Mothers of newborns need support
Author: Cheryl J. Lobo
Date: 2012-06-25 12:13:04
Category: all categories
Metatags: Christian, Immigrant, Indian, Indian Christian, Mothering, Personal Narratives, Resilience, South Asian, Toronto, Women

Nirmala with sons Jacob and Jon in the summer of 2000_image
Nirmala with sons Jacob and Jon in the summer of 2000

Nirmala A.was surprised at the speed with which she was discharged from the hospital when she had her first Canadian-born baby in 1995. She actually missed the longer post-delivery stay in the hospital she’d had with her eldest daughter back home in Mumbai.


Nirmala feels an extended hospital stay is, in fact, very important for mothers of newborns, “You need to have time to heal and get used to the baby without the pressure of having to run a home.”


With a four-year old daughter in tow when she arrived in Canada in the winter of 1994,

Nirmala was already used to mothering. But her two pregnancies and deliveries in Toronto were not easy.


During her first pregnancy in Canada, before she could drive, just getting to the doctor’s office for routine pregnancy check ups was a challenge. Nirmala had to take time off her hourly job, travel an hour to the doctor’s office, wait an hour or more, have a ten minute meeting with the doctor, then travel back an hour to work. That the actual appointment barely lasted 10 minutes was a huge cultural shock for Nirmala, who was used to a much more in-depth and caring chat with her doctor back in Mumbai, India.


“There’s also a big disconnect between your own doctor and the one who actually delivers your baby,” adds Nirmala referring to the rotational duty basis on which most ob-gyn departments in the city are run. “Delivery is such a vulnerable time for the mother, and the doctor who is delivering your baby barely knows you, or your individual needs.”


Once new-born Jacob* was brought home, Nirmala said it was all about “flying by the seat of your pants.”  The baby fell ill and her 4 year old caught chicken pox. Unfortunately, there was no home support offered by the health care system.


Nirmala points out that in their weakened physical condition after delivery, mothers are not always physically and emotionally able to care for the child.


“Back home we were surrounded by a caring community with a lot of people around. Family members prepared nutritious foods to strengthen the breast-feeding mother. Here one is thrown into the challenges of caring for oneself, the baby and any older children before one’s body has had the chance to heal. That is why there are so many cases of post-partum depression and neglected babies. Moms feel really isolated and alone.”


In those challenging early months of child-bearing and rearing, Nirmala’s lifeline was phone calls to her mother in India. She also called local friends for emotional support. She has not forgotten the “angels of mercy” - strangers who came into her life for brief periods and were there to help when it mattered. Husband Peter* took an active role in the kitchen and childcare, while preschooler Lisa* shared in household chores. “They were a huge source of support and strength,” avers Nirmala.  “And another strong element that kept me grounded,” Nirmala is quick to add, with a survivor’s smile and twinkling eyes, “is my Christian faith.” 


Given her personal experience, Nirmala is a strong advocate of longer hospitalization – a minimum of three days, for mothers of newborns who want the extra time. She also feels that arrangements should be made for a home-visit or at least a follow-up call from a nurse or health-care provider within the first ten days, with an option to opt out for those not interested in the service.


For Miriam Fernandes*, giving birth to twin girls in January 2004 at Scarborough General Hospital was a very positive experience. “All the nurses were very nice, except one,” says Miriam who was accommodated in the hospital for four days since one of the twins had newborn jaundice.


Miriam had been quite apprehensive when she discovered she was going to have twins. She had arrived in Toronto in the summer of 2001 with husband Roger* and infant son Alex*. Miriam wondered how their family was going to manage physically and financially, having only one income at the time.


Like Nirmala, Miriam found doctor’s visits brief and cursory, with the doctor only concerned about the physical health of the baby and mother “nothing more.” In India, Miriam had a very warm and concerned gynecologist, but here it was all business-like. “The doctors seemed constantly pressed for time and the waiting rooms were invariably full.”


Miriam researched into help available for parents of multiples, but did not get very far. “There was a voluntary association providing help thrice a week for an hour. That did not seem like much. And there was a long qualifying process.” Miriam and husband Roger invited his mother to come to Canada from India instead. Fortunately for them, she came and stayed till the twins were a year old.


Miriam feels life was easier for her in many ways because almost her entire family is here – parents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles.  Yet, even with at-home help, coping with the needs of twins was a 24x7 endeavor. 


Miriam found herself doing things a little differently with her twins than with her eldest.  She breastfed the girls longer and allowed them to do things for themselves (eating, dressing), earlier than she did with Alex. She also found that she had to make a much greater effort to socialize her kids here. “In India you are surrounded by people everywhere and the weather makes it possible to be outdoors a lot. Here, you have to really make an extra effort to get out of the house.” Miriam took advantage of the Early Years Centers and library activities as well as involving her three little ones in sports like swimming and skating.


“To me Canada has been an extremely welcoming country, it’s allowed us to be ourselves without fear, opened our minds to a lot of diversity, encountering people from different cultures in the worship community.” Miriam opines.


With a professional Social Work degree from India, Miriam is particularly pleased with the inclusiveness towards the disabled in today’s Canada. “The discrimination against the disabled which existed in India is not so here, and there is great acceptance, understanding and help for people with disabilities. This is a big positive change from what we experienced growing up in India.” Miriam also sees the health care system as a big blessing. “Sure there are long line-ups, but because of OHIP, everyone gets treatment regardless of financial or social status. In India only those who could afford it get to see the doctor.”


Years later, for both Nirmala and Miriam, Canada is home. They feel their Indian upbringing has shaped them as mothers and they try to pass on their values to their children.

As Nirmala points out, “They don’t understand the rationale for our actions and they question us. For example, we don’t buy designer things for the sake of having brand name stuff, or let our kids needlessly spend a lot of money on constant entertainment. We have always tried to educate our kids about the reality of sweatshops in 3rd world countries and how a lot of the world’s children live, because the reality for children in North America is so removed from the rest of the world.  The fact is, that though, in some cases, clothes “maketh the man” (like at a job interview), it is their character and effort that matter more.”

For this reason, Miriam considers it “good to document our history for our children so that they know where we came from. It helps explain to our kids the culture from which their parents came… and why they are being raised in a particular way.”


As desi moms, there are moments of vindication. Recently, Nirmala’s son, Jon*, told her, “My friends love you. They think you’re strict, but also funny.”  Remarks like this are an important reminder that the years of standing her ground and sticking to her Indian values are paying off, after all.


*Names have been changed for privacy

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