Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Why Men Should Marry

News item from The Hindu (www.hindu.com)

According to a report from Britain's Institue for Social and Economic Research, married men earn more than bachelors as long as their wives stay at home doing housework.

Go figure.

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On the same page, from a different article, Imran Khan speaks: "I much prefer married life. There is nothing quite like married life...."

How a red light led to the purchase of a piggy-bank

Traffic signals serve a purpose: they streamline traffic flow, both the vehicular and the pedestrian kind.

In India, particularly in the larger cities, traffic signals serve quite a few other purposes as well. Given the immoblie and therefore captive consumer base at a red light, traffic signals also serve as prime real estate for street hawkers (selling anything from ear buds to cell phone ear pieces) and beggars.

While I never, ever, buy anything at a traffic light, I do give money to anyone that looks like they are incapable of working. This logic may not work all the time - I may be giving to the wrong people and not giving to deserving ones. But, it has the virtue of being a bright-line rule that's easy to stick to and I stick to it.

One day, at one of those interminable red lights, the ones where the clock starts counting down from 160, a guy walks up to the car window and holds his hand out. I wave at him to go away. He did not meet my criteria.

"What does he want?" asked N*, my son.

"He wants us to give him some money."

"Can I give him some?"

There is a fine line between compassion and cynicism that got even finer as I tried to explain to my four year old why I did not want to give the pan handler the money. I gave him my reasons and he said, "Oh."

Silence for a few minutes as I braced for the questions.

N*: "Then why doesn't he go to the bank and get some money?"

Me: "The bank can't give him money like that. It's not their money."

N*: "How come you go to the bank when you need money?"

Me: "People go and put their money in the bank and the bank keeps it safe for them until they need it. I don't think he put any money in the bank."

N*: "How do you get money to put in the bank?"

Me: "When you grow up, you figure out what you like to do and you work and you get paid for your work. Then you can have money to go put in the bank."

N*: "So why doesn't he work then?"

Me: "I don't know."

Back to my dilemma. Is my bright line really that bright?

N*: "But I'm only four-and-a-half years old. How do I get money to put in the bank?"

Aha! The silver lining in a depressing life lesson! After some struggle, we came up with a list of activities (definitely not among them: chores around the house or helping people) that would earn him money.

We stopped at a store to buy a piggy-bank before going home.

Bangalore in the News Today

Bangalore best place in the country for business: World Bank

Also...

Red Worms are found in the water supplied to parts of Bangalore from TG Halli Reservoir

The Bangalore mayor wakes up to a gastro outbreak; he wants hotels to supply boiled water and vendors to stop selling cut fruits on the roadside

A tusker is found dead in the outskirts of Bangalore. The elephant had a bullet wound on his forehead, but officials are not sure if the tusker died "due to electrocution or due to firing." (????)

Monsoon is Here!!

It's raining right now, not heavily, but in the slow, incessant way that is typical of monsoons. The leaves are glistening, the earth smells fresh (as V* says, like in no other place), there is a cool breeze.

If my friend Lakshmi were here, the topic of hot bajjis and bondas would certainly come up.

The Indian Meteorological Department predicts rainfall during the monsoon season to be normal and above. http://www.imdmumbai.gov.in/lrf2005.htm

A thought flits by...I'm glad I have a clothes dryer.

Out of Babes' Mouths...

The other day, when all was right in his world, my son said, "You're the best mama I was ever born to!"

I'm still trying to figure that one out, but my heart swelled at the sentiment behind it.

Desperate Wives Coming to India!

Having missed the last season of the Sopranos and not being able to see new seasons of Deadwood, Six Feet Under, etc., I was wringing my hands at the prospect of having to sit on the sidelines and watch the whole Desperate Wives phenomenon unfolding in the US in my absence.

However, I just learnt that Star World will start broadcasting this latest TV craze in India in a few days. Yahoooo!

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Swades

Swades (until I heard it pronounced on TV, I read it as "suedes" and was wondering what the movie was about) was the first movie V* and I saw after we moved to India.

Now, Swades (meaning "home country") is about an Indian living in the US (and working at NASA, no less) who, on a short visit to India, discovers that he does not want to go back to the US for various reasons: romantic, patriotic, nostalgic, etc., etc.

We enjoyed the movie. Shah Rukh Khan was remarkably and aptly subdued, Gayathri Joshi was a sight for sore eyes, and the movie had some nice music by A.R. Rehman (love Yoon hi chala chal rahi, Yeh tara woh tara, and Sanwariya, sanwariya).

But for us, the movie turned out to be memorable for an entirely different reason. Mohan Bhargav, Shah Rukh's character happens to live and work in the DC area. Most of the first half of the movie was devoted to his life in the US, so we saw many scenes of DC, which, until very recently, had been our home.

So, there we were, expats in our own home country, sitting in a theater in Bangalore, watching a movie about an NRI wanting to move back to India for good, and missing home.

Parenting from an Immigrant Perspective

"Twinkle, twinkle, little star…" I sang. After about the 20th rendition, my 5-month-old son dozed off in my arms. "Twinkle, twinkle" was my stand-in, night after night, for lullabies I should know, but did not. And that was the least of the shortcomings that seemed to be facing my husband and myself.

"Young parents learn about the aims and methods for raising their children from ancient traditions and from having the extended family nearby for advice and help," say Dr. Benjamin Spock and Dr. Steven Parker in their book, Baby and Child Care. How true, I thought, and how unfortunate for us. We were new parents and first generation immigrants raising our son far away from our families.

Our own parents raised us under the watchful eye of our grandparents, aunts and uncles. Further informing their endeavor was the broader culture, where generations of ancestors had come of age and whose parameters were intimately familiar to our parents. For our part, as children, imbibing traditions and family history was not a matter of choice; it was taken for granted because we were immersed in it.

What were our parenting aims and methods to be? How would we fill the void created by the physical distance of our extended family? How would we achieve a balance between staying connected to our Indian roots and becoming integrated in the culture of our chosen home? Is there even such a thing? If there is, how would we go about integrating elements of our family histories, traditions and rituals into our son's upbringing?

With the nuclear model of the family being the norm, nonimmigrants face many of the same issues as immigrant parents (with single parents often facing some of the toughest obstacles). However, immigrant parents face additional hurdles on the parenting track.

There is a "discontinuity between their cultural and social capital with that of the mainstream culture and institutions," say Cynthia Garcia Coll and Lee M. Pachter, two sociology professors who have studied the issue of ethnic and minority parenting. This is particularly true of non-Caucasian immigrants. Moreover, in many cases, extended families are so far away, and the journeys so expensive, that visits can be arranged only once every couple of years, if that.

We were incredibly lucky that my parents stayed with us for three months when our son was born. They taught me, by example, that silly games are the building blocks of child development and that talking "baby talk" to a child is an absolute requirement. When my in-laws came for a short visit, I learned even more. Eventually, they returned to their lives in India, to other children and their circle of relatives, friends and activities.

The panic attacks that followed their departure, however, were tempered by an illuminating thought — we were not alone.

In just the last 10 years, according to the US Census Bureau, slightly over 13 million immigrants arrived in the United States. Although their reasons for coming to settle here vary widely -- from seeking better economic conditions to escaping persecution — they all eventually face the same issues: getting an education, finding jobs and, most importantly, raising children here. How do they handle the issues that confronted me and, quite conceivably, every first generation immigrant parent?

With ingenuity, I learned. And by treating tricky problems as opportunities to learn and grow in a new society, right alongside their children.

"Not being able to turn to someone like your own mom for simple things" was very difficult initially when the children were small, says Beatriz Benitos, an immigrant from Bolivia. Beatriz runs Integrity Home Cleaning Services in Northern Virginia. Formerly an unemployed divorced mother of three, she is smartly dressed in a suit and looks every inch the businesswoman she has become.

But, she is quick to add, she had to be resourceful. "There is always a solution; it's just a matter of looking for it, finding a way."

Finding Support
She read a lot because she needed to learn, not only about her culture, she says, but also about the new culture in which she was going to make a home. She found the support she needed — church, friends and parenting classes at the local community center. She remembers a friend who was "almost like a mother" to her. Although she raised her three children (now 18, 16 and 13) as a single mother, she gratefully acknowledges that she did not raise them on her own.

"If I didn't have a support system, I made one available to me," echoes Archana (who asked that her last name not be used), as we sat in her warm kitchen in a quiet tree-lined neighborhood in Burke. Her homage to her dual heritage, an American with Indian roots, was clearly evident — spice jars shared shelf space with boxes of pasta, and images of Hindu deities shared the countertop with her microwave.

Together with her husband, she raised three daughters, now aged 24, 21 and 18. Initially, she said, she missed her family so much, especially when she was carrying her first child, that she went back to India to stay with her parents and have her baby there.

Once she returned, with a 2-month-old baby in tow, she began creating a support system for herself. She made friends quickly, among immigrants and nonimmigrants alike, tapping into the community and resources at the temple wherever she lived (they moved frequently). And it was this diverse circle of friends that she looked to for answers when cultural issues, foreign to her upbringing, stumped her.

Sex education in schools, for example. She would have preferred to wait until she thought her daughters were ready to discuss the issue, but she had no choice. Because sex education is part of the fourth or the fifth grade curriculum, "our hands were forced; we had to start talking to them." Maintaining their innocence and "tomboyishness" in the face of the knowledge they were gaining was tough, she says.

Beatriz recounts a similar problem. When her daughter reached school age, she wanted to sleep over at her friends' houses, a concept completely unfamiliar to Beatriz. "It was a constant struggle," she says. Back in Bolivia, Beatriz was not allowed to sleep out, even at her grandparents' house. She worked around the problem by having most of the sleep-overs at her house. On the rare occasions when she did allow her daughter to sleep out, she got to know the hosts parents in advance so she would feel comfortable.

When Archana turned to her American and Indian friends for advice about the sex education issue, they convinced her that it was better that children were educated about sex by their teachers in a scientific way, rather than by "their friends in a twisted way." Now, in retrospect, she is grateful for this education process — a combination of learning in school and communication between parents and children at home — and believes it has served her daughters well.

She also credits the school system's discouragement of spanking for the excellent communication she and her husband still enjoy with their grown daughters. Instead of spanking in order to discipline, they learned to talk to their children to hash out problems, she says.

Keeping in Touch
In the absence of frequent visits with family, open communication is vital for passing on family history to their children, agree Beatriz and Archana. "I strongly believe in letting them know about their family and background," says Beatriz. She talks to them at the dinner table about their family and about how she grew up. She took her children to Bolivia once to meet their family. "They were amazed" at the size of the family, she laughs. She has arranged for her parents to visit here just so they could spend time with their grandchildren.

Archana talks to her daughters about the "whys" of Hindu traditions and rituals as they observe them at home. She is also conscientious about cooking Indian dishes regularly. She has developed an elaborate family tree and tries to arrange visits to India once every two or three years so the children can develop and maintain a rapport with their cousins. In many ways, her nieces and nephews back in India are more westernized than her own children, says Archana with more than a hint of pride in her voice.

Family photographs also play an important role in keeping children connected to their roots. Beatriz uses them when she is talking to her children. Archana displays photographs of her parents and her in-laws on the wall across from her children's bedrooms. She imagines her children being blessed by the elders every morning as they walk out of their rooms.

While their children learn about their family's culture and history at home, the parents are equally involved in their children's activities outside the home. Beatriz volunteers at her children's schools and at her church. One of her sons also volunteers his time to the church and to the older residents of their neighborhood. Archana volunteers at a local homeless shelter, runs an Indian folk dance group for children at her temple and participates in the diversity programs in the local public libraries.

The Melting Pot
They also celebrate uniquely American traditions in their homes. Archana's family and a group of close family friends get together every year for "Thanksgiving Potluck." "We did not have that in Bolivia, but here there is a special day. We love that holiday," says Beatriz, obviously delighted at the concept. Now, she and her children get together with her brother's family (who recently moved to America) every year for Thanksgiving. She initially introduced that holiday to her family so that "when the children went back to school on Monday, they have something to talk about….They have to be a part of their school, our community; they have to belong somewhere."

Archana expresses a similar reasoning for putting up a Christmas tree in her house every year. She not only wanted to inculcate respect for other religions in her children, but also did not want her children to feel left out during the holidays. But rather than giving each other gifts, the family puts off purchasing important items during the year so that they can get them at Christmas, "and everybody is happy."

In spite of all the disadvantages they have faced over the years, Beatriz and Archana point out advantages of raising children here. Because of fewer social commitments with relatives, says Archana, they were able to devote more time to their children. Children are also more active here, participating in many activities outside of school. For Beatriz, "It's the freedom that you have to raise your children how you like to raise them…with your own beliefs."
"Don't worry, you'll do fine," are Archana's parting words to me.

"If you have your strong beliefs and your values, you can raise your kids wherever you are," says Beatriz. I figure that's good advice from a generation who's "been there, done that."

Beatriz and Archana's stories reflect resolve and resourcefulness. They mirror those of millions of immigrants who have allowed their pasts to educate their futures, creating generations of citizens that straddle diverse traditions and strengthen America's cultural fabric. I hope to someday share in the achievement of these parents of well-adjusted children who lay claim, in equal measure, to their heritage as children of immigrants and their destiny as citizens of America.

A version of this article appeared in Washington Parent magazine and in Vijay Times, Bangalore.

The Hitherto Unknown Calming Effect of Cereal

Last night, after two chapaties with yogurt and dal, my son said,"Mom, I need something to calm me down."

"Calm you down? What does that mean?" I asked.

"You know, something to make me feel nice."

"OK, so what will make you feel nice?"

"Mmmm, can I have a bowl of cereal?"

So after dinner, he had a bowl of cereal with milk, twice.

Hurricane Isabel

I started cooking first thing in the morning – something I don’t do, ever. I cleaned the house – made the beds in all the rooms, put away all the toys around the house and in my son’s room, and cleared the odds and ends that were piling up around the house. I did the laundry. I cleared the dirty dishes in the kitchen and ran the dishwasher. I dusted, scrubbed and mopped. I was waiting, getting my cocoon ready.

Then, I tackled a pile of loose receipts and assorted letters and statements from banks, mutual funds and credit card companies, tearing up and throwing away most of them and saving a few for the tax folder. I wondered about my ability to prioritize. Is that what I should really be doing now? I gathered our passports, birth certificates, marriage license, insurance papers, and whatever receipts I could find for all of the items around the house, and put them all in a plastic bag.

I sat down to catch my breath. It wasn’t even 9 am yet.

A couple of days earlier, I had taken photographs of the exterior of the house. Now, I took photographs of the interior. Then I continued cooking, simultaneously making chapattis and boiling water for pasta for my son. Chapattis would last for a couple of days without refrigeration. My son and I then went upstairs, loaded batteries in all our flashlights and the boom box. I pulled out the water bottles and the canned food (remnants of the last elevation of the terror alert a few months ago) I had stored in a closet upstairs. I lowered the temperature in the refrigerator and the freezer to the coldest setting.

I turned the TV on to see what was in store for the night. I made myself some tea and read the newspaper. Unable to concentrate, halfway into the tea, I headed back upstairs. All my photo albums were in the fourth bedroom that we had converted into a study. Just a few months ago, it had taken me two whole weeks to sort, chronologically organize and insert thirteen years worth of photographs into albums. All the negatives and the new-fangled photo CDs had gone into a cardboard box that was perfect for the purpose.

I dumped all of the toys out of a plastic tote in my son’s room into a basket and carried the tote into the study. I arranged the photo albums and the box with the negatives and the CDs in the tote and lugged it two floors down into a cedar closet (that’s used to store seasonal clothes and unused suitcases) in the basement. Of all the things in the house, those were the items I regarded as the most precious. I was worried more about possible tornadoes that night than I was about flooding.

Now, I was ready for Hurricane Isabel.

I remembered watching news coverage of many hurricane and tornado victims and the one thing they all said they were sad about losing the most were the photographs – irreplaceable mementoes of their children’s baby years, first days of school, proms, vacations, anniversaries and birthdays. That memory obviously stuck with me.

My in-laws called around 10:30 am from Chicago where they were spending some time with their second son. What was going on? Were we going to be all right? I reported that it was drizzling and breezy, but other than that, nothing was happening yet, and I said I thought we had everything on hand to come out all right. They were worried about the possibility of flooding. I assured them that that was not expected to happen where we lived, crossing my fingers and hoping it was true.

This was the first big natural disaster of our thirteen or so years here. Even though we had lived through snow storms (including the infamous “Blizzard of 96”) and other thunder storms before, none was as dangerous as Isabel was expected to be, and none had greater adverse effects than Isabel was expected to wreak on the Washington area.

My cousin called from St. Louis wondering if we were going to be all right. I said I thought we would be, but that I was worried about the tall trees in our back yard and told her we planned to sleep in the guest bedroom that night, away from the trees.

A close friend called. She lives in a high rise with her husband and daughter. We both reassured the other that we would be all right and talked about the precautions we were taking. She mentioned filling up one of her bathtubs with water. Why? I asked. She explained that water pressure might fall if there is loss of power, especially in a high rise. I debated if I should do the same, and foolishly as it turned out, I decided against it, somewhere in the back of my mind, connecting the water pressure issue only with high rises. I was more concerned about my three year old in the house with full bath tubs.

By late afternoon, the winds had picked up and so had the rain. My son and I sat out on the bench in the porch and felt the wind and the rain and breathed in the cool, wet breeze. It felt good. He screamed at the “wind god” to stop blowing wind. He squealed and ran back every time he got close to the railing and felt the rain on his bare hands and legs. He ran back and forth in a kind of a tango with the rain.

I turned the TV on for the latest weather news. Isabel had made land fall in North Carolina and was expected in Washington around 8 pm, with the worst of it expected between 10 pm and 2 am that night. Around 5 pm, we lost power.

Apart from the howling wind, it was the one of the calmest and most peaceful nights I had been through in a long time. The TV was not humming in the background, and the microwave and the coffee maker could no longer point out the time to me, constantly making me wonder if I should be doing something else. It was only when they were completely dark did I realize just how many times in a span of a few hours I would look for the time, reflexively. The swaying trees, the rain pelting the glass windows and the soft lights of the candles and flashlights only enhanced the dreamy effect. The bedtime story ritual was conducted by candle light that night. With no TV, or e-mails to check, or dishes to do, my husband, my son and I sat together and read the story of planets and stars, my son’s current favorite.

Around 10:30 pm, about two hours after my son had fallen asleep in the guest room upstairs, we felt and heard the first big roar of the wind that night and looked out to see the trees bending low, bowing to its force. I wondered what would happen if a tree fell and blocked our path to the floor above, leaving us stuck downstairs with our son sleeping upstairs. That image was graphic enough to have us scurrying upstairs straight away to get the sleeping bag, a couple of comforters and pillows and put them down in the living room, where we all eventually spent the night.

The rest of the night developed into a strange sort of dance on continuous replay. We would sit and the table, reading or listening to the radio, hear the wind whistling through the doors or blasting through the trees, get up and look out the window to check the trees in the backyard, go check on our son, and come back to the table. We had to keep the radio on continuously to get any weather related news, which was, unlike on TV, quite intermittent. I voiced my concern about the batteries running out and stared down a snicker from my husband. Batteries don’t run out in the span of a night, he explained. The forecasters, earlier in the day, had mentioned that tornado watches might go up by midnight, but nobody said anything about tornadoes as the night wore on. Finally, around 2 am, we were exhausted and did not see any point to staying awake.

Sleep was neither continuous nor restful. Every once in a while, we saw the headlights of a car driving by and wondered just what compelled driving around that night. Around 4 am, when I got up to get a drink of water, there was neither rain nor wind. Just calm.

Isabel was gone.

When we walked out the next morning, our neighbors across the street were already up surveying damage around their house. One of them lost a newly planted tree. We all gathered on our driveway and marveled at how little damage there was in our immediate neighborhood. Some of the tallest trees around had withstood Isabel, coming out of it with just a few shorn limbs.

It was then that someone mentioned the falling water pressure. Toilets tanks were not refilling water. Oh, oh. We were in trouble. I had not only not filled the bath tubs, the stoppers in both bathtubs did not work. I scrambled to fill water in whatever huge containers I could find as my husband drove to the local hardware store for the stoppers.

It came to me in a flash as I reported the morning’s events to my in-laws. Preparing for blackouts and water shortages is the stuff of life during summers in India. The images came to me now – scrambling to finish showers and any cooking involving electric appliances before the scheduled daily two-hour “power cut”, and filling water in whatever cooking utensil you could find, even the smallest one, to tide over a water shortage. Most homes have huge underground water tanks for this purpose, which will fill up as and when water becomes available.

More neighbors came out to talk and exchange stories as we got out the rake and the brooms to clean up the mess of dead branches and leaves. We saw people who lived in our neighborhood we had never seen before. Parents went out for a walk with their teenage children. A mother sat with her two small children at the end of the footpath across from our house and counted cars as they went by. Children came out to walk their dogs. A father went out for a jog with his daughter. People’s busy lives came to a crawl – soccer games and piano classes were canceled. People cooked breakfast and lunch at home because they did not want the food in their refrigerator to go bad and restaurants were not open.

Power came back later that day and water pressure improved greatly the next. Isabel came and went, and as in the case of many powerful forces of nature, she left damage and destruction behind. The coming days will tell the tale of the toll she has taken. But, she also left behind a sweet aftertaste, a harkening back to the days when life was lived in a slower, gentler pace, and when the lives of individual families were intertwined with that of the community.

She also served, for me at least, as a very good practice run for future emergencies – both the natural kind and the kind that are thrust on us by people.

Versions of this essay have appeared in The Springfield Times (http://www.timescommunity.com/) and in Quintessence Magazine (http://www.quintessence-encouraginggreatwriting.com/).

Be Careful What You Wish For

This appeared in the M.A.G. (Muse Apprentice Guild).

N* sat quietly in his car seat as we drove to the doctor.

“You are a big boy now N*. You are not going to cry, right?”

“No, mama.”

I craned my neck to look in the rear-view mirror. He had a forlorn look on his face as he gazed out the window.

“We’re getting the flu shot so you don’t fall sick, sweetie pie. You don’t want to fall sick when the snow comes, do you?” I asked for what must have been the hundredth time over the past two days, presenting big-person logic to a three year old.

The nurse called his name. “Follow me please.”

N* followed her into Room 15, ahead of me, facing straight ahead. He walked up to a chair, sat in it, and started pulling his sleeve up.

“What are you doing sweetheart?”

“She is giving me a shot, right?” he said, gesturing at the nurse.

I nodded, swallowing hard.

The nurse looked at me, her gaze questioning, slightly surprised. “Aren’t you going to hold him?”

I shook my head.

She turned her gaze to N*. I couldn’t see her face from where I was, but I imagined the surprise banished by skepticism.

She busied herself, carefully placing the syringe, a cotton swab, a colorful Big Bird band-aid, and as assortment of stickers on a paper plate.

“You’re a big boy, aren’t you? Do you want a sticker when we are done?” she asked, her voice bright.

He nodded, eyes shining.

The needle pierced my baby’s skin. His face crumpled, then quickly readjusted itself. He slid off the chair and ran to me.

“Mama, was I a big boy?”

My eyes rained tears as we wrapped each other in a hug.

m.a.g.

Heart-rending

I was in the hospital last week - taking turns with three others in my family here in Bangalore - to take care of a relative. One morning, as I was walking into the hospital to relieve one of them, a woman I recongnized from the ICU stopped me. She was there with her husband - alone.

Two nights earlier, they'd been to a wedding when her husband suddenly complained of intense discomfort and a burning sensation in his chest. They live in Devanahalli (about 75 miles from Bangalore) and there are no hospitals there that are capable of treating her husband. So at 11 in the night they managed to arrange for a taxi and arrived in Bangalore past midnight.

The doctors in Bangalore prescribed a procedure for her husband that would cost Rs. 2,000, an amount she was struggling to come up with. She talked non-stop for 10 minutes and the things that were bothering her were so breathtaking in their simplicity. At that moment, in the throes of crisis, all she wanted was her husband to be safe. She wanted a husband, she wanted her children to have a father, and she did not care if he could not work for the rest of his living days as long as he was around the house. He is 38 years old.

She has spent the night alone in the hospital with her husband, and as the sole attendant had to do all the running around (for things like xeroxing documents, filling out applications, making payments, getting registered). She envied my family, she said. "There are so many of you and you support each other." I told her to come and get me if she needed anything. Her eyes filled with tears.

The next day, I went into the ICU to see her again to find out how she was holding up. I wanted to give her some money, at least enough to help her get the procedure for her husband. Thankfully, the doctors had decided he could be helped with medication, he did not need the procedure.

Earlier in the morning, the thought of offering money had bothered me. Would she find it insulting that some city slicker had the temerity to think she needed charity? Would she be grateful or ashamed? After some deliberation, I had decided that I would offer the money for the procedure specifically. I am not really sure of the logic behind it, but it made me feel better.

When she said her husband did not need the procedure, I felt relieved. Now the money issue need not come up. I just told her to be brave and that everything would work out, and I walked out of the ICU.

This encounter is still bothering me for various reasons:

  • Devanahalli did not have a hospital and the couple had to drive to Bangalore for emergency care;
  • they were alone in a big city trying to come to grips with a personal crisis in an unknown place;
  • they were struggling to come up with the funds to get medical care;
  • where and how would her husband get follow-up care?

Labor of Love

It was the muted sound of a champagne cork popping, followed by a gush of warm liquid. “My water broke!” I squealed to V*, my husband. His hand, which had been massaging my aching back, recoiled. There was that phrase, at once much anticipated and dreaded. He jumped off his side of the bed and scrambled to my side. My fully pregnant torso groaned and creaked its way to a half-seated position. I waddled over to the tiled area of the bathroom (no sense in messing up a perfectly good mattress and carpet).

I grabbed the towel he handed me and got out of my pajamas. We looked at the small puddle of pinkish fluid that was forming on the floor. “Wow”, he whispered, almost to himself, “The baby has been in this.” We mulled it over for a second before my mind raced to the “Onset of Labor” checklist drummed into us in Lamaze class. This one was easy -- if your water breaks, call the doctor! I reeled off the number as V* headed to the phone and looked at the watch around my now plump wrist (pregnancy seemed to have invaded every part of my body during the final few weeks). 3:15 am – the threshold at which pregnancy stood ready to bid farewell and parenthood awaited its welcome.

At the hospital, the nurse handed me a gown as V* put the bag down and looked around our delivery room, his interest immediately piqued by the monitors. He was familiar with the machines and he knew the protocol in the delivery room thanks to the Lamaze classes he insisted we go to.

I was reluctant to go. Nobody went to Lamaze classes in our families, I said. But he wanted to go so he would know what to expect and not panic over something that was entirely normal. So we went, every Monday (except for one) for six weeks. By mutual agreement, we decided that ignorance was bliss when it came to “difficult births”, the topic of the class we skipped.

Attending the classes was one of the best things I did during my pregnancy. The focusing techniques taught there lived up to my expectations. I tried them during the first few contractions and they worked so well that, as labor progressed, I had no compunction telling anyone that blocked my view of my “focal point” to get out of the way.

Best of all, V* felt he could contribute to the process. He could talk intelligently about contractions and the stages of labor, and he knew when to call the staff. Attending the classes gave him the knowledge to support me when I declined epidural; and the patience to stand back and watch for hours, but be there when needed.

The first few hours of labor went by at a fast clip. V* survived, along with me, on cranberry juice and ice chips; he did not succumb to the crankiness that is the hallmark of his hunger pangs. The doctor checked me and announced I had dilated 4 centimeters. I reached for V*’s hand. He was always there. An adjoining family waiting room had a television that must have been very tempting. If it was, I never knew it. I closed my eyes visualized a blooming flower and whispered “Open Sesame” – feeling silly and at the same time, completely in control. When I opened my eyes, it was an hour later. I had taken a nap – in the middle of labor.

V* ran into the doctor in the corridor as he was getting us a drink. She came in a few minutes later, “I heard you took a nap.” She wanted to put me on pitocin to speed up the contractions. I glowered at V* for ratting me out. It was not his fault of course, but I did not want to take anything artificial, least of all something designed to ratchet up the intensity and frequency of contractions. She said because my water broke, C-Section was a possibility if the contractions did not progress faster. Pitocin lived up to its reputation. I had dilated 3 centimeters within the next hour.

Soon, we were at the stage of labor euphemistically called “transition”. It’s code for “the point at which the laboring woman loses all control”. Unfortunately, this is also precisely the point at which you are told to exercise maximum control.

The greatest urge I had was to push the baby out and scream at the top of my lungs. I had no vocabulary at that point; I just wanted to spew primordial sounds. Just like in the movies with delivery scenes. The nurse, as gently as she could, forbade me from screaming or pushing. I apparently had to conserve my energy for when the pushing actually began, and I wasn’t fully dilated yet. But somebody forgot to tell the baby that. He was on a bobsled inside, ramming my pelvic bone.

The doctor bustled in. “Are you ready?” I nodded my head, my mouth dry. At 4:10 pm, I started pushing. The relief at no longer having to suppress my urge to push was enormous.

At 4:41 pm, we had our baby. The doctor placed two clips along the umbilical cord and gave V* a pair of scissors. “Want to do the honor?” she asked. With tears streaming down his face, he simply nodded. He took the scissors, looked at me and snipped the cord.

Our life as parents had begun.

A version of this essay appeared in Pregnancy Magazine (http://www.pregnancymagazine.com/)

Starting Trouble

Been meaning to start a blog for a while now. In fact, I think one of the spaces I created has been sitting idle for sooo long that it's not available anymore. Anyway, here goes...again!

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