November is Prematurity Awareness Month

World Prematurity Day November 17

In the United States, 1 in 9 babies is born prematurely, 1 in 10 in Canada. Worldwide, over 15 million babies are born too soon each year. While not all multiples are born prematurely, a multiple birth increases the probability of an early delivery. Babies born prematurely, before 37 weeks gestation, are at a higher risk for health complications in infancy, some of which can have long-term effects. Full-term infants are not all free from their own health complications, of course.

In honor of November’s Prematurity Awareness Month, led by the March of Dimes,How Do You Do It? is focusing this week’s posts on The Moms’ experiences with premature deliveries, NICU stays, health complications, special needs, and how we’ve dealt with these complex issues


Last week at How Do You Do It? a brave bunch of Mum’s of Multiples (MoM’s) shared their stories of premature babies. There are birth stories, NICU stories, stories dealing with pain, and loss.

Please drop by and join the campaign to spread the awareness for prematurity. I have two posts up, the first is my emergency delivery story at 31 weeks gestation in Hong Kong, and the second post is a compilation of SMS’s I sent to Maher, Houda (my mother in law), and my parents from the NICU, updating them on the babies progress.

This is one that Maher wrote as part of a series: Parenting and Practicing Yoga. Against All Odds focussed on the period when our babies were in the NICU.

Thanks for dropping by.



Rahul, Day 3

Rahul, Day 4

Rahul, Day 4

Rahul, 2 weeks

Rahul, 2 weeks

Leila, One month

Leila, 4 weeks

Leila, 5 weeks

Leila, 5 weeks









For Just Being There

In July last year, Maher bought me an iPhone for our anniversary. My frist ever Smartphone. Of course, I didn’t even open it for a few months. Now I’m hooked.

And then my brother introduced me to WhatsApp while complaining about how people don’t just pick up the phone and call for a few minutes. Instead they chat on this thing for hours on end.

Then last month one of my friends suggested I get it. So here I am now, chatting with my friends around the world, anytime of day or night – and yes, sometimes it’s more of a monologue than dialogue. But they understand, they know I’ve lived on the moon for the last ten years.

I was chatting with some of my friends while my kids were in hospital last week. Sending emails too.

A couple of weeks into the NICU experience in Nov and Dec of 2009, one of the nurses organised a Parent Support Group. After some hesitation, it being our first “support group” and all, Maher and I went. We were only two couples in the English speaking section, and the woman leading the group showed us a day-by-day photo album of her twin boys born there, at 26 weeks gestation. Actually, one of her 6-year-old sons was taking us through the pics himself. His mum openly discussed the challenges her family faced at the NICU and over the following years. Of course, she encouraged us to talk. What struck me was that the other couple had shared their baby’s photos on Facebook. Their naked baby with a ventilator, feeding tubes, bandages, IV’s, the works.

They found love, support, and strength through their network of family and friends.

I, however, was unable to call my own brothers. I almost dialed my closest childhood friend’s number a few times. Even did once, a few days after Rahul was already home. Chatted for a few minutes.

A couple of friends of mine dropped everything that was going on for them in Chengdu and came to see me in HK. I barely even spoke to the one who stayed two weeks. She got to know my mum amd mother-in-law a bit better though.

That’s the way I used to deal with things, and during the NICU time and later, this reflex kicked in more strongly than ever before. I felt that no one could help anyway, and isolating myself was the most efficient way to deal with what was in front of me. It made sense at the time because only parents were allowed into the NICU, and I wanted to savor every moment I had alone with my babies. I was too fragile to handle criticism and questions, stress from others, and least of all pity. And there was no way I would break down. Not then.

But then a few months later, both babies out of the NICU, and home in Chengdu, I relaxed. I started to comment on blogs. (Big step!) Then I started my own. I got a VPN in China, to access Facebook again, right after Zambia won the Africa cup. I couldn’t join the celebrations, not even over FB. That was too much for me to handle!

I tried to create a network of my mum friends via Multicultural Mothering.

When one of my friend’s twins were in the NICU a year ago, I felt the need to be present. He had no problem communicating with me, explaining, and even listening to me. I was impressed. And now while my kids were in the hospital last week that same friend along with others all listened, and shared their own experiences. It made everything more bearable. Others read my endless WhatsApp monologues.

Thanks for the support over the last couple of weeks, for the brainstorming sessions, the connection. For just being there.

When I saw this talk for the first time a couple of years ago, it was perfectly timed then. I immediately forwarded it to an exhaustive list of friends. A few days ago my cousin shared it with me again. It was just what I needed to hear. Again. For my friends – old and new.

Brene Brown on Vulnerability

Minimalism in Education: A Guest Post by Erica Killick

Erica: I am a Primary school teacher in Hong Kong. I’ve recently started a blog on moving towards a more minimalistic lifestyle. One of my hopes in living a simpler life is the freedom to be able to make a living doing my passion as opposed to being tied to a system I don’t believe in.

This blog post was inspired by my growing desire to break free and find out what freedom really means to me. You can find the same blog post and others at my blog: The Minimalist Makeover.


These times of transformation are exciting. But they are also challenging. I’m in that time along Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey where you’ve just set out and you feel hopeful and excited for the novelty of your new surroundings. But all of the sudden you realize, you’ve only just been called to your adventure and haven’t yet crossed the threshold and you’re still in the ‘known’ world; the mundane, boring and infuriating known world. Here’s a little recount of how my minimalist makeover rocked the boat on a boring old work day.

I was at work on my lunch break. Usually I would watch a make-up how-to video for 10 minutes or so on YouTube, while I ate my peanut butter sandwich. But seeing as I have made a rule for myself to not watch any make-up or fashion related videos in an attempt to curb desires for material objects, I have had to look for alternative videos to chill out with over lunch. Of course I realize the real next step is no videos at all and just mindfully eat my sandwich (something I have done for periods of time in the past) however today was not going to be that day.

Instead I stumbled upon a YouTube Channel called ‘Be Your Potential’ where a man named Matthew, his wife Toria and their 6 month old baby, Indigo are walking The Camino De Santiago or The Way of St. James in northwestern Spain.

They have been ‘vlogging’ daily along the way and so I got quite sucked in and watched 4 days in a row. I was so immersed in the pilgrimage through these YouTube videos that by the time I stood up to take a bathroom break, I was almost shocked to find myself in my present surroundings. I think I thought I would walk along a small path and take my washroom break in the bush. And that’s when something hit me.

I opened the door to my classroom and stood there, looking out at my view. It was no Spanish landscape that’s for sure. I’m in a concrete prison, and the children I teach are trapped inside with me. It was recess time when I stepped out my door and my classroom exits directly onto the ‘playground’. The playground is in fact a pavement square with some basketball nets and white stripes on the ground for races.

There are approximately 900 students going to school here and they were all wandering around aimlessly. It’s a primary school, ages ranging from 6-12 and I was struck by the kind of education they are receiving. And it’s the same education that in many ways brought me to where I am today. They are taught to stay in one building from 7:30am until 3:30pm. Bored, frustrated and lazy students, meandering around in front of me, with nothing better to do then tease or chase the student nearest them.

The juxtaposition between the video of sprawling Spanish hills and rushing rivers and the pavement playgroup the children were playing on was too much to bear. This can’t be the only way to educate the next generation! And it didn’t just hit me that the children are in a pretty mundane situation, I was also deeply disturbed for myself.

This is what I do, day in and day out. And it’s grating on me. I’m not teaching what I’m passionate about, I’m not working with my own natural rhythms or teaching the students while considering their natural rhythms. In that moment as I opened the door for a bathroom break, I felt the urge to break out of the school compound and run up the nearest mountain…to freedom.

I don’t know what the answer to this problem is (yet). Sure there are plenty of independent and alternative schools popping up, but will these ever be the mainstream? And I’m starting to even question whether or not school is the way at all.

The videos of Matthew and his family were so enriching, the lessons these two parents were learning and feeling in their hearts during this journey, the love and comfort their young son was experiencing by being able to physically be near them all day and all night was so beautiful and inspiring to watch.

I know this post might seem rather radical (especially coming from a primary/elementary teacher). I’m just sharing my experience and my emotions from today. Hoping my feelings are not only my own, but are potentially shared by others.

Let’s start a dialogue. I want to feel these things, think these things and let the feelings change me and the world around me. I don’t want to feel it, notice it and then push it away and hide it in the mental box labeled ‘too extreme and weird’. So here it goes out into the world-wide-web!

The videos of Matthew and his family walking their pilgrimage somehow inspired me to think there is another way to bring up the next generation; a way to teach our children and help them teach their children how to love the Earth, how to spend quality time together, how to care for and respect animals (and all living beings). The pilgrimage left so much time for the family to reflect on their experiences, share their feelings with each other, meditate, pray and bless their food, be grateful even during the times you think there is nothing to be grateful for. Isn’t this what ‘school’ should look like?

Matthew’s YouTube Channel. Follow this family on their Hero’s Journey.

Today at the Bangkok Samui


Today at the Bangkok Samui

The emergency room doctor last night wanted to rule out appendicitis – seriously there are some crazy twin stories out there, this one would have been too much for me.

Not sure if we can get out today, the paediatrician can’t pinpoint the issue, and it was quite the painful bacterial, gastro issue.

Leila and Rahul made sure that we’d be staying with them all night. At least twenty times. In the same room. And right before falling asleep L asked me why we left them
In the hospital every night when they were babies. Why didn’t I stay with them? She was sad that we left. And why did the doctors and nurses in HK not allow us to stay with them. It’s not fair.

I sang them the Brassens song that Maher and I used to sing them every day when we were in HK. They finally drifted off after an exhausting day.

I remembered a woman I met in HK the two other times that Leila was admitted into hospital, L was around one then. She was an older British woman who took care of Chinese orphan girls, brought them to a state of adoptability. She would care for them and take them through surgeries. Strangely enough I met her twice at two different hospitals. The first time her little girl, Grace was having major surgery of her bowels. The second time I thought she was there still with Grace, but it was another girl, another story. The one thing she said to me that I remember is how quickly children snap out of such situations. They don’t mope and feel sorry for themselves.

There is a lot of compassion.

This morning, Rahul wondered why Maher went to get us some breakfast alone. “But he’ll miss you mama.”

And then later he said to Leila, “Let’s do bicycle with our feet. I am
Just touching you because I love you.”

Parenting and Practicing Yoga: Against all Odds by Maher Kassar

Maher lives in Chengdu with his wife Natasha, and children Leila and Rahul. An amateur runner and yoga practitioner; he openly admits the difficulty of balancing his activities with work and raising children.

Against all Odds

Hong Kong 2009. These were stressful yet exciting times. Times where everything was possible, yet everything was impossible. Times where we hoped for life, but feared death. Times where the most skeptical became believers. And I, among them, turned to my own invented superstitions.

It was during my 40 minute runs at the Happy Valley Race Course that I started singing my reggae hymn to Rahul and Leila. I would repeat it in my head over and over like a mantra. It was my own prayer to whomever.

First, I prayed for them to hang on as long as possible with their mother, inside her belly. Then, when they were in the Neonatal ICU, I prayed for them to start breathing on their own, to start eating, and digesting on their own. To put on weight and be strong enough to get out. I prayed for Leila’s test result to show no sign of intestinal necrotizing, and for Rahul’s apnea to stop.

I always carried 2 dollar coins with me. I would stop by the Frangipani trees inside the racecourse, kiss the coins and throw them at the feet of the two trees I thought were the frailest and neediest looking. And I would repeat my prayers.

Often, I would look up, and between the glowing skyscrapers try to spot the majestic kite eagles that fly the skies of Hong Kong. If I spotted two at a time, our day would go well.

It was then, in apartment 20F of the V-Residencies, Causeway Bay that against all odds, it happened. I didn’t expect it, and didn’t even expect to try it. It was awkward and ugly. But it was there undoubtedly: my first padmasana. In my eyes it was like a rare sporting moment when the ultimate underdog becomes the champion. Me, the stiff runner, from a notoriously stiff family; I suddenly found myself in the lotus pose.

Everything else happened as well. Rahul came out, and then Leila came out. The New Year came and all our relatives flew to Hong Kong. We celebrated with the twins at home. When they grew stronger, we returned to Chengdu. Slowly, normal life returned and the feel and memory of these strange times vanished.

I sometimes miss that edginess; the feeling of improbable yet realized hopes.

I remember the coffee in a jam jar and the triple layer peanut butter sandwich I prepared every Friday evening and kept in the fridge. Early the next morning, I would drink the ice-cold coffee in the car to the airport. I would board the 7:10 China Airways flight from Chengdu to Hong Kong. Up in the air, I would savor my sandwich. From Hong Kong airport it was straight to the NICU. Wash hands, facemask on, and I could finally see Rahul and Leila.

Bedtime Stories Part 1

It’s bedtime.

“Rahul, can you choose a few books for us to read tonight?”

He brings 3 of his favorites.

“Tuttle tuttle tree,” he repeats as we go through Dr. Seuss’s ABC imaginings.

A comb, a brush, and a bowl full of…
“Mush!” he beams, as we say goodnight to the room, the moon, the kittens and the mittens.

“Capillo,” he says, every time we see the hungry caterpillar munching through fruits and cakes.

He’s tossing and turning.

I sing the usual lullabies; they don’t relax him.

It’s late.

“Can I tell you a story?” My last resort. It’s been a few weeks since I told either of the children a bedtime story.

Immediately, Rahul is still. Even in the dark room, I see his wide open eyes stare at me. Waiting.

I’ve never been a story teller, or a singer for that matter. It was only after we returned to Chengdu from Hong Kong, when the babies were 5 months old, that I looked up some nursery rhymes. Maher and I didn’t have any appreciation whatsoever for children’s music.

And stories? I spent my childhood wondering how come I didn’t get an imagination gene.

That’s the thing with our little yogis though; they listen to my out-of-tune singing, and the same story, over and over. Seemingly enjoying it all.

So I repeat the story – the story of their lives.
Rahul listens attentively.

“When you and Leila were tiny, tiny, tiny; you were in my belly. Right here. Rahul on this side, and Leila over there on that side. As you grew bigger, so did my belly. It grew and grew and grew.
Then we all went to Hong Kong, and you were born there. You and Leila had to spend some time in the hospital. You became strong and big very quickly; you came home after only 3 weeks. While you were there, mama and papa used to spend all day with you, touch you, talk to you, and sing to you. This was my song:”

“You’re just too good to be true.
Can’t take my eyes off of you.
You’d be like heaven to touch.
I wanna hold you so much,
Can’t take my eyes off of you.”
(The Lauryn Hill version of course!)

“And papa used to sing this:
“Elle est a toi, cette chanson,
toi l’auvergnat, qui sans facon,
m’a donne 4 bouts de bois,
quand dans ma vie il faisait froid.…”
( “Chanson pour Auvergnat,” is by French singer Georges Brassens. This version has English subtitles)

Rahul’s still awake. I continue.

“And the other song that papa sang was this one:”
“Je n’avais jamais hote mon chapeau, devant personne.
Maintenant je rampe et je fais le beau, quand elle me sonne….”
(Also Georges Brassens. “Je me suis fait tout petit,” with English subtitles).

Rahul’s eye lids are getting heavy. I keep going with the story.

“While I went to see Leila in the hospital during the day, you stayed at home with your 2 grandma’s. They took very good care of you. Papa went back to Chengdu, but came to visit us every weekend. And then Leila came home; and you and R met each other! When you were 5 months old, we left Hong Kong. We joined papa, and we were all together.”
He was asleep by then.
Leila’s turn.

I lie down next to her. It’s late. She can’t focus; can’t stay still.

I skip the books and the lullabies. Go straight to the story.

I got to the bit where I tell her that mama and papa sang songs for her while she was in the hospital.

She stops me. “Mama. Sing Summertime.”

She falls asleep a couple of minutes into the song.

What she missed of the story were the songs that Maher recorded for them, the night before he left HK. (“Chanson pour Auvergnat,” “Je me suis fait tout petit,” and “No Leila, no cry.”) I played the recordings for L and R every day that we were in HK; until we moved back to Chengdu.

“No Leila, no Cry,” a la Bob Marley.

No Leila, no cry
No Leila, no cry

Cause cause, cause
Cause I remember, when we used to sit
In the government yard in Hong Kong

Oba ob-serving the hypocrites
As they would mingle with the good people we meet
Oh, good friends we’ve had, good friends we’ve lost
Along the way, oh

In this bright future, you can’t forget your past
So dry your tears I say

No Leila, no cry
No Leila, no cry
Oh little Leila, don’t shed no tears
No Leila, no cry

Cause cause, cause
Cause I remember, when we used to sit
In the government yard in Hong Kong

And then Natasha would make the fire light
Log –wood burnin’ through the night
And we would cook oat meal porridge
Of which I’ll share with you, ooh

And Leila, she’s my only carriage
So I’ve got to push on through,
But while I’m gone

Everything’s gonna be alright
Everything’s gonna be alright
Everything’s gonna be alright
Everything’s gonna be alright
Everything’s gonna be alright
Everything’s gonna be alright
Everything’s gonna be alright
Everything’s gonna be alright

So, no Leila, no cry
No Leila, no cry
Oh little Leila, don’t shed no tears
No Leila, no cry

The Perfect Maclaren: Will We Make It?

When I learned that I share one thing with Julia Roberts and Jennifer Lopez, I was excited: the Maclaren Twin Techno double stroller. So it’s not more glamorous than that, but hey, it’s something.

I “upgraded” from our well-used Twin Triumph only a few months ago. The first time I used it I was ecstatic. Maher couldn’t get over my emotional “life-safed” phone call.

I was out strolling it for the first time and explained how, finally my Arnold Schwarzenegger arms might shrink back to normal. These wheels rolled on their own.

The childrens feet didn’t reach the foot strap, which meant we didn’t have to stop every few minutes because their feet were on the wheels. A few months on, a few inches taller, they are at it again.

The design didn’t allow L and R to scratch or pull each other’s hair as easily. What a relief.

And there are were two cup holders, for my water, or tea.

However, travel has a way of slowly very quickly damaging property.

We are at the Vancouver airport on our way home. If our calculations are right considering the time-zones, three flights, and long lay-overs, the trip is almost 30 hours.

As Maher was checking us in at the start, at the counter in Calgary, I was with R and L buying balloons. They were parked outside the store. I was inside paying.  I saw two little black things roll to the floor next to Leila. I didn’t realise it at first, but they were part of the mechanism that screws the main frame of the stroller to her seat. We lost the part that would fix it up somewhere in a stuffed car boot, or washroom floor when the stroller fell back because the hand luggage hung up on it is much heavier than L, R, and the stroller put together….

Still in Vancouver, soon on our way to HK. So far it’s holding. For how long, I’m unsure. It’s unstable and probably uncomfortable.

We got to make it home. Drop the glam.


Rahul stopped using the pacifier a week ago. I though it would be much harder than it has been. He asked for it only a handful of times since then and never insisted or cried. We simply told him he doesn’t need it anymore.

The trick was that for the first three days we were in Hong Kong, very busy playing in the parks with other kids, eating out, meeting friends, and then traveling home. The constant distraction must have helped. A friend mentioned an interesting point. If we waited untill he turned two or more his attention span and memory would be better, and as a result his attachment to the pacifier stronger. Perhaps this adds to how easily let go of his need for it

The morning we stopped giving R the tetine, the French for pacifier our trial almost backfired. As L and R were strapped up in the stroller ready for the park, L looked at me and said “mama, teti Aya,” which means something like either “Mum can you give Rahul his pacifier,” or “Mum don’t forget Rahul’s pacifier.” “Aya” is Rahul. I was stunned by her timing, worried that he would scream and cry for it. I replied, “He doesn’t need it anymore, neither do you.” She has enjoyed being a social pacifier user with her brother now and then over the last few weeks. Luckily they both dropped the thought as we quickly walked out the hotel room. Maher and I looked at each other, relieved. We tried hard to keep our stifled laughter from exploding!