The Gender Issue

Working in the outpatient clinic of the first referral unit in Santhemarahalli is fantastic – I see so many different types of patients, different situations and it’s always lively and has a ton of things going on at once. I think I’m much more tolerant of what I see now in terms of deliveries, and don’t feel as nauseous anymore. However, the overwhelming feeling of gratitude that comes to mind when I realize what mothers have to go through to give birth (and of course subsequently raise a child over a lifetime), still gets to me every time. I’m sure you do this, but please just thank your mom for being your mom the next time you talk to her.

I’ve spent enough time in the clinic to know which babies actually have jaundice versus the ones who simply have turmeric smeared all over them, and have learned to tell other random things like which babies are breach and how many weeks they are at and what sex he/she is on a sonogram. There’s also so many culturally specific things that the mothers do here, which I also find interesting. For example, almost all mothers that comes in have a wool cardigan on along with a cloth covering her ears and head, essentially to keep the mother warm, despite what the weather may be. Often, mothers come in sweating, which is also seen as something they are supposed to do to keep healthy, post partum, although I don’t know how though . A lot of them also take their own hair and make anklets out of it to keep on the babies, and also refuse to cut their nails for a few months post partum, which actually may not be so advisable.  Also, people who have piercings in their ears/nose, keep pieces of wood as their place holders between the time they’ve pierced it and the time they put in the actual ring, and they try to do it as soon as possible when a new baby is born; in fact, a baby who was delivered in the ambulance had her ears pierced by the mother by the time she reached the hospital – that’s pushing it a little, I think.

I also saw a woman a few days ago, who just gave birth to her fifth girl – apparently they had been trying for a boy for some time now, but the family was just meant to have plenty of girls. It reminded me of Pride and Prejudice, and the fact that Mrs. Bennet had to go through Jane, Lizzy, Lydia, Kitty and Mary before realizing that boys were just not in the cards for her. It was fine though, because they weren’t too phased, which was lucky for the girl, contrasted with a woman (unmarried), who gave birth to a girl, and informed the staff afterwards that she had no intention of keeping her. It was kind of sad, but there was actually a couple who had come in earlier who couldn’t conceive, and were looking into alternative options, so we called them back in to see if they would want a baby girl – it was all so nonformal. Within a few hours, they were taking her home. While this situation worked out (with minimal background checks or paperwork), and the couple seemed happy and like they’d be fairly ok parents, it was all very circumstantial.

I’d like to say that the situation of a woman not wanting her child after giving birth is rare, but it actually isn’t. The gender issue, that of being more ok with the death of a female but not of a male, of placing higher regard for one sex over the other, is so entrenched in the way of thinking and is so deeply rooted in the minds of people. I’m thinking of looking more deeply into possibilities of making the matching up of ‘unwanted’ children with ‘wanting couples’ more formalized and legitimate, especially since this FRU caters to almost 90% of deliveries within Chamarajanagar district. As of now, it’s all quite up in the air, and the two doctors that run the entire ward often work as doctors, social workers, lawyers, counselors administrators all in one day, so any kind of formalized method would be helpful.While India has a law that restricts physicians from letting pregnant women and their families know the sex of a baby before hand (with good reason looking at female foeticide rates in certain areas), I wonder how many more cases there are of the one I saw yesterday, of not wanting the child even after having given birth.

I really enjoy getting to know the doctors and house staff that I work with – each has so much to offer in terms of past experience and good conversation, that it’s exciting to go back day after day. And finally, on a completely unrelated note – my love for mangoes grows every day. They are just some of the most fantastic fruits ever, and they quite honestly just get me excited every time I’m about to eat one or am in the process. I think of all the things I’ll miss when I go back, it’ll be the mangoes.

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