Monday, September 14, 2015



In India, after a woman has a baby, she has the help of many people and is surrounded by family...for better or worse.

In the U.S., many women become isolated and alone in their new journey of motherhood. For many new, young moms this is a stressful, overwhelming period. The uncertainties of new motherhood, the changes in our bodies, sleepless nights, and hormonal changes result in Postpartum Depression for millions of women.

I was was one of those women. I had moved from my home town of Chicago to Denver. I knew many people but none that I could really confide in or call at 2 in the morning. My husband traveled for work Monday through Friday so basically I was a "single mom." My son was born prematurely at 32 weeks and had many issues including gerd, asthma, low weight etc. Doctors had advised that I feed him a little bit every 2 hours. I recall nights doing a 12am feed and then cleaning up throw up from the bed. Then getting up at 2 and doing the same. By the next feeding if he threw up, I would just throw a towel on it and go back to sleep. I was exhausted and no husband or family to let me sleep. I tried hard to enjoy my baby but each day was a struggle. My husband was supportive when he was in town but he had to work. He tried to understand but I know he really couldn't. Postpartum hit me hard!!

Unfortunately, because of stigma associated with depression, I had to keep it a secret from society. The secrecy in itself was another stressor. Looking back on that time, I really don't know how I survived!

Millions of women suffer from PPD. It is not exclusive to American women. In places like India, women are surrounded by family so they dont really succumb to the depression. They may feel out of sorts and "down" but because they are interacting with people constantly, they don't get to the level of depression that many isolated women feel.

We can't be judgemental about postpartum depression. A woman can't just "snap out of it." The hormonal changes and imbalances need time to settle. The "fog" and "dark cloud" takes time to pass. And it does pass.

Men try to be understanding about PPD.  But they understand it about as much as they understand labor pain!!  I believe only other women can understand and be there for each other. How can others help?  Maybe it's an offer to watch the child while the mom sleeps for a couple of hours.  A phone call or visit, an invite for lunch, shoulder to cry on, can bring up someone's spirits.  Best of all, sharing our collective experiences does wonders for a woman who is feeling alone and embarrassed about her situation.  It lets them know that this phase in her life is temporary.  You've been there and she too will get through it.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Raksha Bandhan .....New Traditions

Rakhsha Bandhan…..New Traditions

Yesterday,  Hindus all over the world celebrated the holiday called Rakhsha Bandhan.   Sisters everywhere tied the ceremonial rakhi (a small bracelet made of threads and  adorned with beads)  on their brother's wrists, did puja,  and prayed to God to give their brothers a long, healthy, prosperous life.   The sisters, in return, received a token gift or money, and a vow from the brother that they would always be there to protect and take care of them. 

Many believe that the Raksha Bandhan holiday tradition originated from the great Hindu epic scriptures called the Mahabharta.  In one story,  Princess Draupadi is said to have torn a piece of her own sari to bandage the bleeding wrist of Lord Krishna.  Krishna is so touched by this gesture that he proclaims her as his sister and promises to always protect Draupadi.  Later when Draupadi is being insulted in front of a court of men,  Krishna comes to her aid.  When one of  the men try to disrobe her by forcefully pulling off her sari at one end,  Krishna divinely replenishes her sari so she does not lose her dignity or honor  in this room full of men. 

Raksha Bandhan, in Sanskrit,  literally means “bond or tie of protection”.  Tying a rakhi symbolizes solidification of a bond of love and protection between a brother and sister.  Many people will have  “rakhi brother” or “rakhi sister”,  a cousin, neighbor or relative that takes on the platonic relationship of a surrogate sibling.   

Whether it be Christmas,  Thanksgiving,  Diwali or Raksha Bandhan,  holiday traditions have to have meaning for them to be carried on.  Sometimes they need to be tweeked or modified.  If we look at Christmas and Thanksgiving,  the traditional ways in which these holidays have been celebrated over hundreds of years have evolved and changed.  In bygones days, the turkey wasn’t a symbol of Thanksgiving.  And Macy’s Day Parade certainly didn’t exist.  Christmas didn’t entail having a perfectly lit tree decorated with glass ornaments and presents piled high next to it, around it and under it!!   As the world changed, people changed and so did “traditional” customs. 

Somehow it seems that many ancient cultures and traditions are more difficult to change.   As beautiful as the Raksha Bandhan holiday is, I see a time for change. Raksha Bandhan needs to be brought into the modern times.  In following this holiday in it’s most traditional form, it assumes that women still need being taken care of and  protected, and it places the male in the dominant role of the “protector.”  Educated women are doing puja to a brother, regardless of what age he may be.  The brother could be 10 years younger and  being raised by the older sister but on this day, he is elevated to  the position of  a “protector.”  There is a certain irony in this scenario….but it does exist.

In a country that is still working towards recognizing women as competent, powerful beings, equal to men, this holiday only perpetuates and underscores the gender inequalities in india.   Karva Chauth is another tradition that comes to mind.  Women fast from sunrise to moonrise to ensure the health, well being and long life of their husbands.  Only after seeing the moon and having done puja to their husbands do they take their first bite of food.  Again the males need a long, healthy life so they can protect and take care of the females. 

Many Indians will say that since I grew up in the US,  I do not know what I am talking about.  Understandably, the educated Indians comprehend the symbolic meaning behind these traditions; brothers and sisters need to have a strong, life-long bonds, and that  in love, sacrifice is sometimes necessary.  However, I worry about the uneducated masses in India who takes these traditions at face value and perceive females to have the  subservient, dutiful, passive roles.  From their understanding, if  it is so in the Mahabharata, then  it MUST be so in life.

I too sent a rakhi to my brother this year.  I hope he lives a long, prosperous healthy life.  However, starting next year, I am going to send a rakhi to my sister too because I wish the same good for her also.  This year I decided my sons would tie a rakhi on each other.   They are blood brothers and I want them to be there for each other in good times and in bad times.  They don’t have a sister but they have each other! They need to look after each other.   As families get smaller, sometimes oceans apart, we need to cherish the sibling we have.  Raksha Bandhan doesn’t have to be just about the brother-sister bond.  Like Father’s Day and Mother’s Day, let this day be a day to show all brothers…. and sisters too….how much we love them.  Let this be Sibling’s Day.

Raksha bandhan is a beautiful tradition.  But traditions need to change. Change is good.  Change leads to progress and equality…….

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Anyone Going to Holland?

I recently sent a narrative titled “Trip to Holland” to a friend whose son is autistic.  It’s a beautifully written essay which metaphorically describes a mother’s reaction to finding out that her child is autistic.  You really need to read it to truly grasp the poignancy of it, so here it is:

Trip to Holland by Emily Perl Kingsley
I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability — to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this…
When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans… the Coliseum, the Sistine Chapel, Gondolas. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting. After several months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. 
You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland!” “Holland?” you say. “What do you mean, Holland? I signed up for Italy. I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.” But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay. The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place full of pestilence, famine, and disease. It’s just a different place. 
So, you must go out and buy new guidebooks. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met. It’s just a different place. It’s slower paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around. You begin to notice that Holland has windmills. Holland has tulips. And Holland even has Rembrandts. But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy, and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life you will say, ” Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.” 
And the pain of that experience will never, ever, ever, go away. The loss of that dream is a very significant loss. But if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things about Holland.

This made me reflect on how this “trip to Holland” is all a matter of our perceptions.  Whether it’s related to our children, or to life in general, we have all been on a trip to some place we didn’t like at first.  We’ve been in those places which made us uneasy, anxious, or scared at first. 

My oldest son was born with a 5 page list of allergies.  After eating eggs one day, we discovered that he was allergic to eggs and peanuts.  After going back and forth to allergists, we learned  that he was also allergic to everything from grass, every imaginable tree, all nuts, dust, dander, pollen etc, etc. 

The first 5 years of his life, I lived in paranoia and carried an Epi Pen and antihistamine everywhere I went.  Being a vegetarian, I ate nuts and peanut butter for protein while pregnant. Had that caused his peanut allergy? I felt such guilt, and needless to say, avoided nut altogether the second time. I never would have imagined that something as ubiquitous as peanuts could possibly kill my baby. So I fought with his preschool teachers who insisted on keeping his Epi pen in the office rather than the classroom, or for not making his classroom nut free.  My heart skipped a beat when the caller ID showed his school calling for any reason.  I rarely left him with a sitter to go out with friends.  On those few occasions when  we did, I frightened the poor sitter after  demonstrating to her how to use the Epi pen in case of an emergency.  I remember crying, asking God why this had to happen to my son. 

Like Emily, so many other parents have taken this same detour to Holland and can empathize with her. I feel for my friend whose son is diagnosed with a gluten allergy which is further aggravated by kidney issues.  When his body retains water, his cheeks puff and  his poor belly bulges out, hard as a rock. Her eyes well with tears and you can feel the pain in her heart, when she speaks about what it is like telling her son that he can't have a munchkin....maybe never.

Then there are children who are born with diabetes and are followed around by a nurse with a blood sugar monitor all day in school.   I can only image what the mother goes through.  They can't play too hard because their sugar level may go too low yet they need to get exercise otherwise the levels may get too high. 
The parents who find out that their child is visually impaired, born deaf  or have some other debilitating disease can also relate to this trip to Holland.  They also wonder what Italy would have been like.  The same sentiment may strike parents who find out that their child is gay. They weren’t expecting to go to Holland. How would the world view their child?  Would they be ridiculed or outcast?  But now they are there, and like Emily, they are learning to appreciate Holland....and eventually they may even come to embrace it.

My trip to Holland, compared to those of others, turned out not to be so bad. We are given, I believe, only what we can handle.  It makes us …and our children…stronger individuals.  We all learn to accept ….and love…where we are.  Life is a matter of perceptions.  What we perceive to be a weakness or difficulty, will be just that.   We can choose to complain about never having seen Italy or come to view Holland in a whole new light…just as Emily says in her piece.

For some, Italy may seem like a dream.  But who knows, that "perfect" dream could one day... turn out to be a real nightmare.