Sunday, 7 June 2015

On Miscarriage

One of the cruellest things about miscarriage is that you get to keep all the pregnancy symptoms for a while.  So even while you are bleeding and your body is letting go of your precious baby, you still have the fatigue and the nausea which excited you just a few days ago because it meant all this was real.

I suffered my first miscarriage in August last year.  I had only tested positive a few days earlier and we had conceived right away when we had planned to, so it hadn’t occurred to us that something like this could happen.  We already have one little girl, and my friends kept reminding me of that.  Let me explain this in simple terms:  Having one or more children already does not make it easy or painless to subsequently have a miscarriage.  Please do not assume that when attempting to comfort someone who just had one.

The worst thing at the time was the period of not knowing.  People bleed during normal, healthy pregnancies too- I had- so you cling onto hope until they tell you that you can’t hope anymore.  I had to have two scans, ten days apart.  Those were the longest ten days of my life.

Part of me knew.  The bleeding was getting progressively heavier and I had really bad cramping in my lower abdomen and back.  I just didn’t want to accept it.  When I was finally told by the loveliest midwife in the world that there was no hope, I crumpled into a psychological heap.

It isn’t usual to tell people about a pregnancy during the first trimester, and we hadn’t.  My mother might have known if she was living, but she was not.  This meant I had to grieve alone- because my husband, in my opinion bizarrely, wasn’t grieving.  He came along to the miscarriage support group a few days later, but he barely spoke and he wasn’t there when I lit a candle in the hospital chapel in remembrance of our lost baby.   Perhaps because all this hadn’t occurred in his body, he was able to detach himself from it.  But I resented him for that.

We spent weeks blaming one another.  Was it that cheese I ate or that argument we had or the long hours I was working in my new job?  How could this have happened to us?  I was having nightmares and bursting randomly into tears at work or at the supermarket.  I spent hours looking at the commemoration certificate which the hospital had given me for my baby and sobbing because it wasn’t a birth certificate.  I fantasised about what my baby would have looked like and been like and grown up to be. It took a long time to normalise.

Eventually, we resigned ourselves to what had happened.  We had been told by all the medical professionals that there was a 1-in-3 chance of it happening in every pregnancy, and that it was very unlikely that it would happen the next time I conceived, so we prepared ourselves to try again.
This time I was looking over my shoulder from the start, but as the weeks progressed, I began to feel more relaxed.  We started wondering if we might have a boy or another girl, we even began to dream up names.  My Doctor was keen for us to have an early scan due to my previous miscarriage, and so on his advice, I went in for one. 

I chatted away to other couples in the hospital waiting room.  I’d come on my own because I was sure this was just going to be a formality.  I’d had no bleeding and felt absolutely fine so this pregnancy was going to go perfectly.  Anyway, I’d been told time and again that lightning doesn’t strike twice.  Plus every woman I’d spoken to who’d had a miscarriage had then gone on to have a successful pregnancy next time.  Why wouldn’t I? 

As she rolled the ultrasound device over my tummy, the sonographer furrowed her brows.  I didn’t like her expression- perhaps because I’d seen it before.  My heart sank a little.
“The baby doesn’t have a heartbeat,” she finally said, “and it should really have a heartbeat by now.”  My own heart nearly stopped when I heard this.  It felt like time was standing still.  Surely this couldn’t be happening again?  She sent me away for a week.  When I came back (having cried non-stop for a week) she told me the baby still didn’t have a heartbeat, but it had grown.  Because this was unusual, she sent me away for another week.  I came back.  She said the baby had now stopped growing- and still didn’t have a heartbeat.

Why hadn’t I started bleeding?  It seemed my dead baby was clinging onto me, not wanting to let go of his chance at life, just like I didn’t want to let go of him.  The midwife recommended an operation to clear out the “products of conception.”  I wished they would all call this my baby.  It was my baby!

I asked them again and again if there was any chance my baby might be saved, and they told me again and again that it was over.  I had just been really unlucky to have it happen to me twice.  I should try again.  It wouldn’t happen again.

A few days later, I went in for the operation.  It was under general anaesthetic.  Although I knew it hadn’t survived, I felt like I was betraying my baby by letting them pull it out of my body like this.  I bled a lot and they kept me in overnight. 

Because I was a little further along in this pregnancy, I had told my sister and some close friends, who were amazing during it all. My workplace was absolutely wonderful and gave me some time off to recover and stop bleeding before I came back.  But one Asian friend who had just had a baby of her own refused to let me come and see her because I had miscarried and therefore was cursed in some way that might cast a shadow over her own baby!  I will never forgive that.  I was hurting enough already without being treated like a pariah because of my misfortune.

I already felt sub-woman, as if I wasn’t able to serve my basic purpose on the earth, reproductive failure.  If I were a cow who repeatedly didn’t calve, I’d have been sent to slaughter by now.  If I were living in some other societies, my husband would have replaced me with a more fertile wife by now.  Meanwhile, everyone around me was happily giving birth to gorgeous healthy new babies- even the Duchess of Cambridge helpfully announced another pregnancy at around this time.
The physical pain afterwards was horrendous.  It meant my ordinary life had to stop for a couple of weeks.  No work, no shopping, no netball.  It felt like somebody had pressed ‘pause’ on my life.  I could only sit still and sob.

The psychological pain was worse.  At this stage or pregnancy, the hospital disposes of the ‘products of conception’ by way of cremation if the parent does not want to take them home.  It is horrendous having to come face to face with the remains of your baby which has been dragged out of your womb with medical instruments- but I had to.  I couldn’t let my baby be cremated as this wasn’t in line with my beliefs.  So I had to receive its remains, in a plastic bag inside a cardboard box, to take away with me and dispose of myself.  I walked alone into a local park and put it into running water.  Luckily it was raining heavily and nobody could see my tears.  It was a barbaric experience and has indelibly scarred me.

I didn’t know if we should try again.  It felt like however much I wanted a baby for my crib, all I kept doing was making more little angels for heaven.  I didn’t want to keep making babies who died in my womb.  It was breaking my heart totally.  I hated my body for doing this.  My body, with its great shape and great immune system, my body which I had always loved and trusted before, I hated it now and thought of it as the enemy.

Why was I not allowed another child?  So many women in all sorts of circumstances have children every day, and I had waited until I could give them a good home but I couldn’t.  It seemed, and seems, really unfair.

I spend hours looking at the ultrasound scan of this baby which they gave me to remember it by, kissing that little scrap of paper, totally unable to let this little person go.  People don’t like to talk about miscarriage, and I don’t know why.  If they have any other medical issues, they are happy to tell everyone about them but miscarriage embarrasses people so there is a wall of silence.  That makes it a really lonely thing to go through and this isn’t how it should be.  I needed my friends to rally round me at this time but people mainly slipped off quietly into the background of my life, leaving me to pull myself together, alone.

It took me much longer to pull myself together this time, but then my husband and I agreed that because we wanted to complete our family so very much, we would give it one last shot.  I started on the pre-natals again and got myself in peak physical condition ready for pregnancy.  It took us a while to conceive this time, but eventually we did.  As soon as I tested positive, my husband made me sign up to a pregnancy website and started talking about baby clothes and buying a new car seat.  I was too afraid to engage in all these discussions yet, but finally I was happy and hopeful.

Just a few days later, I started to bleed.  To start with I prayed and I begged for mercy.  But it is my second day of bleeding today and I know too well what is happening.  It is difficult to describe the anguish of going through all this again, but I will tell you that it feels like a taste of death.

The reason I am writing this article is that I think women who suffer miscarriage, be that one or several miscarriages, need your love, kindness and support.  As their friend, sister, mother or colleague, please give them room to talk and grieve.  I have found the Asian community in particular to be superstitious, nervous, dismissive, and in one case actually hostile in relation to miscarriage.  Most of us would happily die for our children, and I would have easily given my life to bring any of my lost children healthy and strong into the world.  I didn’t have the choice.  It wasn’t my fault. 


Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Asian Mum's Network visits the RichMix Theatre to see "Dirty Paki Lingerie"

"Dirty Paki Lingerie" at the RichMix Theatre - Bethnal Green Road

Asian Mum’s Network went to see “Dirty Paki Lingerie” at the RichMix Theatre (East London’s Independent Art’s Venue). Aizzah Fatima is a former ads engineer at Google who swapped her career at Google for a life in the arts. Aizzah wrote the play “Dirty Paki Lingerie” out of frustration from being constantly cast as terrorist number two’s girlfriend (as she explains in a radio interview). She wanted to give a voice and a human side to the experience of being a Muslim, American women, something Aizzah feels is completely missing in the media, film, TV and theatre. She has sold out to audiences worldwide from Edinburgh to Turkmenistan. Aizzah seamlessly depicts six Pakistani women of all generations in a post 9/11 USA, in a series of touching and hilarious monologues. The most moving character is a comical yet ludicrously desperate mother trying to marry her daughter at any cost, armed with just a list of dating ads, a phone and her "great" negotiating skills. The most poignant message of this play focuses on the brick walls we build throughout our lives while trying to pursue our dreams. Something I believe this talented playwright and actress had the courage to do – break down those bricks.

If this gem of a play does the rounds again don’t miss out on seeing it.…/event/dirty-paki-lingerie/

Asian Mum's Network interviews Shweta Aggarwal children’s author of Dev and Ollie: Kite Crazy!

Asian Mum’s Network interviewed Shweta Aggarwal children’s author of Dev and Ollie. This is a magical tale of kite crazy Dev and his owl Ollie. Vibrant, colourful and informative, this beautifully illustrated book can be enjoyed not only by children but also adults and is available on Amazon:

“Dev, a British Indian boy, and Ollie, his magical bedtime owl, came about...a fun and modern way to learn about India and its amazing festivals” Shweta Aggarwal (Amazon)

AMN: What inspired you to write Dev and Ollie?

SA:  “Where do I begin - It wasn't a single 'light bulb' moment. There were several of them.

The first and key source of inspiration has been Katie book series by James Mayhew. In most Katie books, Katie visits the National Gallery with her grandmother who inevitably dozes off on a bench while Katie explores the gallery. As Katie clambers from one painting to another, the paintings come alive, taking her on fun-filled adventures back in time.

One day when I visited the gallery with my daughter aged 6, she recognised quite a few of the paintings from the books! We all know how children learn from books and that moment in the gallery was the proof of the pudding!

Then a few days later, I visited an Indian cultural festival in Watford with my two children. This visit had my kids in awe. For the first time they didn't want to leave. The fact that they were mesmerised by the children's plays about various mythical tales was a real surprise to me.  As the plays were modern, funny and easy to understand, my children connected with them straight away.

The third and final inspiration came from my children watching a Dora cartoon that night (the world famous Spanish character). I knew it was a sign.

As an Indian living in the UK, I'm forever exploring ways to educate my children about India in general (not in a religious way but culturally). I realised how children learn rapidly if they relate to a character. That's how Dev, a British Indian character, came about. Then Ollie, his magical bedtime owl, was added for the fantasy aspect, making the stories modern and fun.”

AMN: How long have you been writing?

SA: “Dev and Ollie - Kite Crazy is my first book and it took one and half years to write. Some could write a novel in this time! But because this was my first picture book, I was keen to take the slow and steady approach. I knew there was a steep learning curve ahead. My first few months were spent researching the gap in the market, creating the characters and then researching the subject (kite festival in Gujarat) in depth. Then I went on three picture book writing courses where I learnt that writing for children is much harder than writing for adults as pictures speak louder than the words. Working closely with an illustrator who can translate your thoughts into images is a challenging process too. Thankfully, I found a fantastic illustrator very quickly.”

AMN: Is Dev and Ollie a multicultural children's story?

SA: “Dev is a multicultural character as he's British Asian. However, for the book as a whole, I prefer not to use the term 'multicultural'. In the literary world, a 'multicultural' children's book immediately gets pigeonholed as a book catering for a niche market / certain community only. We live in a global village now. For me, multiculturalism is not niche anymore. Multiculturalism is globalism.

I strongly believe this book can be enjoyed by children from many backgrounds. Every child is bound to enjoy an adventure story about kites. I've done several school book readings and children from all backgrounds have been equally fascinated by this story.

Dev and Ollie should resonate with Asian parents internationally and also appeal to a wider audience simultaneously.”

AMN: Why have you chosen India as fantasy destination for your children's story?

SA: “Simply because the cardinal rule for writers is 'write what you know, what you love'. I grew up in Japan (that's a whole different story which I'll save for another time) but spent a significant part of my life both in North and South India. And that's when I experienced an array of amazing festivals. Festivals evoke the best of Indian culture, in fact any culture. Colour, noise, excitement, family, laughter, all these ingredients are wonderful for children's stories. I also hope that writing from experience makes “Kite Crazy” and all future stories more compelling.”

AMN: Tell us a bit more about Dev and his family background?

SA: “Dev is a 6 year old boy who lives in Hertfordshire. Dev is cheeky, curious and clumsy. Like almost every boy in the UK, he's obsessed with football! But even more than football, he loves his bedtime cuddly owl called Ollie.

As for the family members, in the first book, readers will meet his grandfather. Then the readers will meet the rest of his family as we progress into the series. Dev's grandfather is from India but both his parents are British Asians.”

AMN: What has been the reaction of publishers and the public to your children's book?

SA: “Public reaction has been incredibly positive and the book has been receiving lovely reviews on Amazon. I'm also particularly pleased with the positive reaction from children in book readings. When children ask questions, you know they are interested and engaged. And the fantasy aspect of the story has been a great hook. In fact, during book readings, many children share with me how much their bedtime cuddly toy means to them!”

“As for publishers, I decided very early on to self-publish the book so I didn't approach any publishers. The process of getting traditionally published is a long one from the time you contact a literary agent to the time you secure a publishing deal. I just couldn't wait that long!”

AMN: Is there a market for British/Asian adult, teen and children's literature?

SA: “Absolutely! There is a big gap in the market for British/Asian literature for all ages. If the content of a book only caters to a niche market, traditional publishers find it difficult to take it on primarily because of the books potential for saleability. I can understand their dilemma because marketing a book requires a heavy budget. Therefore the gap still exists. However, as the self-publishing industry has taken the world by storm, I strongly believe this gap can be narrowed. If you find a gap and believe there's a great story to be told, there are several self-publishing platforms available.

Asians all around the world have many life experiences in common. Therefore British Asian literature would appeal to all Asians - and that's a big enough market to tap into.”

AMN: What has been the biggest mountain you have had to climb from writing this book to publishing?

SA: “Shouting out loud to let the world know about Dev and Ollie. From the time I first had the idea to going live on Amazon as a self-published author, it's been a tremendous journey but it's all been fun. There were minor setbacks such as finding the right illustrator or technical requirements I was unaware of in self-publishing. The biggest mountain to climb (and I'm sure many independent authors will agree with me) is marketing the book. Most independent authors will not have a big budget to advertise their book in tube stations for instance. Finding contacts in the industry with newspapers etc for reviews is another hurdle. Therefore it's difficult to inform millions of readers that your 'baby' has arrived.

Apart from being active on social media, blogging regularly etc, every independent author has to work hard to spread the word. It's extremely important in this saturated market to be different and for your book to speak a thousand words (no pun intended)! To write a book which others will want to shout about.

Fortunately, I've been told Dev and Ollie is different so I've had advocates spreading the word around the world for me. Still, these things take time and patience is key!”

AMN: What advice would you give to Asian women who are interested in writing adult, teen or children's fiction?

SA: “I hardly feel experienced enough to impart wisdom (LOL!). Apart from thoroughly researching the subject matter, my only advice would be to 'use your voice' as they say in the literary world, and stick to it. Writing to me is like falling in love - you have to go by your gut instinct and pour your heart out into it. Then people will fall in love with your style (even for children's books). I've experienced that whenever I've fought my gut instinct, it has usually gone wrong!

I've received critical feedback too and have made minor tweaks to the book. However, I've also learnt to grow a thick skin to every individual's views. I've learnt that no matter what, you CAN'T please everyone so it's important to be comfortable in your own skin.

On the other hand, if you're not approaching agents and publishers and self-publishing instead, your book won't be scrutinised to the extent it should be. Friends and family will obviously have a biased view on your book.

Therefore you have to be extremely ruthless with yourself and produce the best book you possibly can with editing, editing and more editing.”

AMN: What are your plans for the future?

SA: “I plan on releasing several other titles, next one being Colour Combat which is about Holi. Holi has recently made it to the top 100 festivals of the was celebrated in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park last year and open to people from any background! Colour Combat should hopefully be out in another two months.

Then there's Camel Carnival about Rajasthan's camel fair. This story is my personal favourite (Shhh!). 50,000 camels in a beauty contest, a camel race, fun fair, ferris wheel...all in a gorgeous setting in Rajasthan!

Hectic Harvest about Kerala's harvest festival is in the pipeline too - another hilarious action packed adventure in the beautiful & tranquil setting of Kerala's paddy fields and backwaters. Nothing is tranquil about this story though, except the setting!

Also, at the moment Kite Crazy is available only on Amazon. It will be made available to many other book retailers as well as schools and libraries very soon. Plans in the not so near future include a Dev and Ollie app and merchandise.”

Find more information on Dev and Ollie from the following links:

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Our beginnings

About Alhambra Women's Network & Asian Mum's Network 

Alhambra Women's Network is an organisation that aims to bring women of different faiths, cultures and ethnic backgrounds together to promote cohesion and mutual understanding and to celebrate our similarities and differences in a variety of mutually supportive ways i.e. networking, education, training, information sharing, literature, art and multi-faith and cultural celebrations.

Alhambra Women's Network received its first lottery fund and developed  a project which aimed to serve Asian women beneficiaries nationwide. Alhambra Women's Network used the funding to develop a one-stop web portal for Asian women of all ages and backgrounds. The project name is "Asian Mum's Network" This will enable the beneficiaries to access a variety of information and resources, helping to tackle isolation. This concept will be extended in the future to also support women from other ethnic backgrounds.

Asian Mum's Network consists of a combination of professional writers, voluntary mum bloggers and other Asian women writers. In the near future, we will also recruit potential women writers by launching a writing competition by using some of the best writers as guest bloggers.

We are supported by a host of voluntary women writers and bloggers from across the globe who are kindly donating material. The website is currently under development and we hope to launch later on this year. You can currently join us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.