The Godhbharai is a cultural event for plenty of Indian households. The blushing mother-to-be placed on a chair while her lap is laden with innumerable gifts. The event is held to bless the pregnant woman and her unborn child. The aroma of mithai fills the air and a festive cheer spreads across the room for all except the mother-to-be. As countless elders whisper auspicious prayers and drop presents in her godh (lap), you can almost see her develop a greenish pallor.
The event, on the whole, serves as an apt metaphor for what an Indian woman must undergo during her pregnancy. She attracts the best of wishes and intentions, but after the zillionth suggestion on what she should eat or do you can almost hear her take a deep breath. The cluster of advice-toting relatives and well meaning friends can quickly form a claustrophobic atmosphere, much like overburdened godhs. Here’s the thing. Pregnancy can be a very special affair for the expectant parents. This does not mean that it is a mystical, kumbaya-like process with the mother-to-be holed up in a sanctum and anointed with sacred oils.
Pregnancy is a Monumental change:
If a member of your family or one of your friends has recently discovered that she is pregnant, consider the following do's and don’ts while lending a helping hand. Do make sure you call in, congratulate her and ask her if there’s anything you can do to help. Pregnancy can often be an overwhelming time where daily routines are considerably re-adjusted. There’s nothing that might seem more helpful to an expectant mother than a sea of support and calm.
"There is a sanctity involved with bringing a child into this world, it is better than bombing one out of it"
- James Baldwin
Do make sure that you continue to treat her normally. It’s important to understand that while pregnancy is a monumental change, the mother-to-be is also doing various other things, just as she was prior to pregnancy. Pregnancy is not necessarily the epicentre of her life so don’t make it the epicentre of your conversations.
Lastly, do make sure that you lend a patient ear to her experiences. However, know when to butt out. There are some things she might like to keep private or share only with her partner.
Don’t go overboard with advice or pushy suggestions!
It’s good to involve in the life of a loved one but it’s also good to not cross the boundary between concerned and intrusive. Some women do not appreciate about telling constantly what to do with their bodies. It makes them feel like baby-carriers rather than independent women who happen to be pregnant. Don’t insist that they eat certain food products or exercise constantly. You may have read that certain food products are good for the baby’s skin or hair but don’t pressurise the mother to eat something she does not want to. Trust her instincts and know that she cares about her baby’s health more than you might.
Don’t keep hinting that she take up yoga or pilates class to “knock off the extra baby fat”. In a culture that prides itself on making women feel insecure about their looks, needing a woman on pregnancy fat can come off as extremely insensitive. You can always suggest some exercises for her to add to her pregnancy workout but refrain from saying something condescending or hurtful. Lastly, don’t make assumptions about the division of household labour post pregnancy.
A woman might like to head straight back to work after her maternal leave or stay at home for a while. Her partner might like to be a stay-at-home parent and raise the child. Don’t shame her for these choices. Again, decisions on how to bring up the baby best are thought out for months in advance by both parents. Respect their choices.
“I’m pregnant, I’m not sick” is a line we’ve often heard in movies. We need to step back from the traditional mode of hovering behind expectant mothers and forcing them to eat or rest, consecutively. They’re adults who are aware that they are about to welcome children into the world. Be there for them but don’t unnecessarily pamper them or infantilize them. They’ll appreciate and love you all the more for it.