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

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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.

 

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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

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.


On “The Art of Choosing”: A Talk by Sheena Iyengar

Also posted at Multicultural Mothering here.

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Sheena Iyengar, a professor of business in the Management Division at Columbia Business School, has studied choice for the last 2 decades. She is of bicultural background- her parents Sikhs from Delhi, her education American – both with very different views on individual choice.

In her TEDtalk on “The Art of Choosing,” she discusses 3 assumptions that are deeply embedded in the American framework of decision-making (they almost seem innate), and compares them with how people of different cultures / backgrounds react to them.

1st assumption: Make your own choices

One of her studies compares how Anglo-American and Asian-American children react to choice. Anglo-American children fared far better when they chose their own puzzles as opposed to when they were told which ones to do. The Asian- American kids did best when it was their mothers who chose the puzzles!

I rejected The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, until Desi recommended and wrote about it here and here. The book received massive publicity among parenting groups because of the tough methods the Tiger Mother used. She decided that her daughters would play instruments, that her older daughter would play the piano; and that her second daughter would play the violin. And succeed they both did.

According to Sheena Iyengar, first generation children are strongly influenced by their immigrant parents approach to choice. “Success was just as much about pleasing key figures as it was about satisfying one’s own preferences.” Choices are made based on how they might benefit not only the individual self, but more likely a group of people who were infinitely tied together.

2nd assumption: More options –> Better choices

Iyengar ran studies with people in the former Soviet Union after their markets had opened up. In a gesture of hospitality, she offered her participants a drink: 7 types of soda. They perceived those 7 drinks as one choice. Then she tried something else. She offered the 7 types of soda as well as juice and water. They now perceived that as 3 choices – soda, juice, and water.

Some of her participants associated the following words and phrases with choice:

Fear,

It is too much. We don’t need everything that is there,

Many of these choices are quite artificial,

We don’t all see choices in the same places or to the same extent as others. If one is not sufficiently prepared to deal with as much choice as is around in many places today, it can all become overwhelming, and create fear – the exact opposite of what choice is supposed to do.

I remember when I moved to Montreal, buying a simple t-shirt would become a nightmare. I always waited until the last minute. All my t-shirts had holes in them, were faded, shrunken, or out of shape by the time I dragged myself over to the Eaton Centre on St. Catherine Street. One shop after another showed-off similar merchandise at only slightly different prices. So how does one choose the best t-shirt? I couldn’t be bothered to do the market research that my parents and brother were experts at. In any case, no matter what I did, I would feel ripped-off. So I’d pick one, get it, and that’s it. Done. Walk out feeling good. If I checked out any more shops – either the price would be fairer for a similar t-shirt, or the fit and colour would suit me better than the one I had bought.

3rd assumption: Never say NO to choice

Sheena Iyengar discusses how doctors at NICU’s (Neonatal Intensive Care Units) in the US gave certain choices about the fate of their babies to the parents. There came a point where a choice had to be made about some babies of life support: either to remove the life-support, or to leave it in which case the baby would either die in a few days, or stay in a vegetative state for the rest of his life. In France, it was the doctors who decided when and whether the life support would be removed, where in the US the final decision was with the parents.

Ms. Iyengar and her co-researchers studied how this decision-making process affected the parents. They found that the parents in US had coped with their loss differently from their French counterparts.

French parents were more likely to say things like: “Noah was here for so little time but he taught us so much. He gave us a new perspective on life.”

American parents said things like: “What if?”

and,

“I feel as if I’ve played a role in an execution.”

When asked if they would give up that choice, the American parents all said NO.

When Leila and Rahul were at the Queen Mary Hospital’s NICU in Hong Kong, we weren’t told exactly what was going on with them all the time, and our opinion was seldom asked. We felt confident in our doctors and nurses though, sure that they were capable and doing their very best for our children. If we had been faced with removing life-support, that’s another question. Not an easy one to hypothesize about. I don’t know what the policy at the Queen Mary Hospital is when it comes to that.

Please take the time to watch this talk. It’s about 20 minutes long, one of the longer TEDtalks that I have come across; and one of the best. Don’t stop the show until after Ms. Iyengar responds to how she herself, being blind, deals with choice since it is such a visual thing for most of us. She completes her answer poetically:

“As far as I can tell, a rose by any other name probably does look different and maybe even smells different.”

 

How do you handle choice? Do you thrive when you have more options, or does it create fear? How much choice do you give your children? What happens to the parenting if you and your partner perceive choice differently because of your different backgrounds?

I’m on the lookout for Sheena Iyengar’s book: The Art of Choosing

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?

In the Game

Early Sunday morning, I tell L and R that I’ll be out until lunch; that I’ll be teaching Pranayama (breath-work) workshops.

“Afu Pa-ya-ma-na,” Rahul pleads with outstretched arms. (Afu is what he calls himself.)

I pick him up; tell him that he can do some Pranayama with me, but that he’s got to stay with “ayi” (meaning aunt, aka nanny in this case) for the morning.

10 minutes later, he blocks me from entering the shower, “Mama Yoga. Mama Pa-ya-ma-na.”

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The response was overwhelming. My Yoga teacher friend Judy, who organized the 2 sessions, back-to-back at her lovely little home studio, and I, haven’t worked together since I got pregnant two and a half years ago. It’s not only the “together” bit though, I haven’t taught at all.

Of course I was nervous. All week. It’d been a while.

But, I am confident about Pranayama, especially after all the workshops I’ve attended over the years, and most importantly, from my own regular practice: the years of regularity, the continuity of it regardless of bed-rest during the pregnancy, the slip during the NICU phase and stressful first year, the irregularity of practice coming back to it, and the decision of, “that’s it – it’s got to be for real, or not at all.”

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Maher attends the 9 O’clock session. L and R hang onto our sleeves, crying as we leave the apartment.
It does him good to have a refresher. It’s a nudge, to get him back into a regular practice.

“I need it,” he says to me, almost every day.

He’s sick more often than ever before. The children are always coughing. As soon as we’re in the street, I have sharp headaches. I catch myself turning around to see if there is someone smoking right behind me. All the time. We’re feeling the pollution. It’s worse than it’s been in the last 6 years. There are more buildings, more cars, and more people.

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A month ago I did my first serious workshop since before I was pregnant. It was in Koh Samui with Paul – my teacher. He asked if I was Back in the Game. He meant everything – Asana, Pranayama. He has children of his own. He’s had many other first-time-mum students who needed the push to get off their butts and practice again. He’s dealt with the ones who disappear for a few years, and then return, for a nudge. He knows about my pregnancy and the early birth, the stresses.

I suppose that’s why he asked me if I was back. A few times over the 2 week course. My doubtful but positive response at the beginning of the workshop had a completely different meaning to my confident one at the end.

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At the end of each session, Judy and I leave 5 minutes for questions.

“It’s doubtful that I will remember any of this. Can we have a follow-up class?” one of the students asks.

———————

I rush home after the second class. Maher, R, and L are having a good time. Laughing. Playing.

“They had a great morning; they didn’t cry a drop after you left,” ayi reports as she leaves.

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We’ve organized one follow-up session; possibly more over the next few weeks.

So am I Back in the Game?

A written declaration of it might make it more real.

Savasana confessions

Savasana aka corpse pose, final relaxation, or just “take rest” as Pattabhi Jois used to say, is usually practiced at the end of a yoga session. Lie on your back. Let your legs separate slightly and roll out. Keep your arms along your body with the palms facing up. Allow the floor to support your weight fully. Let the breath be natural. A nice little exercise to do for a few minutes is to watch your belly rise and fall as you breathe in and out; even to use the words as a mantra, “rise, fall, rise, fall…..” or whatever words work for you. Then let go of all that too.

Savasana was never really the focus or end goal of my practice. I definitely enjoyed being in it. Over time, after an hour and a half, sometimes longer of a full-on ashtanga session I certainly realised the need for it. With some guidance from experienced teachers, the deep, grounding calm from being fully in it became a necessary conclusion to a practice. As Paul Dallaghan, my principle teacher often says, his day is different, more agitated if for some reason savasana was rushed. I didn’t mind skipping a pose or two to have time for a long relaxation, the kind that allows the heart rate to slow down, the sweat to dry, the muscles to relax, and any nervous tension to settle. The stillness was rejuvenating.

Then during the first trimester of my twin pregnancy in 40C Indian heat, things changed a bit. My intense morning sickness meant that I only made it on my mat in the evenings once the sun had gone down. Fatigue rendered short and simple sessions. Savasanas had become fifteen minute to half an hour naps! The second and what lasted of the third trimester I spent in bed rest; so lots of savasana! I continued with a simple pranayama practice while lying down. This was great to ease sleepless nights. Again the savasana after that turned into much needed sleep.

I gave birth at seven months gestation after spending a few weeks in hospital hooked up to an IV. The medication was supposed to control the contractions. After the emergency delivery Leila and Rahul were whisked away to the NICU before I even got to see them. They were tiny and needed support from machines to live. That’s when the stress and adrenaline in my system kicked in, and it had to in order for me to get through the next few months. It was necessary for me to spring back into the busy Hong Kong world of traffic, lights, sounds, long days at the NICU filled with schedules, spreadsheets, worry, fear, good days, bad days; nights expressing milk, washing. labeling, freezing many milk bottles. This was day in and out for six weeks. Savasana? No way.

I honestly don’t remember when I started my practice again; ashtanga lite of course. I think it was after both L and R came home. It was also the six-week safe marker to begin practice again after giving birth. With two babies to take care of practice happened once, maybe twice a week, mainly when Maher was in HK over the weekend and he managed to convince me to take the time for myself. A session was about half an hour-long, and if there was a savasana it was either a one minute forced and agitated experience, or a ten minute nap. Many times the practice was a ten minute “savasana” on the mat! This was only possible because I had my mum and mother-in-law helping out with R and L.

I finally understood what it was like for many of my students who dreaded, even feared savasana, the ones who twitched nervously and those who just rolled up their mats and left. When the babies were eleven months old, by which time we had already moved back to Chengdu, and there was no more real impending health worry, the four of us and a group of friends went to Koh Samui for a week-long holiday. I took a couple of classes at Yoga Thailand. The first morning I arrived late. I felt like everyone in the room could feel my nervous energy and hear my minds voices racing through whether Maher was able to handle the two crawling all over the hotel room on his own, whether they needed diaper changes, whether I had washed and sterilized enough milk bottles. How was he going to get them both to sleep? And what about him? When is he going to be able to eat, drink, run, or practice, and have a minute?” It’s not easy to handle the two babies at the same time. It was not about leaving the babies in someone elses care because I did that since they were born. This was supposed to be my time to relax and be “free” of that for a couple of hours. Everyone around me had been in retreat for more than a week already. They were calm, focused, in the moment. In this quiet space, my inner voices were screaming. If I was walking through the bustling streets of HK no one would even notice these inner jumpings of my mind.

I walked out of savasana. “The babies needed to nap. If they didn’t sleep they would be cranky all day.” I never walked out of a studio during savasana in my life, not in Beirut, Paris, Singapore, Shanghai….I did at YT. Was I out of my mind? Man was I glad Paul wasn’t there! When I rushed back to the room, L and R were sleeping in their cribs, Maher was practicing and listening to classical Indian music.

4 months later over Chinese New Year we went back in Koh Samui. This time I was generally more in control of my situation. L and R were already a year and two months old. I was confident that together we could handle the two babies on our own and Maher is one of few people who can singlehandedly take care of the two. One morning we went to Spa Samui for breakfast. There was the usual morning yoga class in the outdoor shala for their guests who are doing a detox/ fast. I was only walking past the class, but I felt my body tense up. My pace quickened. The thought of having to listen to a teacher calmly, and then actually follow through with the instructions scared me. I wanted to run. By extension, there was no way I could be teaching a class in such a state. Self practice is different entirely, especially if it is in my living room and I can go in and out of it as the need arises.

Other than that little episode it was a wonderful, much needed holiday, Back in Chengdu, I managed to let go a little. The stress of taking care of the children eased. More often than before, my head was above water. Around that time I read The world needs savasana, an article by a teacher at YT, Elonne Stockton. It made sense, and helped steer me back on track savasana wise. Things slowly seemed to be falling into place again. My 5 days a week practice has become a slightly more intensive version of ashtanga lite. Teaching will come when the time is right. Savasana is happening again. Something clicked and it’s wonderful. Other than me feeling more balanced after a good savasana, modeling this simple way of taking time out to relax and regroup to R and L is invaluable.

Me…start a blog?

Over the last two years my world has revolved around taking care of Leila and Rahul, my almost year-and-a-half twins. So to start a blog now, seems a bit strange. What could I possibly have to say? I don’t know which regimes are being toppled over, I haven’t seen photos of the effects of the recent earthquake in Japan, I don’t know what yoga workshops are on in the region, don’t know if Federer is still kicking ass, or who presented at the Chengdu Bookworm literary festival; or anything for that matter. Outrageous, I know.
Only a few years earlier I didn’t even know what a blog was until friends in Chengdu complained that they couldn’t access blogspot. Facebook, YouTube, and a number of blogging sites can’t be accessed in China.
After some complications in my pregnancy while in China, I ended up spending 4 months in bed including 7 weeks in hospital, split into 4 different hospital stays.
A number of foreign doctors here, in Shanghai, and Beijing recommended that we leave for the birth, due to the high risk of going into preterm labour and possible lack of high level care for premature babies.
So went to Hong Kong at 26 weeks gestation. L and R came at 31 weeks, and were cared for at the Queen Mary NICU.
The bed-rest, high-speed internet and open access to all sites meant lots of time on the internet, and my initiation to blogs. But it was only when L and R were five-months-old, after my mum who had spent 9 months with me left, and both of those things coincided with our return to Chengdu that I really got into it.
I came upon some blogs that MoT’s wrote. For the first time in a long time I felt like I could relate. They wrote how exhausted they were, how they only bathed their babies a couple of times a week, rarely dressed them in anything other than pyjamas. I didn’t feel as guilty anymore that L and R didn’t go out everyday. They weren’t the only ones. To have them both ready to go out meant nappies changed, both well fed, not too tired, and a big diaper bag full of provisions.
I remember a post by a father of twins about how his two-year-old girls were finally sleeping through the night, most of the time, anyways. So my two waking up a few times each and every night means I can still be considered in the norm.
One mum wrote about her birth story; similar to mine – it included flights, hospital stays for both mum and babies, pumping pumping pumping, stress, fear, pain, relief.
Then there was one couple that blogged about their micro preemie twins birth, NICU stay including all the medical details, the obsession with weight gain, the monitors, breathing, digestion, good days, bad days. It wasn’t the most fun blog I ever read. They were born much earlier than L and R, but I could relate to much of it and realised that I would have to deal with this part of R and L, and in fact all of four of our lives one day, and to be at peace with it somehow.
Reading these stories was like holding a mirror out in front of me. a way to see what we had been through, a way to realize we were not alone – and importantly to let go of it.
There were honest, touching posts as well like the one HDYDI MoT, rebecca, who wrote One Baby Envy ( http://hdydi.com/2008/03/02/one-baby-envy/ ). Others complained about the silly questions (  http://multiples.about.com/od/familyissues/tp/aatpquestions.htm) they got when they took their twins out. If I get started on the questions and comments I got in Chengdu it would never end.
Sometimes the comments were funny – MoM’s bitching about how J Lo (on the cover of People Magazine March 2008) could possibly look as perfect so soon after she had her twins.
I related to these parents and it helped with the isolation I sometimes felt being in China without my family and with no experience with babies whatsoever. Neither of my brothers or brothers-in-law have children. One of my childhood friends has a son in Zambia who I haven’t yet met. I had held one of my friend’s tiny babies in Lebanon a couple of times last year feeling clumsy and incapable all the time. So yes, I had that experience.
I had a few parenting books. They only briefly covered twins if at all.
But, we were together again, the four of us in Chengdu. That was our main source of strength. I had help from people here. L and R ‘s nanny or “ayi” meaning aunty as she is called endearingly is a superwoman, a great source of real support and help.
A friend as close as I imagine a sister to be was strong and present when I needed her most.
Another friend lent me lifesaving books at every stage along the way. And there were many others who made up my “village”, both in real life and in my blog life. The crazy thing now is that sometimes my kids both sleep for a few hours at the same time, but silly me stays up to blog.
In addition to relating to other mums and dads on blogs, I found tips, such as this post ( http://hdydi.com/2008/04/05/product-review-double-strollers/) that gives advice about choosing a double stroller that works for you depending on it’s use, tips like store big quantities of diapers, wet -wipes, food etc. so you don’t need to go out to the stores until really necessary. Obvious, but hey at least I don’t feel crazy when I walk into my pantry and see the hoarding.
There were videos of calm mums simultaneously feeding their babies. R and L were rarely on the same schedule, so it didn’t apply, but still nice to see how others do it.
So even though I live in this tiny world of eating, playing, bathing, trying to schedule, exploring and sleepless nights, I feel like I am above water, some of time at least.
So now I have the occasion to share my own stories and maybe get some interaction going. Perhaps a new mum, even a MoT will come across it and feel she can relate, find some useful information, or just have a laugh. I would be glad to contribute to that somehow.
These are stories for R and L to read one day if they want to. And if nothing else a way for friends and family to keep up with our lives in China, or wherever.
The other day I read a blog about the therapeutic effects of blogging. That did it for me, a few minutes later I signed up! Not really, but it made me realise that every time I put down my thoughts they rarely came out negative or depressive, but rather I manage to find the “funny” in things, now that I am not sinking all the time, of course.
It reminded me of a phrase from a song my dad often used to say to his not so smiley teenage daughter, “When you smile the whole world smiles with you. When you cry, you cry alone.”