By Shilpi Madan
She is the most relaxed mom around, with her little girl, Mehr Dhupia Bedi turning heads by the dozen. Actress Neha Dhupia has wowed with her performances in Ek Chaalis Ki Local, Singh is Kinng, Hindi Medium, Tumhari Sulu, Helicopter Eela…and has been a pivotal part of the iconic show MTV Roadies. Married to actor Angad Bedi, Neha recently started the #freedomtofeed initiative to push for awareness about the pressing need to make decent babyfeeding spots for young mothers, where they can tend their little ones in comfort and privacy. The movement has gained tremendous momentum, garnering support from all corners.
Neha recently collaborated with The Mommy Network Pop-Up at Kamala Mills in Mumbai to inaugurate the first-ever, on-ground #freedomtofeed booth, following the huge success of her social media initiative. Here, mothers visiting the pop-up with their babies, can breastfeed in peace. Excerpts from a conversation for Express Parenting:
You are turning one as a mom. What is the feeling like?
Yes, Mehr will complete a year in a month. The feeling is absolutely indescribable. I never knew that there was this bottomless reservoir of love inside me till Mehr came along.
What are the craziest places you have breastfed Mehr?
In the toilet of an airplane, behind a tree, parking areas, inside cars, on a set, with a camera in my face for a close-up (while I was feeding Mehr). I am always around and have breastfed my child on demand, when she was hungry, but I do believe that we need better places to nurse babies. It is such a simple, basic amenity. Why should I need to skip a visit to a mall for lack of a feeding booth? Or give my baby her food (breastmilk) inside a toilet?
What brought about this knit with The Mommy Network?
Well, Shreya Lamba, Kiran Amlani and Tejal Bajla, the trio behind The Mommy Network approached me. It seemed like the perfect platform to spread the word and raise better awareness about the need to create cocoon spots for young moms to breastfeed their little ones in public. There is such an acute need for such spaces. I launch the first of its kind, #freedomtofeed booth at the event.
Is the campaign exclusive to breastfeeding?
No. That is why it is #freedomtofeed. Whether you are expressing milk to feed your child, giving him or her formula feed, or breastfeeding, you have the right to do so in a small, private space, anywhere. I am only giving a voice to the dilemma faced by thousands of mothers. Breastfeeding is the healthiest, of course, but one must never ever get judgmental as the situation is different for each mum. I want to give each one a hug and say “I am there for you, with you”.
Does Angad (Bedi) say the same to you?
My husband is an incredible man (laughs). I don’t think I would have been able to do half the things I do in my life, if it weren’t for him. Angad is more hands-on than me. Apart from breastfeeding, there is no other parental chore that he doesn’t chip in with. From changing diapers, to burping, to feeding breakfast…he just ‘gets it’. It is inexplicable. There is no ‘taking turns’ with Mehr, as a mom or dad, between me and Angad. It is a seamless transition. If I am at the gym when Mehr wakes up, he readies her and gets her food in, hands her over to me and I take over from there. Or vice versa. It is that simple.
Surreal, isn’t it?
You bet! Sometimes, when friends are over and watch him with Mehr, they murmur in amazement that he does this or that. Angad always questions aloud that there is nothing that is only a mother’s job or a father’s job. We attend parent toddler classes with Mehr — whichever one of us is around. See, raising a baby is all about healthy co-parenting, together. It is such a cute connection, when I see Angad and Mehr together.
How would you describe yourself as a mom?
Chilled out. See, if Mehr wants to play with a piece of cake and then eat it, or roll in dirt, I let her do it. She is simply curious. I have always been like this as a person: never made a big deal out of anything, whether it has been running a marathon. It is all about your state of mind. By the grace of God, I had a great pregnancy, I was swimming, shooting till the last day, was at the edit table when I was wheeled into the labour room (laughs).
One skill that you have perfected as a mum?
The ability to multi-task efficiently, while being very patient.
A piece of advice to other mums?
I always ask — Everyone wants to hold the baby, but who will hold the mom? Folks, post-partum depression is a real thing. A new mom experiences tremendous emotional and hormonal swings while meeting all challenges, including the demands of breastfeeding. Remember to be tender. Be gentle, be kind, especially to all new moms. You never know the turmoil that she is experiencing at that moment.