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Don’t Be A Good Girl: A Story Of Loss And Learning

Posted: June 3, 2014

Loss alters us in more ways than one. Here is a gut-wrenching story about love, loss, and a lesson all of us should remember: Don’t be a ‘good girl’.

There are pains which one follows throughout life, with one’s mind. For twenty five long years she has been denying it, and equally insistently it has been trying to emerge. It has haunted her, obsessed her, and defied her efforts of deleting it – plainly refusing to go away. Finally, it has persuaded her to break her silence to get back the peace of mind which so far has eluded her. It is insistent that she should abandon her I-am-a-good-girl  mode of thinking. It (the story?) has to be heard, to be read, if she is to get any tranquility. After reading it, if any good-girl, any well brought up girl, decides to rebel against the norms of being well bred, all the better.

After reading it, if any good-girl, any well brought up girl, decides to rebel against the norms of being well bred, all the better.

It is an everyday story of three women. Woman number one is Mother-in-law (MIL), woman number two is Sister-in-law (SIL), the married daughter, and woman number three is the young Daughter-in-law (DIL). The  absolutely inexperienced DIL was full of a special sweetness. After all, she was in the seventh month of her first pregnancy. The MIL turned up at her place to help in her confinement – to deliver the baby. It meant a considerable increase in the workload. The MIL ostensibly had come to serve her DIL but she turned the DIL into a servant. Sitting on the sofa, she would issue one order after another.

Gradually, the MIL annexed the most comfortable easy chair, the best bed, the cooler etc in the newly founded household run on a tight budget. The MIL had all the rights; after all it was her son’s home. A very swollen and pregnant DIL was at the beck and call of the MIL because being physically active was supposedly  good for her. As if MIL’s guidance was not sufficient, by the beginning of the ninth month arrived her married daughter.

The SIL was accompanied by her two bubbling-with-energy-kids – an eleven year old daughter, and a ten year old son. The SIL slept the whole day while a thrilled MIL ordered the DIL, “Make poha… Make bread pakoras for children. Why shouldn’t they enjoy? They have come to their uncle’s home.” Poor DIL worked off her feet, which were so swollen that she couldn’t even wear slippers. The SIL dozed throughout the day.

The DIL realized that SIL was drowsy all the time because she was pregnant for the third time. She had her quota of cravings, and her fad was that she wanted her food to be cooked in ghee, not oil. So the DIL had to cook every item twice, once in ghee and once in oil.

She felt like a beast of burden. The SIL declared that she couldn’t cook because she felt nauseous. She had come to help, not cook. At times, the drumming in the DIL’s ears was so loud that she feared she would black out and fall on the gas stove. She talked to her husband about it. He, with all sincerity, went to the other two women. They snickered and laughed at him, “Oh, yes! You know your wife is neither the first nor the only woman to have a baby? We too have had them.”

They snickered and laughed at him, “Oh, yes! You know your wife is neither the first nor the only woman to have a baby? We too have had them.”

Back came he, reassured and seeming knowledgeable. He sympathized with his wife but thought it was her lot to bear. His mother couldn’t be wrong. His sister couldn’t be wrong. Anyway, as he was not suffering the physical discomfort, it was easier for him to shrug the matter off. However, he engaged a servant to make chapattis and patted his own back for taking such a clever and wise decision. Vegetables, his wife could cook easily!

Here were two Queen Bees in the same hive. So how could a mere DIL survive? She told her husband about her feeling of suffocation. In the evenings he took her out and they sat on the narrow bridge by the roadside in the vicinity of their home, while the Queen Bees chalked up negative marks against them, that he was pampering her and not the precious niece and nephew. The SIL was worried about how she would face her in-laws when they would come to know that her children had not visited any cinema hall even once in a fortnight.

The husband tried to look assured because he had been assured, but his common sense told him that something was wrong. So, he acted in a ‘manly’ fashion. He announced all on his own that he was taking her to the doctor for a checkup. Woman One and Woman Two granted graciously, “You may, if you so want, no hassle! The first time, women often take more than nine months. Didn’t my so and so and your so and so take….”

The doctor was aghast when she looked at the mother-to-be. The first question she fired at the DIL was, “Who has come for your delivery – your MIL or your SIL? Among Punjabis and Sindhis this is a big problem!” More exclamations, when she noted her patient’s blood pressure, “Call your husband!” The husband was called in. The doctor looked at him as if he was the worm of the lowest kind, “I am admitting your wife right now. She needs bed-rest. No, she hasn’t complained, but her blood pressure is very high. How can you educated people behave like this? I have been checking her up all these months and she was absolutely fine. Now, she needs rest.”

The doctor looked at him as if he was the worm of the lowest kind, “…How can you educated people behave like this?”

She took the DIL behind the curtain onto her examination table while the slightly worried husband sat there. The doctor started shouting orders, called her two colleagues for consultation because the fetal distress had alarmed her. Immediately, they decided to perform a C-section.  They asked the DIL when she had eaten last. It was one o’clock in the afternoon. The DIL had had no time for breakfast that morning before coming to the doctor’s because she had been kept busy giving room service to her MIL, SIL,and kids.

At ten o’clock, she had stood by her sleeping SIL’s bed with a plate full of snacks while the MIL had cooed, “Eat, dear. Get up. How will you manage if you won’t eat?” That DIL should also be allowed to eat was none of her concern. As luck would have it DIL’s not having eaten anything since morning was a positive point at that moment because they could immediately give her anesthesia. The doctors glared at the husband, who, by now, had grasped the gravity of the situation. The DIL delivered a baby boy. The MIL and SIL came to the hospital, and to the stream of friends visiting they enumerated how they had looked after the comforts of the DIL.

The MIL was very eloquent, “Nowadays it is so easy to give birth to a baby. The husbands are so worried that they even keep cooks for their wives. The doctors cut open the abdomen and the baby easily comes out. Now if she had to bear the pains of the delivery like we did, then she would have known what giving birth is like.”

 “Nowadays it is so easy to give birth to a baby… The doctors cut open the abdomen and the baby easily comes out. Now if she had to bear the pains of the delivery like we did, then she would have known what giving birth is like.”

After forty-eight hours, the slow heart beat of the baby was confirmed. The baby was in serious trouble. The flower had bloomed, though already wilted. The callous MIL still thought her son was fussing about nothing. All babies have problems in the beginning. The educated SIL kept a diplomatic silence. The baby was flown to a metro. A pacemaker was put inside his thigh. The baby could not be saved. It came out of one darkness and went into another.

The lady doctor tried to guide the bereaved mother. Her high blood pressure could have led to the collapse of the baby’s heart valves. Many women develop high blood pressure in the final stages of pregnancy. Next time, she should take caution. The SIL and MIL blamed it on the long walks the DIL had taken (whereas she had sat on the bridge in open air, fighting suffocation, and the tension filled atmosphere at home). Otherwise, how could this happen? They had taken the best care of her!

The tiny feet of the baby haunted the DIL. She had watched them only from her bed for a short while, before the baby had been whisked away from her to the incubator. The DIL’s moist eyes elicited from the other two women only perfunctory sympathy of this-is-life-raw-and-ripe-fruits-both-drop kind. The loss of the baby was like a stone cast into the pool of DIL’s life – the concentric ripples of despair sweeping out in all directions changing her relations with others. They even changed the nuances of her relationship with her husband. Her blind trust in him was gone forever. Gradually, iron materialized through her tears. The sense of loss led to self-pity which turned into self-blame and anger.

Gradually, iron materialized through her tears. The sense of loss led to self-pity which turned into self-blame and anger.

She grasped that ‘older is wiser, younger is wilder’ is a wrong assumption. Elders are not always right. Playing blame games is fruitless. One either rides the wave or gets pulled under. She decided to be a strong swimmer. Instead of blaming others she underwent a metamorphosis. She changed her approach to marriage and life. The next pregnancy, she took on the condition that no one from her husband’s family would come to assist her. She met with great care the repeat of the symptoms and had a healthy daughter, then a son, during the next five years.

While bringing up those babies, in her heart, she apologized thousands of times to her first son… for not having been able to take proper care of him. Twenty-five years is a quarter of a century. Still, the DIL has not forgotten that her MIL and SIL had casually managed to destroy her first born. And that her submissiveness and hesitation had allowed them to be successful. The SIL had delivered a baby girl a few months later. Looking at her, DIL is always reminded of the son who would have been older than her. The MIL has passed away. The DIL is impersonally polite to the SIL.

The DIL’s husband calls her bitter memories exaggerated sentimentalism. She should forget the past because it is inconvenient to him. After all, how can he blame his sister and mother for the fate, the Kismet! It was so willed! But perhaps because a man can never feel the life quickening inside his body, he cannot mourn so intensely its passing away. She was not even allowed to mourn the baby properly because her grieving had seemed accusing to him. He could not have allowed her to point a finger at his family after all.

The second-hand experience often fails to stop new people from walking into the old traps, but learning through someone else’s mistakes is lot more convenient. The DIL wants all young girls to learn from her story. Because she was meek, felt something was wrong with her pregnancy but did not take timely action – she was the loser and also the blamed one.


Pic credit: the mutator (Used under a CC license)

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  1. Such a powerful story…unfortunately the reality in so many households…my mom also had a similar experience..she unfortunately has 2 SILs..she was taunted and abused when she delivered my sister-her second daughter..my dad was and is still a mute spectator..

  2. I do not think – women are each others’ worst enemy but the PATRIARCHAL SYSTEM is the enemy.
    For better understanding I can give a small example. When a to-be-mother-in-law starts demanding dowry from the bride’s family, the bridegroom and his father give a tacit approval of the same by being silent. If the father or any other family member had thought that this was wrong, should not they have told the mother-in-law not to demand? Would the father remain silent if the mother-in-law had done any mistake with HIS mother. The women in the family are USED by men to do things which is ultimately useful to them than to the women.
    Many husbands do not support or stand up for the wife, because they fear losing the privileges they have got with their family members. So at the cost of the wife’s physical and mental health they ask them to put up with all these….Parents also brainwash the sons from the childhood saying, ‘whatever happens, hope you do not leave us in our old age and blah blah blah…’. I seriously doubt whether the girls’ parents do not age?!
    The girls’ parents on the other hand keep sending messages to the girl from her childhood that anyway she has to leave them and go to some other house….this is also encouraging the patriarchal set up. Why do not parents of girls expect the girls and the sons-in-law, (as much as they do from the sons) that they should take care of them in the old age, so that the sons-in-law also get involved in it. In this modern age many women earn a handsome sum that they can take care of their parents who spent money on their education, just like the boy’s parents have done.
    Till this mind set is established, that all elderly people need support and respect, (irrespective of which gender is born to them), there will be gender bias and differences in treatment.

  3. i want to know whether I am a good girl or not….
    I keep feeling that I am tamed especially about the what would look /seem good and what not…
    The original me is random..
    mairrage seems a big thing to me esp arranged.
    I keep being undecided what I want in life….

    listening to parents and deciding for mairrage is right? if not then what can be done ? I have been successful academically and professionally for some years…
    now is the time I feel like staying alone or in a foreign country ….I m not a bold person and thus succumb to the conventions…how do I freely live and take decisions tht make me happy?

  4. This is the reality in many households. Only education and awareness can change it. Teach your boys and teach your girls. Make a difference one kid at a time.

  5. girls please take a stand its only you who can change your life. don’t take crap from anyone.

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