January 29, 2012


“I MISSED MY PERIODS”. Shantanu looked up from his newspaper.” Does that mean you…?”

“Possible. Or maybe just hormonal imbalance like the previous time” I cut in without waiting for him to finish. I didn’t want any anticipation to be built up only to be disappointed later. We had been married for five years now. It had been a mutual decision to not start a family until two years after the marriage. The passage of the years from two to five saw an increase in the questions from family elders. My in-laws were progressive people and that was a relief. They didn’t lament about passing away without getting to see the face of their grandchild. They were also not worried about the lineage coming to an end as their eldest son had already added two grandsons to the family. Their concern was that late pregnancy might create complications for me and the baby to be born. In a polite manner they were telling me that I was nearing thirty and my body would not be the same as it used to be five years back. Sadly the biological clock ticked only for women while men’s potential was not time bound. A few years back newspapers had an article about a farmer in some remote village of India who at sixty seven had fathered a baby boy.

“I will pick you from college in the evening. We will visit the gynecologist for a test. I hope it is positive news this time”. I hoped so too. Much as they tried, my in-laws could never hide their ardent desire for another grandchild.



“Hello. Hi Padma.Sure I will be there at four”.

Padma was a close friend and my obstetrician. Now that I had finally conceived I had decided to rely on her during the full course of my pregnancy until the delivery. Padma and I had been school friends. We had always been together till our choice of careers took us to different cities in India. The friendship however survived despite the distance. After years we were back in the same city. I was more than happy to have her beside me. I trusted her skill and acumen implicitly. More importantly I trusted her as a friend. I was in my fifth month of pregnancy and Padma had asked me to come over for a pre-natal check up. Shantanu and I had decided not to opt for an ultrasound examination. We wanted to keep the sex of the baby a secret to be revealed to us only at the end of nine months. It gave both of us something to look forward to apart from the obvious fact that a baby was on its way. Padma however felt that an ultrasound was important to get a confirmation about the health and well being of the fetus. I had read in the various journals that she gave me, that apart from determining the sex of the foetus, ultrasound also brought to light fetal abnormalities so that preventive measures could be taken. I had wondered what ‘preventive measures’ could have meant.

“So how are you feeling?” Padma’s room was bright and surprisingly for a hospital, inviting. The walls were painted a light shade of cream and the white marble floor shone. The windows had white blinds which were drawn apart partially to let the sun rays in. It was strange that the walls were not adorned with pictures of chubby babies which are a regular feature in maternity clinics. Instead there was one large, brightly colored Tanjavur painting of a cherubic baby Krishna with butter liberally smeared on his face and more in his hands. In one corner of the room was the ultrasound machine to the side of which was placed a bed. She asked me a few questions and then made me lie on the bed so that she could begin the examination.

I think I saw her squinting hard at the monitor. Presently she turned to me and asked me to get up.

“Why didn’t you show me the image of the fetus?”

“I will send the CD home. You and Shantanu can watch it together”. I felt she was ill at ease after the ultrasound was over. The word fetal abnormalities kept ringing in my ears. Neither of us could meet each other’s eyes lest something untoward was betrayed through the gaze.


Two days later Padma called me to meet her at the hospital. She had wanted to discuss something important. I was prepared to hear the worst. As promised she hadn’t sent the ultrasound CD home.

“Lavanya you will have to listen to what I have to say with utmost patience and composure. I am sure we can do something about it. Ok?” she looked at me waiting for a response.

“Stop building up dramatic tension and come to the point Padma”, I said trying to sound brave.

“You are carrying conjoined twins”.

Had I heard her right? Did she say conjoined twins? Siamese twins? Those things which are attached to each other?

“Lavanya did you hear me?”

I had heard her. She had said in plain and simple terms that I was carrying conjoined twins. No amount of sophistication of terminology could cover up for me the fact that I was carrying a freak, two freaks in my womb.  My stomach was churning and I felt the morning’s meal surging up my system. I rushed to the toilet in time so as not to vomit on Padma’s clutter free table.

“Are you ok? Take some water”, she made me sit down and handed me a glass of cold water. I was feeling sick. After waiting for a few minutes she began.

“Let me explain to you. Conjoined twins are a rare occurrence among human beings say one in fifty thousand cases. It happens when the division of the fertilized zygote stops mid way leading to an attachment between the fetuses at the point where the division stopped. The reasons for such an occurrence have still not been established but it is…”

“Oh shut up Padma. I am not interested in your medical jargon”. I retorted. My ears were turning hot and red. I could hear my breath coming out in fast pants. My heart pounding at my chest.  The realization had still not sunk in. How can it happen to me? I lived a healthy and disciplined life and so did Shantanu. Was his sperm the culprit? Or was it my egg? Was it bad timing? What if we had waited for some more time? Perhaps then I would have been among the forty nine thousand cases of normal pregnancy.

“Lavanya I understand your pain but …”

“No you don’t understand and you cannot understand till you have something similar taking shape inside you. So don’t pretend Padma”. I knew Padma was not to be blamed. How could she help the zygote not splitting into complete halves? Yet I went on ranting at her and she listened to it all patiently. I felt I was losing my sanity. I was angry, sad and in shock.

“Look Lavanya as opposed to olden times, things are improving now. In your case the attachment is at the sacrum, at the base of the spine. It is comparatively easier to separate such twins and they have sixty eight percent chances of being successfully separated”.

“Separated? Do you think I am even going to give birth to it?”. Padma looked at me perplexed.

“I want to get rid of it. Abort it”. Preventive Measures was the only option I had.

“Are you crazy? Abortion in the fifth month is not a sensible thing”

“I don’t care. I will not go through the rigors of labour only to bring freaks into this world. Abort it. God willing I will conceive again. If that doesn’t happen I will adopt. But just to make an example of myself I will not give birth to these aberrations. I don’t care to be called a model mother.”

“You stand the risk of losing your life. Do you care about that?” Padma’s resolve at composure had given way and she yelled at me hoping to make me see reason.

“Then what the hell should I do?” I barked at her.

At last the plethora of emotions creating turmoil inside me settled themselves in my eyes. I cried. She held me tight.

“I don’t want it Padma. Just the thought that it is there inside me repulses me”, I said between sobs.

“Does Shantanu know about this?” I asked her.

“No I thought it best to tell you first.”

“Help me Padma. Please do something. I don’t want it” I wailed.

My wretchedness forced Padma to say something which wasn’t the best of things for even a human being to say let alone a doctor.

“Lavanya there is a high probability that conjoined twins are still-born. I will not let you risk your life by going for an abortion. But in your case we can hope that the babies are…” she didn’t finish her sentence but I got the import of her words.

“What if it is not born dead Padma?”, I asked with tears in my eyes and a strange resolve in my voice.


            “I am sorry Shatanu. The baby was still born”

“Does she know about it?

“Not as yet. She is asleep”.

When I woke up I saw Shantanu sitting beside me. His eyes were moist. He broke the news to me about the baby being still born. Baby! Padma had not betrayed me to Shantanu. I had borne an equally devastating fact inside me for months which I did not share with him. Tears welled up in my eyes. He was crying at our loss and I was crying at my lie.

A year later our daughter Veda was born. The grief of the past began to be quickly forgotten from the moment of her conception. Padma had taken a transfer back to Bangalore. The communication between us which earlier was not dependent upon proximity had now almost come to a stop. I knew part of the reason for this could be traced back to what had transpired in her consulting room two years back, to the culmination in the labor room.

 …Veda is growing up beautifully. She is the cynosure of her father’s eyes. I am the disciplinarian. As women we are conditioned to believe that motherhood is the most important thing in a woman’s life. Do you hate me for the choice I wanted to make? I don’t know whether they were still born or whether you just decided to keep them away from me since you knew I did not want them. It doesn’t matter now. When you told me I was carrying conjoined twins, the image of monsters sucking at my breasts became indelibly etched in my mind. I knew I could have never loved them even if technology could do significant miracles to make them appear as close to normal as possible. In a country where the birth of girls is frowned upon how much chance would children with deformities have of an upbringing which is devoid of at times pathetic and at times failed attempts at treating them ‘normally’? Negligible if you ask me. I didn’t want to be the mother of children who were merely coping with life and the meager possibilities it offered to them. I didn’t want families, friends and neighbors to discuss them during parties in their cozy living rooms, or while driving down to work or during a trip to the grocery store; discuss them not for all that they could have achieved but for the obvious things they lacked.

And Shantanu, his parents, his brother and sister-in-law; how much support do you think they would have lent me? The onus is not just on the mother. Did you give that a thought? Or did you just have in front of your eyes a woman who was challenging and flouting the code of motherhood by wanting an abortion? …

I stopped mid way, deleted the email meant for Padma and signed out. So much time had elapsed that now questions and explanations had ceased to become important or even necessary.

2 comments to Mother?

  • Well written and such pertinent questions! Keep up the important work. This is my personal opinion, not meant to offend anyone: if someone weren’t in their second trimester of pregnancy with such a dire possibility looming, abortion would be the best option.

  • A Reader

    A bravely written article. No one has the right to judge the decisions any person takes regarding her own life, her priorities and perception of well-being. While I fully support the idea that the needs of care-givers, particularly mothers, of children with special needs are no less important than the needs of the children themselves, (and are hardly ever considered) I am deeply uncomfortable with the demonization of children who do no fit in with what society dictates as “normal”.

    If an “able-bodied” child were to have an accident that left him/her disabled for life, would the parents then wish the child were never born? Such an accident is no different than the accident of birth itself.

    It is one thing to not want a child for reasons of one’s own inadequacy in providing the necessary time and care that child-bearing and rearing involves, and this holds true in case of all children, not just those with congenital problems. But to blame and demonize the unborn children themselves, simply for being what they are, considering they had no choice in the matter, or to mask one’s own inability in caring for the children under the fear of lack of societal acceptance, IS NOT acting in the child’s best interests. It may or may not be in the parents’ best interests, that is upto them to determine, but under no circumstances must it be done under the naive belief that it is for the child’s own good.

    Real courage would consist in recognizing intolerance and inadequacy, both in society and in one’s own self, and in NOT blaming the child for the chance to life that it is being denied.

    Some would say there is nothing gained by such reasoning, if it is likely to lead to the same conclusion. I would still say there is a small victory here; in recognizing woman’s right to her own body and her life, as also in recognizing systemic failure that denies the right to life to all beings, and gets away by victimizing and blaming the individuals concerned – both the child as well as its mother.

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