I waited for an hour outside Mithibai College to break the news to her. While clutching my wife’s blood reports that I had received the same day, I was waiting impatiently for her while she was attending a lecture inside the campus.
Earlier in the day, she had complained of dizziness and exhaustion but she was certain that she was not pregnant. When she came out and we walked towards the auto-stand, I told her that her belief (of not being pregnant) was unfounded. She looked at me in disbelief. She walked beside me in complete silence, not holding my hand as we crossed the street. She was lost in her thoughts.
Even before she moved into my apartment in Sion (in the Eastern suburbs of Mumbai), we had discussed this numerous times. Though we were very active sexually, she had made it clear that she didn’t want a baby. She was a journalist and feared that getting pregnant could hamper her career, or even totally destroy it.
We took all kinds of precautions. While I always used a condom, she used to take the pills. But as they say sex is strange: sometimes you cannot take precautions. It is not possible to resist the temptation if you don’t have a condom in the immediate vicinity. Also, as we had discovered, the fragile condom can’t be fully trusted either.
Every now and then, I would buy a pack of pregnancy kits and she would check. It was a kind of a game that we used to enjoy. However, one day, the results of the game changed.
One day, we forgot to discard the stick. A minute or two later, I noticed a faint second line on the indicator panel. I told her immediately. “Let’s try once more. Go and bring me more pregnancy kits,” she asked.
Just as in the movie Ki and Ka, I went and brought six different pregnancy kits for her. Two of them showed positive, two didn’t give a clear result and the other two gave a negative result.
A friend advised to get a blood test done, apparently the sure-fire way to check the existence of pregnancy. Thanks to her busy schedule, we managed to get the blood tests done only two weeks later. And three days afterwards, we received the report that was positive.
The same day, we decided to see a doctor across the road from Mithibai College. By the time we procured an appointment with the doctor, two more weeks had passed and she had already missed her period. She wanted an abortion, for which we would have to go to a private clinic, and not cheaply, either.
A week later, we decided to consult another doctor. By this time, my wife was already in the sixth week of her pregnancy and the doctor advised to undergo an ultrasound. “Your baby has a beating heart. Listen to it. Then come back to me,” the doctor said.
Five days later we returned to Lilavati Hospital for the procedure. We heard the sound of a beating heart. It was loud, clear and faster than a normal heartbeat which went straight to my heart. After the ultrasound, I told her that I could not have that sound muted.
The doctor was very clear that it is unadvisable to terminate the first pregnancy because it might create medical issues afterwards. We were supposed to decide quickly because a delay might lead to endangering my wife’s life too. My wife was virtually silent for the next few days, mechanically going through her daily routine. I could sense that she was torn between the baby and her career. She really longed to be at work since her promotion was round the corner. Merely sitting at home for nursing a newborn was not her definition of a ‘meaningful life’.
Five days had passed since she went ‘silent’, so I decided to initiate the conversation. After I started the conversation, she revealed that she had yet not taken a decision. Later I summoned the doctor who was strongly opposed to the abortion.
I called her older sister too and told her about her pregnancy. She shared the “good news” with everybody else in her family. Her phone started ringing incessantly. She answered most of those calls in monosyllables before hanging up while promising to call everyone back, which she never did. Meanwhile, time had run out for a safe abortion. Any further delay could tantamount to medical complications for the mother.
Finally, I resorted to the last bet of dialing my mother’s number. She was a cancer patient who had never asked my wife for anything. I have never heard my wife say ‘no’ to my mother either. They shared a healthy bond and had a lot of respect for each other. My mother, who was too ill to travel, asked her to see her in Kolkata, that too alone. Five days later, my pregnant spouse flew to Kolkata. She returned after a week – beaming, smiling and back to her old self. She declared – much to my joy – that she would deliver the baby and manage the career as well. That was probably the happiest day of my life until then (but certainly less happier than the day when the baby took birth).
As the days and weeks rolled by, it became increasingly difficult for my wife to juggle between her job and the pregnancy and the things got complicated along the way (a different story for another day).
In the first week of August 2012, my mother telephoned me at 10 PM. She wished me luck for the baby and told me that she wanted to listen to my voice for one last time. Two minutes later, she ran out of breath.
On February 6, 2013, my son was born. What passed between my wife and my mother to change my wife’s mind is a secret for till this day. But here is what she will share.
The decision to have a baby is never easy. A baby will keep you away from your active work life for a minimum of at least six months. Your pregnancy will slow you down while your colleagues will continue to run at the same pace, if not faster, in their professional lives.
We talk about balancing the two and working through pregnancy but ask any mother and she will tell you how difficult it actually is. At some point, you have to make a choice – either the baby or your professional life. There is indeed no balance.
During the last three months leading to the birth and another three months afterwards, you are forced to shift your focus from your professional life to concentrate solely on the baby.
When you are finally ready to return to work seriously, the decision comes as a blow to your conscience. Your baby is dependent on breastfeeding and will now have to drink from the bottle while you will be away at work. Imagine the feeling when the baby is crying for your milk but you are ready to leave for work in a minute or two. Then you are torn by colossal doubts whether the baby is being looked after properly or not in your absence. The baby’s arrival changes everything in the mother’s life and the first thing to become a casualty is her professional life.
I haven’t had a regular job since my baby was born. I can’t return to my old job or position, at least not immediately. My baby has, however, given me immense joy. He is the entire world to me. But I will be lying if I say that I have no regrets.
Sonika Tewari Banerjee