life, madras, Rey

Postpartum Trials

The day I came home from the hospital, I cried. I was in the shower, taking my first bath since I had the baby. The hot water hit my bare back as my hands searched my body for familiar contours. They found none. I cried because with every touch, my body didn’t feel like mine. It felt like a stranger’s. It’s a hard feeling to describe when your palms don’t recognize the body they’re a part of.

My stomach was still tender and loose, decorated with purple stretch marks smattered all across my stomach and hips. My breasts were heavy and drooping. My back was hunched, under the assumption that I still carried my 5 pound baby inside me. I had sagging skin on my upper arms and my non existent butt was now very much in existence.

My first meal after having the baby was a hospital tray of pasta, broccoli and soup. Giving birth had unleashed in my stomach an endless pit that no amount of food could satisfy. So I ate. 24 hours after delivery I ate four pieces of French rolls generously slathered with salted butter. These French rolls were the kryptonite to my postpartum period. I ate them everyday for a month.

The days following the birth were rough. In the postpartum, women are expected to eat nutritious food. In the Indian context it means ‘eat all the food’. The congratulatory calls I got often ended with advice about food: eat well, only then you will produce milk; eat more rice, remember, your baby can eat only if you eat. I was suddenly aware of how much of my nutrition was connected to my baby’s. The pressure was on.

My milk took time to come in. Everyone gave me prescriptions for lactation. Eat fenugreek, eat carbs, eat ghee, eat fish, drink water, don’t drink caffeine, don’t eat sweets and definitely nothing cold. I was desperate and tried everything. My breakfast consisted of two eggs, cheese, and three slices of toast. In a couple of hours my stomach would still feel empty so I ate French rolls and butter as a mid morning snack. I’d follow this two huge bowlfuls of bone soup. At lunch my mother would heap a mound of rice on my plate, drown it in gravy and drizzle it with ghee. Breastfeeding mothers are often asked to stay away from caffeine, but it was my only respite so in the evening I’d have my tea with a snack. Dinner would again be large quantities of whatever my mother cooked. This was my diet for two months. Its safe to say that I didn’t lose much of my pregnancy weight but instead gained a few pounds.

Two months went by in a flash and my parents returned back to India. It was me and the baby through most of the day. A good day was when he’d occupy himself for 20 minutes while I caught my breath. On bad days he’d fuss all day and wake up multiple times at night. He would nurse for hours to fall asleep and wake up the minute I put him down. So for the most part he took all his naps on me. He still does. I’d wear him in my sling as I peed. I’d shower twice a week. Thrice, if I was lucky.

Reyhan is an awful sleeper. For the first six months he slept next to me on the bed and would nurse throughout the night. It’s a habit we are working on breaking. By morning my back would be twisted and I would wake up more tired than I was the previous the night. Sleep deprivation sucker punched me in the gut and it has drained every positive feeling from my body. Since I couldn’t do the things that made me happy like sleep, read, leave the house without a crying infant, I ate. Out of exhaustion and out of the need to do something fun, I ate. All the snacks, all the chips, ice cream, breads, cheese, pasta, chocolates, take out. I ate and ate to make sense of my current life.

By his seventh month, Reyhan started sleeping a little better at night and he was comparatively easier to handle. We decided to make the dreaded seventeen hour trip to visit family. I was so excited. Packing took a week. Before I packed each outfit, I tried it on. Over 80% of my clothes didn’t fit me. Many tops didn’t go beyond my neck. None of my pants fit me. In the end I just packed the only things that I could remotely wear and unbutton lest my baby required a boob. This narrowed it down to eight tops and two pants.

The trip home was fun. We spent time with family, Reyhan met his great grandmother, I met all my friends, had a great time with my niece, it was wonderful. I didn’t do any shopping for myself. The fear of not fitting into any clothes was crippling. Even tops that were marked XL and 2XL didn’t fit me. I stayed away from malls. Instead I got my tailor to stitch long, loose, kurtas that hid every curve of my stomach. It was the only thing I was comfortable in.

Every day people would come over to visit me and the baby. It was amazing watching Reyhan socialize with others. He charmed my cousins, aunties and basked in the attention. While everyone were thrilled to see Reyhan, they were shocked to see me.

Many women managed to contain their astonishment, having had children themselves. But the men, oh the men, were disappointed in me and did not hesitate to voice their opinions. About twenty seconds in to meeting my uncle says, “Enna Zarine, gundu aite!” (Zarine, you’ve become fat!). The initial shock of someone commenting on my body the second their eyes laid on it was jolting. I couldn’t fashion a response quick enough. He persisted, repeating himself. I just smiled and ignored him.

One incident, I thought to myself, one incident of one man who doesn’t know the pitfalls of childbirth despite being a father to two sons. I let it slide. He was my uncle.

A few days later there were two more instances of two different male relatives telling me the exact same observation within the first few seconds of our interaction. Again I was taken aback but couldn’t dignify their statements with a response because it felt beneath me.

I discussed this with my sister in law and we both mused about how crazy it was that all the three incidents involved men, fathers themselves, surprised that I had added on the pounds. Their ignorant, we decided. Educating these men will do nothing for them since their ignorance is well rooted into their psyche.

The last two days of my stay saw plenty of relatives being washed ashore to my house. One cousin sister, a mother of two children said to me, “Nalla veite potturruku”. (You’ve put on a lot of weight.) Not a question, just a statement that lingered in my living room. Another relative said to me “You are just like my daughter! She was also fat like you after giving birth!” .

Women. Mothers. Grandmothers. All having been through various instances of birth, all having experienced what birth entails have been disappointed, amused even at my body. None of them realized it, but every comment on my body, the most personal space I know, my essence, which already feels foreign, made me feel more distant from myself

How do people feel comfortable throwing judgments about other’s bodies? Maybe I do not live up to their expectations. And why should I? I’ve experienced how fragile postpartum can be. I don’t need to go through a catastrophe to have a bad day. One look at the mirror will do it for me. But the audacity that people in our society have to so freely throw these statements shakes me. Are they so secure in their life, in their bodies that they have the right to point out others flaws? Or do they say these things because they have no filter and just plainly do not care? I think it’s the latter. It’s the way some people talk. They just don’t care enough to realize the damage these words can do. It’s a habit of saying things without a second thought. Sometimes its done to elicit a response, to see how far they can push you before you pounce back. I have been around far too many people who say the most ridiculous things because its just who they are. It’s how they’ve always communicated. It’s how they’ve lived. And talking this way is the only way they can hold a conversation.

It took me a few days to recover from this verbal disaster. I still have good days and bad days. I still haven’t attempted to try on a huge portion of my old wardrobe, having donated half of it in frustration. I’m slowly learning to feel better about myself by not letting these harsh judgments penetrate my shaky self esteem. I thought I was doing good enough. I felt okay about myself. Until I attended a dinner party a few weeks ago. I met a woman whom I had never seen before and she said to me, “I saw you five years back and you were so much thinner then! Now you’ve put on weight!”.

This from a lady I had just met and whose name I still do not know.

 

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America, Black and White, life, life lessons, random

My clothes, my chicken. Your opinions, I don’t care.

I’ve been visiting the gym regularly this year. I realized that it was a necessary evil I had to comply with if I wanted to lose that extra butt I’ve been carrying around. I could easily run for Most Unhealthiest Person in Gym award and win since most of the people I see there are hard core, weight lifting, protein shake drinking, cross fitting guys and gals. In the past few months that I’ve been there, I’ve seen more armpits than I’d like to accept. I’ve seen abs and six packs and calves of steel. None of them are mine, btw.

So, I go to the gym 2-3 times a week after I drop off this man who stays in my house (he says he’s my husband but idk). After an hour of cardio and struggling around with minimal weights, I go grocery shopping ’cause after all that exercise your girl’s gotta eat. I’m very iffy about the kind of poultry I purchase. Good poultry is available in this Pakistani/Indian/Arab/Confused grocery store a few miles from the gym. Some weeks I go there directly after working out and other weeks I drop by while running errands.

There’s a sweet old Pakistani/Indian/Arab/Confused Uncle who works there. I’ve been frequenting the same shop for a few years now so he recognizes me. Every time he sees me he gives a toothy smile and says, “Salam Alaikum! Kya haal hain?!”

Now firstly, I can’t speak Urdu and I know only conversational Hindi. Yet for some reason 99% of the people I’ve met assume that I can actually SPEAK these languages, because as a Muslim it is blasphemy if I don’t speak urdu. They then proceed to have long conversations with me. However, while I can understand what’s being said, I cannot reply back. So when Confused Uncle asks Kya haal hain, I give my best smile and say “Teek hain!!!” He then returns to stacking the shelves apparently satisfied with my answer.

Now, every time we’ve had this interaction I’ve been dressed more or less like this.

 

hijab final

 

A button down, skinny jeans and whichever scarf is clean. This is my uniform, my normcore. In the above picture I’m wearing my favorite button down with donut prints (H&M men’s section, you’re welcome). I most probably haven’t showered and from the look on my face I’ve only had one quota of caffeine. While I applaud my sartorial choices, I’m not too thrilled to go grocery shopping at 11 am when I could sit at home and watch Netflix. Basically, I’m the most anti social person and that’s just me generally. But I always try to put on a smile, even if it is fake, for Confused Uncle ’cause he always enquires about my haal.

The days when I go the shop after gym, I look like this.

 

gym

 

Sweatshirt, leggings, a cap instead of a scarf cause I don’t want to strangle myself and a smile because endorphins. I’m sure most people would find this gym outfit too stuffy but I feel comfortable in it. And some days I look cuter than pictured. I’ve not got weird looks in the gym so far ’cause honestly nobody cares what I wear. They’re all too busy pumping weights and what not. The first day I went grocery shopping, Confused Uncle was manning the meat area. When we made eye contact I automatically smiled and said “Salam Al–

Aapko kya chaahiye“, this cold eyed stranger cut me off.

“Uncleji!”, I wanted to scream. “It’s me! You know me!” But this man with his poker straight face looked right through me like we’ve never exchanged the same conversation ten times before. I was confused initially but then it struck me “Uncleji didn’t recognize me in my gym clothes!”

Oh Uncleji, could my cap and leggings be that big a disguise.

But it wasn’t just that he didn’t recognize me. He treated me like he does every other customer and reserved his sweet side only for scarf wearing, desi Mozlem women. I was and still am so outraged by this. Funnily enough, I’ve never had bad service anywhere because of my scarf. Maybe it’s because I live in liberal state where there are Mozlems aplenty but people have generally been nice to me. I’ve never felt mistreated because of what I wear or don’t wear. But this Uncle is a perfect example of stereotypical desi man mentality of sitting on a 100 feet high horse judging every woman for the choices she makes from their stinky Tower of Male Privilege. Men like him only believe in external “modesty” because they understand modesty to be one dimensional. My cap wearing self is not wild and loose. And just cause I wear a scarf I’m not a goody two shoes. Over the years I have found a sweet spot in the middle of these two “extremes” that suit me just fine. Also, why do men get to dictate levels of modesty? It’s so easy for men to tell women to dress modestly (doesn’t matter the level of modesty)  when they get to wear the same two pieces of clothing as every man on the planet. If you have an opinion about women’s modesty you better be a woman yourself. And don’t judge a woman for her choice of clothing unless you’ve actually worn said clothing before.

Since I have a deep fear of confrontation I never said anything to Uncleji about it. But it wasn’t the only time I experienced it. The situation played out the same way every time I wore my gym clothes. Now, I don’t go the store in my civilian clothes ’cause I ain’t got no time for fake enquires about my haal. So, BYE FELICIA.

(I will still purchase poultry from said grocery shop because chicken.)

(Not all Muslims speak Urdu. Your world is shattered, I know. But hey, it was a small, narrow one after all.)

(All images belong to me. Please contact me if you’d like to purchase my artwork.)

 

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America, Black and White, life, life lessons, madras

Hoarder

I have a problem. I hoard things. I don’t collect random knick knacks and all my nostalgic stuff consists of slam books, letters and diaries. These I keep in two cardboard boxes marked with “ZARINE’S STUFF DO NOT OPEN” written across the front. The boxes safely reside in Chennai, perched above an antique cupboard in my room. I unbox them every time I’m at home, relive those memories for a few moments and pack them up again. Those few moments are enough to tide me over for a year.

What I hoard are pretty things. Notebooks, shoes, clothes and scarves. I buy pretty things with the intent of wearing them but I hoard them while I wait for the “perfect” occasion. This has caused me to buy stacks of pretty clothes that never see the light of day because no occasion seems “perfect”.

I have a gorgeous, purple colored, Kashmiri embroidered jacket. While buying it I was ecstatic at the prospect of wearing it. Since that day five birthdays have come and gone. Anniversaries, special dinners, festivals, but none of these matched up to the “perfect” occasion that I created in my head. I possess a number of beautifully designed notebooks that scream to be written in. Rolls of silk scarves are piled on top of each other, each anticipating a perfect outfit. Exquisite kurtas wrapped in delicate tissue paper sit in my closet waiting to be worn, waiting to create memories in.

But lately I’ve realized that the most imperfect occasions create the best memories. That “perfect” occasion in my head will never materialize because my expectations far surpasses the reality of it. And funnily enough the reality is a million times better than my expectation. Now, I’ve promised myself that I will wear the clothes I want to and write in all my books even if it is just a sentence. I will use my pretty things to make memories even on the most ordinary days and years later, when I come across these things I will see them for what they are- not just “pretty” things but memories.

As for my purple jacket, she still hangs in my closet in quiet anticipation. Little does she know the plans I have for her.

closetold

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America, Black and White, life, life lessons, random

Epiphanies

The past few months I’ve had an epiphany of sorts. Maybe its the growing up or maybe it’s just seeing people in a clearer light, but it is happening. This epiphany (or epiphanies to be precise) has shaken the core of what I thought I knew. I guess everyone goes through phases like this that help them realize things, but accepting what I saw of others and of myself has taken me a while to adjust to.

I know people change, priorities change and people grow but it has been so hard for me to come to terms with it. Friends I once thought were everything have left me stranded and the others, I see them for whom they truly are. This has taught me to be selfish. Selfish of my heart that I should protect from people who treat it mercilessly, like its a plaything. Being selfish has also given me a thicker skin. I don’t let words or actions affect me and I just imagine them sliding off of me, distancing myself from it as far as I can.

Now I know not to trust people based on their face value. I know that promises are just that.. promises.. words that can be so easily mouthed without any action being taken. But what this phase hasn’t made me is bitter. I’ve realized that everyone is going through some difficult stage and the way they act out is by throwing darts at others. I see those darts and I understand them, but they aren’t going to hit me. My shield is my empathy. I feel you, I hear you but you aren’t going to get my heart.

So that’s my lesson for today, kids. It’s okay to be selfish as long as you are protecting your heart. And no one is worth those sleepless nights spent agonizing every situation over. Those that are meant to be in your life will be there no matter what. And then there are others that are there only because they feel they owe you. Learn to differentiate. Prioritize the ones that bring you happiness and protect your heart. Always, always, protect your heart.

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America, life, life lessons, Travel

I’m a nice person, I swear!

Yesterday I was on a  long haul flight (15 hours) from San Francisco to Dubai. I booked the tickets a month before and made sure to select my seat on the plane – aisle – because I have a bladder the size of a lemon and while I don’t mind getting up a million times for people on the inside, I do not want to be the one to shake the sleeping person next to me.

had this experience before where I selected the aisle seat and was asked to switch for the window seat because the obese lady said she wanted to be able to move freely. I had to prod awake her and the lady traveling with her every couple of hours and lets just say it was the LONGEST FLIGHT OF MY LIFE.

Like any other day, yesterdays flight was filled with babies and I was bang in the centre of it all. There was a kid behind me, twin baby boys in front of me and the couple next to me had a toddler. Half hour into flying the lady beside me asked me if I could switch seat with her because her son liked to walk “up and down”. I thought for a minute and politely declined. I said I don’t mind getting up for you any number of times because I am alight sleeper but no, I do not want to switch seats. She was nice enough to understand and the gentleman on the other side gave up his aisle seat. That is when my conscious hit me hard and I FELT SO GUILTY.

I spent the remainder of the flight wondering if I had invited karma to come bite me in the rear years later when I travel with a child. But I also do not understand some passengers. If your really do prefer a particular seat then its super easy to select it while you book tickets (at least in most flights). And especially if you are traveling with a child wouldn’t you make sure of that as much as you can, rather than leaving it up to chance and God forbid if you sit next to a meanie like me?!

I honestly hope karma is kind to me and doesn’t return the favor.

Pros of traveling with me:

1) I bring snacks.

2) Will engage you in good conversation.

3) I don’t snore.

Cons of traveling with me:

1) I won’t switch seats.

 

 

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America, life, my crazy days

I create my own, personal brand of excitement

Late last year when I visited Madras I was unable to stuff everything I wanted to in my suitcase. Hello, baggage restrictions, I hate you. Added to this, my tailor stitched my clothes in time so I left with a promise from my mother that she would send the remaining items through courier? Post? I don’t know whats the difference, but through one of them.

A few weeks later she messaged me saying she had sent the package. I was to expect it in three days – Monday, and I was super thrilled. Monday, Tuesday… Thursday and my package still had not arrived. I panicked (of course) and tracked my package online only to see that tracking showed that someone named ‘Fred’ had received and signed for it!

Immediately, my mind (I have an over active imagination) went wild. I had visions of Fred- a thirty something, portly, brown haired American wearing my precious salwars prancing around his home, amused at how “exotic” he looked. I was palpitating while I called customer service. A nice lady calmed me down and helped me through the process, promising me that they would “investigate” and retrieve my package. I just prayed that Fred would return my clothes without any arm pit stains on them.

A week went by and I got a message saying there was an issue with the address but I should expect my package soon. Again, I decided to track it online and saw that ‘Vega’ had received and signed for it! Vega that Russian lady with the bad dye job! She had her scrawny fingers around my clothes. I had to call customer service again and tell them that no, I’m not Vega; no, I don’t know anyone called Vega and yes, I’m sure she isn’t my neighbor. Are you 100% sure? I live in an apartment complex where humans barely acknowledge the presence of each other. I’ve seen my neighbor walk the dog a few times and I still don’t know whether she/he is a man or a woman (the neighbor, not the dog), so yes, I am sure they didn’t take my package.

So, after further “investigation” I got my package, three weeks after it was sent.

No, Fred din’t leave any pit stains. He must have used clinical strength deodorant.

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America, Black and White, college, life, life lessons

Stories

My workload for this semester is pretty hectic. A few months back all I used to do was watch terrible TV shows. But now, I do not have time for such things (sob). One of the projects we are doing requires us to interview patients with a terminal or chronic disease. So yesterday at 9 AM I found myself chatting with a fifty year old man – M who has been HIV+ for twenty one years.

We spoke about our project and about different support groups for people with HIV for a good hour. Slowly he started opening up and telling us his story. As he told us his story of how he found out about the infection, how seemingly dark his days seemed, how he came out of that depression, decided to take matters in his hands and help the HIV community, my life and my problems felt so pointless.

He talked a lot about forgiveness and letting go. All I could do was list the times I’ve been hurt and brood on it. He said the more you keep that hurt in your heart, the heavier your journey becomes. If you want to feel light, just say I forgive, wish the person the best and let go.

Next to M, my problems seemed so fickle. I am such a procrastinator. Every time I’m given a task I sit on it for a while before I get to it. I don’t know why I do that but I just do. M said he never leaves anything for the next day, because he never knows if he will get to live it. And then I realized the only difference between M and me is that although we are both going to die eventually, he knows that his time is, possibly, closer than mine. Shouldn’t I live the same way then? I am alive today but I don’t know what my tomorrow brings so why do I keep putting things away? This whole interview might have been for a school project but it made me look deeper in to my life.

I love listening to peoples stories. Because once I hear something as heartbreaking as this, I realize that my story is just a tiny speck in this universe. People go through so much, and most of the things I take for granted are of extreme importance in their lives. This helps me reevaluate mine and see things from a better perspective.

And maybe this passing of knowledge is one of the purposes of life.

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