Hello there! Long time no speak, how are you? I’ve decided that during these weeks and months of lockdown I’m going to try and dedicate a little time to writing again, to update you on the past year. I’m now coming in to the last few weeks of my maternity leave and will soon be navigating my to return to work (from home). I’ve had this post half-written in my notes for months as I thought at the time it might be useful for other new families out there! (not that any of us are travelling any time soon).
At the end of December we took our daughter, Rumi, to visit our family in Pakistan for the first time, at 7 months old. I know enough about Pakistan now but was still pretty anxious about how it would be with a baby, when she was just starting to get the hang of weaning and night sleep too! Here are a few notes I made about our first time taking our British baby to Pakistan. I hope it can be an impartial and informative read for anyone in a similar situation.
The best parts:
The extra help. As H and I are not lucky enough to have family in the same country it was amazing, for me especially, to have so much help with childcare.
Baby getting to meet her extended family, who all love her so much was amazing. The love that everyone has to give is incredible in Pakistan and always blows me away. I’m so happy Rumi will always have such a loving family waiting for her in Pakistan.
The food, always!! Being able to eat a hot meal that has been lovingly cooked or having a hot cup of chai – as opposed to a cold cup of tea – without a baby on your hip/boob was bliss.
Pakistani hospitality is second to none and I was so grateful to be able to relax and eat after a busy first half a year of Motherhood. They really got that.
Learning more about the culture through my baby and the way she has been so welcomed into the family. I’m already looking forward to her exposure to what I believe is a purer Islam.
Ok, so things I didn’t like:
The biggest thing – everyone touching her cheeks/face. Even complete strangers in a mall, circled me and they were all grabbing her cheeks! I don’t know where your hands have been, can everyone please please stop this. I was shocked and would have preferred if people would admire her without touching her face. I noticed that this is again a cultural thing as everyone did it, even small children. It’s no wonder she got a virus within 2 weeks.
Being genuinely asked ‘why is she crying’ when handed to the 3rd stranger in a row… Everyone expects to hold the baby and for a baby not exposed to big families, just might not like this to begin with. Give the baby time to warm to whoever she likes and observe everyone from a place of comfort for a few days. Try to explain this to family before you go so they can pass the message on? As a British Mother I was quite shocked to have her taken from me so often without my consent first, is this an Asian cultural practice?
Not having easy access to a shop/supermarket and plain fruits and veg that can be given to htje baby. As the women are usually at home all day and not outside to go to the shop, or making sure there are ingredients for baby food available. I relied on a diet of egg, carrot, potato and baby porridge plus a load of snacks and pouches I had brought over for 3 weeks. Next time we go I will try to request ingredients to be bought and make her specific foods, mixed with healthy snacks. The food is really quite different and as she grows, on future visits, I’ll slowly introduce her to the family food but probably only once a day.
Our routine went out of the window completely… Feeling all the mum guilt for sleep training her a month earlier which didn’t work at all for us abroad, and needed to be done again when we returned home. In hindsight, try not to worry about this too much and know that things will go back to normal once you’re back at home.
Lack of privacy in a joint family house where other children don’t yet understand boundaries. Rumi’s cousins wanted to follow her around always (which is lovely), but meant I had to resort to locking doors to feed her, try get her to nap in a quiet room, which they didn’t understand.
The pollution (to be expected). We actually only left the house a few times as it was so unexpectedly cold in Lahore this January. Also, we both became very sick from a viral infection in the second week there. When we did venture out, it’s hard for an adult to breathe in all the exhaust fumes, let alone a tiny babe. I’d suggest trying to stay at home as much as you can but take early evening walks when the pollution levels are lowest. Also maybe buy a baby P2 mask, if your baby will allow it is another matter.
No bath culture in the subcontinent? There are no baths in our home and even in the sink, they weren’t keen on the idea of her possibly being cold afterwards. How else do you keep your baby clean if you don’t bathe them? Rumi had the best bath of her life when we got back and she had a proper clean and splash in the tub.
Lack of understanding on baby weaning or child nutrition. I found it hard to constantly explain about no sugar or salt for her as she’s too young for both. It doesn’t seem there is much knowledge on this and all they wanted to give her was Cerelac, which I was against personally as it again contains so much sugar. I wasnt happy when a family member gave Rumi small pieces of jilabi (three times) before I said something. Would you be OK with this?
I really feel that not being fluent in Urdu yet is a blessing and a curse at the same time! Taking Rumi to her ancestral home, it saved some disagreements to do with different parenting approaches. Whilst I respect the heirachy of elders and them trying to support us, I felt a little overwhelmed at times. If you’re heading to Pakistan soon for the first time with your child and are not a native Pakistani then I wish you the best time. Enjoy the many great things about the culture and people and soak up more love than you knew possible. Soon you will soon have your own routine, independence and baby back and will be counting down until you can visit again!
Take care and stay safe,