Saturday, 26 March 2016

End of 2015 (recap...more soon...honest!)

Hello again, finally feeling inspired to get a post done. It's 10pm, C is out at a friend's house, K is at his Grandma's house and A is sleeping peacefully across the room. Just playing The Beatles with the fan cooling me as it's approx 24 degrees - it's been waaaay to hot for March and we're all predicting a scorching summer. Just hoping we get a nice summer monsoon to counterbalance the rays...

I left you with a full birth story and a 1 month old A, he's now 6 months! To be honest, it's passed in a blur of busy-ness and extreme highs and lows.

Highlights of November were the beautiful monsoon that started 2 days after A's birth and finished in early Dec. His name means 'rain bringer' in Arabic and he certainly did! It was lovely to have such a full and continual rain, I get such pleasure from enjoying the rain. I never appreciated it living in the UK. I also love that K's middle name means 'Sun' and he was born in the UK where the sun is needed and A is our 'rain bringer', born in India where the rain is a precious gift. Am planning a rain cloud tattoo on my right foot to compliment the sun tattoo on my left.

Anyway, I'm rambling now. I also met a kind of vinegar spider/scorpion for the first time. It was bundled up with the dirty washing, luckily I saw it before putting the machine on and saved it.

For scale

Most of my days passed like this, cuddling and nursing a cuddly chubby A:

C and K also enjoyed a spot of 'rain bathing' one night when the rains were particularly heavy. Needless to say they didn't last long in the freezing wet!

Dec was spent preparing for Christmas. I was excited to decorate this year with it being A's first Christmas but couldn't be bothered to spend too much time shopping in Pondy with a newborn so we had a Xmas Palm this year:

I also learned the benefits of ergonomic baby-wearing and have become very interested in the different types of carrier. A friend here lent me a few and it's a practice that I sorely wish I'd done with K. It provides so much security to a small baby as well as promoting good posture for mother and baby, you can even secretly nurse in some! Luckily, I can't afford to build up a huge collection because there is less of a baby-wearing culture here, most Indian mothers just carry their babies in their arms. I do love that I can put A in a carrier and do the dishes or water the garden etc!

I snapped a few nice shots too...I love photography and would love a fancy camera one day. In the meantime, my phone camera will have to do:

These ones were from a morning visit to the Matrimandir with me and the boys, I love the pics from under the Matrimandir by the lotus pond...

K's Kindergarten had an end-of-year song recital/open house which provided me with lots of beautiful things to photograph:

6 days before Christmas saw the annual Christmas Fair at the Youth Centre. We missed it last year as we were in Goa but we were excited to attend this year. C decided to work there making BBQ chicken and corn on the cob so he spent the whole time sweating in the midday sun over a barbecue. 

I have a small reputation as a baker and was asked to bake a cake for the annual cake competition. I was happy to do so, especially as the cakes are sold by the slice following the competition with the proceeds going towards the Youth Centre, a place very dear in our hearts. I decided to pimp up a recent favourite vegan chocolate cake recipe (the original can be found is seriously good and you cannot tell it's vegan. I'm not vegan by the way, I just like baking cakes that everyone can enjoy and I think that eggs are weird) by turning it into a sandwich cake with a marmalade filling with caramelised peel decoration:

It didn't win but went down well and we had a really fun day out.

Christmas was in all honesty, stressful. K, after the initial excitement of having a new brother, was struggling with sharing the parental attention/affection. Totally understandable but his way of dealing with that was to act out, which when combined with sleep deprivation, made all of us miserable. We spent most of the festive season wondering why we were giving presents to someone who was trying so hard to piss us off. We found it tough but his reactions have been teaching us to look at how we are/what we do/why we do what we do etc. K is our biggest teacher in many ways. He's a challenging child but bright and charismatic. A true contradiction and we love him for it.

Still, we tried to ensure he had a special time. His favourite present was a cheapy £3 MP3 player with a variety of songs/genres put on it by me. Sadly now, the cheapy player has broken but it was such a joy for me, as an eclectic music fanatic, to see my boy with headphones on, absorbed in a song that he'd play on repeat for a day or two before moving onto the next. His favourites include, Ziggy Stardust by David Bowie, Daddy Cool by Boney M, Free Bird by Lynard Skynyrd and Invaders Must Die by The Prodigy. I want to replace it but he's a bit destructive at the moment so I'm reluctant to spend much.

We saw New Year in with a couple of couples that we enjoy the company of. Both the guys in these couples are old friends of C and it's so nice to see him reunited with his old friends who moved back to AV to raise their kids like we did. I guess it validates our choice in a way.

Right then, I've now spent 2 hours typing/choosing photos and I need to stop. I have the beginning of 2016 to cover which I'll return with when I get a chance.

Glad to have written this, speak to y'all soon.

With love, Laura.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Our new baby...

So today is almost 1 month since our new baby's arrival. I wanted to write sooner know how it is. We're settling into a routine of sorts now so am grabbing a quick moment to write whilst C is at work, K is at kindergarten and our little one sleeps. Just a warning, I will be writing details of the birth...

So 21st September was my 31st birthday, it was quite a quiet one being so very pregnant. It was half term so K was off school and him and me went for ice cream in the morning. Then we all went for lunch with C's mum and partner followed by a rest at home before me and K went to a friend's house for a swim. C made a delicious casserole and roast potatoes for dinner which is such a treat. You can't get gravy granules here - I actually brought some back with me from the UK but once it's gone, it's gone!

On the 23rd I invited a number of girl friends out for lunch partly for my birthday and partly since the baby was due at anytime. It was so nice to get out the house and as always when I've not see anyone for a while, I felt nourished by the company of so many beautiful smiling faces. My due date was the following day and we all knew that the next time I saw then, my baby would be here.

The evening of the 23rd at around 10.30pm I felt a shift downwards in my belly and upon visiting the loo, found that my waters had broken. As this was exactly what happened with K's birth (even the same time of day) I wasn't afraid but rather excited that it was starting. I called my midwives and told them that it was only just beginning and that we'd call when we needed them. Then I called C's mum and told her that C would bring K over when we needed to but that he was fine to stay sleeping for the time being. 

C and I watched a TV show and at 11pm my contractions started. By midnight we decided to try and get some sleep as we both thought the labour was likely to be long since K's labour had gone on for over 25 hours. So C fell asleep but I found it too difficult to as the contractions were coming every 10 minutes and they were more painful when I was lying down. I had read a book called Active Birth which had helped me realise that I needed to stay upright and walking around as this was the best way to help baby come whilst being less painful. Since we were planning to stay at home for the birth and had no access to pain relief I kept on my feet and remembered the breathing techniques for the contractions. The next 3 hours were spent walking up and down the stairs to the toilet, breathing through the contractions and trying to rest a little in between (haha).

By 3.30am things were getting painful and I was feeling the urge to push so I woke C and told him that he needed to call the midwives. He called them both and they said they'd come within half an hour. Then he called his mum and let her know that he'd be bringing K to her hours soon. 

At 4am the midwives arrived to find me naked except for my underpants, covered in sweat and losing my ability to stay in control of the situation (a perfect time for them to be there). Whilst they got me dried, C woke K and took him to his mum's house. I'll never forget his excited little face when he heard the baby was coming. The midwives got the bed ready (we used K's bed as he sleeps downstairs) and they checked to see how dialated I was. I was so surprised to learn that I was 7 centimetres already (10 is when you can start pushing). We realised that this baby was coming much faster than K did. This next stage of the labour was the hardest, when you feel the urge to push but you have to stop yourself and breath through those urges. I was sat on the bed and my midwives helped me by breathing with me and keeping me focused. Since I had been meeting with them since the start of the pregnancy I felt a great deal of trust in them which of course, you need in such a vulnerable state.

This next hour and a half seemed to pass quickly, C made everyone tea and I was regularly made to drink tea or water depending on how I felt at the time. When I was at 10 centimetres and was allowed to push, I could feel the baby making its way out. It hurts so much but I was determined not to lose myself to the pain and a few strong pushes with the next few contractions got its head out. The next push got the body out and we met our second son. He was born at 5.43am on his due date, less than 7 hours after my waters broke. The sun was just coming up and music from a nearby temple had just started playing. 

Just minutes after his birth

C's first hold of his new son

My angels, the most amazing midwives

The next few hours passed in an adrenaline fueled daze, he was cleaned and dressed after we had had some quality skin to skin time, the placenta was birthed and stored in a bucket to be buried in our garden with a hibiscus bush planted on top of it. I showered and we all had another cup of tea. The midwives stayed until around 9am making sure we were alright. It was so amazing to see that a straightforward birth like ours used only the barest minimum of equipment. They made me some makeshift post partum pads out of cotton wool wads and gauze which I used with an Eco Femme night pad underneath. Baby was put straight into a cloth nappy. It felt good to still uphold our eco conscious values even in such a situation.

His first feed 
Then time for a nap

Once we were all settled, the midwives left with one arranging to return later in the day to see how we were getting on. Then me and C tried to doze a little, something neither of us quite managed. At 2pm C's mum and partner came bringing K to meet his new brother and an enormous carrier bag of chrysanthemums and roses. It was so lovely to see K and to introduce him to his little brother. They stayed for an hour of so before heading home taking K with them for a sleepover to give us time to settle with our new son.

The brothers meet for the first time

Celebratory flowers for our gorgeous second son

We spent the rest of the day resting and enjoying this new being who had come into our lives. There were quite a few moments of us both gazing in silence and wonder at him.

We named him Ari (long 'aa' pronunciation) which has many meanings, my favourites being 'rain bringer' in Arabic and 'we have seen/found someone to care for' in Yoruba. I like short names, K's name is Kai and I love how the names compliment each other.

I'll have to sign off now as he is stirring. This is our birth story for A and I am still in a state of shock at just how wonderful the birthing experience can be with the right frame of mind and with midwives who are with you from the start. I feel proud to have had no drugs and to have enjoyed the luxury of being in my own home. I wish more women had that chance.

I'll be back soon to catch up on this past month.

With love, Laura.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

June onwards...

So, as mentioned in my last post, I returned home from the UK on the 2nd June. I had a wonderfully weird few days, adjusting back to life, settling back into our house which didn't feel like mine anymore (cue me rearranging the contents of the fridge, cleaning this and that etc) and of course, getting over the jet lag. There was an air of excitement in those first few days, I had packed a number of gifts and treats for C & K, so there was an almost Christmas-like feeling as new toys and special foods were enjoyed.

On the 6th June, just 4 days after my return, me and K came home after a kids birthday party to find messages from my aunt, uncle and sister letting me know that my Grandma had died that morning.

I'd not lost anyone close to me before and I was surprised by the initial force of emotion that struck me like a blow to the stomach. I've been interested in psychology for some time and was aware of myself processing the news and actually found that I felt gratitude very quickly after the initial sadness and tears. After all, I had spent a wonderful couple of days with her just a few weeks before, laughing, sharing stories and enjoying one another's company. This precious time spent with her wouldn't have happened had I not become pregnant as we had not planned to visit until the end of the year. It was her time, her body was old and tired - how lucky I was to have been one of the last to see her - how can you be sad at that?

The following couple of weeks were spent keeping in contact with my family.  It wasn't possible to go back for a number of reasons so I did my best to offer what support I could from afar. I made a puja each morning (an offering of fresh flowers, incense and a mantra) to show my love and to wish her spirit well as it made it's journey to wherever it is that spirits go.

On the morning of her funeral, 2 weeks after her passing, I visited the Matrimandir to reflect upon her life as well as say farewell. It's a place I don't visit regularly but like to when if feels important to or if I need guidance. I felt quite emotional walking through the gardens and up into the main chamber. As I sat in the cool, white, silence, a beam of sunlight entered the top of the chamber and struck the crystal at the centre of the room and sent rainbows swirling around - something I've never seen before and which felt ethereal in that environment. It was also the first time I've ever been totally alone in there for a few minutes. There has always been a minimum of 2-3 other people inside when I have visited, often more but for 3-4 minutes it was just me and the rainbows. It was wonderful.

I gathered a few flowers from the gardens on my departure and made a special puja once I got home.

frangipani, hibiscus, oleander and bougainvillea

A little while later I received the most precious item from my grandma's house, a bear for her unborn great grandchild. She gave each of us grandchildren a bear when we were born and had continued the tradition with her 5 great grandchildren. I couldn't bare the thought of this child not having a bear from her and was delighted to receive one in the post from my uncle. It's now sitting in our crib awaiting it's new owner.

June blended into July with only a slight reduction in temperature. K returned to kindergarten in the second week of July and all the parents in AV heaved a sigh of relief (9 weeks is a looooong time). My mornings were spent at work and afternoons started with a post lunch nap (too hot for anything else - even the fan blows hot air!) followed by groggily trying to get errands done. A routine blood test showed that my iron levels were quite low which accounted for the tiredness and lack of strength. It's pretty normal for pregnant women to suffer from this. the heart increases in size and the body makes an extra 50% of the body's blood for the baby. This set me on a mission to get my levels up and I started eating as much iron rich foods as well as food high in vitamin C (vit c aids iron absorption) as well as supplements. The next few tests showed no change which only increased my obsession. It has only been in the last month that my levels have gone back up - phew!

I was getting bigger by the end of July, here I am at 7 months pregnant and a lovely picture of C & K which I couldn't resist sharing!

One of the positive things of living in a very community minded place is the support you receive. We have been passed on so much baby stuff, from clothes to a pram for the first few months (not really safe to drive on the motorbike or carry the baby in a sling) to the most amazing crib which has been in circulation in AV for around 35-40 years. My midwife's children were in it and her co-midwife was in it, as was her 18 year old son. It was finally brought to our house (by C and the father of the last baby who slept in it) by motorbike. It was so nice to get it set up in a corner of our bedroom and start the 'nesting' process.

I also started sourcing all the items needed for a homebirth as given to me by my midwife. Buckets, gauze, old sheets and towels plus medicines for disinfecting etc. I was interested to learn that the small bucket with a lid that was on the list was for the placenta which is customarily buried in the garden with a plant or tree on top of it. It felt like a far cry from the medicalisation and sterilisation of the disposal methods used in a hospital. Needless to say we have a hole ready and plan to plant my potted pink hibiscus on top.

C's birthday rolled around at the beginning of August. His mum had K for the night and she paid for us to stay in a local high end hotel which has a swimming pool. It was a treat to have a night away, even if we were only just down the road from home. 

I started pregnancy yoga classes when the lady running the classes returned from her holidays. It's been good to do some yoga in a class. I had been practicing a little at home but I prefer to have someone to correct me if I'm doing a pose wrong. Also good to see/meet the other women who are expecting around the same time as me. It's nice to think that our kids will be likely to grow up together. 

C and I also attended some Watsu classes especially for pregnant couples. It's pretty much just relaxing in a warm pool and getting an idea of how a baby feels in the womb. Interesting though and like the yoga classes, totally free as we're Aurovilians.

Before we knew it, it was the end of August and time for my monthly bump photo - 8 month bump!

So here we are on the 12th Sept. It would have been my grandmother's birthday today and it feels fitting to get this blog of mine up-to-date. Our baby is due in approx 12 days. I stopped going to work on Tuesday but am still working from home, at least for the next week (the blessing/curse of the computer based job) and I am feeling really good although I feel like a time-bomb which could 'go off' at any minute. 

The women in my community organised a little 'baby shower' for me yesterday - nothing like the American baby showers but some food, a couple of gifts and just the chance to connect as neighbours and mothers in a way that I have never experienced before. I feel so very lucky to get to experience community spirit in the immediate sense but also in the wider community sense, the people who stop you for a quick chat when you do your shopping, the endless guesses of the baby's sex based on the shape of my bump or folklore from a multitude of countries. I'm not some anonymous pregnant lady walking down a British high street and it's humbling to feel such warmth from people here.

I'm going to sign off now as it's getting late here and I've been writing for 2 hours.

Will be back soon when our little one has arrived!

With love, Laura.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

I'm back! (Part 1 - back to the UK)

Gosh, has it really been so long? As always, I don't intend to stop writing, it's been an especially interesting time. There is much to catch up on so I'd best get started!

So, my last post was sharing my news of pregnancy and impending trip to the UK at the beginning of May. The end of April meant the beginning of the summer holidays here - 9 loooooong weeks of extreme heat, bored children and still trying to work is *fun* to say the least. Anyway, I had just one week of holidays before jetting off to the UK for my visit.

C and K planned to take a little holiday too, just a few days after I left, heading down to Kodaikanal which is a former hill-station about 8 hours drive South of Auroville. Each summer, Auroville youth (aged around 8-14) attend a nature camp there and a number of our friends were taking care of the kids so it seemed like a nice idea to tag along. Due to it's location, high in the mountains, the climate is much cooler and a perfect place to visit during the scorching summer months. It's also where C was born but that's beside the point...

On the morning of the 7th May, we headed to the snack bar for my goodbye breakfast - iddlies, vadai with sambar and coconut chutney. Delicious! 

The taxi to Chennai airport was booked for around 3.30pm so we had a few hours together whilst I gathered my last minute items. It felt really surreal to be leaving my family, even if only for a few weeks. The taxi arrived and we bundled the bags in the boot and one last hug and kiss to C and K and I was off!

Both times that I visited and then left Auroville (in 2008 and 2012) I left with a lump in my throat and this time was no exception. I kept reminding my self that it was only for 3 weeks, how good it'd be to see my friends and family as well as how my boys would be fine without me. I guess a part of me was nervous about doing the trip alone too, having never flown alone before. Still, the occasional reassuring kick from baby stopped me from feeling too sad and I took in the view whizzing past as we went on our way.

It was peak Jackfruit season so we drove past many piles of these gigantic fruits for sale by the side of the road. I'm not a fan of their taste but I love how they look...

Not my photo, just to give an idea of their size

We arrived at Chennai airport around 6pm, somewhat earlier than expected due to a rustic shortcut from the driver. Still, it gave me a chance to get my bearings, work out where my luggage would be checked in and settle down to a snack and a read of my book. I was once again struck by how much these past 2 years have changed me, I'm so much braver, sure of myself and it's a nice thing to appreciate, I started to look forward to the next few hours of travel and see it as an adventure.

Finally around 9pm, with luggage checked in, we all boarded the plane. We took off just after 10pm in the smaller of the journeys, landing in Abu Dhabi at around 1am. This flight was on a smaller plane and there was a big family with about 6 kids, grandmother, husbands and wives in the seats next to me and one of the kids kept moving from seat to seat and generally being a nuisance. Having been awake since 6am that morning, I wasn't feeling so tolerant but reminded myself that at least I wasn't needing to be responsible for anyone but myself.

We landed in Abu Dhabi and had just enough time to find the next terminal for the next flight at 3am. Then off we went in our larger, more comfortable plane. As luck would have it, my seat planning had paid off (I chose isle seats near the toilet, a tip I got online for travelling when pregnant) and I share a row of 3 seats with a chap who sat by the window and promptly fell asleep meaning I had an extra seat, pillow and blanket for the journey (the same location on the flight home reaped the exact same arrangement).

Finally, 7.30am the following day, we landed in London and I was home! I thought about how when we left for Auroville in Sept 2013, I'd not known when I'd be back. With face washed and freshened up as much as one can do during a long haul flight, I entered the airport and into a new world where I was no longer in the minority. In India, I will always be a tourist due to my skin colour and in a number of ways, I don't mind that but it was nice to experience anonymity again, not to be presumed rich, not to be targeted by beggars. To be just another face in the crowd.

I got my luggage and made it to my coach with a minute to spare and then onto the next past of the journey, 3-4 hours drive up to Nottingham to see my grandparents. The journey was spent taking in the grey and green landscape and dozing. I arrived around 2pm (I think??) and met my grandparents who got me home where I could shower, change and rest. It was so nice to see them again after two years and a few Skype chats. I slept so well that night!

I was quite jet lagged those first two days but felt better for Sunday, when we had lunch with my aunt, cousin and her children. One last day with my grandparents and I was off onto the next stop across to my grandma and uncle who like just over an hour away. I spent a lovely 2 days with them, joking and laughing with my grandma and enjoying my uncle's company. We even took a nice stroll through the lush green fields which I found so stunningly vivid and bright. These family visits are usually accompanied by C and K so it was a fantastic experience to have my family 'all to myself' for these few days.

Almost a week after landing I said my goodbyes and headed on the first of 3 trains on my way to Somerset - my home for a large portion of my life. As the train pulled away I felt quite strongly that I might not see my grandparents again. After all when you live in India and earn the equivalent of around £60 a month, it's not easy to plan regular trips. I felt lucky to have had this chance to spend some quality time with them all. Anyway, I shook such morbid thoughts away and thought instead of seeing my sister, nephews and friends and how much fun it'd be.

My two weeks in Somerset were a bit of a blur compared to the slower pace of the first week. For a start, I didn't have a steady place to stay so spent a few night on sofas but was lucky that an old friend of mine rents a house but spends every other month away working and when he is home, he stays mostly with his girlfriend, another dear friend of mine. This meant I had an empty house for a good few days which gave me some respite in between the visits, chatting and socialising which was ideal since I'm somewhat introverted and need quiet time.

First stop was my sisters, it was so good to see her, her partner and my two cheeky nephews again. They were happy with the hand-carved wooden swords I had a friend in AV make for them!

The next day was spent seeing my group of closest friends, I was so happy to see how I just slotted back into my little circle as if I hadn't really been gone for nearly 2 years. Here we are (my sister with the red hair). Seeing my friends felt like the biggest thing that I missed in a number of ways. I have a few friends here but it's not the same and nothing beats a good laugh and the chance to talk rubbish with people who truly 'get' you. I'm very grateful to these lovely ladies for that.

I also thought I'd best have a 'full English' whilst I was away. This is the Weatherspoons veggie version cos' I am classy, innit. 

Staying mainly at my friend's house meant a good 20-30 minute walk to get back into town so I did get plenty of exercise during my stay. This was quite a difference to life in India where I rarely walk anywhere preferring my bicycle or motorbike. It did me good though and I got to see a beautiful double rainbow for my efforts.

My walks also took me past some familiar places that somehow seemed more picturesque in my absence. Here is the beginning of the canal from the dock area. 

King's Square, next to the council offices.

The canal from above

I also spent a couple of nights at another friend's parent's house. They live just outside of Bridgwater and have a stunning house and garden. We actually had our wedding reception in their field. It was another lovely experience, waking up to this view, eating freshly baked bread, meeting their new tortoise, seeing the garden in full bloom and spending time with my oldest friend and his two kids who came down to visit at the same time.

I also got to spend a day in Bristol to see another very dear friend of mine and C's. I love Bristol for it's culture, diversity and graffiti! 

My friend and his 'wall of equations' as part of his studies :)

Nice bit of street art on our way to have dinner.

The night before I was due to fly back out, one of my favourite groups, Sheelanagig were playing at the Bridgwater Art centre. It was an opportunity not to be missed. As luck would have it, I entered a Facebook competition and won 2 tickets for the show! They have such a witty, foot stomping energy that it's impossible not to dance. We had such a fun evening. I've missed seeing regular gigs since moving away. There's not such a music scene here unless you live in a city so I've been starved of live music and enjoying a dance for too long!

The next day I was due to leave Bridgwater by coach at 1am. We managed to gather a good few people for lunch and it was such a lovely send off. 

Then it was time for goodbyes and a final evening with my sister. It was strange saying goodnight and goodbye at the same time since I was leaving while they'd all be asleep. Despite feeling sad I was also looking forward to seeing my boys again. We'd managed a few Skype chats but I just wanted to be home with them again. 

The journey home felt longer, I had been awake the whole day of the 31st May, travelled to London arriving in the morning of the 1st June and then landing back in Chennai at 5am on the 2nd. I left the airport dazed and fell into the taxi with my beautiful boys by my side who had woken at 2am to come pick me up. Here's the sunrise on my journey back to AV.

All in all, I had a heartwarming, joyful visit back home and one that I cherish for all the wonderful times spent with dear ones who I miss. It was also really good for me to have those 3 weeks apart from C and K. I think we all appreciate one another more as a result. It also assured me that AV is home to me now. Even if the average temperature of my first month back was 38 degrees, it's still home.

I'll be back soon with the next installment.

L xx