Motherhood in New Zealand

Hello lovely folks! 

In 2020, it is going to be my endeavour to bring interesting, insightful and helpful content for you and I have many exciting ideas planned for the same. First among them is the Motherhood Around The World series wherein I would seek to interview moms living around the world on their parenting experiences in the country of their residence. It is always so intriguing to know how motherhood and parenting happens around the world and the things we can learn from women in other countries. First in this series is Nishu, the wonderful woman behind the blog LipsnBerries. Nishu is a young mom living with her husband and toddler daughter in Auckland, NZ. I first came across Nishu's page through mutual friends and her posts have had me hooked ever since! She's one of the warmest woman you would find on social media and I am so excited to interview her! Honestly, speaking to her on motherhood makes me want to move to New Zealand right away and have babies there! Hope you would enjoy reading it too:

Could you please tell us a little about yourself.

I’m Nishu. I’m an Indian (Punjabi) living in NZ for more than a decade. I’m a fairly new mum. My daughter Aiza is now 16 months old, born in September 2018. I’ve been with my husband Sunny for about 15 years now, married for 6. We have a place to call our own in Auckland. I am a Forensic Biology Technician by profession. DNA is my jam! I was on maternity leave for 13 months and have joined back the rat race not so long ago. I blog about my life, lifestyle, parenting, travel and beauty finds over on lipsnberries. Blogging is my passion. I take immense pride in my honesty. I’ve been typing my thoughts and reviews since 2012. 

Aiza is a beautiful name! What made you choose this name?

My husband picked this name and I liked it. It means noble/respected in Spanish. We wanted something different but also short and easy. We did not know the gender of the baby we were having so we picked a boy’s name and a girl’s name before the birth. 

Side note: Unlike India, couples in NZ tend to know the gender of their baby as early as 18 weeks. You actually have to make a special effort and let the medical professionals know each time you go for a scan that you don’t want to know the gender. These days people plan gender reveal and color themed baby showers on a grand scale so not knowing what we were having was a bit hard to digest for some who like to plan and control everything in life. We were all good with this. My husband hoped it was a boy (Naruto!). I secretly hoped it would be a girl. I won! 

What was being pregnant in New Zealand like? 

I felt that NZ is probably one of the best countries to be pregnant in! The support was immense. As someone who has grown up a bit isolated and having no clue of the what and how of pregnancy and baby-rearing, I appreciated every bit of care and support from the system. I think if I can feel adequately equipped and ready to take on the job, anyone can. I’ve never felt motherly so I had no interest in baby-rearing before my own. Hence, all the information and support that came my way was godsend. 

The public healthcare system funds entire pregnancy bill. There’s a small fee to pay for scans but that’s about it.  I am free to choose my own midwife. The midwife saw me every few weeks to monitor progress. I even changed my midwife in week 36 because I started reading and researching about hypnobirthing and waterbirth in particular. My chosen midwife hadn’t done a waterbirth and she recommended me to a colleague, who was absolutely brilliant. She was so calm and so gentle. Never pushed a thing on me and honoured my birth plan even though she wasn’t 100% on board with HypnoBirthing. She was all about natural births and we connected instantly. I made sure I dropped off a Christmas present to her doorstep as a Thank You! 

On the work front, my employer was very supportive as well. As I work in a lab environment, they gave me instructions on tasks and chemicals I should avoid. I was at my workplace till the day of my due date. Even though some colleagues were freaking out at me being there till the last minute, the managers were supportive. The paid maternity leave is 22 weeks in NZ currently. I wanted to work for as long as I can so I could utilize this leave to be with my new baby. I ended up extending my maternity leave to 13 months from 5 months I had initially planned. I loved being home with Aiza. The employers were very supportive of my decisions. I still do reduced hours at work as Aiza is breastfeeding. 

Side Note: we don’t get full pay while on maternity leave in NZ. It’s less than half of my pay paid for 22 weeks (about 5 months). This will increase to 26 weeks in near future. 

I had no family support while pregnant and during birthing. It was by choice. 

How was your experience of childbirth in a New Zealand hospital? 

The maternity care is public in New Zealand and it’s free. We have local maternity centres for each geographical area (like 15 km-ish). When a woman is pregnant, she can choose her midwife from the list of midwives, preferably one that is closer to home so the visits are easier when nearing due date. As the due date approaches, our midwife encouraged us to pick a local maternity centre. We visited a couple and I was confused between two - one that was a bit far from home (about 20km) and was very open and clean (posh). Another option was my local maternity clinic which was a bit old, tired, small but cozy. We eventually went with the one closer to home (old one). It was still amazing. I managed to get a private room in there. Husband could go home multiple times a day and fetch stuff. The plan was to have a waterbirth at the local clinic. However, due to certain complication at last minute, I was rushed to hospital from that clinic while in labour. Hospital care is free too. I delivered my baby-girl drug-free and via natural vaginal birth. I came back to local clinic within 4 hours after the baby was out. 

Natural births are encouraged and preferred in NZ. Unless, there is a complication. C Sec is done rarely. 

I stayed in maternity clinic for 3 days. Only women are allowed overnight so I was alone with Aiza at night time . As a first time clueless mom it was nerve-wrecking. However, the midwives and nurses were available on buzzer at all times. Sunny (my husband) was there with me all day. We learned how to take care of baby while at the clinic. We learned how to breastfeed, change nappy, give her a bath and all the small baby things. My in-laws arrived 10 days later. 

My midwife visited us at the clinic. She also visited us regularly for 6 weeks. My episiotomy stitches got a bit inflamed so she attended me quite regularly. She made me feel comfortable the entire time. She even lent me her Haaka breast pump when my milk came and the breasts were engorged (& painful!). I used her pump for 2 weeks and then bought my own. I’m still using that pump everyday. Best investment ever!

Before delivery, I attended a one day antenatal class/seminar with my husband at a community centre. In those few hours, they taught us all we needed to know about birth, contractions, timing them, nutrition, etc. They had a form there for to-be mums asking what kind of support they desire in future. I didn’t know what that support would look like but I filled out the form and typed in breastfeeding. I had no clue about breastfeeding but I was quite sure I wanted to feed my baby naturally. A few weeks later, a lactation consultant contacted me. She enrolled me under her care. 2 weeks before birth, she came home with a doll and some breastfeeding instruction videos. She answered all my questions and demonstrated the process on the doll. I obviously didn’t know what the real deal would look like. She then came for a visit as soon as we got home with the baby. We were struggling with breastfeeding quite bad. Aiza just wouldn’t latch. There was a lot of crying (both parties) and sore nipples. The consultant supported me like a mum. She taught the basics again. Got Aiza to latch. She visited every few days initially till our supply & demand was established and then every few months, until we hit the 6 month mark, when she came home to congratulate me for exclusively breastfeeding the baby (with a cute certificate even!). We didn’t have to consider formula once. She was quite adamant that I (and my body) are more than enough for feeding my baby. I’d forever be indebted to her. This level of community care in NZ has my faith restored in humanity. 

I think for the New Zelanders and people the world over, you have a fine example in modern motherhood and parenting in your Prime Minister, Ms Jacinda Ardern herself. I mean, the lady attended the UN General Assembly with her baby!

Yes! Indeed. NZ is also the first country in the world that let women have voting rights in 1893. Jacinda Ardern represents our country and its values really well. Her partner cares for the baby full-time while she leads the country. Women do have equal rights in everything here. As per recent stats that I shared on Instagram stories the other day , NZ is also the second best country in the world for women entrepreneurs! 

What is a day in your life like now?

I work from 9 am to 3 pm. I started from 2 hours a day and have gradually increased my hours to 6 hours they are currently. The goal is to work full-time 8 hours but I’m not willing to leave Aiza sleeping, without our morning hugs and feed, so looks like I will be doing these reduced hours for the next few months. 

I get up, pump milk, clean & change the baby. We have fresh cooked breakfast together (which I assemble the night before). I then leave her home with in-laws to go to work. I write all of Aiza’s daily meals on a post-it note on fridge. All her meals are prepped the night before. My mother-in-law has to just heat and serve. 

I come back home in the evening. Aiza greets me in the garage and stays on my hip from that moment to the time I feed her to sleep. All she wants is mumma if I’m home! It’s very special but it’s also very draining. We did a hike today and she refused to be in the baby carrier on her dad. I had to carry her on my hip the entire way and back. It was back breaking for sure! I’m hoping this separation anxiety will pass with time. For now, I honour her wish and be present with her. 

We co-sleep and at 16 months, she gets up twice for her feed these days. 

We then have an hour to workout/play ball/go outside to the park/read books, before it’s family dinner together. 

After she sleeps, I turn the baby monitor on (watching her with an eagle eye) and do household chores, like making our breakfast, our work lunches and Aiza’s meals. I also work on my blog and my side biz which is content creation for other small businesses (Lipsnberries_media). I edit photos, videos, update Instagram, make to-do lists for the next day and do everything under the sun that I couldn’t when Aiza was up. 

Some nights I read a few pages of some finance book. 

On weekends, we go to the pool, do grocery shopping, meal prep for the week, go out for walk/hike, library-run, work on my side biz creating & editing content, chill with Aiza and sometimes go to the Gurudwara with in-laws. 

What is the your (and husband’s) parenting philosphy?

We are not following any philosophy as such. My mantra with parenting is the same as it was during pregnancy - I don’t want to google or ask other people. I don’t want their experiences to shape mine. I want our parenting to be authentic and natural. Currently. it’s mostly Indian as we are both very proud of our culture. We talk in Punjabi at home and hence Aiza can speak a lot of Punjabi words now. 

Ultimately she is a born kiwi so she will slowly transition into one. Our role now is to strengthen her bond with her roots. 

How is bringing up a child in New Zealand different from bringing them up in India?

To be honest, I’d have no clue as I’ve not raised one in India. Ultimately, every parent has best intentions for the children at their heart. I can only talk about how we are trying to raise our child. I am a big believer of staying in my lane and not pointing fingers at others. We all do what we know best. 

My general philosophy is to respect Aiza. I see another human in her. I don’t see her as a silly child. I treat her as I would treat a fellow adult. I respect her feelings, I read her signs. Our parenting is child-centric. We are attuned to her feelings. We trust her to be the best judge of what she wants to do, how much she wants to eat or how she talks or behaves. We set boundaries and it’s her free will within those boundaries. 

I try not to tell her ‘No’ at everything she does. No is reserved for things that are non negotiable. No means no. I encourage curiosity in her. I answer her million questions each day. As she hasn’t watched TV yet, books are her world. Even though I’m married to a Virgo (perfectionist!), I am all about being imperfect and embracing the flaws. I wish for the same in my Virgo kid ;)

Both me and Sunny are passionate about gender-neutral parenting and equality, hence we are actively working to not expose Aiza to Indian stereotypes. We avoid pink and blue on her too (unless it’s gifted). Our parenting ideals are very fluid. I am learning each day from various resources so we keep improvising and keep getting better at it. There is no right or wrong way. We all do it differently. 

In general, do you see any differences in Kiwi and Indian children?

Like I said, I don’t like to point fingers. As an introvert, I’ve never really hung out with people with kids before I had my own. Even now, our focus is on travelling and spending time outdoors. So to answer the question, we’ve not spent enough time with Kiwi or Indian kids to form any opinion yet. 

What has been the biggest surprise about parenting in New Zealand?

Lots of things are different. Children aren’t entitled to parents wealth. They start distributing flyers when little and have part-time jobs in their teens. They earn their money. Another surprise is adults paying for their own education by taking student loans (interest- free from government). Similarly with weddings. Children pay for their expenses and there’s little monetary help from parents. As an Indian kid whose entire education bill and wedding (and even some of house purchase deposit) was funded by parents, it’s an eye-opener. We are truly lucky. 

On the flip side, I also feel our Indian parents are forever working to provide the best for their children. They lose their identity raising them. They cease to live their own life. And of corse when they are old and sick, there is an expectation to pay back in time and care (and rightly so). So there is a huge pressure and responsibility on both parents and children. Kiwis care for their kids till they are 16-18 years and they are done. They enjoy their retirement travelling and living it up, not cribbing about how other relatives are doing. 

This is has also meant that kiwi kids feel less supported by their parents and thus sometimes have mental health issues. 

Does anyone from your family live with you? 

Yes, currently my mother-in-law and father-in-law are in the country. They go back to India in a couple of months. As per their visa conditions, they can only stay in the country for max of 6 months at a stretch. I will enrol Aiza in a daycare near my work when in-laws aren’t here anymore. Having them is a huge plus. I like that Aiza doesn’t have to leave home. She is comfortable, safe and supported in her own home. 

We did not have anyone around during pregnancy, labour and child birth. As I was aiming for a natural, drug-free waterbirth, I did not want anyone around me. I wanted to be 100% comfortable and in my zone. When Aiza arrived we managed her alone for 2 weeks. Two clueless beings and a little crying baby. It was amazing. We got to bond with her. Know her well. We shared caring responsibilities. There was no unsolicited advice. I kept my pregnancy hidden from social media and only posted two days after the baby was here. This prevented any anxiety or social pressure. 

If you have a supportive partner and you both are willing to give it a go, taking care of a child alone is very empowering and also a great opportunity to bond. Lots of skin to skin in those weeks. 

When it comes to motherhood or parenting, what do you miss most about India?

I regret Aiza not having access to her maternal grandmother. I miss having my own family around. Other than that, I’m quite happy with the life we’ve made for ourselves in Auckland. 

Aiza has already travelled to 10 countries in the first year of her life! What is your motivation behind making travel such a core aspect of your parenting? Or is it just a family tradition as a couple which you continued after the baby?  

Both. It is a family tradition to travel atleast once a year. It is also a core aspect of our parenting. Both me and sunny love travelling. We love to hike, explore, be outdoors. We want to instil this wanderlust in Aiza. I hope she gets to see the entire world. There’s so much joy and learning in travelling. It gives you a new, much wider perspective. It opens up your mind to new ways of thinking. It builds empathy. We want to continue traveling with Aiza for as long as she lets us. 

Recently on Instagram, we had a discussion on body-shaming of babies. Have you had any experience of the same with respect to Aiza in NZ or in India? Do the Kiwis comment at all on any aspect of the children or is it just an Indian National hobby?

Like I mentioned before, we are a bit aloof and don’t hang out with many people. However, even with minimal interactions, I’ve noticed our countrymen to be quite blunt with their remarks. I get quite triggered by remarks/comments on physical features. I don’t want anyone to call my child fair or dark or tall or short. If someone calls her skinny, I call them out on the spot. In my books, it’s not ok to comment on someone’s physical features. It does seem to be quite common place in our culture to say things that cut deep, casually. I’ve had a few people comment on Aiza’s weight when she went to India the first time. I made sure I reminded them that every child is different and I have no say in her body type. I’ve had an odd comment on Instagram as well but nothing major. I make sure I get my point across. These days, i get comments on my own weight and health.

Kiwis have a very laid back attitude. They don’t meddle in other peoples life. Most don’t care how you look, what you wear or what you do. They stay in their lane. 

Lastly, would you like to say anything to moms all around the world?

Ahh, I’m just a first time mom learning the ropes. I don’t know if I’m qualified enough to give any advice. 

However, I’d like to say we moms are badass! We nurtured the kid, we gave them birth, we nourished them from our body, we are attuned to their every thought and mood of theirs. We are their world. So please don’t let anyone tell you how to raise your child. You’ve come this far, you’ll figure out the rest. As a primary carer, you are your child’s best teacher. They are learning from you each day. They don’t learn from your words. They watch our action. So model your best behaviour. Don’t fake it, kids will know. Be the best version of yourself. Model what you want your child to learn. I believe having Aiza has made me a better person. She has nudged me to better myself each day. I don’t stress about how I’m going to raise her because I know I have to work on myself first. She learns from me. 

She will be what I am. Like I am what my mom is. 

Another wise nugget would be to respect your child like you’ll respect an adult. Empathize with them. Understand how hard it must be for them to communicate big feelings without words. Treat them with respect. Respect their boundaries. Don’t force them to hug someone if they don’t want to. Don’t force food down their throat. If you won’t do something to an adult, don’t do it to a child!

Thank you so much, Nishu!

For more updates from Nishu, please follow her amazing blog LipsnBerries or her Instagram account.

On 2020

Hello and welcome back to the blog!

How have you been? I hope you have had a good start to the new year (and decade)! We have been good too. I have been deeply disturbed at the national and international turn of events over the last couple of weeks. When you are comfortably at home and your life revolves around your child, such things may feel irrelevant. However, the harsh truth is, when you become a parent, you just start viewing everything from a different lens. You just want your country and this world to be a better, safer place for your child in their childhood, when they grow up and even beyond when they have children or grandchildren. So you care as much about the current state of democracy as much as you do about the bushfires thousands of miles away in Australia or the Amazon.

That is why, despite being homebound pretty much with the bub an eerie sense of dread is always lurking somewhere at the back of my mind. Anyhow, I try to get on with the daily grind of life and hope on a personal level, this year continues to be blessed. Here are a few of the things I am looking forward to this year:

I am in quite a good place with the bub when it comes to our symbiotic relationship. Life as a mother is so much better now that the bub can communicate his needs. He doesn't talk yet but at least he is able to convey when he's hungry or sleepy or scared or something has hurt him. That said, it doesn't mean, life is easy. Life with kids only gets difficult with each passing year (ask your parents!). We will be entering proper-type toddler phase this year and well, let's see how does that go. I am keeping my fingers crossed.

This is also the year the Soldier comes back to a peace posting and we look forward to moving with him again! I am happy the bub will get to live with his father (for the first time ever) and we can develop our own little family traditions. Also, time to bring out the sarees from the trunk (drumroll)!
I would definitely like to learn to drive a car this year. An interesting yet funny thing is I did learn to drive when I was 13, but left it as it is. We didn't have a car for several years later on and by the time we had bought another new one, I had developed this deep fear of driving or rather a deep fear of hitting someone :-/ We currently have a Mitsubishi Outlander and just the humongous size of that beast scares me from getting behind the wheels despite the fact that it is fully automatic. I have tried learning to drive on a couple of occasions prior but I have this mental block that just refuses to go away. But now that I have a child I need to be independent and knowing how to drive a four-wheeler is a must in today's world. So I guess I need to buck up and get over my fear for the sake of my child.

After some insight I have realized that I haven't really taken any risks in the last few years. You know when you are married and live in a fauji environment and then at home with a baby, your life is pretty much cocooned. I cannot recollect the last time I did something that challenged me or made me feel alive (motherhood did, but that's another story altogether). Life has become pretty domesticated if I may put it that way and though I relish it and thankful for all the blessings in my life, I also need to learn to take some risks and may be do something that helps me grow as an individual. I am hoping I could pursue at least three things that I have never done before or that scares me or I find challenging and can really get over my fear of unknown.

Travelling is a steady part of our lives as we have family scattered all over the country and the military anyway ensures that you have no dearth of travel in your life. Last year I travelled to Hyderabad, Bangalore, Delhi, Pune, Panchgani/Mahabaleshwar, Goa and a whole lot of Kashmir. We even got to go on a cruise! This year too, I hope to visit at least one new place that I've never been to before. 

2019 was the year I got back to reading in my own tiny way and thoroughly enjoyed it. I want to continue to discover nice, funny, warm books and especially looking forward to reading some memoirs. So if you have any recommendations, shoot!

I would really like to write more this year but I want this blog to be more interactive, more community-like and less of a one way monologue. Please let me know what can I do to engage your readership here - what topics would you like to read more or people you'd want me to interview or any constructive feedback you may have with respect to content or design. 

I hope 2020 and the ensuing decade continues to be positive in all of our lives and may we find the strength and courage to battle out any challenges we may face. I would like to thank you and welcome you all again in this tiny speck of my space on the internet and hope we stay in touch!


What Are You Reading Currently

Hello, everyone!

How have you been? A couple of weeks ago on Instagram, I asked you all for suggestions because I was in a mood to read a really nice romantic book. I do not really enjoy the writings of popular modern Indian authors so was looking for either a classic book or a heart-warming old-school love story. I got a lot of wonderful recommendations (mostly The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks which I had already read many years ago). So, finally after much search, I decided to buy Paris for One And Other Stories by Jojo Moyes, the queen of modern day romance novels!

We all know Jojo Moyes for her bestselling book Me Before You (also a movie starring GoT Khaleesi Emilia Clark and dreamboat Sam Calfin). I chose Paris for One simply because it was a collection of 11 short stories, so I could basically experience different types of romance stories in just one book which is a win-win situation for a moody reader and a busy mom like me. This is my first Jojo Moyes book and so far I am loving her writing! Her stories are warm, funny, sometimes dreamy (especially Paris for One which is similar to the Bollywood movie Queen but just the kind of Parisian fantasy romance I love) but overall like a cosy fleece blanket in this crisp winter weather. I am already halfway through and tempted to buy more of her work.

I am also intermittently reading the first proper parenting book that I bought last month and would review it as soon as I am done. It is more like a reference book so I am taking my time with it.

That's it from me. 

What have you been reading lately? 

The Simplest Approach To Parenting

parenting tips, best parenting advice

Parenting in 21st century is a complicated affair. Not only do we have access to information and resources like never before, we also are burdened with the contrasting ‘wisdom’ of generations before us burdening us to do things their way. In this scenario, it is more than often that we find ourselves confused and clueless as to how to go about making the right choices for our child that enables their overall physical, mental and emotional growth without impeding their development in any way.

This happens with me all the time – from what food to give, how much to expose the baby to the ongoing weather, how much playtime, what toys to buy or tools to use to enhance his skills etc. Does this happen to you too?

On one of my similar days of confusion, I chanced upon a life-changing thought. I asked myself, “If I were a tiger mom, what would I do?” Or simply put, you need to ask yourself in these situations – 
“What would an animal mom/dad do?”

Would she worry about how long to breastfeed or if her cub was getting enough? Would she stress over the quantity of vitamins and minerals going into her baby on a daily basis? Would she obsess over the number of pees or the colour of poop or that her baby would contract deadly infections just because they rolled on the floor? Would a tiger cub’s mom stress over introducing tools or toys to her cub to develop any fancy skill?

The answer is no, No and a BIG NO!

The mom of a tiger, or any animal for that matter, syncs her parenting with the nature. A majority of the animal species give birth to their babies in isolation and do not have her mother/grandmother or neighbouring aunty constantly guiding her on how to handle her own child. They breastfeed as long as required not following a set time (no WHO guidelines for them you see). They provide the best available food to their babies. The animal babies play amidst the nature with whatever objects available (mostly plants, soil and stones) and develop skills more remarkable than a human baby every could.

The animals, mother on instincts. They do what they gotta do with the best that they have. And the most important skill they teach their babies is of independent survival in accordance with the nature.

So why do we make parenting so complicated for ourselves? Why do we want to micro-manage every aspect of bringing up our kids? They are children, not robots with a set programming!

So the next time you are in doubt, just ask yourself – “What would a tiger mom/tiger dad do?”

Navigating Motherhood In The Modern World : An Interview With Shubhreet Kaur

Shubhreet Kaur is a journalist, TV anchor, SMM consultant and one of the top Mom Bloggers in India. I am an ardent follower of her blog 'Raising Karma' where she talks about modern day parenting and experiences of her life raising daughter Karma (hence, the blog name!). She is one of the few social media personalities out there who I find to be authentic and is not afraid to talk about her honest, challenging and uncomfortable experiences of life and parenting as it is. I am so excited to share with you today an interview with Shubhreet where she shares interesting insights into motherhood in the modern world, equality in parenting and what makes her bare her soul on the internet.

Could you please tell us a little about yourself?

I’m an Army kid and grew up across the country. I went to around 10 different schools and frankly loved moving around growing up. My college, first job, MBA and second job however were all in Delhi but my hometown otherwise is Chandigarh. I wanted to be a journalist since I was very young so I worked towards that since school and college days. My first job was with The Economic Times. Since then, I have had multiple career breaks due to shifting but have worked with NDTV Profit and Reuters as a business news anchor, managed online and print publications in Singapore and also worked a lot in Media and PR in addition to freelance writing.

Congratulations on your second pregnancy! Firstly, I really loved that you talked on the topic of not being happy about being pregnant. In our society (and the world over I presume), we are expected to be in an eternal state of bliss as soon as the two pink lines appear on the pregnancy test or even after we have a baby. What made you share such an intimate (and taboo) aspect of your story?

Frankly, when it happened and I started feeling upset about it, I did what I always do – I researched online. And I found tons and tons of articles and blog posts by other moms who went through exactly the same thing, even in cases of planned pregnancies. I even found articles on various pregnancy, health and baby websites that addressed this issue too. While it still took me around 6 months to start feeling emotionally better, reading all these real life stories shared by others helped immensely. I felt less guilty and alone.

But most of these articles were published by moms from other countries. I couldn’t find any written by an Indian mom. And I do know for a fact that in our country, we have really high expectations from mothers and mothers-to-be. I also wanted to be brutally honest about my pregnancy when I finally announced it online instead of just posting happy pics because I wanted to share the reality of it. It wasn’t as if I didn’t want to have my child. I obviously did but at the same time, so many different things about being pregnant were making me depressed and I wasn’t entirely happy and this can be very confusing and emotionally draining for a pregnant woman.

So I wanted to be honest about it and share that just in case there were or are more moms who felt or feel the same way. I know how guilty, frustrated and alone I felt till I started reading up and if even few moms who’re going through the same thing read my blog post on it and felt less alone, then I feel the purpose of sharing those thoughts has been achieved. There is a need for open communication where we are free to share what we are going through without judgement because it is perfectly normal and one shouldn’t have to deal with it on their own. Just knowing there are more moms out there who felt the same can be a huge relief in itself.

The response on that post validated that fact for me. So many women commented and Dm-ed. Some even requested for their name not to be shared and that’s perfectly alright but it did hit home the reality that this is real, it happens to many of us and we need to talk more about it. Those chats online itself made me feel much better and I hope it made everyone who connected with me on it also feel better. There is strength in #MomTribe and the more we talk about things that affect us, the more we can help each other.

For your first pregnancy, you and your husband chose to welcome the baby on your own without any family to support you in the initial days. Why did you decide so and what was your biggest learning from this experience?

We just felt its very important for both the mother and father to be involved in initial babycare. Usually when grandparents come, fathers don’t get to do much but we wanted to manage her on our own. Yes, it was physically exhausting. But mentally, it was easier. We learned to rely on our instincts, trust each other and had less interference. We did it together and enjoyed the ups and downs of Karma’s first few months to the max.

Too many people is also too much stimulation for a new born and its easier to make a baby fall into a routine with just a primary and secondary caretaker. Plus we really do believe in equal parenting and Karan has been able to manage Karma end-to-end from the start. There were also a lot of things that are done traditionally which we didn’t want to do based on our research and information from our doctors. So we felt that would be easier too.

It wasn’t to exclude anyone. In fact, Karma is very close to both sets of grandparents but we wanted the initial time to bond with our baby and manage her as a family. I feel it was the best decision we took and we are planning the same this time around as well.

Could you please tell us a little more about why did you decide upon gender-neutral parenting for your daughter? Has it been challenging? 

In a lot of ways, it wasn’t an intentional step. We both, as individual people, believe in gender equality. So that reflected in our parenting too. Then our friends told us that we should write about this because many people would want to do it but not know how or might not realize that they're not actively practicing gender-neutral or equal parenting. So that’s when I started posting about it.

But for us, it came rather naturally, simply because I think that’s just an inherent part of our personalities and who we are as individuals.

It does take some conscious steps and explaining to your ecosystem – grandparents, family, school, daycare etc. Many might engage in gender stereotype language and behaviour not because they have any bad intentions but simply because that’s the norm and it's more of a habit. So constant communication on the same really helps.

gender neutral parenting india

What have been the biggest challenge about motherhood/parenting for you?

Dealing with judgements on our decisions. That I feel is the only thing that impacts any mother the most. Moms/Parents are more than capable of handling things no matter how difficult and tackling it head on if society would just encourage instead of discouraging. But there are just so many comments and opinions that create doubts or then indirectly criticize what parents are doing instead of letting them find their own way of parenting. It starts from pregnancy and really doesn’t stop after that… are you feeding or not? If you are then why aren’t you supplementing? Why are you feeding for so long? Your weight gain is too less or too much! Child’s weight and eating habits… parenting style etc etc… It seriously is non-stop and that does get to me even though I feel I’m very thick skinned. But sometimes, you just wonder why remark at all? Let parents enjoy being parents.

What has been the biggest surprise about motherhood?

I never wanted kids. I wasn’t even very maternal during my first pregnancy. I had read articles where people said they cried when they heard the baby’s heart beat at the first scan and were emotional when baby was taking shape inside. I felt none of that! I did what I was supposed to do but I wasn’t feeling motherly.

But when I delivered Karma, the ferocity of love that hit me was crazy. One minute I was screaming in labour and the other minute, I was laughing hysterically when I saw her. It was nuts! I have just never felt that much love for anyone before and the sheer volume of it was a surprise. I never thought I would be a parent but this kid is just so amazing! Blows my mind everyday! ;)

You have lived in Singapore and your daughter was born there. What major differences do you seen when it comes to motherhood in Singapore and here in India?

Huge difference! Starting from pregnancy, there's just a lot more info given to new parents (not just the mom). The entire focus there was not just providing medical care to a pregnant woman and new baby but also to enable the couple to manage pregnancy and baby care. I remember my first check up and my doctor told Karan, “Keep her stress free. I can manage all the medical stuff but you gotta keep her happy. Happy mom, happy healthy child.”

And at every step of pregnancy to delivery, we were explained stuff. At the hospital, a class was conducted for expecting and new parents (both moms and dads) on how to bathe, massage and swaddle baby etc. They told us some babies get baby acne so don’t freak out. Its totally fine and normal. And Karma did get it! They talked about breastfeeding, colic, moms diet, dad’s role etc. A lactation consultant came and told me how to massage my breasts in case I feel milk is not coming. During pregnancy check ups, pros and cons of everything were nicely explained to both of us without any pressure.

They cared so much about my mental health and my post delivery recovery as well so they ensured weight gain is apt/recommended and not excessive or less. My doc would even tell me to dress up. She joked that, “You don’t realize it but it will help you emotionally to get ready and flaunt your pregnancy body because as you start feeling more uncomfortable due to physical changes and puking and chest burn, you start feeling low.” These small things made that care very personal!

I remember at the hospital after delivery, Karma had pooped but hadn’t peed in 16 hours. So the nurse came and said, “She hasn’t peed yet. Should we wait till 24 hours or do you want me to give formula?” I said should we wait and she replied, it’s perfectly safe to wait. At 22 hours, she came and said “Your baby peed a lot. I’ll bring her for the next feed soon.” So a parent’s view was taken into account at every step.

Based on stories from moms who delivered here, I don’t think that’s the norm here but it should be. Yes, some people have had amazing doctors and experiences but its not as widespread in terms of emotional and mental aspect of a mom-to-be plus a dad’s role also being a big focus unless there is a problem.

How do you feel parenting in today’s times differ from those of our parents or grandparents’? {You know, because every mother (new or otherwise) gets to hear this a lot when questioning her choice of parenting, "Humne bhi apne zamaane mein bahut bachche paale hain" and such.}

Every generation will have their differences. I get to hear that a lot too and my answer always is, “That while I agree you have, but we want to do things differently.” We have access to more information. Plus there might be some traditions that we don’t believe in. We might want to go a more research-based way than what’s just been always done.

Small examples like honey – in many Indian cultures, newborns are given honey. We know now that babies under one year of age aren’t to be given any honey at all.

So it’s just a matter of finding your own parenting style and wanting to raise your kids your way. It’s not an easy decision to have kids nor is it easy to raise them. As parents, we need to have faith in the steps we are taking so one should have the flexibility and freedom to take those steps.

Have you relied on any specific resources to expand your horizons on parenting?

The physical aspects of parenting – hospital training session and Singapore parenting book that all new parents are given was a big help. We even watched a lot of Youtube videos for colic massage. My own doctor, Karma’s paediatrician, Babycentre and What to Expect app helped me during pregnancy as well since I had some very weird side affects.

The subjective side of parenting – I think our own personal views plus our travels and seeing how kids are raised in different places has impacted our parenting style a lot. A lot of what we have seen and observed in various countries and some of it clicked with what we inherently believe in and hence incorporated in every day parenting too.

I am the types to read up a lot as well. So I do read view points, articles, research etc on various aspects. Sometimes if I feel we want to do something for Karma, then I try to find articles on both sides of the argument and then take my decision.

This is such a challenging time to be a mother – we are independent working women before the baby and hence, scared to leave that life behind. When we are at home with the baby, there is so much pressure and guilt to join back work but for moms who work at jobs, there is always this criticism (from the society) and guilt to spend more time with their children. What has been your experience regarding this and how did you deal with it?

Again, it boils down to too much pressure being put on moms to be a certain way instead of letting them be and make their own choices. Different things will work for different people and one shouldn’t force or coerce any mother into making a choice she is not comfortable with.

I took a long break as well and in hindsight, I wish I hadn’t taken such a long break from work and started daycare even earlier. For us, daycare worked since Karma was such an active toddler and wanted to go out 3 times a day. We started her at 16 months and people would say, ‘Poor kid, why are you sending her? You work from home!’… not realizing that kids need company of other kids as well and there she plays and engages etc.

Karan was always on board. In fact, he would tell me that, ‘Baby you’re so ambitious and talented. If nothing else, go volunteer but do something because you will not be happy down the line. Would you want Karma to give up her dreams if and when she became a mom? So why delay everything you have worked towards.” And then he left the final choice up to me. So I always had his support in whatever decisions I took.

So be it a stay-at-home-mom or a working mom, we should just enable and support those choices. Neither is easy! I find it easier to pull a 12 hour work day than take care of Karma for 8-10 hours at home. I have a lot of respect for SAHMs (Stay at Home Moms) because even a simple thing like not being able to have an adult conversation for most of your day can be tasking with everything else going on. With working moms, balancing is tough and sometimes you have to compromise. I’m a work from home mom and sometimes I have to go to an office or travel for work and other times, its all from home where I struggle to balance between home time and work time. So no matter what category one comes in, there’s always a lot of balancing and various kinds of compromise needed and that should be respected.

Sometimes I feel that this is a scary time to bring up children, what with all the crimes, conflicts, climate change, inequality etc. How do you try to maintain positivity in the upbringing of your child? Or do you prefer to  keep her shielded from the ‘big bad world’ around her?

That’s a fear for all parents. I grew up in military cantts which were very safe so had a lot of freedom moving around as a kid. But honestly, I don’t think I can be as carefree with karma now. We in general try to work towards having a positive outlook in life. Karan and I always do try to focus on the bigger picture that we have each other and we have our kid and as long we are there for each other, we will be fine. Things might not always be okay but we will together be okay!

I don’t think we can shield our kids for too long either. Most of us have to start with ‘good touch, bad touch’ training by the time they are 2 years old. That’s the sad reality of it. We never force her to hug or kiss anyone and if that means some people at family get-togethers not understanding that, then so be it. Many do understand that we are trying to teach her to trust her instincts and teaching her that we always trust her instincts too - the few who don’t understand, I’m fine with it!

So I think every parent in their own starts trying to ready their child for what the world entails. For us, equal and neutral parenting is also a part of the same process too.

Are you able to take time out for self-care? What do you like to do in your me-time?

Like I said, Karan has been a hands-on dad from day one so I have always been able to take some time out for myself. In the initial few months, feeds were super frequent. But even then, once she was 4 weeks old, every weekend Karan would take care of Karma while I went out for shopping or lunch with friends to just get that break. I would leave expressed milk in the fridge. Now it’s even easier – I travel with my friends for a few days and she easily stays with him. We don’t leave her alone with maids so once a week he heads out with his friends while I’m on duty and once a week I go out with my friends while he’s on duty. So we have our system in place! LOL!

Sometimes, its as simple as heading out for a pedicure or lunch or have him take Karma out so I have the house to myself and order some junk food and watch some shows on my laptop.

If you could give just one advice to all the mothers out there, what would it be?

You are the mother! You make the world! It is your baby and your instinct matters most. Don’t worry about taking a stand.

If people resist, let them know why and how you are planning to do things. Keep them involved but maintain your independence. Everyone will not just get over it, they will eventually be proud of you.

But trust yourself and don’t forget yourself! A happy mom will raise a happy child so your happiness and life matters as much as your child's.

Thank you so much Shubhreet for sharing your thoughts with us!

To read more of Shubhreet's insights on life and parenting, please follow her blog Raising Karma and Instagram account.