She was just like me except for the diamond earrings and solitaire ring she was wearing. We recognized each other instantly. South Delhi girls, modern Indian women, now professionals.
This was my third pregnancy and she was my ultrasonologist, the doctor who did my ultrasounds.
Well into my second trimester, I had been diagnosed with jaundice. Afzal and I were oscillating between the extremes of wild panic and a deep sense of calm. If we move slowly, surely, one doctor’s appointment at a time, if I keep lying down and solving Sudokus, listening to my children in the other rooms...my parents’ home, our home, hospital... everything will be fine.
The power of three: Three daughters make for great company, and a reason for joy. Photo by Thinkstock.
Baby kept kicking and moving inside me, reassuringly.
“It’s not worth the risk,” she said to me.
“No, no,” I reassured her, “my other doctors are quite confident we will recover.”
“Oh well, you already have two daughters,” she said. “I don’t want you to get a shock again.”
Aha, my brain clicked. She can see that baby is a girl.
“You mean we are going to have a pretty little daughter,” I said to her. I felt a surge of pride and happiness, maternal hormones in overdrive.
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“I’m just telling you that there is no point taking a risk. You will be disappointed.” She shrugged her shoulders and turned away. I remember a hard, unfriendly face.
One part of me really wants to talk about this and another doesn’t quite feel ready. I take many breaks. Shampoo the children. Go for a walk in the noise of traffic. Play Uno with family, then come here to type a sentence. To amuse myself, I thought of a tentative title for this article: “One tight slap from a mother of 3 daughters”.
But frankly, I’m not really angry. Not even sad. How can I be? Children are glorious, they make us laugh, they are thoughtful teachers, they protect us from ourselves. Naseem, our bonus love child, is on the floor right here sketching a family of five stick figures. She draws us all with big hair. When she wants my attention, she will make five stick figures on her legs with a sketch pen.
We didn’t plan it this way, but raising children often positions parents in the minefield of political, social and cultural conflicts by default.
I’ll tell you what I am talking about. We had a fairly protected existence ourselves till we were a dinky little family with two little girls. For some reason, the arrival of the third daughter seems to shake the skeletons in everyone’s closets.
Here’s what I learnt accidentally. I found out that a disdain for daughters and boy-worship isn’t just the domain of the poor, the ignorant and the illiterate. As a big-city snob, I hadn’t expected any better from maids and villagers, and random grandmothers. My illusions were smashed in one thunderous moment when we became witness to the callous and casual misogyny of my doctors, my city friends and general all around posh “people like us”. It was devastating at that time. Here we were, flushed with joy, holding a miracle of a baby. And yet I felt that I was stranded in a wasteland, surrounded by debris. Even joy needs validation, I found out.
We call it violence against women, but this is really violence turned inwards. This is a formula for self-destruction. Do we think we are doing our sons any favours by “loving” them better? By giving them better opportunities, better pieces of mutton at the dining table and those awesome motorcycles?
No, we damage the humanity of our sons as well. We hurt and diminish them. Children have an innate sense of justice. By teaching them to disregard their intuitive feelings, we scar them for life. Spontaneity is replaced with an unexplained visceral anxiety and anger. Brothers and sisters grow up estranged from each other, resentful of their parents and confused about their own worth in the world. We negate the power of family with our ignorance.
That’s all I know so far.
A couple of paragraphs ago, Naseem came to me with a blue-purple-coloured cardboard we had saved from some chocolate packaging. “You said we will cut an elephant from this,” she said, offering me the piece.
“Yes,” I say, still looking at my laptop screen. “We will make it tomorrow.”
“Par aaj to kal ho gaya,” she said, showing me the morning light all around the room.
Yes, my dear. Tomorrow has arrived. It is today.
Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker, media trainer and mother of three. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org