Anmol vs. Cookiie SSC: First Impressions

eM and I went to Tirupati this weekend to meet her great-grandparents and extended family. We just got back, to a huge backlog of freelance work. Both when we're in new places, as well as when she senses deadlines looming, eM insists on being carried. Nonstop. Thank god for babywearing - it preserves my sanity, and my back. 

My first baby carrier was from Mee Mee. Let me tell you since Mee Mee won't - it isn't stringently tested, and it's not at all ergonomic. I know a lot of non-parents read this blog, so feel free to skip this post, after this one important takeaway: most commercially sold Indian carriers aren't good for your baby's hips, and aren't as safe as they should be. A couple of mompreneurs recently launched soft structure carriers (SSC's) which are the first Indian-made, internationally tested, ergonomic carriers in the market. Both are similarly priced, completely reliable, and utterly beautiful. I couldn't pick between them, so I just bought one of each. And since I've been getting questions about which one I prefer, I thought I'd do a quick comparison. This is just based on about a week's usage, it's very much just first impressions. I'm still learning about the features.

Anmol sells SSC's via a closed Facebook group. Sales happen on a first-come first-served basis, and it's a feeding frenzy. Each of their releases contains several designs (10-15), but very few pieces are made of each type. This is because they're semi, or completely, hand-woven. Cookiie only releases 4-6 designs in each sale, but they seem to have more pieces of each type available. They also accept pre-bookings through their website. I'm not sure which brand has the most SSC's per release overall, but I've definitely observed that it's easier to land a Cookiie than an Anmol so far. Anmol's launching a website soon, so that may very well change.

Cookiie delivers via DTDC, and helpfully sent over a tracking ID. The package from Mumbai arrived in Hyderabad in four days, and attractively highlighted the benefits of babywearing. Less reflux, less fussing; and my favourite, which is also their tagline: you get to 'wear a hug'. Cookiie SSC's come with a clearly illustrated instruction booklet, and a one-year warranty against manufacturing defects.

Anmol sends their SSC's through Mirakle Couriers, an agency employing low-income deaf adults. It also arrived in four days, and my favourite thing about the packaging was that it required no scissors or knives to open up. The SSC was very neatly packed, with a simple photo-guide of instructions, and a handwritten note. The box has a great diagram of the SSC's parts, which I confess I missed seeing because I was too excited about the SSC itself!

The specs indicate Cookiie is less than a centimeter taller than Anmol, and about 3 cm wider. When I place them one on top of the other, you can see there's practically no difference. In fact, I'd have suspected Anmol was wider because of the way it's cut - the thick paneling on the sides goes a bit higher and wider than Cookiie's. eM seems to have a bit more space in the Anmol, though she doesn't really need it at the moment. On the other hand, Cookiie's waist band is a bit wider, which is great for hiding post-baby belly bulges (or cheese paunches, as in my case). Cookiie's SSC also comes with a handy minifier that can cinch the seat by up to 5 inches, making it convenient for smaller or thinner babies.
Both carriers have easily adjustable straps. They may be the exact same straps for all I know, but I find Anmol's easier to adjust on the go. Cookiie's are a bit more rigid. This may also be because Anmol is more generous with extra strap material, so there's more material available to loosen/tighten. My husband will vehemently deny it, but we have pretty similar body frames. But if I were sharing my SSC with someone with a very different body type, especially a bulkier one, Anmol may make it more easy.

The Cookiie fits babies from 5-22kgs, while Anmol seats 7-22kgs. While Cookiie's brochure emphasizes it's not to be used for babies below this threshold, Anmol provides a rolled blanket/pillow hack that allows their SSC to be used by even newborns. Both brands have toddler variations that can be used by bigger babies.

Other Features
Apart from being in a cool colour, Cookiie's hood has drawstrings on the sides making it easier to tighten and tie + look great with ruffled edges when not in use. It's also stowed with snaps while Anmol's is secured with velcro. Coming to the chest strap, Anmol's is placed at bra-hook level, while Cookiie's is a bit higher, and adjustable.

And finally the pocket - Cookiie's is placed at the middle of the waist strap, and is wide enough to accommodate a mobile phone, credit card, and keys. Anmol's is placed at the left of the waist strap, and won't fit a phone. This is probably a good thing, as it keeps phones away from the baby, but it's less convenient. Being a right-hander, I also find the placement slightly awkward, especially since it's near/partly under the baby's leg. That said, I only do front carries at the moment. When I do a back carry, Anmol's pocket will likely be the more convenient one.

The Cookiie comes in super cool graphic prints - stars, chevrons, block prints, ikats. The waist band has a different pattern, and the hood is usually a sharp contrasting colour, which makes the whole thing look stunning when used. Most Anmols are semi or completely hand woven by local weavers, and the wefts of cotton skilfully showcase several colours. The material's OKO tex certified, and is yarn dyed, AZO free. What this basically means is it's completely baby friendly and won't bleed into their skin. It also looks gorgeous, especially in natural light. Each brand definitely has a distinctive style, but I think both look fantastic.

There you have it, the differences I've spotted after a few days' use of each. This isn't a review of either, because I haven't used them long enough. I genuinely don't have a preference yet, and I also want to emphasize that what eventually works for me given mine & my baby's body types + how we use it won't necessarily be the right choice for you. This is also only applicable for the carriers that were sold in the latest release. Both brands are constantly modifying and improving their products.

I highly recommend trying out any babywearing gear before you buy it. If you're in Hyderabad, check out our sling library, where you can easily try on and rent carriers. (Full disclosure: I'm a co-founder of the library, but I don't make any money from it, or from any of these vendors).

From Maggi to Udon Noodle Soup

I always thought I'd marry someone who cooked. It turns out the only thing more attractive than a man who cooks... is a man who doesn't cook, but attempts it for you anyway. Over the last five years, A's cooked for me exactly two times. Ready-to-cook cake, and a ready-to-cook mac and cheese, as he's always quick to point out. But, no sarcasm, I still think it's really sweet. This week, after binge-watching Masterchef Australia and hearing me talk about the idiot-proofness of Built2Cook, he volunteered to make dinner. I figured it was an interesting opportunity to stress-test the product... would someone who'd only ever made Maggi noodles be able to pull off an Udon noodle soup? :)

eM and I took our seats in the Rao kitchen and settled down to watch. First off, I should mention that I was very impressed with Built2Cook's ability to take feedback & refine their product. I'd just mentioned an oil spill in last week's box, and this week saw the oil in a different type of container! Everything continued to be neatly labelled and packed. I'm a fan of consistency, especially from startups, so this is very promising. As A set up his kitchen, he asked if I had a strainer, a vital utensil for this dish. I do, but as I'm rating Built2Cook from the perspective of the average bachelor who doesn't cook - it may be worth noting if a recipe needs 'special' equipment like a strainer or a grinder that such kitchens may not have. They do mention it in the recipe, but it'd be good to have it mentioned upfront to avoid disappointment.

Inspired by the advice on MC Aus, A decided to 'keep his bench clean'. He opened everything, carefully re-sticking the labels for each ingredient onto the containers as he went along... he didn't want to risk grabbing the dark soy rather than the light soy, or the aromat in place of the tempura crumble. Thanks to his meticulousness, we noticed a couple of minor discrepancies. The recipe said to garnish with leeks & broccoli; but the ingredients list only mentioned leeks, and the box itself had neither. This wasn't a big deal though, as the box was chock-full of other lovely fresh veg - carrots, spinach, asparagus, yellow & red bell peppers, mushrooms. We certainly didn't miss the leeks & broccoli. It was a beautiful display of chiffonade, which made the finished dish look “exactly like the picture on the flyer!” as A said.
An added advantage is that it's impossible for each vegetable not to get cooked properly as they're all cut so evenly. If I had to nitpick I'd cook the asparagus slightly before throwing in the rest, as it remained slightly bitey, but mostly, it's foolproof... and so healthy, given it’s all blanched! A ate everything except one asparagus without complaint. So I definitely recommend making this with/for kids who may be picky about their vegetables otherwise.

We were also impressed with the ingredients for the curried broth. When I cook Oriental from scratch, I invariably skip things like aromat, or replace the castor sugar with white. I just can't be bothered stocking a full Oriental kitchen for the few times that I cook it. With Built2Cook, there's no such compromise because you have everything you need, in the proportions that you need. A was hesitant at first, asking if he could really just use exactly what was given without tasting along the way. In the interest of checking idiot-proofness, I told him to go for it, leaving out just the salt. The resulting broth was a thing of beauty. As A put it, "I feel so proud of making something taste like that, even though I didn't actually do anything." Hint, hint: if trying to get to someone's heart through their stomach, this is bound to impress!

The broth and vegetables are perfectly balanced, and the whole thing has a complex flavour profile which you wouldn't think came from just four basic steps. It probably took A about ten minutes to cook - 8 more than Maggi; but 10,000 times more healthy; and, frankly, just as moreish. I'd be happy to drink mugfuls of that every day. I wasn't this impressed with thetacos since their taste depended on my ability to season. This, on the other hand, was gorgeous enough to inspire poetry - the crunch of the tempura crumble against the freshness of the spring onions, while the veg stayed firm but tender in that rich broth... I hope they keep a Japanese dish on their menu at all times, because the chef absolutely nailed this one! 

I think the only advice I'd give non-cooks who try Built2Cook is to follow the recipes verbatim except for the amount of oil & salt to be used. With a non-stick kadai, we used about 1/3rd the oil provided, and none of the salt. It was lovely to sit around doing nothing while A whipped up a beautiful meal. I could see his confidence growing as he cooked, and the dish's resounding success has him rearing to try something else soon!

Mexican Fiesta with Built2Cook

When my mum was learning to drive, she told me I was the best person to practice with because I wouldn't rush her, get tensed, or pass judgment. I translated that to mean I was her favourite person to try new things with! And so this Mother's Day, I offered my foodie-mum a choice of cuisines she'd never eaten before, and promised we'd explore one together. I'd make some stuff, she could make some with me, and we'd buy the rest. If she didn't like anything, she could ditch it, no questions asked. 

I was thrilled when she picked Mexican. I've ranted about this before, but Hyderabad has no decent - read, authentic - Mexican food. None. If I want it, I know I should just make it. This was the perfect excuse. Last year this time I was in Mexico, so this gave me an opportunity to get nostalgic! I'd also been itching to try a new food start-up, Built2Cook, which delivers pre-prepped ingredients for international recipes. They had tacos on their menu, with sides of salsa and guacamole, all for Rs.250. Bring it on! 

I like their website. Ingredients, portion size, and cooking time are clearly noted - and the ingredients include things like salt and oil, so you could literally have an empty larder and still cook up a meal. I also like their pictorial step-by-step recipes... given the people who order off Built2Cook are likely unfamiliar with the cuisine or even cooking in general, it's especially helpful. I wish they had 3 course options - right now, tacos were the only Mexican thing on their menu, so we had to look elsewhere for our other courses. I'd love to see a burrito up there.

The taco recipe came with a disclaimer that tacos are a diverse breed, and every person has their own recipe for the filling. I couldn't agree more. I wanted to tweak mine a bit, so I ran out to the local grocery store to buy a few things. While I was there, I did a quick cost comparison - 3 tacos would be Rs.60, the veggies would cost another Rs.120 (thanks, avocados!), sour cream + cheese would easily tally another Rs.200. That's assuming you don't bother with refried beans. Even without factoring in the opportunity cost of time spent prepping all that stuff, there's no doubt that Built2Cook saves you a lot of money. And assuming this is a one-off and you don't cook Mexican (or whatever else) all the time, you won't be stuck with a whole lot of, say, sour cream, that you'll never get around to using. 

I got home and was surprised to find they'd already delivered my box at 6pm. I'd specifically asked for 7pm, and I couldn't help thinking that on a weekday, they took a real gamble by deciding to show up an hour early. It's 46 degrees out in Hyderabad, so it's not even like they could have left the fresh-prepped ingredients with the watchman. My mum also told me that they didn't have change for Rs.100. I personally think if a startup only offers cash on delivery, its dishes are all priced at Rs.250, and they do their own delivery, they should definitely give their delivery people a stack of 50's. Alternatively, just charge either Rs.200 (similar start-ups in Bangalore often charge Rs.150 on average); or go big, maybe add a lime soda for people to drink as they cook, and round off the bill to Rs.300. It's the small things that make the difference. 

But we were excited with what we got - an enticing looking package reminiscent of Masterchef's Mystery Boxes, and a flyer with the pictorial recipe & ingredients list. My mum promptly pocketed the flyer for future reference, it's a keeper! We opened the box to find 4 compartments, with the ingredients for each component of the dish segregated neatly. Just in case anything got mixed up in transit, each packet or cup of ingredients was also labelled with the name of the ingredient, and the dish it was to be used for; eg: tomato (guacamole), tomato (salsa). Very nicely done. The olive oil and sour cream had both leaked, so some things were a tad messier than I'd have liked... but this was purely an optical problem - none of it got onto any of the other ingredients, and they'd packed a little extra of the basics such as salt and oil anyway. The latter's a bit of a double-edged sword, I guess, because with everything neatly portioned out, a newbie cook may be tempted to just add all the salt or all the oil... ouch. Maybe the recipe should specify how much of the seasoning to use, or say season to taste.

I loved the convenience of having all my stuff pre-prepped, it's like having a handy sous chef. As I said, I made a few tweaks to make it more like the Mexican I'm familiar with. In case you buy the same box and aren't too familiar with the cuisine, here's what I did:

- I kept aside the water chestnuts & babycorn to make a Thai curry with some other time, as I'd never had them in a taco before.

- Since it's not prime tomato weather, but it is mango season, I changed the tomato salsa to a mango salsa. Yum-my. Plus, it gave us more salsa.

- I bought some extra tortilla chips to go with the salsa & guacamole, and grated some more cheese to top them with. 

- When avocado oxidizes, it quickly turns darker. So to preserve the colour and enhance the taste, it's recommended to add a squeeze of lime juice. You also want to mash it up a bit, so it tastes buttery.

- I also shredded the lettuce and coriander more finely, but that's subjective - I've a picky-eater husband so I tend to over-mince and make it hard for him to take out anything!

I made us some virgin mojitos to sip on as we cooked, and ordered a bunch of other stuff we could eat along with our tacos, chips, guac and salsa. I put on a movie, mum sampled everything, and we had the perfect, relaxed evening. She discovered she really likes guac & mango salsa, and said she'd try them again soon!

All in all, Built2Cook helped create some of those memories that money can't buy. It looks very promising, and I can't wait to order another box for a date-night in with A! Now if only they had a Thai green curry, or an Austrian spatzle....

(Usual disclaimer: this isn't a paid review, just me spreading the joy for anyone else who may be interested).

Rant: Digital Marketing Faux Pas

I'm angry about a lot of stuff this week, none of which I can do much about. So to divert myself, here are the top ten digital marketing trends that make me wonder about companies' hiring standards, or lack thereof.

- Clickbait headlines are bad enough, but clickbait headlines with poor grammar? If I wanted that, I'd just read one of Chetan Bhagat's 'novels'.

- Ads which call out a specific product or price point, then direct you to the homepage. It's like being sent to the grocery store when you place your order at a restaurant.

- When the word 'only' is suffixed to outrageous price points. Rs.900 only for a dupatta? No, please, take a kidney too, it's only fair.

- Completely irrelevant jumping on the bandwagon. B2B businesses that wish people on, say, Father's Day, just because B2C businesses are. Happy Veteran's Day to you, too.

- Hashtag hashtags. Learn how they work before you use them, please. #korangukailapoomaalai #TamizhLols

- 'Mobile sites' that are basically desktop sites with text in font size 5 and awkward image alignment. I wouldn't mind if your company wasn't touted to be a 'cutting-edge' 'tech start-up'. (Aren't they all?)

- Asking for all my details, including location, several times; then emailing me a bunch of offers that are only valid in other regions. Is this some bizarre tie-up with a relocation company that I don't know of?

- Giving away freebies to bloggers who started their blogs purely to receive freebies. I've no idea which restaurant is actually worth eating at anymore. Or which blog is actually worth reading, for that matter.

- No opt-out clauses. Dear big e-comm company, I'd probably not have used your biggest rival as much if you didn't try bullying me into downloading your mobile app all the time. 

-  Remarketing that never stops. Twelve months into seeing the same pregnancy ad, I wonder how long they think the human gestation cycle lasts. You'd think a maternity clinic would know the answer, eh?

Raising an easy baby

We're fast approaching the end of the 4th trimester. It's been going great. When people ask, that's what I usually say - great, or fun, or amazing. I say eM's a chilled out baby, or that she's easy. They ask if she sleeps 'through the night,' and I respond that she's doing really well; she sleeps all that she can be expected to. I'm asked if she cries a lot, and I say: she's a happy baby, it's easy to comfort her. And given I say it with a wide smile, and am clearly relaxed, they all agree she's the best baby there ever was. I wholeheartedly agree with that summation!

But here's the thing: I don't objectively think she's any easier or more difficult than the average baby. What she is, is a baby. Her brain & body are constantly developing. Expecting her to actually sleep or smile through all those changes, especially when she doesn't have the words to understand them, is bizarre.

She adapts as best as she can. Sometimes that means wanting to be held for hours in the middle of the night. Other times, it means celebrating with her as she figures out her legs can splash, or that she has fingers, or whatever else. Either way, the important thing to note here is that she can't help any of it. She's not throwing a fit for lack of anything better to do. She's not at her best behavior just because we have company. You really can't hold her accountable for anything just yet!

I understand people ask these questions as a way to make conversation, but I don't want my child to be called 'good' or 'bad' for the sake of conversation. I get that she can't understand these words just yet, but I just don't see the point of having these convenient judgments repeated. At best, you'll be able to ignore them, because they'll change by the day. At worst, you'll subconsciously start to believe them. Difficult babies seem to be  a matter of perception. It's easier when you acknowledge your baby probably isn't doing anything other babies don't.

I think people also ask you about these details because they want to sympathize with you. But it seems unfair to say that the baby's been awake every hour, on the hour; if I'm not also able to say, "I think it's a growth spurt," or "She's due for a wonder week about now." It's not like the baby has the words to get her point across, after all. When I understand why she's doing what she's doing, it doesn't make the long hours less tiring, but it does let me be the adult in the equation.

I'm not in denial here. She doesn't cry "a lot", however that's defined, because I hate letting her. When that means bouncing her and walking around for four hours, I do that. She sleeps "well", because she only wakes up when she's hungry, and she only stays awake when she can't figure out how to go back to sleep. Again, if that means singing 'Twinkle Twinkle' forty times in a row (with the hand movements!) every two hours, I'll do it. And I'll still say she's sleeping as well as can be expected, and mean it. She's not forming bad habits, she's forming herself. It's impossible to spoil someone by taking care of them when they're confused or need reassurance.

So how do you raise an 'easy' baby? Simply, by being an easy parent. Don't expect anything from the baby just yet. Sure, it's exhausting at times, uplifting at others, and a dazed blur for the most part. But I have a happy baby, and a healthy one. Those are the only labels I'll ever accept for her. Onwards & upwards!

The Birthplace: A (Long Overdue) Review

I've been joke-accused of turning this space into a mommy blog, gasp. Let me just say - I would love to gush about my daughter all. the. time. But this blog's going to stay what it always has been - a place where I compile info & observations on things I'm interested in to (hopefully) save people some time if they're researching the same things. Those things just happen to be baby related at the moment. 

...And, of course, I'll occasionally pontificate or post something random, just because I can :D

I wrote about how we chose to have our baby at The Birthplace, Hyderabad before. So it's only fair to follow up and talk about our experience there - especially given it completely justified our decision to go with them. Through the move back to India, with its associated craziness; then the struggle through the first couple of weeks with a newborn, The Birthplace was always my safe spot, the voice of sanity in all the chaos. 

There was my doctor, Pratibha Narayan, who was excellent - she clearly distinguished my mom's diabetes from my own sugar levels when other doctors would have marked me high-risk by default. At the same time, she kept a close eye on my levels throughout, never hesitating to tell me when something could build into a red flag. All the while, the biggest thing she did for my peace of mind was pointedly tell any relatives who came with me to chill on the superstitious beliefs they had. She distinguished fact from fiction clearly, and thank God for that, because I heard a zillion random theories when I was pregnant. Despite being the primary doctor for what seemed like every person I spoke to at The Birthplace, she always responded to my emails/texts on the same day. Actually, she still does.

That responsiveness and respect for time is true of everyone and everything at The Birthplace. I was never kept waiting for an appointment unless someone else was having an emergency surgery. Yet, I never felt hurried when I had an appointment. Perhaps best of all, any reports that were required were emailed to me within 24/48 hours, and a follow-up phone call was made to talk through the results and what I should do next. The in-house pharmacy always had everything I needed, so they saved me trips to other places. 

Everyone, from the receptionist to the doctors to the cleaning staff, could speak English and/or Hindi. Yes, I've lived in Hyderabad on & off for a few years, and I can understand Telugu; but speaking it takes real focus and that's not something I'd particularly want to do when pregnant/delivering. Being able to talk in languages I'm comfortable with was a huge load off my mind. And it's not just the language prowess that was impressive, it was the communication skills too. Everyone I met had a great personality, was helpful, consistent, and clearly knew their stuff. Plus, they actually seemed to care! I'm always amazed that everyone from the marketing team to the desk staff address me by my name and remember my details. 

And I've mentioned the 4D scans before, but I have to say it again - they're amazing. Being able to lie back comfortably & watch our baby in real time, on a projected HD screen, with my husband, unhurried, while the doctor gushed how cute our chubby baby was, was an incomparable experience that I don't think exists anywhere else (I have had scans in other places and they were great, but this was truly beyond that).

So I was expecting a good experience with the delivery, but I had no idea how good it would be. Let me start by saying I went in at a time that was very convenient for me & my visitors, but not so much for the hospital - about 4:30AM on a Sunday morning. I went in with no notice, and had the baby within half an hour. And yet, between the time that I called to tell them I was coming and the time I got there, I was met by a team of help staff, an on-call doctor, and - when she confirmed I was really having the baby that fast - another on-call doctor, my gynaec, a pediatrician, and yet more support staff. Despite it being a Sunday, and my being the only resident at The Birthplace at the time, all my meals were arranged, any requests were catered to, and I received a visit from the senior pediatrician, Dr Sivaranjani, on the same day.

Despite having no time to read through my birth plan, everything went exactly as I'd have wished, given The Birthplace's philosophy is pretty much the same as mine anyway. I got skin to skin, A got to watch the baby get weighed etc, and we got to feed her straight away. Which brings me to another important thing that I don't think any other hospital in the world has - learning to breastfeed at The Birthplace is amazing. Every single time I fed for the next three days, at least one nurse or doctor was in the room, just standing by to see if they could help. I can't tell you what a difference this makes. I loved just being told that I was doing great, and having the additional hands readily available when the baby and I were both figuring out how to make it all work.

There's a lot going on when you've just had a baby - you need to figure out your after-delivery care, you need to eat more often, drink a lot more water, and figure out what to do with the baby and your husband and all your visitors, all while not being at your physical best. The Birthplace ensured my needs were taken care of, and that I was gently eased into this new normal. From the baby's bath each morning, to mine; from meal & medication reminders, to having a nutritionist, physical therapist, and lactation consultant check in on me, they made sure to think of everything which I may not have had the mindspace to think about myself.

And it's not just hyperbole - if you've to stay more than 2 days (3 if you've had a C-sec) for medical concerns, they don't charge you anything extra. eM looked a little yellow, so we stayed back an extra day & a half to make sure she wasn't jaundiced. We were given just as much attention and care as on the days we paid for. By the last day, we felt we knew everyone on the staff well, and we really, really wanted to tip the nurses who'd taken such good care of us. Without exception, they all refused. Ditto most of the cleaning staff who'd helped so much with baths and recovery. It literally made me choke up. While The Birthplace gets some flack for being pricey and not accepting insurance up-front (so you need to pay and then get refunded), I think it's worth every penny. 

True confession: on day 5 with my new daughter, I was desperately considering how to get myself re-admitted so life could go back to being peaches & roses! No need for such drastic measures, I return frequently to meet our pediatrician, who's every bit as supportive, no-nonsense, and reassuring as my gynaec. It's a weird thing to say about a hospital, but I'm glad my relationship with them will continue.

As always, a disclaimer that this review wasn't paid for (in fact, I paid for the pleasure of reviewing them!) and all opinions are my own. In the interest of full disclosure: I won an upgrade to a luxury suite, as well as a free newborn photo-shoot (which reminds me, I need to go get said newborn photo-shoot before she's no longer 'new') at an event that The Birthplace sponsored. So I got a few extra perks when I stayed there, but I've compared notes with friends and they really are this nice to everyone.

Singing the Blues

Somehow, it's already a month since that night I nearly had a baby in my loo / an Uber cab. Having never really experienced physical distress - other than that time I watched Karzzz - I'd always been curious about my pain threshold. Turns out I'm a bit of a buffalo. Note to self: the next time I'm 40 weeks pregnant, I should probably just call the doctor when I feel any pain at all. 

As it was, we got to the hospital, and the on-call doctor said, "You're having this baby NOW!" And I thought, "Ah, you probably say that to everyone so they don't feel discouraged." Except she wasn't kidding, and I really did have the baby then. I'd secretly hoped for a girl, but figured I wouldn't be lucky enough to get one. You don't get to have a happy marriage, an easy pregnancy, a non-labour, and your pick of baby gender. The odds don't usually favour one person that heavily. Yet somehow, here we were with a baby girl... on a Sunday morning at that, so people could come by without needing to bunk office! So that was fun, and also the perfect ending to a completely chilled out pregnancy. It felt like everything I wanted went my way.

My idyllic zen-like 'Oh, I birth babies every day' euphoria continued for the next four days. Hospital staff kept coming in and re-telling my infamous labour story. Friends visited, and marvelled at how I was up and about hours after giving birth. Relatives came over, and I was very happy to note I was sticking to my theoretical stance, and not being stingy about sharing the baby with them. I caught up on my final work assignments from the hospital. A & I even had time to catch a celebratory meal together while at the hospital, and the baby - our perfectly well-behaved, made-to-order baby  - slept through it, letting us!

Then we came home, and everything went bananas.

I genuinely can't tell whether it was 'regular' baby blues, or if it was because my laid-back plans went out the window when my mum had to suddenly go back to Bangalore. All I know is, instead of bonding with my baby in the chilled out way I'd dreamed of (my mom's great with babies), I was suddenly going from zero to hundred, scrambling to do everything. Feeding, burping, changing diapers - I was constantly doing one or the other, while being terrified I was doing it all wrong because there was no one watching me. I went from the person who tuned out everyone except her doctor to the person who took everyone's advice, nearly all of it based on opinion rather than facts, and got even more confused. 

I can't begin to express what I felt. My mind just never shut off - there was constant chatter, all negative, and I was always a breath away from crying. People kept telling me to sleep when the baby slept. So I'd put my phone away, and lie in a dark room - but all that did was give the thoughts in my head free rein. This whole post-delivery seclusion to 'rest' thing? Terrible idea. If the zombie-like despair I felt for a couple of weeks is any indication of what postnatal depression looks like, I have enormous respect for the women who battle it. I have a supremely un-fussy baby, and we didn't have any trouble feeding, or any health trouble (either of us), and yet, I've never felt anything that bad. I can't imagine what it would have been like otherwise. As it is, it was unignorable - and let's remember I'm that person who ignored labour.  

I'm so thankful for the day I woke up and vomited everything, because it led me to a doctor who stated that she didn't care what Indian culture said women had to do post-delivery. Given I'd been so active right until the delivery and clearly wasn't suffering physically after it, I needed to just get out and get some sunlight + fresh air. I needed the opposite of rest. I needed my life back, independent of the baby. Otherwise, I'd just go from having a dozen different interests and things to do, to having one thing to obsess about, in one room at that, and I'd continue making myself sick.

I'm not sure why I needed a third party to point out something that obvious. If it were just my mum at home, I would have talked her into letting me be up and about - not to mention in real clothes, rather than nighties - long before that point. It's amazing what a difference it's made. Everything's back to being easy. Maybe it's just because my mum's back, and her confidence is rubbing off on me, plus she doesn't fight me on this stuff. Maybe it's because the baby's older, and wakes up on her own now. But maybe, just maybe, it's because I'm relying on my instincts again, instead of trying to follow other peoples'.

So, all's well that ends well. I could just focus on that, and downplay the black mind zone I went into. I could write a completely honest one-month update on our Maya-bee, and it'd be all rainbows and sunshine like every other new mum update. But the thing is, I spoke to some other mums I know, and every single one of them said they'd felt like a failure in their first couple of weeks, or cried multiple times, or that some parts just hadn't come naturally. Yet somehow, no one I know has volunteered that information proactively. Maybe because it did all end well, and it seemed like it wasn't worth mentioning?

I think it's worth mentioning. Without condensing it into a single line 'You may feel a bit overwhelmed after the baby comes along, and that's normal': this was what I felt like for the first few days of Maya's life. I don't feel anything remotely like it now, but that doesn't mean it never happened. If you feel panicky, for lack of a better word, after you have a baby, know that you're not alone. You're not even some 10% statistic. You're just like everyone else I've ever spoken to. You're likely doing a fantastic job. The fear won't last. You'll get through this. And when you do, I hope you let the next pregnant friend you meet know that too, rather than being happy to just forget you ever felt this way.

E-Commerce Wins

There are quite a few accomplishments I'm proud of. Today, I added a triumphant moment to my absolute top-twenty, will-brag-about-this-forever pile: I booked a tatkal ticket on the infamous Indian Railways site.

Source: Firstpost
To be fair, I rarely have an issue with them when it comes to regular tickets. Yes, their Captchas are a bit ridiculous, and they have to stop placing them on every single page. Yes, they occasionally log you out for no reason. But still, with normal tickets, it's an easy enough matter to get back in and book, because the number of seats available doesn't change drastically every 5 minutes.

Tatkal tickets, on the other hand, are only released at 10am on the day before the journey. So anyone with an emergency of any sort (such as when the Indian Railways decides to advance the time of your carefully pre-booked train by over six hours... without informing you) logs in and frantically tries to get train tickets for the following day. 

There are over 10,000 railway origin-destination pairs in India, so you'd think even this wouldn't be a problem, but it is. Despite the abundance of options, very few people want to get to, say, Rai Bareli, in a hurry. No, the majority want Chennai-Bangalore, Hyderabad-Mumbai, and so on. There are about 400 Tatkal tickets (max) for each of these combinations. There are 243 million internet users in India. You do the math. Supposedly, 40,000-45,000 Tatkal tickets are booked within an hour of their being released. 

My theory is that these tickets would get booked in the first ten minutes; it's just that the site adamantly refuses to allow it. At 10am on the dot, IRCTC gets overwhelmed by all the attention. It hangs, it jerks. It throws Captcha after Captcha after you. Every minute, on the minute, no matter what stage of the booking you're at, you will get automatically logged out. It's an exercise in patience.

I don't usually deal with tatkal anything, it sends my BP soaring. On the rare occasions when I do need a tatkal ticket, my parents have bought it for me the old-fashioned way - by 'queueing' up at the railway counter and fighting their way through a crowd that didn't get the memo that queues exist for a reason. But, as I said, the Indian Railways decided to arbitly re-schedule a train that starts at 6:30pm to 1:30pm, and not bother notifying people who'd booked themselves on said train. And I'm having a baby in 20-ish days, so my parents getting here before that is kind of imperative. So I offered to book tatkal tickets.

How hard can it be, right? I logged into the site at 9:35am (good call, because they claimed I read their Captcha wrong 3 times), and then refreshed the page every 2 minutes. FYI - it logs you out every 3 minutes if you let it get idle before 10/after 12. Also, FYI - it logs you out if you refresh the page/run a new search/do anything more than 25 times. And yes, you do have to prove you're a human being again, even if you're on the exact same browser. People have recommended logging in from different browsers so you're always logged in somewhere, but I can tell you this doesn't work - it just logs you out everywhere. People have also said Internet Explorer is the fastest when it comes to IRCTC, but uh, IE isn't the fastest when it comes to anything. Chrome worked just fine, while my IE was still booting up and asking if it could be my default browser (yes, sure, that's going to happen).

Anyway. 9:45am. The downstairs neighbour came over with a plumber to check for leaks because his... long story, and it was in Telugu, so I wasn't even really listening. I waved them out at 9:55am, ninja-like focus trained on my laptop. And realized that thanks to IRCTC's brain numbing refresh-and-repeat routine, I'd been lulled into leaving my debit card inside my wallet, rather than out. I whipped it out and typed in the numbers, as well as the ID proof details so I could easily copy-paste it.

And then, the moment of truth - 10am. IRCTC went bananas. It logged me out 5 times, 3 times at the payment confirmation stage, and had me enter passenger details 6 separate times. So my insane typing speed finally came in handy. About 3 minutes into the process, I started to despair, and thought, fleetingly, "They'll all be gone by now!" But each time I got back to the availability page, it continued to say 330 tickets were available. Which means nothing, by the way, because they probably just hadn't refreshed it yet. Still, it gave me the fortitude to press on. And finally, finally, six glorious minutes later, I'd booked three tickets. I feel like I deserve a sticker or something.

"Woah," A said. "I've never known anyone who managed to book a Tatkal ticket online before."

He wasn't even being sarcastic. There are agents who charge you to book these tickets online, and then tell you sheepishly that they all sold out too fast. I could share my top tips for getting in and out quickly etc, but the truth is, they'd be no good, because the rules keep changing. The point of this post is merely to record for posterity how useless e-com sites can sometimes be in 2014... here's hoping we'll be scoffing at this kind of thing a few years from now.

... Just for the record, IRCTC isn't the only site to earn my wrath. A certain swankily-advertising furniture portal called Pepperfry is so bad it's not funny. It took them four weeks to tell me the office table they'd confirmed for me wasn't in stock and wasn't ever going to be. It took them another two weeks to refund my money for the table, plus the chair which I clearly no longer needed. Three months later, they still haven't picked up the chair that came with the table, Yesterday, they called to see if I liked the table. I explained that I didn't have an opinion. They called an hour later to see if I liked the chair, at least.

I could go on, but I think I've made my point.

For Two

"How many almonds can I eat in a day? And can I still eat idlis? It's fermented..."

The questions are typical of pregnancy forums. Even more typical are the answers, ranging from "Eat precisely 3 skinned almonds a day, and only in the morning, well before 11am" to "Avoid idlis in the night time as the baby will get gas in your stomach."

I love the confidence with which people state these 'facts.' But it's scary to see people our age dispensing age old myths as gospel truths. You can practically develop a book of folklore from the average pregnancy forum. If I wrote the book, I'd call it 'You're Eating For Two Now.' That's the generic line I hear used most often, and the one that frustrates me the most. Yes, you're definitely eating for two. That means eating more responsibly, not just 'more' (or conveniently, double). As for cravings - do you give in to every food whim you have when you're not pregnant? Or to every craving your child has when its outside you? What on earth changes just because you're pregnant? Believe me, we don't magically become immune to diabetes and cholesterol issues. Indulging every craving has real world consequences - not just for us, but also for our children. 

Personally, the thought that IF something were to go wrong I'd wonder if I could have prevented it is enough to scare me into doing things 'right.' Exercise-wise, the rules are easy enough. Half an hour of walking, with yoga thrown in. Food-wise, argh. The average pregnant person will go through days when they want to eat everything in sight, and others when nothing is remotely appetizing. I haven't had any cravings - or at least none that I can honestly attribute to pregnancy. What I've had instead is the opposite. When I'm cooking, I can't tell if something's salted. Other times, rotis taste sweet. And more often than not, nothing tastes of anything. The only way to stay healthy through all this is to get a firm set of food guidelines, and stick to them. It took me a while to get that disciplined, but I'm glad I got there. 

I'm putting down the food guidelines that I've compiled, in the hope that it helps anyone else who's going a bit crazy with all the conflicting advice. I'm fairly confident about this set, which was agreed on by several sources whom I trust. That said, this applies to my specific pregnancy, with no BP/sugar concerns + no prior history of health problems + no other problems during the pregnancy. You should definitely tailor any dietary advice to your particular history.

* First off, ask how much weight you should put on over the course of your pregnancy. 
For a normal BMI, this is between 11 & 16 kgs. Consuming 150 extra calories in the 1st trimester, and 250-350 extra in the 2nd and 3rd should get you there - balanced out with half an hour to an hour's worth of exercise. I found that putting on weight gradually like this really helped with my overall happiness. I wasn't suddenly carting around a huge load, so although I'm 10kgs heavier now, I haven't had any back pain. I was looking through pics of me at 1mo, 3mo, 5mo, 6mo, 7mo, and 8mo pregnant... the difference is so gradual! 

* The daily dietary requirement through pregnancy is:
- 200-240 grams of complex carbs. Rice, wheats, and millets account for 60% of your energy requirements
- 1 gram of protein for every kg of body weight + 5 grams, 7 grams & 23 grams for each trimester. This will be ridiculously hard to manage on a vegetarian diet, especially if you don't eat eggs. Protein counting is haaaard. But I can tell you for a fact that when I eat more carbs, then I put on weight, but the baby doesn't grow as fast. On the other hand, when I do high-protein low-carb, my scans show the baby putting on weight more rapidly. 
- 400 grams of vegetables. Brinjals & green vegetables are good sources of vitamin A, protein, and iron, despite the myths about them being off limits
- 300 grams of fruits. Bananas, papayas and oranges are great sources of vitamin A & C, and iron. Any stories about avoiding these because they induce cold are just that - stories. That said, only eat them when in season and do NOT eat raw papayas.
- 450ml of dairy, which goes up to 600ml for the last trimester. Cow milk's an allergy risk, so toned skimmed milk is suggested.
- 200-300 grams of legumes
- 8-12 glasses of water, which goes up to at least 3 liters in the last trimester

* The daily dietary requirement through lactation is:
- 600 extra calories for the first six months, 520 extra for the next six
- 250-300 grams of complex carbs
- 1 gram of protein for every kg of body weight + 19 grams for the first six months, + 13 grams for the next six
- 500 grams of vegetables
- 300 grams of fruits
- 450ml of dairy 
- 300-400 grams of legumes
- 200mg of DHA: flaxseeds, walnuts and eggs provide this naturally
- 30mg of visible fat, in the form of oil or ghee
- 10-12 glasses of water a day

* Other dietary requirements
Through both pregnancy as well as lactation, you'll need a steady intake of calcium, iron, folic acid, iodine, and vitamins A & D. I don't want to commit to specific mg's/mcg's here because I think doctors would know best. That said, a couple of rules of thumb for their intake:
- If you're trying to absorb iron, don't consume anything with calcium for at least 1.5 hours before/after. Each prevents the proper absorption of the other.
- Following your dose of iron (natural or through medication) with vitamin C (again, natural or otherwise) aids absorption.

8 months
In the interest of full disclosure, eating like this does get super boring, even when you're eating different fruits & vegetables each week, and playing around with the recipes. Eating/drinking every two hours when your stomach's being compressed by a baby is, frankly, exhausting. Ah well. I do indulge myself at one or two meals a week; I just work out a bit harder that day. And in another year or so, I'll be eating for one again. You won't believe how excited I am at that thought! (Uhm, my taste buds will come back by then though, right? Right??)

PS: I was editing this post before publishing it, and I realized those pictures above make it look like I don't have a bump at all. So here's another, where you can actually see the baby.

Incredible India

We like to say we're a jolly Bollywood-loving singing & dancing bunch who leave life in the hands of fate. We also proclaim that we believe hospitality is next to Godliness and we welcome diversity and learning. I think those perceptions are as grounded in reality as talking elephants and purple unicorns. 

Each person in this (vastly overcrowded) country likes to behave as though they're the only ones in it. 

I can forget about being offered a seat, or a slightly wider berth, even at eight months pregnant. Worse, I can guarantee that someone will elbow their way ahead of me, pretending a line just doesn't exist. And the cashier will just go ahead and serve them, whether we're at a small store, or at a five star hotel. Entitlement is the only language that speaks loud and clear in India.

People will spit millimeters away from my feet. Cell phones will be on loud in every theater. Trial rooms and toilets in malls will be taken over for hours together, without any hint of remorse or acknowledgement that anyone else is waiting for their turn. Red signals won't stop traffic. Green signals won't stop pedestrians. Traffic policemen will yell... and be yelled at. Likewise bus conductors, train ticket checkers, and anyone else who supposedly has any authority. And it'll be impossible to tell who's in the right, but by-standers will jump in to fight anyway.

It's been one of those weeks when it's hard to believe anything can change. I was at the maternity hospital yesterday. This is a place that takes twenty patients at a time, and the fees reflect this exclusivity. You'd think if you could afford it, you could afford some manners, or at least a basic level of common sense. So. I walk in at 3:50 for my appointment at 4, and find my doctor's been called away for an emergency C-sec. I don't have plans for the evening, so I say I'll wait for an hour, no problem. There's AC. There's water. I've an internet connection. It's hardly a hardship. And if it were, I'd just reschedule and come back another day. Isn't that what anyone would do? Apparently not. 

A family on my left is shouting about how the doctor can't treat them like third rate citizens, and how rude it is that they'll have to wait. Do they have an emergency of their own? Nope. Standard visit. If they had an emergency, would they be happy for the doctor to pop out and check on someone else's standard visit? Yeah, right.

On my right, another couple is indignant that they paid such-and-such amount, because they were guaranteed a 10 to 15 minute wait time, maximum. This, despite the fact that boards everywhere say that the only reason for delay will be if someone's having an emergency, and to know that they'll do the same for you. This, despite the fact that these people can probably read, given they're sporting designer handbags and shoes. This, despite the fact that being in your third trimester, you likely know that babies don't always get born within 15 minutes. And, may I add, having observed Indians abroad - this despite the fact that in any other country in the world, you'd tuck your tail between your legs and at least pretend to understand.

We like to talk about how Western civilization acts entitled and takes everything for granted, but I don't think anyone can beat our sense of absolute privilege. You should see the way a watchman/shopkeeper/auto driver's eyes light up when you say 'please' or 'thank you.' It's such a small thing. Why doesn't it just come automatically? It's an interesting dichotomy: how egoistic we are, while also being supremely insecure. You see this in the way people treat their household help, shop assistants, security personnel. (Of course, some service staff think when you're polite, you must be a push over; and so then they're happy to have a chance to throw some attitude around).

Over here, nothing comes without a fight anyway. Our public systems are overcrowded and underfunded, our policies are redundant and unhelpful. So why do we add our tuppence to make it even harder? Why does an ambulance get stuck in traffic for hours together because no one wants to be the first to give way to it? Why do we consciously say we won't be nice to people because if we do, they'll just take advantage of us? When will we grow up at least a little?

Yes, this country has certain problems that are inherently hard to solve. Then there are others that we just refuse to acknowledge. These are the issues that, on a day to day basis, make life here so hard. Not the fear of rape, or air pollution, or whatever else. Just plain selfish, self-centered, insensitive loutishness, passed on from generation to generation.