Motherhood is a most joyous thing in a woman’s life. And when a woman becomes pregnant for the first time, both parents, and more so the mother, behaves like she has conquered the world,. She feels like she has achieved something great in life. Something so unique and wonderful that nobody else could ever have done it. While the fact, as we all know, is that mothers are giving birth to three or four children every second all over the world(hope I got my statistics right! Anyway, you get the general idea, right?). So in fact, it is neither unique nor something exceptional. But then, for each woman, the experience of another life taking form within her own body is certainly an incredible one. And I was no exception.
Would-be mother’s, particularly the first timers also think of themselves as patients with some incurable disease, given to vomitings and spells of blackout, needing superfoods and with a constitution fragile as glass. These ideas are not my own. They have been reinforced time and again by innumerable bollywood movies! But the truth is, pregnancy is a perfectly normal phenomenon which many women and even animals go through without any fuss.
Being a fast learner, I also mimicked all the feelings and dialogues from the movies as they ought to have been, during my first pregnancy. I checked if I felt any changes in my eating habits. There were none. I wondered if my head would reel and I would feel the world swaying. No such luck. The world was quite stable. I felt so normal that I started to doubt my own diagnosis and wondered if I really was pregnant or if it was just a delayed period and all the fuss was much ado about nothing! Moreover my gynecologist could not diagnose my pregnancy by just feeling my pulse.
But my doubts were unfounded.My obstetrician did a pregnancy test and an ultrasound and she declared that I was pregnant. It was funny to see the heartbeat in the most unlikely of places on the ultrasoundscreen, but I was looking at it with my own eyes! One of the many marvels of modern medical science. I tried to digest the fact and tried to evaluate how I felt. I felt no different.
Try as I might, I did not feel any of the symptoms described and shown in films.. I must be getting a really kind and well behaved child. The yet-to-be-born child had been very considerate so far! And that was a good omen. It was like a trailer for the actual movie to come!
The pregnancy being uneventful and almost comfortable, I continued to work till the last week of my pregnancy. I was then, the junior- most doctor in a behemoth of an establishment, The Municipal Corporation of greater Mumbai. Being in a junior position is never easy and when you are the juniormost, your fate is pretty much sealed. You are invariably handed the most unimportant, boring and difficult of jobs. I was given the responsibility of vaccinating the future citizens of our country, the children who lived in the largest slum in Asia, Dharavi. I was given a nurse and a mazdoor to assist me in this very important assignment! I was to lead my team in this noble expedition.
When I reached my place of work the next morning, I met my team for the first time. They looked very disinterested and indifferent to their work. The zeal and dedication that I had hoped for, was missing. I felt like a deflated balloon. I was intrigued. ‘Why was everyone like this?’ I wondered.
“Sign the register and go home madam”, my wise mazdoor advised me. “Enter some cooked up information in the register and submit tomorrow”
His body language told me that the discussion was over. Newbie doctors needed sound advice! They are more to be pitied than censured for the foolish baggage of ideals they come with!
That seemed to be the thinking of Maruti, the mazdoor .
I felt shocked, indignant and flabbergasted.
I was idealistic.
‘I became a doctor to make a difference in people’s lives and difference, I shall make!’ I thought with belligerence in my mind.
The nurse sensed my mood.
She tried a different angle.
“Madam, you are into your late pregnancy now. Traveling by buses, climbing up and down the steps and walking long distances may be too much for the baby even if you feel up to it. At least for the sake of the baby, you must take things easy”, she said.
This was emotional blackmail at its best!
But I was not going to succumb to it.
My baby was accommodating as she proved time and again! She needed no such thing! And what if she learns this indolence and indifference from me and retains it through life? Like Abhimanyu learnt about the Chakravyuh from inside his mother’s womb? The possibility is always there, and if it happens, she would be solely responsible for it. I felt even more convinced about my decision now.
It was funny how I always thought of the baby as a girl! My lips twisted into a small smile at the amusing thought. The nurse smiled back, gloating at her having convinced me successfully. I felt a pang of pity for her as her hopes were going to be dashed soon.
But the nurse must be shown her place. She was behaving like my personal nurse and not like a nurse assigned to do important work among people at large. She however, seemed to be a nice person and having my well-being at heart. So I couldn’t bring myself to be stern with her.
“Exercise is good in pregnancy. It will make delivery easier”, I countered.
She had no answer to that.
She was flummoxed for a moment.
But not used to defeat, she came back with yet another argument.
“Dharavi is a dangerous place, housing notorious criminals. It is not a safe place for a young lady doctor. If they don’t like what you do, they can harbor grudges, ending in disastrous results. My advice is also to take things easy Madam”, she declared.
With such hostile staff reluctant to work and obviously not used to listen to good sense, there was no chance of my winning the argument. Still my ego needed to be assuaged. ‘I was the leader of the team. So, I shall lead and they will have no choice but to follow’, I thought triumphantly!
Thus our field work commenced.
Every day we would sign the register in the office, then walk to the bus station, catch a bus, get off at Sion, take the overbridge, which involved climbing up innumerable steps, walk across the railway track on the bridge, climb down as many steps, then walk to Dharavi. This exercise was repeated every day to and fro and I realized that what my nurse had said, had a grain of truth and some sense in it after all! ‘Maybe this was not the kind of work I should be doing in my advanced stage of pregnancy. ‘Experience makes all the difference’, I thought, reminding myself of her initial advice.
However, I persisted for two reasons. Firstly, I could not eat humble pie now. That would be loss of face. The second and more important reason was that I had no option. I was still very new in my job and a job with the municipal corporation was a coveted one, more so for me as there was some flexibility in workinghours. And no transfers outside Mumbai!
Hence there was no turning back. And we continued in this manner for now.
Unlike what I was told and we were expecting, the people living in Dharavi did not give us any trouble. They were respectful and very helpful. They would mobilize the children and send them to us for vaccination. The residents probably hadn’t seen a doctor in a long time within their premises. The children were happy too, to get a break from school until they saw the injection syringes! The poor things! No wonder people scare children with horror stories of doctors giving injections.
Anyhow, I had no regrets about my decision.
My baby also seemed to enjoy this daily outing. It was very quiet and quite undemanding. In fact, it had become
so comfortable inside that it decided it did not want to come out even when it was time. It wanted to stay inside for a whilelonger, I think. My obstetrician however gave an ultimatum. If I did not get pains by the expected date of delivery, she would not wait even for a single day after that. She would cut me open. I was terrified. I had wanted a normal delivery because recovery after delivery would be faster .and easier. I prayed to God that I should start pains on time.
When the date of delivery arrived, I broke water but there was no sign of any contractions, because the baby was not putting in any effort to come out. I think she did not want to come out of the comfort of the warmth of the womb into this big, bad world. It was not prepared yet. The doctor tried her best to hurry its exit with injections but my baby was stubborn. It refused to budge from its comfort zone, while my body was taking the brunt of all the injections.
It was all out war now! The verdict was out.
The baby would be forcibly delivered by cesarean section.
When it was ultimately brought out, the baby cried with gusto, displaying its full lung power! It was a girl, like I had wanted. I was sedated from the effect of anesthesia and the injections to reduce pain and induce sleep. So I did not see the baby till much later.
But I was told that when she was brought out for the first time to meet its family, it looked each person in the eye, as if to say, you may have won the first round but the battle is not over yet!
End of round 1!
I was discharged from after an extended period of hospitalization of ten days. During this period, my strength was at a low ebb.
The baby however fed and slept regularly, conserving and improving its energy, working out a strategy and mobilizing its forces. After suffering all these days from severe spinal headaches and infection in the stitches, I was happy that I was at lasti n fit condition to be discharged from hospital. That did not mean I was fully back to normal health. Far from it. I was still on medicines for the pain and infection, to be continued for a few more days. But I was happy to be home. Being in the home environment and surrounded by my people would help me recover faster, I thought.
But my baby had other ideas.
Within a couple of days of coming home, she started crying loudly and incessantly. Her crying was loud in volume and high in pitch. It would start at night after dinner at about ten o’ clock. The concert continued till 4 in the morning. This would be the daily routine.
The first night it happened, we were all clueless as to what the problem was. I was a doctor with a degree and license to practice. But a doctor’s real education starts only after this with the experience gained from each case. There is a huge difference between book knowledge and what we encounter in everyday life. I did try to apply my limited knowledge to use. But I came up with the scariest diagnoses. Could the cry be because of meningitis? The meningitic cry was a very important diagnostic criterion but I had never come across one that I could diagnose it with certainty now. I only prayed that it would not be that. Or maybe there was some obstruction in its intestines? Names of several diseases crouded the mind but I pushed them all aside. The problem with young doctors was that they always think of the worst diseases and the most radical treatments. So I gave up my attempt at diagnosing my baby’s problem.
My mother was the most senior lady around there. So she automatically assumed charge. She suggested that if we applied warm betel leaf on the abdomen of the baby, her stomach pain would subside. So we did. For a few moments, the wailing became less plaintive but soon resumed with renewed vigor..I picked her up and held her close to my bosom, now beginning to get seriously worried. That didn’t help either.
The wailing carried to the neighboring houses in the colony too. A neighbour’s mother came to see what the matter was. She suggested massaging the abdomen with warm oil which was duly tried, again with the same results. I was reminded of the advertisement for Woodword’s gripe water, which they showed in the advertisements as being used over the generations to relieve gripes. Maybe that was what the gen next also needs. I wished I had some with me then. I felt exhausted. I was not at my fittest either. Weariness started taking over.
Then, as if by a miracle, the wailing stopped. Amma had picked her up from the cradle, put her on the bed and tucked her in warmly. Maybe that was all that she wanted. A place as warm and cosy as her mother’s womb! She looked almost angelic with a hint of a smile on her face. The first bonding between me and my baby was established. I had started understanding her.
Or so I thought.
The next day after dinner, there was a repeat performance of crying from 10pm to 4 AM. Then sleeping like an angel.
After a couple of days of this routine, I felt that we should see the pediatrician to eliminate any worrisome cause for the crying.
So I took my baby to the pediatrician on the 13th day of her short life.
The pediatrician examined her and said that the umbilical cord should have separated by now but was still hanging through a narrow attachment and this junction was infected. Because of this, there was inflammation which probably caused the pain. She needed antibiotics. She was too small to take by mouth and it would be less effective. She would have to take injections twice a day intramuscular for 3 days at least, probably longer.
Oh my poor baby! I thought. And here I was, convinced that this was all a ploy to get back at me after losing the first round of fight! I held her slightly closer, trying to transfer all my love and make her feel safe and cosy.
It was my emotional need more than hers, even if I pretended otherwise.
Now the question was who would take her for the daily injections. I was of course not in the race because I was still officially a convalescent. But all the other able- bodied persons in the pink of their health also chickened out. They could not bear to see such a tiny baby being poked with injection needles every morning and evening. So it was my mother’s lot to take her. She was forced to volunteer, being coaxed into it by sweet talk. So she took on her shoulder the tiny bundle religiously morning and evening. The baby grew better, the cord separated, the inflammation and pain probably subsided. She slept better now.
She started developing her own personality even at that young age, which was clearly discernible to the people close to her. She invented her own games, kicking off the blanket, whenever someone covered her. It was a regular game for her and her grandpa, who also devised his own ways of keeping scores! And invariably he would lose to her and revel in his defeat.
This bout was certainly won by Leena, because that is what we named her. I had conceded the match much before the scores were declared. I had observed her fighting spirit, and her resilience in adversity. She gave whatever she had every single time. She certainly deserved to win. She had already won my heart. If her act during the recent days was any indication of her fighting spirit, then she ought to deal with every situation in life and come out right on top!
Connect with Penmancy:
Penmancy gets a small share of every purchase you make through these links, and every little helps us continue bringing you the reads you love!
- Measure For Measure - 31 Jan 2023
- Quagmire - 13 Jan 2023
- The Homecoming - 29 Dec 2022