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14th June 1998

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After thought

Why me, God why me?

By Kumudini Hettiarachchi

Six months ago we attended a funeral. There is nothing unusual in that, but it was pathetic because it was the funeral of a baby boy, just eight months old. As we looked at the tiny coffin and the baby inside it, the face so calm, with a slight smile which seemed to be hovering around his lips, it looked as if he was asleep and would open his eyes in a moment. And the tears came and with the tears, thoughts of a pregnancy not so long ago .

He seemed so much like my little son. As I sat near the baby who had died due to some congenital problem, memories of a pregnancy two years ago surfaced. It started off as any normal pregnancy, with the usual discomfort and nausea and also the joy of the knowledge that a tiny being was growing inside. Yes, when you are slightly older than the stipulated child-bearing age, I feel mothers tend to appreciate the miracle of pregnancy more.

The first warning signs came around the fifth month. Being in another country and a strange town didn’t seem to matter at the beginning. The family doctor we were seeing was very good and kind.

The anxiousness on her face after she listened to the baby’s heartbeat told me something was amiss. There was an extra beat, she told me in layman’s language.

How could it happen? It may be that the baby has a hole in the heart, she explained. The dreaded words hit me with shock. And the thoughts rushed through my mind - had we made a wrong decision to have a second baby so late?

Then the most traumatic period of our lives began. Tests and more tests. The gynaecologist, the family doctor recommended was soothing and comforting. Just do those tests, she said. So the trips to different hospitals began. First it was the hospital closest home to do the Non-Stress Test on the foetus. You are put on a bed and some equipment tied round the abdomen, with meter attached to it. My fears were compounded by the look on the nurses’ faces, when they saw the needle on the meter going haywire.

More tests at a bigger hospital specialising in pre-natal care. But the answers were the same.

Something seemed to be wrong. I still remember the sign near the bed in that unit. It said, “We will do everything possible to cure your baby, but please don’t ask us what the sex is.” That is because after a sonography, some parents insist on finding out whether the baby is a boy or a girl.

And in India, doctors say, there is a danger that some parents may attempt abortion, if the baby is a girl. I didn’t want to know what sex my baby was. I just wanted an assurance that the baby would be alright. After that it was another test, at one of the biggest hospitals in Bombay.

The request by my gynaecologist read ominously: “Please do a foetal cardiac Doppler to rule out any abnormalities.” As I cooled my heels in the waiting room I look at the other mothers surreptitiously. Some were very young, others about my age. My name is called and as I walk in, the doctor accompanies a mother out and says, “Mrs. —— your baby is fine. Don’t worry, there is nothing wrong with the baby’s heart.” And I think why did this have to happen to me? In a moment of anger I wonder why it couldn’t have happened to that mother, why me? Quick remorse after that for the horrible thoughts entertained by me. But the questions linger. Why me? Have I done something wrong? Is this some form of punishment, this mental torture, for something I have done? Why God, why me?

The nights are worse - sleepless, worries making me restless. The support and strength from my husband and little daughter are immense. But the worries don’t go away. They are there always.

I can just imagine the pain and agony mothers undergo when they hear their children are handicapped, that there is no hope for them. For most doctors you are just another patient or a guinea pig to improve their knowledge. The room was crowded with doctors.

The Doppler test, as I understood it, was like a scan with some kind of colouring to check whether the flow of blood in the four chambers of the baby’s heart was in the correct order. They did the test and the blood flow was okay. But they could not give an assurance that the baby would be born normal.

There was a possibility that the baby would have a hole in the heart. One of them even had the nerve to try and make some money out of it by giving his card and saying he would like to see the baby soon after birth. Not to help, but to study the case further. You would like to be nasty, but cling to anything. So I nod my head numbly, take his name card and head for the door, more worried than ever before. A nurse hands the video of the test for further “reference”.

The only reassurance comes from a long-distance phone call from my sister. She gives courage with her words. “Have the baby safely first and we will worry about any heart condition of the baby after that.

If there is a need, the whole family will pool our resources and send the baby for the best medical care elsewhere,” she stresses. And the sixth, seventh and eighth months pass. Finally, the ninth and halfway through, the baby’s heart beat becomes normal and the irregular beat is heard no more. Indescribable relief.

But some tension until the tiny being is born. The baby is born okay, but one lesson learnt_never, ever take anything in life for granted.

The experience also left me with a special affinity towards mothers who suffer in silence, mothers who have undergone terrible tragedies with the loss of their babies.

For them, the excuses we make, “It is better this way. Otherwise he/she would have suffered,” “You would have been burdened with a disabled child for life,” sound hollow and insincere.

They seem like an attempt on our part to soothe our own consciences over our inability to be of help to them.

But mothers, all of you who have suffered such an irreparable loss or have a special child, don’t despair. Women like me may not be there with you physically, but we are there for you. You are always in our thoughts and in our prayers.

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