For those who don’t know me – I am Gauri, mother of 2 sons, age 8 years and 1 year and a trained medical doctor with a heart and soul for gentle, conscious midwifery, women and baby care. We live in Cape Town, South Africa and are making our third family trip to a holy place, Mayapur, in West Bengal, India for 6 weeks. Home of an international spiritual Vedic community and home of our spiritual faith too.
Mayapur is a growing international community (Russian, Chinese, American, European, Australian, South American) within a rural part of Village India – where cows and goats are kept alongside mud huts, with clay ovens and coconut trees. Where people weave their own saris on their hand weave looms and milk their own cows and collect their own firewood and grass for their cows. People are poor and simple.
The community we stayed in have built-up resources. We stayed within the international community compound in a comfortable and simple 2 roomed apartment. At night we rolled out the mattresses and all slept alongside each other in one room. It was mostly comfortable, snuggly and great.
Different moments and activities catch me at certain times – wanting to share these quaint, challenging, memorable moments as only another attachment parenting mama would empathise! Sometimes bizarre, sometimes so sweet and sometimes funny or ridiculous or seriously challenging! So here are a few quips and pictures (when I had) about these little moments that we have enjoyed and have made our bond stronger and more precious.
Some thoughts along the way – when the cleaner was pointing to the cold marble floor and saying “Mojah. Mojah.” and pointing to Shyam’s bare feet – I realised he was saying that babies must wear socks (mojah in Bengali), adults are fine but babies must wear socks. Shyam keeps taking his off that is why he didn’t have any on! We also learnt from him that cows milk and rice are very good for babies (not together! But separately.) It made me wonder how cows milk is fine for young babies (well Shyam is one year now) and then I considered that you probably don’t see much food allergies among these village people – who are having pure raw, organic and chemical-free milk! Makes you wonder…..
And being in India I cannot forget the numerous photographs requested or taken, the many hands pinching cheeks, touching chins…Shyam learnt very quickly to do do that hand movement as if blowing a kiss! And the almost impossible task of keeping thriving Indian soil, bits on the ground out of Shyam’s eager, curious hands crawling all over. I am proud to say he celebrated his first birthday and took his first steps on Indian soil.
This is a non-issue in India and within the community I was staying. Most of my friends have a 2-3 bedroomed apartment with one very large room filled with a very large bed – on which the entire family or the mother and the children sleep. Older children may have their own room in some houses. In the poorer places co-sleeping is there too. We slept on mattresses that we rolled away in the day time. And very comfortably all slept together.
As ever SO rewarding to catch those little pees and poos in all different situations! Thankfully being India, squatting behind a tree is not too taboo! And the initial flight went well, with catching a pee here and there and using diapers in between. Shyam has been quite regular in the mornings and definitely holds a poo in for a more suitable place (mostly).
The most classic EC moment was in a taxi! On a long ride leaving early in the morning, Shyam and I ventured out to another holy dhama (sacred pilgrimage site) about a 2 hour flight away. So an early morning taxi took us to the airport (3.5 hour ride) and then a long wait at the airport, a flight and now on our way to our destination on another 3 hour taxi ride! We are in traffic – I mean Indian city traffic driving out of Delhi. Cars, auto rickshaws, bicycles. Motorbikes, scooters, trucks all sides of us and nowhere to stop…and I know Shyam needs a poo. Right beside us is an autorickshaw with passengers inside, and hanging outside too. We catch each others eyes as we overtake them and then they overtake us. So…I squat Shyam over some newspaper between my legs and successfully do the deed and clean him up (not much mess with no nappy on, pretty much clean catch) and throw it out the window in between the autorickshaw and a truck. The people hanging out of the autorickshaw probably watched the whole thing – and remained quite pan faced about it all!
What I have learnt about EC – is that pees dry quite quickly! However on arrival at the hotel and while filling in the many forms they require with passport details, Shyam emptied his bladder all over me, through my skirt…not too long we bundled upstairs and had a warm shower! Oh well, we can’t get them all! And generally we have had some lovely nappy-free afternoons.
Another very practical and useful aspect of EC particularly in India which is infamous for digestive problems namely diarrhoea – is that I could very carefully monitor the consistency of his stool. And when it looked a little more loose I could boost him with some probiotics and homeopathic gastro prevention we have with us. It is more difficult to tell how firm the stool is once it has been in a nappy.
I was excited to be able to be with my baby 24/7 and not have to pump and be separated from him at all! So no bottles or pumps came with us! I prefer to breastfeed discretely and sometimes cover my shoulder down with a shawl or blanket and I do breastfeed where I am – I don’t hide, or go to a bathroom or anything. I am proud and happy to breastfeed but I am modest and respectful to be discrete and private about it. However Shyam does more often kick off anything I have covering and ends up doing gymnastics on me while feeding which can do away with any other intentions I have! And what a blessing breastfeeding is on a long flight! Taking off, landing, in between…always there, always doing the job of nourishing and nurturing.
What I did notice – arriving in an Arab Emirates state, with women completely covered from head to toe with slits for their eyes, and men in beards and black dress… I was inherently more aware for a need of modesty. Not in a bad way, in a respectful way – and I found that interesting. And further when we landed in India – and we settled into a very spiritual and chaste community, where breastfeeding is supported, expected and commended for several years! I preferred to be more modest and respectful and covered up appropriately.
Still even in the most sacred places, times and meetings with holy men – I have needed to breastfeed and done so with no problem at all.
A great spectacle which would have been a classic photograph, but I was too scared, as it was in Vrindavan and the monkeys there are known to steal cameras and use them as bribes to get food! So I took a picture with my mind. On a construction site – where a lady construction builder was sitting on the edge of a second floor of a grey cement skeleton of a building – breastfeeding her toddler.
I love babywearing and bought 3 different carriers with me as I knew I would be doing this a lot. I bought my Mei Tai, African Baby carrier (like the Ergo) and a good ringsling. They have been great! I have been wearing Shyam about 3-6 hours each day. I must admit after the first week I was looking for a stroller as sometimes I just wanted to be less laden and felt he wanted that freedom to look around too. That was when we were out a bit more and I was wearing him for over 6 hours a day and he was sleeping on me twice a day. Soon after that my body got used to it and the muscles that had started hurting stopped! Now I carry him first thing in the morning and he sometimes sleeps on me and sometimes waits to get home. I was finding he was sleeping for 2 hours on me at a stretch.
It has been fantastic to meet other babywearing moms here – most do! In ringslings, ergos and many have made mei tai or ringsling like carriers themselves. This community appreciate the need for close contact with our little ones!
Another fun topic! All diet restrictions broke here! And Shyam had his fun dose of wheat, little bit of dairy and lots of fun with peas and discovering sugar cane! And of course the delightful sipping of fresh pure coconut water straight from the coconut! And the occasional object from the ground I have gained faith in him that he spits out everything generally that goes in, that does not belong – after some time…
As for the BIG question on many people’s minds, perhaps….No. I did not vaccinate my children. Ever. This topic deserves an entire article devoted to it. Briefly – I support INFORMED, RESPONSIBLE FREEDOM OF CHOICE. I believe in my children’s body and immunity to heal itself. My children did not get sick in India. Once or twice Shyam seemed to have a fever at night. (Once was after a bee sting, that day.) His stool became like diarrhoea for one day. But all passed quickly with rest, breastmilk, closeness and some homeopathic remedies.
In all – what an amazing spiritually uplifting, fulfilling adventure – that certainly bought our family closer!