Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Going Against the Grain

Never mind how annoying it is to be constantly told how wrong you are; it is tiring to persevere and continue doing things in the way that is right for you when your way is so different from the norm. I've written about how strangers on the street, never mind the nurses at the clinic where my son gets his vaccinations (medical professionals!), have told me I'm not dressing my baby warmly enough; and indeed, there's nothing like having a baby in a country that is passionate about children, to bring out the opinion in everyone.

I had my first taste of what a conformist society I had moved to four years ago when I was new in Turkey and living in my future mother-in-law's house. Unemployed and quite isolated, I was literally trying to rebuild a new life from scratch. I began by joining a gym, to which I'd walk several times a week. However, every time I left the house, I had to reassure my now husband's mother that I'd be fine, and that no, I didn't need her to send someone to accompany me. But I was too full of energy and optimism to see the subtler message: I shouldn't have been going out by myself.

However, I now speak the language and am a gelin, a bride, or daughter-in-law, and therefore an honourary Turk. And with that status, I lose a certain immunity; people now feel free to comment and criticize, to advise and admonish.

Traditionally, new mothers stayed home with their babies for forty days, recovering from the birth; they often spent those forty days in bed, while other women tended to all the household chores and took care of her. While this was only ever told to me in jest, and people admitted that modern Turkish women no longer wait forty days after having a baby to leave the house, I heard it often, and usually when someone learned I'd been out and about with my newborn again.

Indeed, within a week of giving birth, I put my baby into his pram and went to buy bananas from the grocer's around the corner. The following day we bought salad ingredients. On the third day, we went out just for the sake of going out; we took a walk. Getting myself out the door wasn't easy; I lacked any kind of inertia, and it was incredibly tempting to stay home, where I was comfortably entrenched on the sofa with everything I needed to feed, change and sleep my baby. I had TV, the internet, and books. And a husband more than happy to pick up dinner and groceries on his way home. Or better yet, to cook dinner himself. Not to mention the thought of fiddling with the pram.

But long days alone at home (a newborn who doesn't react to you does not provide adequate human contact), followed and preceded by sleepless nights, was disorienting and soon became depressing. I knew I needed to get out, that the benefits of fresh air and (adult) human contact far outweighed the (low) risk of exposing my baby to germs and chilly weather.

And so we took a daily walk whenever we could. The days we couldn't get out really did turn out to be difficult ones, and 'good' days always coincided with days when we'd managed to go outside. So convinced was I that these little excursions were vital, we even walked in the rain. And we started to walk further and further, sometimes for close to two hours.

Without realizing it, I was becoming a local phenomenon. Apparently the grocer, the fish monger and the baker all mentioned to my husband they'd seen me out on walks with the pram. They were astounded by my mobility.

I, however, am astounded by my determination. For nothing worked to facilitate my forays into the outside world. I pushed the pram along streets with sidewalks that suddenly ended; I went to malls, knowing there'd be no place to nurse. I resisted one doctor's advice and refused to give my 'starving' baby formula and sugar water when we had trouble breastfeeding the first few days. I insisted on strapping him into a car seat, and then struggling with the seatbelt to secure the thing, when people encouraged me to just hold the baby on my lap while someone else drove. (Again, the nurses!) And most recently, now that my son is nearing three months and sleep patterns are emerging, I endeavour to put him down for regular naps and to observe a nightly bedtime.

But my conviction is firm and thankfully my energy is great. I wonder what will be next?

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