Culture of care

The end of this year and a beginning of new 2015 as I write this post. Today I wanted to revisit the care I received as a new mom and the care I remember given to my mother when she gave birth to my brother. How being in USA has changed me and how I saw postpartum care in India ? My brother was born in 1981 in a municipal hospital in my hometown. From what I remember, we lived in the government quarters provided by the municipality with our grandparents. My mom came home quite sore and tired. I was excited to have a baby brother to play with and so was my sister. My mom slept on a khaatlo ( a traditional bed made of interwoven cord of twines), it was a special bed I had seen a few other times with new mothers in our family and friends’ homes. The bed did not have a mattress but it had a thick quilt placed on top and I remember wondering why my mom could not sleep upstairs in her bedroom.

Curiosity aside I realized later that underneath the khaatlo (aka BED) there was a metal container filled with dried cow dung cakes which were lit but did not release smoke. It was a mild heat that kept oozing under the bed where my mom slept. It was a comforting smell at that time and still makes me feel warm and cozy. My brother was born in November which is the beginning of winter in India. Now I also know why they had the cow dung heating up my mom’s back. It was improve the healing of my mom’s postpartum body, a form of hot fomentation. At times, my grandma would move the heat source up and down so her entire body felt the warmth.

Going back to my postpartum time, I came to a cold home, even though the heater was on. I did not have the energy to climb up a flight of stairs to go to my bedroom. I was so sore and swollen up from the extra fluids that the hospital had pumped in me. My husband managed to get the mattress and box spring downstairs in our family room. I remember not wanting to be in that room but did not have any other option. No heat under my bed. My mom did manage to put a heating pad under my back.

I also remember that I did not see any new mom without a scarf in India. They say the ears should be protected for the first 40-45 days from cold air. I listened to my mom and kept it on for a week. I should have done that for longer. A belly binding regimen was not something my mom had suggested and I don’t remember if she had a belly binding thing done with my brother. I need to ask her about it next time I talk to her.  There was a lady who used to come to our home in India, everyday to give a full body massage to my mom and my brother. She was quite quick and efficient at her job. She was not a therapist or a qualified masseuse but an older female who knew her stuff. She would also follow the massage with a hot bath for my mom and my brother. In my case, no time for massage because my mom was the cook, the maid, the postpartum doula and my sounding board for everything. She made me all the postpartum foods that I would have consumed if I had delivered in India. By the way, all of them are so yummy. Warm and comforting food. Lots of ghee, greens, easy to digest foods. Did I see my mom having postpartum depression symptoms ? NO.

Not the same in my case. I had a traumatic birth, forceps, extra fluids, 3rd degree tear, sleepy and tired spouse. Even with all the things that my mom helped me with and fed me, I was not happy. I had postpartum depression and did not get help from a professional for that. My mom never asked me to get any help either, but my dad on the other hand did say that I needed a psych consult. To top it all, I got mastitis and did not go to the doctor to ask for medicines. WHY ? YOU ASK ? I was not in my right mind and did not advocate for myself. Part of me was scared of my spouse, because I knew he did not believe in taking medications. Part of me, did not trust the doctor who took care of me during labor and after that. Part of me, was scared that if I listened to my parents ( both of whom are doctors by the way), it would hurt my relationship with my husband. My hormones were no help either.

The most foolish reason, of all, was I had thought that I am supposed to take care of myself and my baby without any other help from friends. Boy was I wrong. I thought I was super mom. Well I don’t think I would use the word SUPER MOM at that time but I did have this thought and assumption that I should be able to do this on my own. NOT TRUE. ABSURD. I did not help anyone by thinking that, specially I lost the time I could have bonded with my first born. I have made up for it but if I had listened to my body, my parents and people who offered to help I would have been in a better place. After all is said and done, the whole reason for this post is to let everyone know why I became a postpartum doula and why new moms should feel empowered when they ask for help.

Touch, teach, learn, Trust

Touch is one of the first sensation a baby learns when it comes to the world. The midwife, OB, birth worker who delivers the baby is the first person to touch the baby and at that time the baby is still in transition. The mother’s touch should be the first touch that a baby experiences. In our modern world, complicated healthcare systems have managed to make this quite difficult to attain. How can we give our babies this wonderful touch after all the interventions that happened before ? The answer to that is MASSAGE. You do not need to be a massage therapist to touch your baby and massage your baby.

Infant massage classes are vital for parents who want to learn it from professionals. For the parents who are committed to doing infant massage regularly, these classes are taken before the baby’s arrival. For parents who have already come home with a new baby, you won’t have the time to go to a class. But it is never too late because giving the baby the gift of touch is the second best gift to breastfeeding. Did you know that you get to talk to your baby when you give them a massage ? A baby relaxes and this will relax mama and papa or whoever the caregiver is. Your baby looks at you directly and learns that this is what a safe touch feels like. You get better at reading your baby’s cues. You don’t feel overwhelmed when your baby cries because you will know why he or she is crying.

Touch is invaluable to any mother and baby dyad. Dads should try it too. Dads, if you feel left out because you cannot breastfeed or if you feel that the baby responds to mama better. Trust me. Incorporate a daily massage, it does not have to be a big charade, just gentle massage before bed. You will see that your baby responds to you as well. There is so much research done by people in the field of massage and its effects and you can find the literature in books, journals, articles, online as well but the one thing I know for sure as a mother, aunt and postpartum doula is I am yet to meet a baby who does not like infant massage. The trick is to do it early and often just like breastfeeding.