- Elouise Erlings, who goes by her initiated name Lakshya, is a mom to one girl.
- In 2016, she moved to Mumbai, where she met her husband and eventually gave birth.
- This is Lakshya’s story, as told to Isobel Benesch.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Lakshya. It has been edited for length and clarity.
I was born in Canada to Dutch parents, and I’ve lived in Nigeria, Oman, the Netherlands, the United Arab Emirates, and India. I spent three years in India beginning in 2010. Then in 2016, I moved to Mumbai, where I met my husband and welcomed our daughter into the world.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, and in India, this is true.
The world could learn a thing or two from India’s culture of families giving unconditional support, especially mothers and mothers-in-law, after a baby is born. But I also wish pregnant women didn’t have so many restrictions, which at times felt disempowering.
During pregnancy, women are advised not to do a lot
Pregnant women are told by their doctors to stay home, avoid exercise, stop walking, stop driving, stop eating certain foods, and more. I feel that these restrictions are unfortunate, disempowering, and fear-based.
Many people are superstitious about things and are therefore extra careful during pregnancy, especially during certain events, such as a full moon or an eclipse.
Pregnant women are also told to avoid raw cheeses, raw vegetables, and certain herbs. Generally, they advise having cooked food and incorporating certain herbs, such as cumin and turmeric, into the diet.
I had so much support after birth
If there’s one thing that Indians thrive at, it’s family support, particularly during the postpartum period.
The custom of joint families living together in one house, or living with your in-laws when giving birth, makes so much sense after you have a child.
Families go above and beyond to care for a new mother and her baby in every way possible: cooking for them, creating healing concoctions, bathing and massaging the mother and baby, and most of all, just being there for them through thick and thin.
In India, it is generally recommended to stay at home for the first six weeks following birth for a period of confinement and recuperation. It’s not a strict rule and depends on your family and background. I followed this voluntarily, as I felt it gave me time to recover and my baby time to get used to the world.
India has many beautiful customs and rituals for the postpartum period
After birth, I was advised by everyone to have warming foods, with a lot of jaggery — unprocessed sugar — and ghee to help cleanse the uterus and give strength to the bones. It’s also custom to make a powder with different kinds of nuts, tree bark, gums, and spices to help with milk production.
My mother-in-law made me a smoothie every day with soaked almonds and other nuts, soaked black raisins, soaked figs, and other fruit to help with my milk production for breastfeeding.
The mother, grandmother, and a japa — a woman hired by many families in India to care for the mother and baby during the 40 days following the birth — take the lead roles as carers for both the mother and baby.
The japa massages the mother and baby every day with mustard oil, which is used to bring heat to the body. Mothers get massaged for 40 days to help the body recover, the belly to shrink, and the uterus to go back to its normal size. They also massage the baby every day to help with their growth, flexibility, and joints.
The japa also helps out with all of the baby-related chores and even with feeding, if necessary.
The support from family and having extra hands to help with my baby, cooking, and the household played a big role in helping my postpartum recovery both physically and emotionally. It’s also nice to just have some company around.