It is with trepidation that I begin to share my story, one that begins with a happy childhood. Looking back, I believe firmly that it is an incredibly normal childhood full of books, sports, games and laughter which has helped me withstand and overcome obstacles or pitfalls that life inevitably brings.
When we were small, child molestation/ abuse were never topics of discussion. Parents could go to work leaving behind latch-key children. Among much older siblings, busy with their own interests, I was one of the latch-key set, happy to live life at my own pace, under no pressure to grow up and being naturally rebellious, was often left to my own devices. Studies and school were generally a laid back affair. It was the trend then to announce poor marks to relatives and friends and I remember hanging out under the cot with the dog often when visitors came. But then I could run like no other. I lived solely for the annual sports day where having swept all the medals in my age group, I had a huge haul of trophies from defeating my seniors too. A favorite of our chain smoking, short-tempered, hyperactive PE instructor, I imbibed his qualities of punctuality, discipline, an almost obsessive sense of fair play and sportsmanship.
Two incidents come to mind, One was a coach who came home and convinced my parents esp. my mother that I should be coached by him to make it to the district team. The first day I went off with a group of 10 year old kids like me at dawn to the river side where we did sprints and exercises in the sand. The second day, I cycled to the foot of the tall hill as per his instructions and waited there but no one except the coach turned up. Expecting that the others would already be at the top, I locked my cycle to a tree and jogged up with him. Being an extremely precocious reader of every ‘irrelevant’ material at hand and having a ever-buzzing sixth sense saved me from permanent damage. Instead of stretching exercises, the scoundrel embarked on touching exercises. It took me a few minutes to understand that something was not right and within minutes I was sprinting down the hill at top speed, giving my best time ever and then cycling home in fury. A ten year old does not have an adequate vocabulary to articulate feelings related to the human body and improper touch. There was no one at home to whom I could speak without being blamed for it. But the anger wouldn’t subside and nothing my mother said later had any effect. I discontinued the ‘coaching’. Being labelled headstrong and lazy was a small fee to pay for the escape. Another similar sort of escape was from a neighbor’s house, where I had to get out through a bathroom window to escape the attentions of my friend’s “Uncle”. I blamed my parents then for letting me go through these, more so I blamed the lack of freedom in our bond that prevented me from talking about abuse. They were much older than me and we seemed to inhabit different worlds and I was partly responsible for the alienation being a lot more rebellious than my siblings and they had their hands full managing my wild ways. But I did make it to the district games.
English was my only love but I went on to study science because my family felt that the arts would fetch no jobs. The medical field beckoned. My childhood friend had lost her battle with cancer and her experiences in a hospital abroad written during her last days in letters to me influenced my choice.
I did not enjoy my professional training. I realized that my choice was an act of bravado and a determined quest for financial independence and I would end up weeping some days, more traumatized than the patients I cared for. There was an order and method to every day which the wild side of me found maddening. But psychology and education became my favorites-taking a class came naturally to me. I graduated with great marks and outwardly was an excellent caretaker with good professional skills. I got a call for teaching from an excellent college in another state before my final results were out thus relieving my mother immensely of the fear that I would never find a job. She came with me when I went to join and that was the only time, I think I saw pride in her eyes. Soon I was teaching anatomy, physiology, and dietetics in addition to pediatrics to undergraduates as well as post-basic students. Two years later, I was promoted as an Asst. Lecturer but chucked the job to go abroad with the man I married. It was instant chemistry at our first, arranged sight and we were in a blissfully happy state during the short engagement period and soon we were officially, a couple.
Armed with certificates and intent on getting a job, I travelled with him to the place where he worked. Twenty-seven then, I was applying for jobs every day but a satisfactory one did not materialize as there were no teaching openings and I did not have a whole lot of practical experience to work as staff. But it did not matter then because I became pregnant and we decided that jobs could wait –we wanted the baby badly. While waiting at the maternity clinic at the fifth month, the local lady doctor while examining me found a small growth at the mouth of the cervix, and within minutes she had sniped it off with a scissor at the out-patient clinic itself informing me that it would grow along with the baby and cause me problems later. We went home, trusting the doctor’s opinion not knowing that within days our world would come crashing down. Three days later, I woke up from an afternoon nap, feverish and drenched in amniotic fluid and rang up my husband who came rushing to take me to emergency. I was admitted and a team of doctors surrounded me, laughing and discussing my case as if I was not there. Frightened and dying inside, I prayed like never before but the baby though alive still was doomed. There was an infection spreading through the fluid and they could not be sure if it had affected the baby just beginning its fifth month. We pleaded, cried our eyes out asking them for options, but the lost fluid meant the baby had no medium to grow in any longer and could not survive and finally the same day, under GA, they removed the baby. A beautiful, fully formed boy, I laid him on my chest begging forgiveness for not being able to bring him safely into the world. My husband wept in my arms as they took him away in a tray looking as if he was in a sweet sleep. Despite the effects of GA, I slipped out of the bed several times that night into the nurse’s room where my first born lay, his tiny hands on either side of his face.
My husband buried him, wrapped in his handkerchief which was large enough for such a tiny one.
The days that followed were the worst. I went into depression, alone all day and devastated by phone calls from home that implied that it was my fault for not taking better care of the baby, in my anger blaming doctors and even my partner who despite his own grief rallied around to see us through.
I put on weight, overeating due to my insecurities and grief but then pulled myself out of it by writing about it. Determined to work again, I found a job in a nearby clinic . Working with a neurosurgeon and a pediatrician, I put my heart into work. A year later, I broke their no-pregnancy contract. Though annoyed, they let me go but within six weeks, the doctor discovered that the fetus had no heartbeat and I underwent a spontaneous abortion.
This time we did not inform our families back home, not wanting to be harbingers of bad news again and convinced that we would be lucky the third time around. Meanwhile I landed a better job in another city which would have meant living apart for months during the training period. We debated on it for weeks and one day while visiting his friend who had just had their first baby, I discovered my husband in tears holding the baby pressed to his chest. That settled things, I went back to the earlier clinic and worked there for another uneventful eight months. Then we decided we could wait no longer since I was nearing thirty and we did not want to be too late. A month later we were back to where we started, having lost our third one. Everything I had studied went to pieces, doctors said that a paucity of hormones was hindering the pregnancy from progressing.
Then the miracle happened. The fourth time, I was on rest from day one. Weekly, my husband took me to the clinic to get hormone injections, dropped me at my workplace in a taxi though we were hard up, and collected me by taxi at night though we lived a five min. walk away.
During my sixth month, chicken pox cases started coming in. Though it generally passes off without causing damage, it can wreak havoc in in-utero babies. The pediatrician knew that I was pregnant and also that I hadn’t got it earlier but she insisted on me handling the patients and disinfecting the clinic afterwards. Though a med. professional wouldn’t think twice about doing it, I was a failed mother too and the only advocate for my precious baby. I could not take this huge risk but the doc laughed at my fears. There was no doubt in my mind, no indecision. I resigned and walked home. We went out that night and celebrated with champagne- he drank and I clinked a water glass.
Two weeks later I flew home and three months later our beautiful daughter was born and two years later our second child too ( with complete bed rest and hormone therapy again)- just as beautiful as our lost one and as precious.
Being professionally qualified, it would have been easy to entrust our kids to a baby sitter and take up my career again but I wanted to be there, with them, keeping them as close to me as long as I could for the miracle of a healthy child, we could never take for granted.
There have been moments, weak ones when I have longed for a career. There still are when my husband throws my financial dependence in my face forgetting the time we made that decision together but I can’t blame him for he has slogged for us alone all through the years and made it through sheer hard work but never have I really had any real regrets about being a full time mother.
I took up my love for writing again somewhere along the way after a gap of a decade, fraught with depression, postpartum blues, suicidal thoughts and struggling to bringing up an infant and a toddler in total isolation because I haven’t made a real friend in the years having my hands too full and being too tired to socialize and not having any house help but then I have found my calling in literature and have written all those ailments away without any medical help. Books were and still remain my best friends and though our families have never known all that we have gone through, it is OK because we know what we went through and have emerged stronger, humbler and have learnt to be grateful for each day we are together. I have no support at all with regard to my writing for he finds it difficult to support anything that takes me away even a little bit from him being somewhat possessive and not sharing my interest in books or writing. After a decade of seeing me play house, he is not able to adjust to the newer image of a wannabe writer.
But for me the choice is between writing and insanity and I plod on somehow for I visualize my children reading me years later and I hope that they will understand their mother and her mood swings a little better. I have tried to be there for them always in a non-judgmental way so that they feel totally free to share their life with me and not be friendless ever.
Article Written by: ‘Incredible Woman’ herself.
Article Edited for IWOI: Rhiti Bose
Editor’s Note: All incidents are true, but in order to protect the privacy and identity of the ‘Incredible Woman’, her name and places involved have been concealed.