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My wake-up call came when my daughter was 3 and a half months old, and my breastmilk dried out for two consecutive feeds leaving her hungry.
It was that month of 2020 when Covid-19 cases peaked in almost all states and districts. It was my first pregnancy and I had to go through an unplanned and emergency caesarean operation at midnight.
It was also a weekend, days when a full lockdown was the norm. Hospitals were severely understaffed, and the workload of healthcare workers was very high. I was scheduled for a caesarean the next morning. Doctors opined that my baby’s head was too big and posed a risk of getting stuck in the pelvic cavity if we decided to try for normal delivery.
However, my water broke the moment I was admitted to the hospital and my labour pains started within an hour. The doctors still didn’t anticipate that the frequency of my contractions will increase within 2 hours to such an extent that they would have to perform an emergency c-section.
Thankfully, I gave birth to a healthy and beautiful baby girl. My husband and I were on cloud 9 as we had always wished for a daughter. Little did I know that my real ordeal was yet to start.
Thanks to the lockdown, I had spent most of my pregnancy at my mother’s house where I was cared for. I carried my baby to term and her growth was healthy. However, this didn’t go down well with my in-laws who were trying to meddle in our affairs now and then. It affected me so much that my blood pressure used to shoot up whenever I spoke to them.
My mother-in-law declared in the initial months of my pregnancy that my baby will be born inept with some missing body parts! All because I had ventured out during a solar eclipse and had used scissors on that day.
I must mention here that my mother-in-law holds a double postgraduate degree and was not at all superstitious with her daughter. It was a deliberate act of wishing ill under the pretext of concern. She wanted to frighten my husband and enforce her dominion over my pregnancy. But she couldn’t succeed in her mission.
My husband’s job didn’t permit him to be by my side and he thought I would be happier and well taken care of in my mother’s house during the pregnancy. So, we mutually decided to remain at my mother’s place for the duration of my pregnancy. This first incident had already soured my heart, but I didn’t know it was just the beginning.
She ordered me to fast without even drinking water under the pretext of my Godh Bharai. While she was feasting on delicacies along with other family members at home, I had to observe the fast in the 7th month of my pregnancy for half a day. She clicked pictures of the lavish feast she prepared and sent them to my husband to again fool him into believing her love and concern for our unborn child. On the other hand, to me, she was threatening bad luck for my unborn baby.
The Covid cases in our town started to peak shortly after and almost the entire town became a red zone. Luckily for me, I stayed with my mother at government allotted quarters, sparing us from outside contact.
However, I needed a trusted driver to take me to my very few pre-natal gynaecologist appointments. I asked my mother-in-law for a driver’s contact as she lived in the same town. But she said she knew none. My Ph.D. research supervisor, whom I consider a maternal figure, came to my rescue by lending me her driver for these visits.
Thankfully my husband arrived just in time for my delivery and my fears of an emergency were gone. However, his arrival gave my mother-in-law a very well thought opportunity to re-establish her dominion. She used to call him every day and fill his ears with sugar-coated poison. She mentioned to him how I must do heavy physical work all the time to have a normal delivery as she did.
She never refrained from pointing out that my mother had caesareans because she was a ‘lazy’ working woman. The comparison didn’t make any sense as my mother was 36 years old when she delivered me, while my husband’s mother was just 20.
As luck would have it, here too, her means couldn’t run their course as I had to undergo a caesarean section within a week. That didn’t stop her from pestering my husband the entire week, though she knew I could go into labour any time.
She wanted him to take her and her daughter to a town that was a 6-hour drive away from our place. The purpose was to collect some things from her daughter’s hostel room, that were unimportant for the past 5 months but suddenly became urgent. It wasn’t that they were being careful due to the pandemic as they always called it a ‘government-sponsored agenda’.
I requested them to wait till they meet the baby and travel later, as traveling to a red zone area would mean that they will have to undergo quarantine for 21 days. They were aghast at this suggestion and asked my husband to at least lend them his private car, stating that they would arrange a known neighbourhood driver. I was shocked that they knew a driver all along and yet refused to help me out for my doctor visits. My husband refused their requests keeping in mind covid protocols, only to learn that they still ventured out in public transport.
Soon after my baby was born, they started insisting to meet her. Thankfully, Covid guidelines of the hospital didn’t permit any attendants because of which my baby and I were saved from their ill intentions.
However, since the hospital was understaffed, I was kept in a private ward at the end of a corridor. The first 24 hours after my operation was a vision from hell. I lay in a pool of my blood, shouting for a change of sheets. No one could hear me as most of the staff were at the other end of the corridor.
For nearly 24 hours, I was not given any food or water and my baby was only shown occasionally to me to initiate breastfeeding. Unfortunately, my nipples were not formed even though I was lactating profusely. There was no breast pump at the hospital and my breasts started hardening too. I developed a fever due to the accumulation of breastmilk, while my baby was surviving on formula. As I was immobile in my sheets of dried blood, I started crying inconsolably.
A nurse finally attended to me and saw me crying, she concluded that I was suffering from Post-Partum Depression because of giving birth to a girl child. When she asked me this question, I could no longer hold back my tears, anger, and frustration. I asked to see my child to which she said I am a risk to my child due to PPD.
I could no longer take this treatment now. After many shrieks of pain, I stumbled down from my bed with my catheter still attached. The nurse was horrified and helped me immediately, but my catheter was displaced. It had to be removed before time. I cried profusely and requested to be with my child.
My husband was called then. He too was beyond himself with anger on hearing the allegations of the nurse. He proclaimed that I and my baby couldn’t be attended to only because of the pandemic regulations. He was indignant at the narrow-minded assumption of the nurse and declared how we had always wished for a daughter, although empathetic to her workload.
Because of all the injuries, I had to be kept in observation for 2 more days. I could only heave a sigh of relief when I was discharged. The doctors were also relieved to send a patient to their happy place in these stressful times. They did insist on regular check-ups till my stitches dissolved.
All this while, my in-laws hadn’t even congratulated me or enquired about my health. However, the very next day after my discharge, my sister-in-law called up my husband demanding to meet our baby without completing her 21 days mandatory quarantine. Both I and my husband were very particular about not risking any exposure for our baby.
The minute my husband mentioned this to her, she said “isilie meri bhabhi se kabhi nahi bani.. Kabhi socha hai q wo itni buri hai and mere sath bura karti hai” (This is why I and your wife don’t get along. It’s because she is so ill-natured and always wrongs me). Both my husband and I were taken aback.
I was under the impression that we used to get along. I had always wished her and gifted her on her birthdays, entertained her and her demands well when she visited our home. I used to take her side and made my husband patch up with her every time they had a sibling fight. None of these had ever been reciprocated.
She was unaware that I was also privy to this conversation. I came to know how she regularly tries to poison my husband’s mind against me. She was trying to tell my husband that now that I have given birth to our daughter, my time in their lives is done and he should remove me from their lives. She spoke of how she will tend to my newborn, all the while taking money from my husband in the name of allowance.
But after everything I went through in the last 4 days, neither I nor my husband were ready to take her lies. He called out to her saying “Where are your manners and what the hell are you talking about? My wife has undergone an emergency surgery and you have not enquired about her health even once. Instead, you are being disrespectful to her.”
To this, she angrily disconnected the call saying, “Bacha lo apni beti ko corona se. humse to nahi failega or kisi se lekin zarur hoga” (Try and save your daughter from Corona. Maybe not from me but from someone else she will definitely contract it). I was horrified to hear these words, not knowing that there was more to come.
Ever since my daughter was born, my mother–in–law used to ask for her pictures, only to find faults with her looks. Just because she wasn’t permitted to apply kajal to my baby’s eyes, she called them inflamed and squinted. Even when I was a child, we didn’t follow these practices as my father was a doctor. I didn’t want to entertain this for my child as well.
She also used to remark that my baby’s head is badly formed, as she wasn’t born through normal delivery. None of these things was factually correct as we had checked with the doctor too. That never stopped her from gaslighting us into believing it as she wanted to take control.
Soon after 40 days of childbirth, my husband had to join his duty as his leave was about to end. He wanted us to accompany him as he didn’t want to miss seeing his daughter grow. My mother had also resumed going to work and we feared exposure to Covid.
So, we thought that it would be in the best interest of our daughter’s safety to join my husband. I had to take a tedious journey of 500 Km by road. My husband, with the best of intentions, asked his mother to join us as I would need help with my recovery. She jumped at the chance. What I didn’t know was that she was planning to remove me from their lives.
As soon as she joined us at our home, she implemented her plan. I must mention here that my total weight gain during pregnancy was 10 kg. My baby’s birth weight was 3.5 kg, and I lost my pregnancy weight within 40 days. Knowing these things very well, his mother used to give my husband and my breakfast on the same plate under the pretext of increasing our love.
She used to ask him to have the major portion of the food and let me have a few bites, assuring him that she would prepare a healthy breakfast for me in a while. However, all these were empty words, and my husband had no clue about all this as he had to leave early in the morning for work. She used to prepare spicy snacks like bhelpuri in the evenings, and chowmein for dinner which again was not good for my health. Stating the same, she used to serve me a meagre amount.
During the 2 months of her stay, I used to have only one proper meal of dal and 3 rotis during the entire day while I was breastfeeding my girl every two hours. This started to take a toll on my health and my weight reduced by 5Kgs to 45 kg.
Having utmost confidence about his mother’s care and also being busy with work, my husband unaware of my deteriorating health. My mother-in-law was known amongst her relatives as the best post-natal caregiver having performed these duties for many of them. She was also famous for her dry-fruit and gond laddoos which she never made for me even once. She even went as far as hiding the ones that my mother had sent.
Despite my evident weight loss, she would casually comment on my weight gain and the fat depositing on my back. She veiled it with concern stating that I must exercise to lose that fat. She convincingly gaslighted me and my husband into believing that I was gaining weight, stating how I was sitting and breastfeeding most of the time.
She even convinced my husband not to help me out with chores so I wouldn’t gain more weight. I started having frequent blackouts, severe headaches, backache, and vertigo because of this malnutrition and gaslighting.
Apart from breastfeeding, I was washing my baby’s soiled pants and clothes by hand while also doing my daily chores. I was also bathing her, drying clothes out in the sun, and working on my writing job. My mother-in-law used to watch for the sign of my husband’s arrival back from work to send me off to my room to rest. She made a great show of fetching dried clothes to show my husband that I had been resting all day while she was toiling hard.
This created a misunderstanding between me and my husband. She didn’t even let me soothe my crying daughter when my husband was around under the pretext of not making her clingy. She also used to video call her relatives and make it look like she was always working, as she massaged our baby. She tried to pour massage oil inside her ears, nose, and mouth despite me explicitly mentioning that it was forbidden by doctors. It was a dismal experience for both me and my daughter.
My wake-up call came when my daughter was 3 and a half months old, and my breastmilk dried out for two consecutive feeds leaving her hungry. I was very concerned and rushed to my mother-in-law for some suggestions only to see her eyes light up and her lips curve into a smile for a split second.
Instead of suggesting home remedies to increase my breast milk supply, she suggested giving cow’s milk to my baby. When I told her that it isn’t recommended by doctors, she started taunting me, citing her parenting experience. But I had discovered the truth about her intent from her chuckle and the twinkle in her eyes.
I tried to be more vigilant, but my failing health did not always permit it. I joined several support groups on Facebook and consulted new mothers at my husband’s workplace to increase my breastmilk supply which yielded positive results. However, I was constantly feeling drained out. I wasn’t even able to talk to my mother as my mother-in-law would casually mention the death of two of my siblings at the age of 6 months to hurt her.
Once when I was feeling extremely tired, I uttered a cry for help in front of my husband. I expressed how I felt I would die if I do not receive proper care, leaving my daughter all alone without a source of food. My mother-in-law was quick to reply that many fathers and their families also raise young babies and that I need not worry. But with this statement, she knew she had gone too far too as she had spoken it in front of my husband and the damage to my health was visibly evident by then.
Soon after, she started making excuses that her daughter needed her, as she was being bullied by my father-in-law. This was untrue as she was staying at a hostel where visitors were not permitted to stay, In another instance, she said that the ghost of a daughter-in-law who died in her house was troubling her daughter and that only she knew the right mantra to ward off the evil spirit. She sneakily bought a ticket one fine day and informed us that she was leaving and quite literally ran away amidst the rising Covid cases.
It was good riddance for me, and soon I started gaining my health back with the help of the wives of my husband’s colleagues, my mother, and my sister. I exclusively breastfed my daughter for 1 year and continue to partially breastfeed her. She turned two years old recently and we both are hale and hearty now. Despite the several ill wishes of my in-laws, I managed to keep my daughter healthy and without falling severely ill to date, and God willing, will continue to do so.
Recently, I came to know that daughters-in-law in many relatives’ families from my mother-in-law’s village have died under questionable circumstances post childbirth. The reasons were falsely attributed to childbirth, and all their sons were remarried with heavy dowries from their second wives. The grandparents were raising the children born from the first marriage of their sons. However, in all those cases, the grandchildren were boys.
I often shudder at the thought of a similar or worse fate that would have befallen me and my daughter, had I not become aware of her intentions.
Image source: a still from the film Haseen Dilruba
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