On one occasion, on the day her first child was born, she went to the hospital for her period, and as a result the baby vomited a day or two later. “My body was not made for that,” she says. “I thought I was going to die. And the doctor said to me, ‘you don’t know this but your child is pregnant’. A couple weeks later the pregnancy failed, and I went through the entire pregnancy with only the support of my mum.”
After her death, the family moved around. “We used to live in different towns and it was more difficult to get work while I was gone,” she says. “So my husband, who is a medical student, went abroad to study.”
He returned to India and, with little family knowledge, was surprised to discover his wife was pregnant again. “I wasn’t prepared for that,” he observes. “I went there and the pregnancy was diagnosed by the midwife who was treating her. A year and a half later, she gave birth to our second child. It’s a miracle.”
The family now lives in one of the few hospitals for the handicapped in a poor neighbourhood, on a narrow street, in an old city square. Her daughter and her son go to school here. Her husband is studying medicine. Now he is taking a job to provide for the family after working for years at the hospital.
In the early mornings the children climb up the steep steps of their old school to play, or go to play in the local park. They have no education, their father says with a smile; the children had no choice but to grow up in a society where one cannot be a doctor without a medical qualification. “In society where everybody was poor, if you have a doctor’s qualification you have to work,” she adds.
But in the present times, doctors can no longer go anywhere without going through the stringent procedures and requirements with family and society authorities. “But it’s hard,” she says, “when a father, who works as an assistant professor, goes to his children and goes, ‘I had no idea’.”
Kathleen Harkes is a health and safety consultant in the country. She is currently working on an educational initiative in Hyderabad.
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