Monday, February 26, 2018

Why Do People Live in a Joint Family?

Back in the day in my in-laws' generation, when a woman got married she was expected to live with her husband's parents. It was a cultural norm, and a couple living on their own away from elders was seen as something unusual. It was also a societal pressure - if you opted to live on your own, people would turn their noses up at you. Young women getting married were prepared in advance on how to navigate moving in to her husband's natal home and how to deal with in-law's. My mother-in-law says that this is because the old families in India usually had a large multi-level ancestral property and the whole family would live there. Elders, aunts and uncles, and cousins would grow up on one property, and the property would just be handed down the generations.

But, India has changed. A lot of young couples in India are making the choice to live on their own, away from their families - even if they reside in the same city. Most people view living with your husband's parents as more trouble than it's worth. Nowadays, young couples and elders both think that living apart peacefully is better than living together and being unhappy - this is becoming a societal norm, especially in urban metropolises. Elderly people are living on their own longer than ever before, and only moving in to their kids' homes only when one of them is widowed. However, the elders do wistfully value everyone living under one roof like most people did in their own generation.

The concept of the joint family has also changed it's definition. A joint family used to mean that it was a home shared by elders, husband and wife, and the husband's siblings and their families - with cousins growing up as brothers and sisters. Now when people refer to a joint family they refer to living with only the in-law's.

There are also many different ways to reside in a joint family. For example, you could have an in-law suite/wing on the side of your home or a lane way apartment. You could build a suite on top of your garage, or have a basement suite. You could live on the same property but have separate apartments, having a sense of spacial privacy. Or you could live separately, but in the same neighborhood - a short walk or drive away.

One of the many Laneway Houses that have popped up around Vancouver: a seperate detached smaller home on the same lot as the main house

Making the decision to live in a joint family is a choice but in some cases it's also not a choice. There are a lot of external factors that come into play that are more complicated, such as:

a) Your husband is the eldest son OR only son.
If your husband is one of these, then there is no doubt that your in-law's will eventually move in with you. It's going to happen, he just hasn't told you about it yet! It may only happen after one parent is widowed, but it's still going to happen eventually. Parents are still seen as the eldest son's responsibility and this mentality is an unwritten rule even in this generation.

b) Valuing grandparents being heavily involved in children's lives.
Some people are fine with grandparents seeing the grandkids a few times a year and would prefer to parent the kids on their own. Others really value the grandparents' involvement in the kids' lives and could not do without it. You might be more swayed by this if you were very close with your own grandparents growing up.

c) You live in an expensive urban city and you can't afford to live separately.
Many times there is also a financial factor in living in a joint family. If your in-law's are retired and don't have much money, it just makes sense to live together as a big group rather than rent a separate apartment. Some of the cities with the most expensive housing markets are: Hong Kong, Sydney, Vancouver (our city), Auckland, Bay Area, Melbourne, London, NYC, etc. All of these cities have large Indian populations, small urban properties and extraordinarily high rents (like $2000 for a 1 bedroom apartment - not including utilities!). What young couple has $2000 extra to waste on rent? Financially, it makes more sense to stay together...even if it is cramped.

For us, living in a joint family was important because both husband-ji and I were extremely close to our grandparents growing up and we wanted our kids to have the same experience. I also value their input in regards to parenting the kids - it's helpful to have an elder's perspective. At the end of the day, no matter how tough it is on me as an individual to live in a joint family at times, seeing my kids close to their grandparents makes it all worth it.


What about you? Do you or would you ever live in a joint family? What are the factors that made you decide to live or not live in one?

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

You don't have to enjoy every single second of being a mom

Maya: 13 months old

Recently I had a conversation with a first-time mom whose baby was a few weeks old. She was deep in the trenches of adjusting to life with a newborn and she was finding breastfeeding to be extremely difficult, and she was driving herself nuts pumping every few hours because she wasn't producing enough milk. She had that crazed/teary look that a mom gets when she's freaked out about her milk supply. (Been there!!!) She was incredibly sleep deprived and was on the brink of tears several times while speaking with her. First, she was confiding in me about how hard it was. Then, she told me she read this article online which said something along the lines of "you must enjoy it because it goes by so fast and you will never get this time back again..."

AS IF the first-time mom needed the added pressure of thinking she should be "enjoying" every single minute of it, especially when she's having a hard time getting through the day.

We moms do this a lot. First, you're not allowed to ever openly complain about how hard motherhood is. Or else people will look at you like you're crazy. And if you do, the complaint has to be followed with: "But of course, I love my kids so much". (Duh.) Do we really need to say that we love our kids? OF COURSE we love our kids. The result is that so many moms suffer in silence and they have absolutely nowhere to vent any frustrations because nobody wants to be honest. Whatever happened to just having a good vent??? Without being judged for it. Or without being questioned for it.

As a mom of two children (who are 4 years apart), I can attest to the fact that yes, children do grow up so incredibly fast. And lately, I'm all about trying to enjoy the present moment. But I don't like this shitty societal standard that moms "should" be enjoying every single second of it, and the implication that if you don't that you're a bad mom and/or you regret being a parent.

I can just imagine my mom friend deliriously pumping at 4am (next to her snoring husband) and feeling bad about herself because she's not enjoying EVERY minute like the article said.

That day, I told her: "You don't have to enjoy every minute of it. Sometimes it's just really hard." Her expression to what I said is something that I can't put into words. It was a reaction of relief. Of an honest understanding and acknowledgement. Somewhat of a secret code among moms. I basically told her it's okay to feel like that.

I, for one, do not miss those newborn days. Of course I think back to how cuddly Veda was and the total bliss of her falling asleep on my shoulder...but I certainly do not miss: waking up every 45 minutes, colicky crying, postpartum bleeding, being insanely preoccupied with my milk production, and having zero energy recovering from birth while simultaneously taking care of and breastfeeding a newborn.

Rather than preaching to mothers that they should be enjoying every single millisecond of parenthood (particularly when they're going through a rough time), I think it is more helpful to see the positives and negatives in each phase. And acknowledge the fact that some phases of child-rearing are harder than others.

That is all.


Monday, February 19, 2018

Best Children's Books about Kindness

Books are always a great conversation starter with kids and one of the values that I think are essential to encouraging a good citizen is teaching children about the importance of kindness. The world does not need more successful people - the world needs more kind people. We should not praise children for their accomplishments - we should instead praise them for being kind to others because it really makes a difference it others' lives. Kindness goes hand in hand with empathy, compassion, and also inclusion.

Here are some of our favorite children's books about kindness:

You Hold Me Up
(ages 0-6)
Monique Gray Smith is a new favorite author of mine - I love her beautiful prose and the simple, colorful illustrations in this book which depicted many persons of color. This book teaches children to support and encourage each other, and also empathy and compassion. 

(ages 4-8)
This book is a good metaphor for showing children how our behaviour effects other people and it touches on accountability for one's actions and also empathy. "Bucket filling" is when you do something kind for someone else and it makes you feel good. "Bucket dipping" is when you do something unkind to others and subsequently feel worse. It was a perfect read for my 5 year old, who understood the analogy immediately.

(ages 4-8)
This book has lots of great ideas for kids on how to show kindness in their daily life. It gives useful ideas that are both big and small - and the lesson is that every act of kindness makes a difference. It touches on kindness to people, animals, and the earth.

(ages 2-6)
This is a really cute book that is lovely for younger children. If you don't know what words to say, or what to do, giving someone a hug can always help lift someone up. It is a charming and playful story that has warm illustrations.

(ages 3-8)
This one is one of our favorites. A little boy is walking and he almost steps on an ant. The ant starts talking to him and the boy starts seeing things from his perspective. A good lesson for kids to embrace to concepts of non-violence to other living creatures like animals/insects/plants; and also for kids to think about walking in others' shoes.

(ages 3-6)
This book depicts three polar bears who are geographically displaced and searching for a new home. They sail around to different lands and are turned away by other groups of animals who are more fortunate than they are. They finally find an uninhabited island and welcome other animals who are displaced. This book was inspired by the Syrian refugee crisis, and it is a good starter conversation to have about welcoming people who are in need.

(ages 0-6)
One of our favorites from the Elephant & Piggie series, this one depicts sharing treats with friends. Kids have a hard time sharing their treats, so it's an excellent way to show them how to be kind and generous to others.

(ages 4-8)
Brunhilda is a funny old witch who enjoys making trouble. One day, she wakes up on the wrong side of the bed and starts doing good deeds and starts to realize that it makes you feel better if you're kind to others. This book would be good for kids who are acting out towards other kids at school.

(ages 3-8)
This book is my favorite from the Knuffle Bunny series, by Mo Willems. Trixie is a bit older now and she is going on a big trip to Holland to visit her grandparents. She forgets her beloved Knuffle Bunny on the airplane, but continues on with her travels determined to have a good time. She finds the stuffed animal again on the flight back and decides to give it to a fussy baby, showing kindness, generosity and maturity.

(ages 2-6)
A friend of ours recommended this book and we loved it, especially the fun illustrations. This book is all about showing kindness through cooking for others and being creative making them something. This book is quite humorous and it takes lots of funny twists and turns.



Thursday, February 8, 2018

Now Featured On Masalamommas (5 Things People Can Learn From Interracial Marriages)

I'm so excited to share my latest article on Masala Momma's! With all the stories of intolerance, racism, and ignorance in the news lately, it inspired me to write a little something about what I think the world can learn from those of us who are in intercultural/interracial marriages!

Click HERE to check out my article and let me know what you think!


Monday, February 5, 2018

Veda's birth story

I really wanted to have a home birth, but it didn't quite turn out that way. If there's one thing true about birth, it's this: expect the unexpected! As much as you can plan...sometimes things take a different turn. In the end, all that matters is that mom and baby are happy and healthy. I'm happy with how Veda's birth turned out, and I'm proud of us for handling it as well as we did.

But, let me start from the beginning. Or shall I say - the beginning of the end...

My actual due date was February 11th, but shortly after Christmas I got the feeling that my baby would arrive between January 15-31. I knew that I wouldn't make it until February.

We were preparing to have a home birth and even rented a birthing tub for a water birth. I wanted to have a home birth for several reasons. The first was because Maya had a quick delivery and I wasn't sure I'd make it to the hospital on time and we didn't want to risk giving birth in the car. Maya's birth was very quick, which was unusual for a first birth and she was born posterior. With Maya, I went from 2cm - 10cm in less than an hour, and ended up pushing in the car. Statistically, second births are much faster so we thought it would be safer to just have her at home. The other reason that we wanted to have a home birth was because I wanted to include Maya in the birth. Maya came with me to every prenatal appointment and was very involved in the whole process.

In my 37th week of pregnancy, I was woken up in the middle of the night by Maya who was standing at the side of my bed and projectile vomited over both of us. The poor kid was vomiting for most of the night. It turns out there was a stomach flu outbreak at her school and a lot of the kids came down with it. A few days later, I got it. It was so awful. I was constantly vomiting for days and wasn't able to keep down any water. Such bad luck, I thought. Then, I started vomiting up blood. It was terrible.

I phoned my midwife and I told her that I would meet her at the Women's hospital because I was so weak. They assessed me there and admitted me so that I could get some IV fluids and they wanted to do some tests to make sure I had not caught anything dangerous like Listeria or Hepatitis. I was so dehydrated that they had to puncture me 10 times to find a line for my IV. Finally they got it through my foot, which was really uncomfortable because I was always running to the bathroom.

(37 weeks pregnant & stuck in the hospital!)

I ended up staying in the hospital for 5 days as I kept on vomiting. The nurses were alarmed because my blood pressure kept going up, which was unusual because I have never had high blood pressure in my life! I wrote it off due to the fact that I was vomiting up blood, so clearly I was stressed out! The doctors from internal medicine were keeping a close eye on me and noticed that during my stay there were some abnormalities with my blood work. Namely, my liver enzymes suddenly started to climb extremely high, day after day, during my stay there. They suspected they had just caught wind of a more serious underlying issue - which was coincidentally developing...

Luckily the baby was totally fine during all of this. They kept monitoring her and at one point the nurse said, "you know you're having contractions every 10 mintues, right?" and I was shocked. I had no idea. Veda liked to kick me A LOT so I assumed it was just her pounding me. They did an ultrasound and they determined that the baby was luckily not dehydrated and that she likely weighed over 8 lbs. I was relieved. My body was working very hard to protect the baby. I was dehydrated, but at least she was protected in her sacred womb.

(Veda in utero: 38 weeks)

I was really itching to get home. I missed Maya so much and I had only seen her on FaceTime because my stomach flu was contagious. Maya started to act out at home when I wasn't there, against husband-ji and my mother-in-law, refusing to get dressed for the day and go to bed. I needed to get back home because I knew I was the only one she would listen to and she was probably really anxious. The internal medicine doctor agreed to discharge me but she wanted me back on Monday morning for another blood test. She wanted to make sure that my liver enzymes returned to a safe number.

(Maya made me this Get Well card when I was in the hospital)

When I returned to the hospital on Monday for the blood test, the internal medicine doctor wanted to admit me immediately. My liver enzymes had elevated over the weekend (in the thousands). "Don't be ridiculous, I feel fine!" I said. My midwife came to the hospital again and they all formed a huddle with internal medicine and the OBGYN on call. They all looked at my tests and determined it was preeclampsia. They all waltzed in to my assessment room and told me I would have to have the baby immediately or else I would get extremely sick. They wanted to induce me that evening. Even my midwife said I would have to be induced, and she was really anti-medicalized births. I told them absolutely not, since I was already 38 weeks along and I knew that the baby would be arriving soon. The OBGYN did a vaginal assessment and it turned out that I was already 3cm dilated. "The only solution," the OBGYN said, "is to terminate the pregnancy." My heart dropped. The doctor explained that for most women, preeclampsia is a common condition during pregnancy which in most cases is resolved after you give birth and your body expels the placenta. She said she wasn't worried about me at all, since I was technically full term and the baby was well over 8 lbs. "It would be a problem, however, if you had developed this at 30 weeks. But since you're so far along, it's not an issue at all."

Right then, I became a high risk pregnancy, and my team consisted of my midwife, the on-call OBGYN and internal medicine.

I went back and forth with them and stated that I wanted to have a home birth. They said I technically could still have a home birth, but since they needed to do follow-up blood work for a few days after the birth, I would have to come back to the hospital. We all agreed that it would make more sense to just have the baby in the hospital itself, and stay a few extra days so they could monitor my blood work. I was fine with that, and decided I could utilize the additional days at the hospital to get more breastfeeding help from the nurses.

But, I had a few requests. The first was that I demanded that I was NOT going to have the baby that day. I wanted to go home, have a nice dinner with my family, prepare Maya, and mentally prepare myself. I told them I would come back tomorrow and only then I would have the baby. The second request I had is that I wanted to have the baby as naturally as possible, which my midwife helped me advocate for. With Maya's birth, my water broke first and then the contractions came. So, I requested that they manually break my waters and give me some time for the birth to get started on it's own. During this time, my midwife suggested I use the breast pump to induce labour naturally. I had a medication-free birth with Maya and I wanted the same the second time, or at least as much as possible. I also said that I didn't want the OBGYN disrupting me too much because I knew how to give birth and once my birth got started, they were not to interfere. The OBGYN agreed to all my conditions.

(Last belly pic!)

So, I went home. I was very nervous. We had a nice dinner. I drank coconut water all night to hydrate myself. I spoke to Maya about what was going to be happening and tried to prepare her. After she went to sleep, I took a hot bath and practiced my birth affirmations. I don't think I slept all night.

In the morning, we dropped Maya off to school and we headed to the hospital. I started crying in the car. A flood of emotions overcame me. I was scared to give birth. I was sad that it was the last day that Maya would be an only child. I felt heartbroken because I didn't know if I would ever be pregnant again. I wanted the baby to stay in my tummy forever, although I knew it was time for both her and I to meet. I was sad that it was over.

I tried to call my mom but she didn't answer. I called my Greek auntie, and I told her that I was going to the hospital to have the baby and that I was scared. She calmed me down and said everything was going to be fine and she said the Greek word for freedom - eleftheria. She said, "your body will feel so much freedom after". I felt a bit better hearing that.

They checked us into the hospital and into the glamorous induction suites, which were larger than my apartment living room. It felt like a suite meant for Beyonce! They had a giant tub there and a lot of space to walk around. The room had warm natural sunlight and good vibes all around. I thought to myself, this is the room where I will meet my daughter. We had a pretty nurse with long sandy blonde hair, blue eyes, and long eyelashes. She said she would be there until the evening, and she wondered out-loud if it would be a January baby or a February baby. It was already past 10am and the nurse asked if I had anything to eat (it takes a lot of energy to give birth). I said I hadn't in a few hours. She told us to go down to the cafeteria and have some lunch together. We came back to the room after lunch and I cried a bit more. We had to wait quite a while because the OBGYN's had a lot of medical emergencies that day. I was grateful for the extra time because I got a chance to calm down and feel comfortable in the birthing room space. I wasn't in a rush and I didn't want to be rushed.

(Me in my fancy birth suite, resting before the fun begins!)

Finally, the OBGYN came in to break my water. It was a bit scary, because they had to insert a long stick that looked like a knitting needle. It looked terrifying, but thankfully I couldn't feel much. My water broke, and I immediately got to work. I knew there was no turning back - this was it and I had to embrace it. I started pumping my breasts and sitting on the birthing ball and walking around. My contractions started coming, very lightly. My midwife said she would step out and to call her back when I was in active labor so she could deliver the baby. I was thankful to be given some space.

After a few hours, the OBGYN came in and wanted to start the induction medication. I agreed, but I only wanted very little. They gave me one unit of pitocin, which the nurse said they would have to increase every 30 minutes. Immediately, my contractions came on strong. I felt them all in my lower back. I stood up the whole time and pressed my face to husband-ji's neck and we swayed back and forth like a slow dance. I was so thankful for him in that moment. He never left my side. He swayed with me, as a true partner. I didn't feel alone. I felt like we were doing this together. I lost track of time. I dreamed that it we were at our wedding and we were slow dancing together. I glanced at the IV and I only had gotten two units of pitocin - it had only been 30 minutes but it felt like forever. The contractions were soon unbearable and very strong. I went from deep breathing to yelling. The contractions came like a slow wave, and after I felt a strong sensation of the baby's head lowering.

All of a sudden, I said, "call the midwife RIGHT NOW". She arrived within 15 minutes and had just taken off her coat when I got the urge to push. I lay down on the bed and the midwife examined me and said, "Yup, 10cm dilated. You're ready! PUSH!Husband-ji was crouching over me and I grabbed his neck. I let out a huge scream and her head came out. "One more push, Alexandra!" the midwife said. I pushed and I screamed, "VEDAAAAAA!" and I felt the baby slide out of me. I felt close to God in that moment. Suddenly she was put on my chest. Husband-ji cried. The nurses clapped. I was in pure bliss. I felt so calm and such a sense of completion.

(Minutes old)

It had only been about 45 minutes since they started the induction medication. The midwife said it was the fastest birth she had ever attended. Veda came into the world like a true fireball! Shortly after, I felt the urge to push again and my placenta came out. After the placenta came out of me, I felt so much better. I don't think I realized exactly how the preeclampsia was affecting me until it was over. It was a relief to have the pressure of the baby off of my internal organs. Husband-ji cut the umbilical cord, as he did with Maya. I felt so close with him and so much love towards him. It bonded us even more than ever before.

(Proud dad)

It was such a beautiful moment. I felt so different. It was like a rebirth, in a sense. I was born again - a mother of two children. I was a mother. Not a young mother, as I felt before, but a real mother. A confident mother.

Although my birth didn't go as I planned it, I embraced the ride and I was happy with how it turned out. I don't think I would have done anything differently. It was perfect.

(Maya meeting her sister)


Thursday, February 1, 2018

Veda: 1 Year Old!

My little sweetheart Veda turned ONE yesterday! I truly can't believe how fast this year went by. Yesterday evening we had a little party for at home - it was really simple and beautiful. Big sister Maya baked an eggless chocolate cake for her with blue icing and pink heart-shaped sprinkles. My mom and dad came over and we cut the cake and sang happy birthday to her. I was so happy that both sets of grandparents were there to celebrate with us. It was really casual...we were all in sweatpants!

Here are some pictures from Veda's birthday:

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