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Lalita Iyer’s book, I’m Pregnant, Not Terminally Ill, You Idiot! is an almost clairvoyant peek into the mind of every woman who goes through a pregnancy.
Review by Sandhya Renukamba
As I read this book, I was reminded of Satyajit Ray’s award winning movie Devi, in which the ascribing of goddess-hood to an ordinary girl, the daughter-in-law of the house, changes her life forever. She becomes incidental, her personal life, her privacy, wishes and wants eclipsed by the projection of the others’ perceptions and desire for faith, to the point where she begins to believe in her divinity herself.
It is a magic wand. The stick that is used to test the possibility of a pregnancy changes everything. A positive result, suddenly, miraculously bestows on a woman a halo; often, a halo she had not really signed up for. It all then becomes about the baby. Every action of the woman, henceforward referred to as the ‘mother’, gets scrutinized in the context of the pregnancy. All actions of the people around her – family, friends, colleagues, the neighbour’s third cousin’s friend’s mother-in-law’s neighbours, and random people on the street – are coloured by this sole defining fact. And they all have an opinion about the situation. In a society which puts such a huge premium by matrimony for procreation, this can often mean discounting the mother’s own personality, sense of personal privacy, and likes and dislikes. Everything that needs to be done needs to be done ‘because it is good for the baby’. This attitude, of course, carries over to the post-partum period, lactation, and well into the time baby is weaned if breast-feeding does happen.
Lalita Iyer, who had a great career in publishing, woke up to this reality one day when she found herself holding that magic wand with the two pink lines. It took her a long time to get some sort of a perspective, and sit down to write a book about it.
The author takes her own experience of pregnancy, birth, and motherhood, and comes up with a pithily worded account that taps into a woman’s psyche, shattering to a large extent the popular, dreamy image of mother-and-child. She tries to re-claim her personhood, one that is denied her from the point she was bestowed that halo. In the process, she wonderfully validates all that a pregnant woman goes through – not just what society readily concedes to, like physical changes and medical needs. Every woman who is a mother, who is or has ever contemplated motherhood, or has any future plans of being one, could do well to read this book. I would suggest that their partners read it too – it would go a longer way towards a better experience of parenthood if they understood half of what a woman goes through.
There are a few things which could have been done differently. First, the book becomes a bit repetitive at times, and could have done with tighter editing. Second, I balked at the packaging of the book – the shocking pink of the back cover and the obviously pregnant model on the cover would mean that it would mostly remain a book picked up by women, at least in typical Indian households. This could detract from its valuable role in opening the eyes of the male of the species to an intrinsically female experience – something that the book is capable of doing wonderfully well, and would fail simply because not enough men would be as enthusiastic about picking up this book for themselves.
Third, is the fact that some of the views are a bit insular, and are restricted to the experience of upper-middle-class to which the writer professes to belong. It is there in the whole concept of having a baby-maid at hand, the way in which she wonders why more women do not take the ‘expressing their milk when at work’ route, the concept of having a choice in the actual process of birth, etc. Most women do not have the luxury of having even a part-time baby-maid to do their bidding, never mind a full time one. It is usually someone in the family who gives that support in the initial months, and after that you are pretty much on your own, especially if you live in a nuclear family. They do not have the luxury of investing in a breast pump, or the luxury of privacy to express and store milk at work. For them, it is either staying at home, often on unpaid maternity leave, quitting altogether, or simply giving up on breast-feeding , if quitting a job is something they cannot afford to do. To be fair, the author does mention something along these lines at one point towards the end of the book, but it could have been better explored. This is clearly a book aimed at the privileged, urban, educated, middle class/upper middle class, and preferably working woman.
Despite these issues, this is a thoroughly enjoyable book, with its often tongue-in-cheek humour and outright insubordination towards the institution of (almost holy) motherhood. I would club this book with the likes of Caitlin Moran’s iconic book, How to be a Woman, where she attacks the popular perception of how a woman is expected to be, by society, and primarily by the male gaze. This is certainly a book to add to those others we usually pick up to know more about the nuts and bolts of pregnancy.
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