We met with Kavita Meelu-Dornseiffer, Cultural Anthropologist and founder of Berlin’s beloved Street Food Thursday, in her beautiful Altbau apartment in Kreuzberg to chat about unpacking her childhood while being pregnant, working with a birth doula and her postpartum pantry.
Current state of mind?
My current state of mind actually is pretty chilled. That’s certainly because my daughter is pretty chill. I have experienced so many mountains in the past four months and at the moment I am kind of in a space where I can think about other things.
I recently met a friend who asked me, “so, how are you gonna reinvent yourself as a mother?“ which I think is a really interesting concept. Not that you change as a person, but of course your context has changed. You as a mother, how does that look like and what could that be? So I am interested in that. Right now I am kind of exploring all the options that could happen.
What did your path to pregnancy look like?
I always wanted to have a gang, I always wanted to have a family. But I didn’t want to do the pregnancy thing and I wasn’t convinced I could be a good mother. I couldn’t see how I could do what I wanted AND be a mother to small kids. So there was a lot of hesitation.
But what made it easier to come to the decision was that I fell in love with someone who was very sure that they wanted to have kids and they’ve always been sure. Through my husband I could envision it a little bit more. The fact that my partner could see me as being a mom and have children was fascinating to me, like “how can he see that, even though I can’t see that about myself. But okay, he knows me pretty well.” He was super convinced that we would be able to do this well.
Has there been a point where you were like “okay, now, I am ready!” And if so, What made you come to this point?
That was really quick. Our group of very close friends here in Berlin all have kids. And they are mostly going to have their third kid and still we didn’t have one.
But it was when my best friend in the UK had a child and got pregnant again by accident when her first kid was five months old. The experience I had with her when she was going through all of this, really informed me in a way to be like “okay, I just need to do it now, if we gonna do it!”
And then I said to my husband “let’s make a New Years resolution. Let’s be pregnant!” That was the first year I only had one thing that I wanted to get done. Two weeks later I was pregnant.
You are a very active woman and you love to work. Did you change your working routine while you were pregnant?
Becoming a parent and becoming a mom, it was really important for me to reflect on a lot of my own upbringing and a lot of how I can envisage this happening in a society that we are living in today.
I was growing up in a home where there was abuse. And I am not talking about physical abuse or sexual abuse. Abuse comes in lots of different forms. But one of the narratives I grew up with was that my mom did the best she could, she really looked out for me and we did great. At the same time this narrative often held me back from looking into seeing what really happened. And sometimes it’s really hard to see what love is and to know the difference and where abuse is and what is just lack of care.
When I knew that I was expecting a baby one of the biggest worries that I had was that I would accidently reproduce abusive behavior with my kid. Because I have normalized it, because I haven’t confronted it, because I haven’t unpacked it. And I felt like doing this work last year when I was pregnant and that was really good. I came to a really good place with self-reflexion and retrospective work.
You had a birth doula that you also met regularly throughout your pregnancy. How did she prepare you for the birthing process?
Apart from just being totally encouraging and supportive she brought a lot of strength. For me that was great to have in the room of the pregnancy which I was unsure about. It was great to have her as this kind of power. We did a lot of practical stuff that, especially if you are in the hospital, is great to know. Because you don’t really get that in the hospital. The exercises we did gave me a real understanding of what is going to happen in the birth process itself: How the baby is going to move, what is happening to my body when the baby will move out of the uterus in the birth canal, then out of the vagina. And that was really useful. This gave me empowerment, because I knew what was going on. There was this feeling that you actually can have some control over it.
What are the most unexpected changes you experience as a mother? How do you deal with them?
The biggest change for me was postpartum. I had no idea that it could be like that. I just had zero idea… I had digestial diabetes in the pregnancy and had been told by the doctors that I don’t need to worry, that my baby will be fine. But ten hours after I gave birth it turned out that my daughter was so impacted by my high blood sugar that she was immediately rushed into intensive care and was kept there for a week. I felt so guilty that my body had put her there that mentally I started to get in a really dark place. And the other thing was that I couldn’t breastfeed. I wasn’t expressing more than 10 ml a day. Coming back home after ten days, I was like “okay, we are finally home” and everything should be great and we should get into the zone of being in love. But this was when my immune system completely broke. I got Mundherpes and the doctors advised me to keep a mask on and gloves. This was the moment when I think I had like a mini psychosis that my body is trying to kill her. First it was the blood sugar, then I thought I can’t nourish her and now I am not allowed to touch and kiss my baby without protection. Plus the hormonal thing which is just crazy anyways. Everything was heightened so much.
What did your recovery process look like?
What normally happens where we come from is that you move back to your mom’s home for six months when you have your baby. In that time she makes you these special energy balls that all Punjabi women make for their daughters who just gave birth. These balls are full of nutrition and micro nutrients and are real power balls. When my mom and Aunty came to stay with us, she made them for me here in Berlin. Also my husband did a lot of preparation of different bone broths and soups and a lot of stocking in the kitchen so he wouldn’t have to do a lot of cooking. And then our friends also brought in stuff from their culture as postpartum recipes. Our friend Jules f.e. made a Korean postpartum seaweed soup, that was really special. My friend Liv made me lactation cookies. And my friend Anja took the keys when we were in the hospital and stock the whole house. It was so beautiful when we came home. She had filled the apartment with flowers and so many snacks: nuts, fruits, fruit bars, cereal bars, just a lot of nourishing high end snacks putting them right next to the bed so that we could just stay there the whole time.
What was your best postpartum date night so far?
My best night was at seven weeks when I left the country for a day on my own! It kind of brought a closure to that very rough postpartum and I would advise this to anyone with the same experience. Spending a day in London allowed me to step out of what my new world looked like to me until that moment. Being all by myself, I was able to pat myself on the back and be like “wow, I just did this! I gave birth! I actually did this! Wow me! And also: I am still me! To experience this was really great. That was the best date for me. Basically the date with myself.
Postpartum Recovery Ladoo Recipe (energy ball)
A traditional sweet treat from India, here adapted by Kavita Meelu to give mothers the recovery energy needed postpartum
250 g Almonds
250 g Walnut
250 g Pistachio
250 g Figs
250 g Cashews
100g Pitted Dates
50 g Ginger Powder
25 g Cardamom Seeds (ground into powder)
75g Coconut Powder
100g Whole Wheat flour
20 g Poppy Seeds
1/2 tsp Lovage seeds
250g Clarified Butter
70 g Edible Gum
Lightly roast all the different nuts, being careful to avoid burning (as that will cause bitterness)
Let the nuts cool and then grid with a blender into a nut powder (with texture, not too fine) Be careful not to blend into a paste. If you don’t have a blender you could use a mixture of chopped nuts and nut flour.
Heat 4-5tbsps of ghee in the heavy bottom frying pan on a medium heat. Add the edible gum and lets fry for a few minutes, take it out of the ghee and let cool.
Roughly chop the dates and figs, fry them along with the raisins in the ghee for a few minutes. Take out from the ghee and let cool
Blend the fried edible gum into a paste and place in a large mixing bowl.
Blend the fried dried fruits and place in the same large mixing bowl
Add the jaggery and Sieve the flour into the remaining ghee in the pan, and stir until well mixed and looking sticky then add all other dry ingredients and stir until completely mixed together.
Finally combine all remaining ingredients together and roll into pingpong sized balls while the mixture is still hot. If you feel the mixture isn’t sticky enough add more hot ghee.