Continued from here:
The two pregnancies progressed well. The wife, as the wife of a senior official at a British company, had access to the best medical care. She became the patient of the city’s top obstetrician-gynecologist, the one all the foreign ladies went to see. His office, sparkling white and cheerful, super-efficiently air-conditioned, never crowded, was equipped with the latest gadgets and technology. Some people (usually his Indian patients) grumbled behind his back (to his face they were all simpering adoration) that he was arrogant and conceited, that he became impatient and irritable if too many questions were asked, but, they hastened to reassure whoever it was they were complaining to (and perhaps themselves as well) that he was the best-qualified doctor in all of India, probably the world even.
Visitors to his office found their eyes assaulted with the plethora of diplomas that crowded his wall: hidden away in a corner, something from the local college, but, blown up and occupying the pride of place, with its impressive curling script and Latin phrases, a certificate from Yale University, next to that, something from England, declaring him to be a Fellow of some Institute or the other (it seemed rude to stare too hard, one had to appear as blasé about all this as the doctor seemed to be), and occupying all the remaining empty spaces, lots of smaller certificates and diplomas attesting to his having completed various courses and tests. On another wall, there were dozens of framed photographs: the doctor, his face wreathed in smiles, accepting an award from the President of India; another one of him delivering a speech to a large audience; many others in a similar vein. It was a privilege to be accepted as one of this doctor’s patients, he was an extremely busy man, in demand all over the world, and had to be exceedingly selective about who he could take on as a patient. So, it was really a small matter to have one’s questions remain unanswered, or to be ushered out of his office after a mere five minute consultation, because, after all everyone envied them their being his patient, which was what really mattered.
Lalitha, too, got decent medical care for her pregnancy. The wife saw to it that. Left to her own devices, all Lalitha could have afforded was the local corporation hospital, dusty and fly-ridden, patients squatting in every available space, hollow hopelessness in their eyes as they resigned themselves to a wait that could sometimes stretch for days. No, Lalitha deserved better than that. So the wife found her a doctor at a nearby women’s clinic where at least the fans were kept on during the hottest part of the day, and a nod was made to hygiene with a once-daily mopping of the premises with phenol. The doctor at this women’s clinic was brisk and businesslike, she did not have time for pleasantries and small talk. But at least she was not rude to her patients, and, within the limitations of time imposed upon her by her heavy load of patients, tried her best to answer their questions and quell their anxieties. The fees for the clinic were more than twice what it would have cost at the corporation hospital, but the husband paid for everything from his own earnings. It was the least they could do, he said, for Lalitha’s loyalty to them. And it would ensure her future loyalty as well.
So, you see, my grandmother said, everything progressed smoothly. Two small rooms and a bathroom were built for Lalitha and her husband, the driver, in the back garden, so that they could have a little privacy, and also more space, once the baby arrived. In the big company bungalow, the parties continued with uninterrupted regularity. The husband got a promotion in his British company and a big salary raise. The wife and Lalitha sometimes compared notes on their pregnancies, often giggling like schoolgirls as they did so. Once again, my grandmother’s mouth tightened, registering her censure at this behavior, and then she continued talking. The wife had sonogram pictures of her baby, which she showed to Lalitha, pointing out the arms, head, heart, from the fuzzy black-and-white images. Hers was a baby girl. Lalitha, whose medical care did not include these frivolities (as they were considered then), had no idea what she was carrying. She hoped fervently for a boy.
Nine months passed, and the wife went into labor first. She was woken up one night when her amniotic sac burst open, drenching her with the warm fluid. The husband rushed her to the nursing home, a gleaming, humming place, soothingly lit, and with beautiful artwork on the walls. In keeping with the latest theories and research, the music of Mozart was piped into all the rooms, playing its multiple roles as stress-reducer and brain-cell builder.
It was an extremely difficult labor, but the husband stayed by his wife’s side for all those hours, did not go away even once to use the bathroom. They had been to classes at the doctor’s office, where he, armed with the latest from America, had instructed the husband on how to help the wife to breathe during labor, how to give her massage, to feed her ice chips, be a calming presence. The husband was a good student, and now, during the long, hard hours of labor, showed that he had grasped his lessons well. The wife was grateful for his support. The mother was there as well, for a while, but she left early in the morning to supervise matters at home.
Finally, after many, many hours of excruciatingly painful labor (the doctor, again in keeping with his knowledge of the latest medical trends advised against any painkillers; the more natural the birth, the better it was for all concerned, he asserted) the wife gave birth to a baby girl. She was whisked away to the nursery, and the wife, exhausted with the hours of effort, fell into a deep sleep.
Two days later, Lalitha went into labor. The women’s clinic that she had gone to for her checkups had a labor room of its own, and that’s where she had her baby, after a scant two hours of labor. She had a healthy, strapping baby girl. Mother and baby returned home after a day.
Meanwhile, the wife continued to stay on in her nursing home for several more days. Battered and sore after her ordeal, she needed the rest, and she spent most of the time sleeping. On the third day after her baby was born, she woke up, feeling refreshed and relaxed. Her mind, which, so far, had been in a pain-medicated daze, felt clear and bright, and she pressed her nurse-call button to ask the baby to be brought to her for its first feeding. The nurse hesitated a bit, and then bolted off, muttering something about calling the doctor. The wife drifted off into a doze, and woke up with a start a while later, to see her obstetrician-gynecologist, another doctor, and the nurse standing around her bed. They had expressions of concern on their faces. Her obstetrician-gynecologist looked different, somehow, and she realized that it was because he was without his customary smug expression.
After a good deal of throat clearing and foot shuffling, he came out with the bad news: there was something wrong with the baby. During the course of the labor, the baby had been deprived of oxygen, and was born severely brain-damaged, and was unlikely to survive more than a few days. The doctor cleared his throat again. And, he continued, not able to meet the wife’s stunned stare, her body had not responded well to the labor. There had been a great deal of uterine scarring. It was highly unlikely that she would be able to have another baby. He was sorry. In all his years of practice, such a thing had never happened. This was a freak occurrence, it could have happened anywhere, anytime, to anyone. He spun on his heels and walked out of the room.