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04/11/2016

A look back at 2015

Ah 2015 ... Thank you! Thank you for the discoveries: the joy of motherhood, the sleepless dazed state, the horror of falling hair, the joy of short hair. All this on a background of great travels, in Switzerland, France, Sikkim, Kerala and Corsica (all this with the baby). But of course there was a stain in the painting : I had to experience the inconsistency of the Company (at least mine*) claiming they want more women managers and then let them drown without lifting a finger when the transition back to office of the said women managers is not as smooth as planned after a long break.         

For me, the beginning of the end started in February when, two months after the birth of Baby Samurai, I received a message from my boss who wanted to shorten my maternity leave (I had a six month leave, as per the policy of the company, or so I was told since I was 6 weeks pregnant).           

india,back to work,back to office,maternity,motherhood,maternity leave,baby,breastfeedingBy the way, if anyone imagines that a maternity leave is anywhere close to a holiday (like me before the baby’s arrival) I am sorry to cut the dream: it is ANYTHING but a holiday. There is of course a kind of workaholic mother who buys a pump at the third month of pregnancy, gives birth with her Blackberry in hand, hires a nanny right out of the hospital and works from the house the first week. But the common mortal has non-functioning neurons (it’s hormonal) for a while. And since a baby, even the coolest one on Earth like mine, eats every 2-3 hour, there is a good chance that any videoconference be interrupted by a feed – in which case the only solution is to mute the mic,  adjust the webcam and pretend to care about what is going on in this meeting on increasing wages, a topic that usually fascinates you (or not) but that is completely beyond you right now.        
And apart from the fact that they feel completely disconnected, there are mothers who want to focus on their baby and just don’t want to switch on a computer. A lot of them are in their thirties, educated, ambitious and hard-working women who become breastfeeding champions who suddenly have only one thing in their mind: survive and feed their baby. Fierce, they do not let go; to set the tone, sometimes they even reach the point of screaming (inside) from pain and cry (silently) while applying cream and plasticky breast protectors on their cracked nipples but nothing will make him miss a feed! In the process they will not hesitate to continue breastfeeding after the six months prescribed by WHO; even after a year, let's be crazy ;)
They can also secretly take the baby and the grand-parents to a seminar in France to continue breastfeeding smoothly.

And well, these warrior-mothers, they believe they deserve to be left them alone for a few weeks, if only in the name of all the extraordinary efforts they have made for years (and even up to 8.5 months of pregnancy) to prove that they are as capable and bankable for the company than a man.            
That may be a bit pretentious to say so, in these times of crisis and job insecurity, but there is no way to put it otherwise, they won’t take any shit. They are like that, they have the power – even if sometimes takes a coach for them to realize it.         india,back to work,back to office,maternity,motherhood,maternity leave,baby,breastfeeding     

So when you are pressurized to reply to mails during your leave (mails? What mails? But it takes you a week to gather the courage to cut your nails so imagine switching on a laptop. Now you understand... that mails... well...), and to get back on top of your game – but it doesn’t work, there is nothing to do, you understand nothing, you can’t even remember whether you have taken a shower in the morning. You can only try not to cry and hope that better days will come… And they do come, when the hormones finally calm down, or just that the storm has passed. But you find it difficult to swallow that bitter pill, even when you regain your self-confidence and manage to reach the objectives. You quit. And they call it a “motherhood crisis”, a crazy move that I will quickly regret.          

And there is very likely some truth in it. Perhaps, in my case, this difficult return from leave was the cherry on the cake, in a context where, to be quite honest, I was very tired. But leaving a company that taught you everything and a boss that taught you everything, developed you and made you feel “talented” is not so easy. Luckily I was helped by my new company which contacted me a few weeks after I got back to office. A couple of days after I burnt my breast pump. I was enjoying a break from the baby (who was sleeping, for quite a long time) and fully absorbed by the preparation of a seminar, I forgot the pump which was being sterilized in the pan. This incident is quite important since the company in question makes... breast pumps!  

* Doing some research, I found out that only 25% of new mothers go back to the office after work. And by the way, India ranks 115 (out of 128 countries) on « Empowering women at work ». So when they get pregnant they get fired or demoted or their salaries get cut. And if not, same things happen when they come back. They are however some companies who really go out of their way to retain or hire women who have been on a long break (they had to look at these pool of talents as they anyways find it difficult to recruit women here):

india,back to work,back to office,maternity,motherhood,maternity leave,baby,breastfeeding

This is called the “Back to Work” programme though I personally prefer “Back to Office” as being a stay-at-home is really a job, according to me!

india,back to work,back to office,maternity,motherhood,maternity leave,baby,breastfeeding

Cartoons from: http://www.awesomeinventions.com/doodle-diary-of-new-mom/   

10/12/2015

Sleep baby sleep... (Sleeping in India and in France)

A friend (Indian) came home unexpectedly on Saturday night at 9 PM. When he ‘complained’ about Baby Samurai not being available for play, I explained that he had been sleeping for an hour already. To which he answered: “Are you German or what, that he needs to have a schedule?” That says it all…

Sleep is one of the largest cultural differences between India and France, according to me. Family sleep india.jpgFor example, an Indian can easily talk to you while you are asleep, or clean your room, or even bring you a chai. And nobody would think of closing the door of the bedroom when starting a movie full volume in the room next door. The few times I allowed myself to sleep late, like until 11, my favorite Indian was all over the place, and came and disturbed me several times...

It must be linked to the living conditions: as many people live in very small spaces, no one can afford the luxury of a beautiful uninterrupted nap, or in silence (to be fair, it is better they learn from an early age to sleep through the noise in India, it is quite a matter of survival). In India people sleep because they have to, they do not indulge in the comfort of resting. However it is a little less true regarding food, yet another physiological need.

The same goes with babies (1). They follow the rhythm of the household. Even worse: If parents work a lot, it is not uncommon that a baby stays awake till past midnight in order to spend some time playing with his father.

In India, the child sleeps with his mother. And therefore, theoretically, with his father. Unless the latter doesn’t want to be woken up (by the baby’s cries or kicks), in which case he will go sleep wherever he can (on the floor, on a mattress, in another bed or on the couch). I know a lot of such cases. About the couple intimacy? Well, even before there is a baby, it is already quite an unusual concept (once again probably because of the ‘sardines’ way of life and also of the arranged marriage). And even if it was, the baby comes first. And he must sleep with his mother, to be able to suckle ad libitum and to ‘create bonds of love’. In such a context, the baby doesn't need to learn to fall asleep by himself nor to go back to sleep on his own; and they don’t let him cry more than two seconds. The baby is King in India, at least the first two-three years (after that it becomes less funny, with a strong reality check for what is coming ahead).

That mothers end up exhausted from continuously waking up from kicks or a greedy suckling mouth, nobody cares (at least after the first 3 months where they are well looked after by their mothers, so that they recover well from the physical hardship that giving birth is).

You have guessed, I was one of these wron-out mothers, since Baby Samurai had decided that sleeping at night was good for fools, the day he turned 4 months. well he was sleeping, but would wake up every two hours (at best). In addition we traveled quite a lot, and he often slept in our bed. At 5 months I did try the Tracey Hogg method to teach him to fall asleep by himself, but I was already too weak from sleep deprivation to withstand an hour of crying and I decided that 1. He was too small, 2. Westerners were a little too harsh in the way they (we) educate the babies, 3. The French are quite cold-hearted to leave a newborn alone in his bed in his room the first night itself.

And there I became sleep deprived, crazed. Not depressed, but a real zombie. My goal every day was to pull the wool over my colleagues’ eyes (and master the technique of sleeping with eyes open). I must say that in addition to micro-nights, I had to deal with breastfeeding. And breastfeeding is good, but it is not always easy: it takes of lot energy, when he feeds, and even more so when you have to express milk. I had therefore abandoned the idea that baby Samurai (and I at the same time) would one day sleep an entire night, at least not before he would leave home...

And then, one evening, a friend of mine, a French girl married to an Indian man, sent me a document to “Sleep train babies" (SleepSenseTraining (website) that she intended to try.) I explained to her that personally I had given up and I expected things to settle by themselves. But then, out of curiosity and because I had nothing else to do and I had my phone in hand, I opened the book. 45 minutes later, Baby Samurai woke up and I decided to test this technique illico presto. Just like somebody drowning clings on to a lifeline. The last chance! After crying for 45 minutes, he was sleeping soundly. And in a week’s time (with ups and downs) he was sleeping almost all through the night, more than 10 hours. I would have been told it was possible, I would have not believed it!

This being said, I did things my way. And some may argue that I am taking the best of each culture, but really, I'm just following my instincts. So we follow a bedtime routine which includes a massage, he goes to bed at 8 PM and he sleeps in his crib. On the other hand he sleeps in our room and I don't insist he falls asleep without anybody in the room; I will continue to take him in my arms to calm him down if he needs and I am a little flexible regarding the naps. I was also comforted in my approach by the little I have read about Hélène Stork’s work about ‘compared practices of mothering in the West and in other countries, including South India’ and I just ordered her book (2).

In any case, Baby Samurai sleeps and I feel alive again – in fact I'm almost tired of sleeping too much but I shall not complain shall I??

(1) Summary of the differences in mothering:

India,sleep,Hélène Stork,education,baby sleep,sleep training,Tracey Hogg

Source:https://www.Cairn.info/Revue-spirale-2005-2-page-151.htm

 

(2) Hélène Stork, Indian childhoods. Study and comparison of cross-cultural psychology of the young child, Paris, Paidós / Centurion, 1986

Providing medical and psychological consultation in Paris suburbs, Hélène Stork found many psychological disorders in young children. Following her strong intuition that these difficulties were representative, among others, of the malaise of an entire society, she compared the practices of mothering in the West with those of other countries, including South India (Tamil Nadu), where she stayed at length, on several occasions. Like the Ethnologist, she led extensive clinical research on the field, along with studies of ancient Sanskrit texts underlying the Indian techniques of infant care. This book, after defining cross-cultural psychology (history, methods, goals), describes with great precision (thanks, in particular, to the filmic investigation) gestures and postures of mothering in South India, bringing a rich contribution to the study of the psychic life of babies during the first six months. At the end of his work, Hélène Stork formulates a question for the West: “Does the social organization of the family allows women (parents) to practice a mothering helping in the sensory-motor development and good mental health of the child?”

09/14/2015

A story of rugby and alcohol

Any resemblance with existing persons is fictitious. Or not.  

Our small family recently completed its yearly pilgrimage to Kerala.

 

There I had to face a situation: in India, a baby is not a person but a rugby ball. As soon as they see a baby, arms reach out, they grab him and pass him to one another. I must be a not-so-good scrum-half: at the sight of these reaching out women - which were not all pretty sights, even for me (so I could only imagine for a baby), with missing or rotten teeth, mustaches and beards - I did not let go of the ball. Just because the three pairs of arms who welcomed us scared me away, feeling totally aggressed. While it is apparently an act of “politeness” to ask to carry my child, politeness I was supposed to return by handing the child in question away. Well, to be honest with you, I didn’t care one bit about going the impolite stuck-up bitch that would not let her baby go! 

And my baby played along and refused to leave my arms. Of course I don’t want him to be anti-social; I just want people to give him some time to adjust to all these new faces before being thrown into the scrum!

After holding on against almost everybody, people left us alone… I took advantage of the new found peace to let baby stretch and take a few steps. No sooner had he a foot on the ground that he got grabbed by an ‘uncle’ who had identified an opening and seized it! He got eventually passed in the arms of four women, who were not even from my husband's family...  

 

Without transition:

Statistics show that Indians drink less than Europeans (4.3 versus 12.5 litres per year per person) except that we should remove from the equation women (who do not have the right to drink), pious men (who do not drink out of religious conviction), and all those who drink home-made alcohol, which kill mostly in silence, and sometime loudly (when more than a hundred people die, like it happened in June in Mumbai). Malayali drink 10.2 litres per year, quite far behind the guys of Andhra Pradesh (35 litres). For many Indian States, taxes on alcohol represent nearly a quarter of the State income (22% in Kerala); whereas it is less than 1% in France. This makes it difficult for States to tackle alchool consumption, as they regularly try. Only the Gujarat has been holding on tight, but the black market has been exploding. Increasing taxes (already at more than 100%) or making alcohol illegal is fine but it does not help much... 

 

india,wedding,kerala,baby,rugby,alcohol

 

(1) In India:  http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/kerala-increases-tax-on-liquor-beer-and-wine/#sthash.PNIRO4yJ.dpuf ; http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2015-05-16/news/62239496_1_total-prohibition-vm-sudheeran-kerala-government ;  http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/economy/the-alcohol-economy/article5436924.ECE ; http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/blogs/blog-datadelve/article6344654.ece 

 

(2) In France: http://www.alcool-info-service.fr/alcool/consommation-alcool-france/culture-alcool-consommation-vin#.VfZl8Jf3aJ8  ;  http://www.insee.fr/fr/themes/comptes-nationaux/tableau.asp?sous_theme=3.2 & xml = t_3203 ; http://next.Liberation.fr/vous/2011/02/17/Quels-sont-les-pays-qui-consomment-Le-plus-d-alcool-dans-le-monde_715595