How November Whizzed By…

A Family of Scorpios and My Non-Existent Asana Practice

November 1: Happy Birthday Rahul and Leila

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Birthday cakes at snack time

November 7: “He won,” Maher exclaims as I walk in. “Now I’m ready to move to America!” he winks.

“But I don’t want to go to America on the Mayflower,” Rahul says. “If we go to Plymouth, America, we will get sick. And then the small people will take care of the big ones.”

We laugh.

“Papa’s joking about moving to America Rahul, and we don’t have to go on a loooong boat ride like the pilgrims, we can take a plane.”

Rahul and Leila break into song: “The pilgrims went to America, America, America…”

November 11: Happy birthday tonton (uncle) Jalal

November 12: Welcome to the World and to Chengdu, cousin Mina XiaoYu Kassar

November 13: Happy Diwali

photo(6)We talk to my family in Zambia. We all wish each other a Happy Diwali. Maher and my Canadian, soon to be sister-in-law also exchange happy diwali’s on the phone.

Maher jokes with my parents that the children are learning all about Halloween and Thanksgiving at school, but they know nothing about Diwali.

“Hey, we did dress up, and take a photo!” I interject. “Maybe next time the diwas (oil lamps), sweets, and stories. I need to google it!”

November 15: Happy Birthday Nana (grandpa) Ravi

November 16: Happy Birthday Jiddo (grandpa) Kamal

November 18: Jiddo Kamal arrives in Chengdu to visit his three grandchildren.

November 22: Happy Thanksgiving

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Leila’s Turkey

Rahul's Turkey

Rahul’s Turkey

Thechildren have turkey and cornbread muffins at school. They talk about corn husk dolls and symbiosis.

November 23: L cries and R whines when I meet them at school. They want to do a full day, eat and nap with their friends. Thankfully I’d just discussed this with their teacher.

The evening after their first full day Leila is sure that she wants to stay all day, everyday. Rahul is sure that he wants to come home, always, before lunch.

November 26: Thus begins my three trips a day to the school, one refuses to come home, the other refuses to stay beyond noon.

As a mum of twins this is a big step – the kids first clear decision to do something important and rather long-term independently of each other.

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Thanks for sharing this crazy month with us teta Houda.

Thanks for sharing this month with us teta Houda. Finally not only one, but two people who can keep up with you!

Finally not only one, but two people who keep up with you!

"Papa and Teta" Photo by Rahul

“Papa and Teta” Photo by Rahul

Parenting and Practicing Yoga: From Pregnancy to a Year Old by Marisa Findlay

Marisa is a photographer specializing in baby and maternity photography. You can see some of her work on her Facebook page or her website.

From Pregnancy to a Year Old

You are reading this post three days after my daughter, Yara, turned a year old.

My journey with yoga began about 11 years ago and has been an on and off love affair that has gently carried me to where I am now.  Along this journey I trained as a Sivananda yoga teacher in Kerala, India and dabbled in a bit of teaching both in Zambia, a place that will always be home to me, and Brighton, where I currently live and have subsequently discovered Scaravelli yoga which I absolutely adore.

If I could play a sound track to you as you read this post, it would be Monsoon Point by Al Gromer Khan & Amelia Cuni, so perhaps you could play it in another window as you read.

I discovered this music while I was pregnant with Yara and preparing for my planned ideal home water birth.  Some of you after reading the previous sentence already have an inkling that this story isn’t going to reveal the ideal birth, but instead the birth that was meant to be.

I loved being pregnant and marveled at my ever-changing body giving space to this little being growing inside of me.  My yoga practice took on a new dimension, which I loved and my body really understood on a deeper level what it needed to do in order to release the spine.

I practiced under Marc Woolford, my first Scaravelli yoga teacher in Brighton, during the first few months of my pregnancy.

Despite me practicing yoga, learning tai chi from my partner Edward, and all the mental preparation I did during my absolutely idyllic pregnancy (most of which was spent in the sunny Turks & Caicos islands) it all changed at 35 weeks when I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia.  After a 5 day stay in hospital I was put on a heavy concoction of medication to bring my blood pressure down and then at 37 weeks I had to have an emergency c-section.  I am so grateful to the knowledge that yoga has given me to handle this extremely stressful time and remain somewhat centred.  During this time I had a fantastic doula, Lucy Skelton, who is also a yoga teacher and was able to gently guide me through the process.

On the day of Yara’s birth, all within the space of an hour I had to transform my mindset from having a routine check at the hospital, after which I had planned a leisurely lunch in town, to deciding to be operated on immediately for the safety of my baby. Focusing on the breath and being present to what was, helped me regain my centre after the initial shock and panic of the unexpected news. After delivery it was my breath that got me through three hospital-bound days sharing a room with three screaming babies.

Lucy came to my house when Yara was about one week old to help me do some gentle stretching and mainly work on encouraging my shoulders away from up around my ears where they had found a new home after the terror of the experience.

When Yara was 8 weeks old we started attending a weekly mother and baby yoga class taught by my doula.  It was a challenge to be ready to head out the door across town for the 10:30 start, yet it was so worth the experience.  Meeting other mothers and their babies and feeling the connection through our common experience.  Sharing the delights and concerns as well as creating the space to allow our bodies the chance to ever so slowly stretch and strengthen once more.

The course only ran a month and then with the arrival of family from abroad, Yara’s ever-changing routine, and my efforts to start a photography business while improving my knowledge of the craft…yoga slipped away.  I would have snippets of it as I reminded myself to breathe while nursing Yara or attempted a sleep-deprived practice on the mat.  If I was particularly lucky I managed to escape for a yoga class with my delightful teacher Dot Bowen and came away feeling Marisa again, yet it was not enough to sustain me each day.

This was until about two months ago when I discovered this blog and was deeply inspired by a post about committing to 5 sun salutations for a month.  I went easy on myself and committed to 7 days to see how I would go.  I realized it was the first time I had consistently practiced yoga probably since my teacher training 6 years ago and I felt fantastic for it!  It wasn’t about how long I did or whether I completed the 5 sun salutations – it was about rolling the mat out each day and giving my mind and body the chance to reconnect.  Each week now I recommit another 7 days and marvel each day as I notice the change, the strength developing and most of all the chance to reconnect to myself.

I’ve realized that my yoga practice doesn’t have to involve the candles, relaxing music and solitude that I knew prior to being a mother, but rather takes the form that the day presents. If I have the energy I rise before everyone is up and relish the peace, however if not I grab a moment during the day while Yara plays around me or wait until the day is complete and I have my mat time.  I’m so grateful to have found a way to incorporate my yoga practice back into my life and the irony of it all is that now as I have less time for myself, I’m able to have a more consistent and fulfilling practice.

NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit)

My friend’s wife, Maria, was on bed-rest for the last few months of her twin pregnancy. They live in Cyprus. I’ve been checking in with them on Skype, every other Thursday. It gets down to numbers – be it weeks, days, weight, length, or contractions.

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“30 weeks. Woooo hooooo!”

“So far so good! Maria is doing well. Bored, but fine.” he replied.

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“32 weeks – great news! What’s the latest?”

“Doctor says all is good. We’re aiming for the 22nd of December; 36 weeks.”

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And last Thursday: “34 weeks, how’s it going?”

“We’re scheduled for a C-section in about 3 hours.” They were at the doctor’s clinic, waiting. “The smaller one has plateau’d at 1.7 kilo; the bigger one is 2.4 kilo. The smaller isn’t growing anymore.”

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Friday on the phone with my friend: The little one is doing well. It’s the bigger one though, he cried when he was born, and then suddenly stopped breathing. I was asked to leave the delivery room at that point. They held him upside down. He was blue…I panicked.

I remember the worry that gripped me every time I was asked to leave the NICU. Either Rahul had gone into yet another sleep apnea; for what seemed like a little too long, or they had to set, and then re-set an IV into an already rebellious Leila’s miniscule, 1.2kilo body-weight, hand or foot. The screaming, the suffering you hear from a creature as tiny as she was, through the thickest hospital walls, is heart-wrenching.

My friend and his wife seem to have their emotions under control. I clearly remember that it wasn’t easy to stay level. But I had to, no matter what. I seemed unemotional, distant, “strong”, because otherwise I would break down. That meant I barely spoke to anyone, other than minor, somewhat polite interaction with the medical staff and with my parents and mother-in-law, who had moved to Hong Kong to help me during those 6 weeks, and after. I managed it the best way that I could. That’s it.

I hated my phone more than ever before. I couldn’t stand to see Maher on his. It had to be off in the NICU. And if I wasn’t at the hospital, and it rang – it was one of 3 options: Maher, someone I didn’t really want to go into any detail with, or the NICU. Luckily for us, it was never the last option.

Regardless of the calm my friend has portrayed, I’m contacting him daily, but apprehensively. You never know with this: one day the milk feeds are up, the next day they’ve been stopped because it seems there is a fatal infection brewing in the intestines. One day Twin 1 is moved out of the NICU into the slightly bigger babies room, the next day the baby in the bed next to Twin 2 dies.

One of my initial, harder moments was on a Wednesday afternoon, the third day after the birth. It was the day I left the hospital. I walked out, free after months of bed-rest; but I was leaving my babies behind.

Maria will only see her babies on Sunday, after she is discharged. On Thursday, she gave birth at the clinic, and the babies were rushed off in an ambulance, to an NICU. I realized that what my doctors did, what seemed obvious then, makes much more sense – they put me in an ambulance at the private hospital where I’d spent the last two weeks of my pregnancy, waiting out contractions, so that I could give birth at 31 weeks, at a major, public hospital, that had a state of the art NICU on its 6th floor.  I didn’t see my babies until they were 17 hours old, but they were in boxes, safe, somewhere in the same building.

In the hour after I saw them for the first time, when I saw and heard Rahul cry out – in pain – and I couldn’t do anything, not even just pick him, I realized that I would have to find the deepest of my strengths, love, and compassion to get through this.

She was 2 weeks old when we saw Leila’s face for the first time; Maher and I happened to be next to her incubator when a nurse changed her sunglasses. Both babies had jaundice when they were born, which is quite normal. Leila’s dragged on for a while though. It is treated by phototherapy – a light that shines on the babies – front and back. The babies wear a white mask to protect their eyes. On most babies in this ward, the patches are as big as their faces.

I tried to spend every moment possible with my babies, visiting hours for parents only, were from 9am to 12:30pm, and then from 2pm to 8pm. I spoke to L and R, sang to them – out of tune, and during the week, when Maher was back in Chengdu I played an Mp3 of him singing for them. I caressed them, and when they were stable enough, I clumsily changed their diapers, and even attempted to breastfeed them.

The medical team of this hospital, The Queen Mary, HK, knows what it’s doing. From the moment we arrived – me contracting and making guided decisions in labour, Maher figuring out the administrative details, we knew we were in good hands.

But the NICU staff didn’t always explain a lot to us, nor were they particularly nice. Of course the team is very busy giving life to babies; giving them a second chance. They don’t have time for frantic, lurking parents; at least that’s how we felt at our NICU. They deal with immense fragility scientifically; they attach ventilator’s to tiny babies, insert IV’s, measure and inject milk feeds into a tube that goes straight into the baby’s stomach, and then suck out and measure the undigested material through the same tube, they monitor and record every minute change on a tight, 24-hour schedule. Not easy for any parent to handle. And oh yeah, they let the babies cry.

There was one nurse though, who made the difference. She always smiled. She not only encouraged me to breast-feed, but she also advised me and gave me pamphlets about it. She’s the nurse who organized a parent support group one Sunday afternoon. That meeting opened us up. Her kindness and compassion made my visits a little easier.

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At the NICU in Cyprus, my friends are only allowed to see their babies between 1 and 2 pm, and then again between 5 and 6pm.

A friend of mine had to send her 2 month old baby to an NICU in Chengdu, for pneumonia. No one was allowed in. Full stop.

On the other hand, a friend of mine in the UK would go in to see her baby in the middle of the night be it because she was gripped by anxiety or because she had a strong urge to stay close to her baby.

The NICU rules everywhere seem to differ. What was your NICU experience like? What were the visiting hours? Was the staff pleasant, and helpful towards the parents? Did they encourage breastfeeding? Who was allowed in?