alternating work and home schedules.

We made this decision together and I am enjoying it and so is Rumi, but I have never thought of the price Abhi pays for it, or the many things that he says ‘No’ to. What about his creative dreams? As soon as he comes home, he immediately takes over Rumi. When does he get time for his hobbies? When does he ever have free time? This blog that I lovingly write in my free time is all thanks to this husband of mine who reads every post and beams as if it is the best thing ever written. I have the freedom to pursue all the business ideas in my head because he believes in them and tells me to “Go for it, without worrying about money”. He wakes up at 5 and takes an early class so that he can be home in time to go for a swim with Rumi or take her to the park or teach her chords on the guitar. Our baby speaks German because of him. She identifies different musical Raagas because of him. She sings ‘Mile Sur Mera Tumhara’ because of him.  I really don’t know many dads who get this kind of time with their children, apart from weekends.

So I hold his hands and thank him, for the existence of this blog, for my business idea to have a chance to come to life, for the time he spends with Rumi. My tears fall on his hands. “You are anything but a failure” I tell him.

Yes, there are things to be done and improved. We need to save more, to think about tomorrow, to be able to pay for Rumi’s care and education. We need to get out of the “bank balance down to zero” situation at the end of every month. But, I remind him that he has changed my life for the better, in every single way. Rumi is so very lucky to spend all of this time with not just me but also her Baba. It is a blessing to have him home, not just in time for dinner but also in time for doctors’ visits and school-orientation programs and fun-fairs and birthday parties. He is one of the few Daddies who not only know the names of her friends but also their favorite snacks at play-dates. This, the three of us together at dinner, with songs and stories and laughter, is the life of my dreams. If this is not abundance, then I don’t know what is.

Thus convinced, we go to bed feeling very content.

And back to Rumi’s innocent question, we both answered in unison with “Ho, apan khup shrimanta ahot” (Yes, we’re really rich).