For 31-year-old adventurer, photographer and former French national Géraldine Sandhilya, the real excitement began when she married her Indian husband and had Leonie, their gorgeous Indo-French baby girl

BY CHARLENE FLANAGAN
PHOTOGRAPHS BY GÉRALDINE SANDHILYA

THEY say love happens quite unexpectedly. You accidentally stumble across that one person, and before you even realise what’s happened, you’ve fallen for them. The story of Géraldine and her dance-instructor husband, Praveen, is no different. After studying Travel and Tourism in Rouen, France, a young Géraldine was eager to explore the world, her trusty camera in hand. She found herself moving to the United States and Australia before making her way to India in 2010.

Quite unexpectedly, she fell in love with India and has lived here ever since. What cemented her decision to make this move permanent was meeting her husband at a Salsa dance party that was incidentally, hosted by her brother-inlaw. Of course, her adventures didn’t die down, particularly after she landed a job with Royal Enfi eld and biked her way around the country, committing her travels to memory in the form of photographs. However, in 2014 when Praveen and Géraldine decided to make their relationship official, she decided it was time that travel took a back seat.

LICENCE TO WED
Marriage is a lifetime commitment, and it usually takes a lot of hard work, compromise and understanding to make it a success. For Géraldine and Praveen, the decision to have a wedding which celebrated both cultures was undisputed by family and friends. “We’re both very attached to our origins, so our wedding was a mix of French and Indian traditions. Since I’m not religious and don’t practice any faith, we chose to exchange vows a little differently. Praveen is a Hindu, but his faith hasn’t really had any negative impact on our marital bliss. In fact, I quite love the happy spirit, colour and joyfulness of it,” says Géraldine.

And from then on, life couldn’t get better. The newlyweds had a blissful honeymoon period and when it was time to get back to the real world, they were a little reluctant. However, life happens and they soon threw themselves back into work—Géraldine pursued photography and Praveen went back to dance instruction. Soon, Géraldine realised that she wanted to pursue photography fulltime, and opened her very own studio out of her home in New Delhi called Géraldine Sandhilya Photography. It was then that she began her newest adventure, specialising in maternity, newborn and child photography.

BABY TALK
Watching mums with their babies on a daily basis, made Géraldine feel like, perhaps, there was something missing from her otherwise-perfect life. However, when she realised she was late, she got a little nervous. “I had my reasons to believe that I might be pregnant but when I found out that I was not, I was very disappointed,” she admits. That’s perhaps the moment she realised she was ready to start a family. “Since Praveen is eight years older than I am, he was ready for a baby long before I was. So, when I told him I was ready to try for one, he was excited. I’m glad I didn’t have to convince him one bit,” she tells us, excitedly.

After that, life couldn’t get better for the happy couple. They began trying and enjoyed their jobs tremendously, in the mean time. However, about five weeks into her pregnancy, Géraldine realised she was expecting. “I was so engrossed in work that I didn’t realise I was going to become a mother, until I was five weeks pregnant! When I told Praveen that we were going to be parents, his reaction was rather lukewarm. I was a little taken aback with his reaction because  I expected a little more enthusiasm from him, but he didn’t show any emotion,” recalls Géraldine.

“We were in France on holiday when we discovered I was pregnant. Because it was still early in the pregnancy, we didn’t want to say anything to anybody, and wanted to wait the standard three months before we broke the news. But since we were leaving in a few days,  and I didn’t think this was something that could be said over a phone call, we decided to tell my family and friends about it when I was just six weeks pregnant,” says Géraldine. She adds, “Of course, they didn’t believe me because Praveen and I love joking around, but after showing them the test, they were ecstatic! Somehow, though, Praveen was still very neutral to the news.”

When the couple finally got back to India, and they went for their first ultrasound, Praveen became a whole new person. “I think he was in shock and didn’t believe the news till we went for our first check-up. After he heard our baby’s heartbeat, his face lit up! I have never seen him so happy,” she says with a smile.

PREGNANCY BLISS
For Géraldine, the cultural gap began to show during the time she was expecting, something that added to her already difficult trimester. She experienced  a severe bout of morning sickness during her fi rst trimester, and kept herself busy to avoid thinking about the nausea. “Praveen, of course, encouraged me to stay home more, and relax. He didn’t understand my need to keep busy! He was extremely supportive and nurturing, but he didn’t realise I needed to work and stay active,” says Géraldine. That’s when the tension began to creep in. “It is not in my nature to be inactive. Moreover, I believe that pregnancy is not a disability or sickness. In Europe, doctors encourage pregnant women to stay active and behave normal. Of course, only a few things are not recommended, like carrying very heavy bags, or adventure sports like parachuting, skiing, or motorbiking. In fact, everything is permitted. You’re encouraged to do everything you’d normally do, and doctors even recommend a bit of exercise and physical activity till you reach full-term,” she says.

However, Indian families tend to be overprotective, and because of the differnce in opinions, Géraldine experienced a little tension. “It was difficult to explain to my in-laws that I needed to stay active. They were of the opinion that ‘one can’t be too careful’. With them, it was always ‘Don’t bend’ or ‘Don’t carry this’. I was constantly told what to eat and what I could or couldn’t do during my pregnancy. It did create a lot of stress and tension between us. But I knew my actions and behaviour wouldn’t harm my baby. What’s better than a mother’s instincts, right?”

But, the disagreements all seems trivial in the light of the bigger picture— Praveen and Géraldine were soon going to be parents, and nothing could really dampen their spirits. Moreover, Géraldine felt completely cared for, and loved by Praveen and the rest of the family. “After I decided that they only meant well, I didn’t really let the disagreements bother me. I knew my body best, and I did heed a little of their advice, if not all. But Praveen was incredible throughout. He’d give me massages when my feet or back would ache; he took me out a lot because he knew how much I loved to travel. He even encouraged me to pay my family a visit! I really couldn’t have been happier,” she says.

Before long, Géraldine had established a healthy routine. She read as much as she could and even enrolled in birthing classes to help her prepare for her delivery. “I didn’t know what to expect, so I tried to prepare myself mentally and physically for everything. I even had a doula that would come home before Leonie was born, to help me with some exercises which I could do at the time of delivery. Apart from this, I followed Baby Centre notifi cations regarding the evolution of my pregnancy,” she says.

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