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Two under two make one

It’s not a subject Madhuri Dixit Nene speaks on often. But the issue, clearly, is close to her heart. “Baby bunching, did you say,” asks the former Bollywood diva. “It was maddening but quite fruitful,” Nene says, and you can imagine her beaming over the phone.

It’s a trend that is slowly, but significantly, catching on with many women. Baby bunching or having two children in less than two years is a birth strategy that is now being planned and executed by urban couples.

The phrase came into existence with a blog www.babybunching.com created by two US-based women, Cara Fox and Linda Kerr, in August 2008. Fox, who has three sons under the age of five, and Kerr, whose two children are 16 months apart, are currently writing a book on closely-spaced pregnancies.

“We started the blog to popularise the phrase baby bunching,” the two proud baby bunchers say. “We wanted an interesting term to describe the phenomenon of two children under two. Now the medical community, parenting experts and parents themselves are slowly accepting the usage of this term,” they say in an email interview.

Quite a few moms seem to have embraced the trend. International celebrities, including Heidi Klum, Gwyneth Paltrow, Denise Richards, Angelina Jolie and Tori Spelling are all baby bunchers. Bollywood actresses such as Juhi Chawla, Raveena Tandon, Sridevi and Nene chose late parenthood and had two children in close succession.

There was a time when health experts advised a three-year gap between two children as beneficial to both the mother’s and child’s health. But today’s baby bunchers say there are good reasons why they choose to minimise the gap between two children.

For one, it’s financially viable. Rearing two children almost at the same time and joining the workforce early work in favour of baby bunchers. What the older kid uses and wears — clothes, cots, toys and so on — is almost new and all there for the younger one at no extra cost. Then, many believe, friendship between siblings is stronger when the children are in the same age group. For instance, Nene’s two kids — Arin, 5, and Ryan, 3 — are the best of buddies. “Having two kids with a mere two-year gap helped in developing better camaraderie between them,” she says. “They go to school together and have the same set of friends,” says the actress, now based in Denver, US.

The baby bunching website has avid followers from all across the world asking for advice and sharing their diaper-to-bottle experiences. According to Fox and Kerr, most visitors discuss the merits and demerits of various birthing strategies. “Late parenthood also leads to closely spaced pregnancies and most are curious to know how fellow moms feel,” they say.

Bhawna Khandelwal vouches for baby bunching. This resident of Jaipur has three children — two back-to-back pregnancies — and is a working mom. “Though the second child was unplanned it was a blessing in disguise for us,” says Khandelwal. Her two elder children — aged 5 and 4 — have a special bond, and share a different kind of a relationship with their seven-month-old sibling. While the elder two are playmates, they also ensure that the younger one does not feel left out.

Popular Indian blogger Mad Momma (who uses only her pseudonym) was influenced by her own childhood to have two babies under two. “My brother and I were partners in crime and best friends,” says the blogger of www.themadmomma.wordpress.com. The blogger, a journalist, says she wants her children to be friends.

For many mothers in a hurry, fast-tracking the family isn’t a bad idea at all. Baby bunching ensures getting done with the diapers and night feeds in a few years. “In my four-year career gap, I was done with both my kids. I had to shrug off my post pregnancy weight only once,” adds Mad Momma, who went back to work a few months ago.

The medical community, however, is not in favour of lowering the gap between births. “The ideal age gap between two pregnancies should be at least two-and-a-half to three years,” says Dr Sucheta Malhotra, visiting consultant at Max Healthcare, Delhi.

But women have found their answer in modern medicine, such as different kinds of health supplements, that help them have an easy pregnancy. “Modern obstetrics has ensured that age gap is not an issue,” says Dr Anjali Kumar, senior consultant gynaecologist, Paras Hospital, Gurgaon.

Natural birth therapist Nutan Pandit, who conducts prenatal classes in Delhi, predicts the trend will catch on with a greater number of modern couples in the near future. “It’s an ideal option for women who have delayed motherhood,” says Pandit.

But, of course, it’s not all hunky dory for the parents. For Bharati Bhoolchandani, a school teacher from Delhi, two babies meant figuring out how to prioritise their needs, both often demanding attention at the same time. “I could sail through owing to my extended family,” says Bhoolchandani.

For the initial two years being a mother to two children — an infant and a toddler — would mean many challenges. “There were times when I used to feel frustrated and would break down,” says Khandelwal. “But now both my elder kids take care of each other. In fact, it actually helped me in planning my third child,” she adds.

Juggling more than two activities at a time is an art that baby bunchers have mastered. The needs of an infant and a toddler are different and the parents have to work out ways to avoid neglecting either. “It means running after a child who is taking his first steps and managing an infant who has just rolled over,” says Bhoolchandani.

Preparing a toddler, who may still be breast feeding, for the arrival of a new member in the family is not an easy task either. “Both the kids demand equal attention as their activities are different in the initial years,” says Mad Momma. Nene ensured that her two kids interacted with each other, even if one understood very little about the other. “I used to buy a gift for my elder son and would tell him that the baby had got it for him,” she says.

Once couples decide to have more than one child, they often turn to baby bunching as an easier option. “I couldn’t have had it any other way,” says Nene. “Most of my friends are envious of me. They delayed having a second child and now do not want to go through the baby rearing process again,” she adds.

Baby bunching may entail sleep-deprived nights, screaming sessions, endless diaper changes and constant cribbing. But no one seems to regret the decision. Clearly, it takes two to tango.

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