How India and Pregnancy Helped Shape a Future: An Interview with Jenny Feldon, Author of Karma Gone Bad
"I am forever grateful to India teaching me to see beauty in the world and to feel gratitude for every moment even the bad ones. My pregnancy was such a beautiful metaphor for the closing of our India chapter and the beginning of our new one as parents. There couldn't have been a more perfect ending. Or beginning."
I’ve been following along with Jenny Feldon’s journey, via social media, as she began her journey to write her first book, Karma Gone Bad, all about the trials and tribulations of her time right out of graduate school as a newlywed, headed to India to live for two years. It was a joy to get my hands on this book as a sneak peak into this world. In her personal narrative, she takes you on her journey of high expectations of a New York City yogi hoping to live out her dreams in India, only to find it’s not quite what she was hoping for. In a sense, she lost herself in India, but came out on the other side with a new perspective on life, a new identity and as a mom-to-be, expecting her first child.
As an English teacher, I find myself trapped under reading for work and rarely find time during the school year to read for pleasure. However, once I began reading Feldon’s book, I couldn’t put it down! Her writing is so personal, and she doesn’t mind bluntly telling you how miserable she was for much of her time in India. Her life wasn’t picturesque, but she learned so much about herself along the way, ultimately helping her to shape her life, the life she now lives as a mom of two in California. I was lucky enough to get to chat with her more about her adventures in India, including pregnancy and her views on family. Make sure to snag up a copy of Karma Gone Bad. You won’t regret it!
You talked a lot about the ideal of being this amazing housewife in India. Why was that so important to you? Did those thoughts change as soon as the reality of pregnancy set in?
In New York, I had a lot of things that defined me: my job, being a graduate student, the people I hung out with and the places I went. I wasn’t able to get a work permit in India, and I knew I needed to find a way to occupy myself and give myself a purpose. Since I couldn’t get a job and didn’t have children, “housewife” seemed to be my only option, and I wanted to be the very best one I could be. Being pregnant was actually a relief in some ways … it gave me a new focus, a reason for existing when I’d so often felt useless and irrelevant in my Indian life. I read books on pregnancy and parenting, thrilled to be researching and planning for this next phase in my journey.
You briefly mention what seeing an OB was like in India. Can you tell me more about prenatal care in that country? Was it more affected by the fact you were living in a smaller town or was it protocol in India!
Much of the prenatal experience I describe in the book was just Indian protocol. They were definitely more interested in making sure I didn’t have any communicable diseases, and what my husband, father and father-in-law did for a living than giving me information about the status of my pregnancy. We went to the largest and most respected hospital in Hyderabad where all the doctors had been trained either in the US or the UK. My Indian OB was professional and knowledgeable; but she, like so many other doctors in smaller Indian cities, was struggling with low funding, insufficient staff, outdated equipment and low standards for hygiene. The staff was overworked and often scattered—I received a blood test, and it wasn’t until I returned to the US that I realized I’d been tested for everything under the sun—HIV, hepatitis, contagious diseases—but NOT pregnancy. Good thing the stick test was accurate!
Pregnancy can change your perspective on the world no matter where you’re living. Did being pregnant in India change the way you experienced life there? Where did you find support?
Pregnancy is such a life-altering state for any woman. You go from being in control of your own body and your own choices to literally living, eating and breathing for another being. The combination of hormones, typical new-mom anxieties and being so far away from everything familiar was really, really challenging. My American doctors told me to eat more dairy and take prenatal vitamins, neither of which were readily available in India. Cigarette smoke was everywhere. My body was going haywire, and I went back to eating nothing but boiled rice. I had so many questions, and the only advice I was given at my Indian OB’s office was to “pinch my nipples everyday to toughen them up.” Thank goodness for the internet and baby websites! I’d have been completely lost without an online community to turn to.
You talked a lot about how you lost yourself … your identity … while in India. Did becoming pregnant help you to find your identity again, or perhaps a new identity as you realized you needed to grow personally in order to understand your true identity?
Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be a mom more than anything else in the world. I was so excited to get pregnant, and it definitely gave me a brand new sense of identity. I felt like I’d been given admission to a secret club. It also gave me a sense of purpose I’d never had before—suddenly my life wasn’t all about me. There was a bigger picture, a higher sense of purpose. I was even more committed to becoming a better, emotionally stronger person because I was about to become responsible for another human being. I’d been so lost and so broken, and I didn’t want my motherhood journey to be all about finding myself. I wanted to start from a better place, and India helped me do that.
Did you always have it in your head to become pregnant while in India or did it come about as you and your husband were working on connecting more to overcome the difficulties you were dealing with? Like a rekindling of love reminded you of the family you wanted to start?
Jay and I both really wanted children, and I was eager to have them sooner rather than later. After we got married, we decided we’d give ourselves a year or two years to enjoy life just the two of us before starting to try for a baby. The two years I’d thought we’d spend in New York, chasing our professional dreams and enjoying our freedom in the big city, became two years as expats in India. But it didn’t change my ideal timing on having a baby. Even before we left, I knew I wanted to come back pregnant. The difficulties we faced in our marriage threw everything into a tailspin, and those dreams were put on hold for a while. Our rekindled love and commitment to each other was more of a “back on track” kind of feeling—which meant I was even more eager to start our family together!
How did your experiences in India, and how you saw other families living, affect the way you viewed your growing family?
Indian families truly do raise their children in villages. One of our good friends often pointed out that she thought American women were too stubborn and proud (and sometimes foolish) for trying to do so much on their own—working, parenting, taking care of the household. Watching the dynamics in our Indian friends’ families helped me understand how important it was to seek community and to ask for help. Growing up in a “village” of people, whether they’re family or neighbors of friends, who love and support your children and give them a variety of perspectives on the world, is an incredible gift and one I’ve worked hard to give to my kids.
You started your journey in India viewing it as if you’d “…collected nothing but a bunch of crushed expectations.” What was your view as you left India pregnant with your daughter?
India changed everything about my life. It gave me a new sense of perspective, it taught me about who I was and who I wanted to be. Every single one of those crushed expectations turned out to be an incredible gift—if I never had to face myself in that broken mirror, I’d never have started on the journey toward becoming the person, wife and mother I wanted to be. I am forever grateful to India teaching me to see beauty in the world and to feel gratitude for every moment, even the bad ones. My pregnancy was such a beautiful metaphor for the closing of our India chapter and the beginning of our new one as parents—a living, soon-to-be breathing gift of life and love. There couldn’t have been a more perfect ending. Or beginning.
What stories of India do you share with your children? What experiences of yours do you feel valid for them to understand and know?
We talk about India all the time—our friends in Hyderabad, the places we traveled—and our home is filled with treasures from our time there. I want my children to understand as much as they can about the world, about the time we spent in India and how much it meant to us. Their journey started there, too, especially my daughter’s (literally!), and some day we want to bring them back so they can experience the beauty and wonder of India for themselves. Someday, they can read the book if they’re interested. I want them to know that I’m not perfect, that everyone struggles and fails and loses themselves sometimes. And I want them not to be afraid of new experiences … to be willing and open to leave their comfort zones in order to grow. If they can learn from some of my mistakes, I’ll be grateful.
YOU MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN