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My Pregnancy, An Ocean Of No

“Don’t go to the waves!” warned both my parents, at different times, as though they had discussed this as a major issue that needed to be attended to before I left for a beach resort in my sixth month of pregnancy.

I understood they were basically giving me practical advice (the Bay of Bengal could be rough, and standing in the waves could make me off-balance and fall). My husband, though, reacted more sharply to their diktat. He felt it had more to do with the sun and the moon and the various, distant celestial objects that seem to govern a lot of what goes on in their household and, by extension, in ours. The reality is that I don’t need my parents to tell me to be careful about the waves; while I love the beach, I am not much of a water person. And my husband needs no special warning to hover over me. He does that and more on his very own.

At the resort, I sat on the beach and watched the waves for a bit. I was even tempted, just to spite my parents, to go into the waves for a bit, but the sea looked very rough and the wind speeds were high. But I did do couple of other things my dad would not have approved of: I went to the gym and did a combination of cardio and floor exercises. I went into the pool and did a few laps. And I did a few things almost everyone I know would have disapproved of: I took sips of the wine and beer that my husband ordered on the two days of our holiday.

Some women talk about how their pregnancy was a radiant time, or the most relaxing time. But to me it is one big NO-fest.

Educated Indians are in a uniquely disadvantaged position when it comes to this glowing time of life. We are trapped by the Western information we have access to (via the old, reliable Reader’s Digest and sundry women’s magazine) and the traditions that we are surrounded by. So, even though as a South Indian I am offered coffee at almost all times, my reading tells me that caffeine may not be the best thing for the baby. And while I can gaze appreciatively at pictures of the well-decked nurseries in magazines, I can’t buy anything in them, because it isn’t considered good luck to do so.

Bottom-line: be unprepared and under-caffeinated until the baby is born.

When you get pregnant, you cede agency to every Tom, Dick and Harry. I am forced to listen to the judgmental friend who almost bit my head off when I said studies show that alcohol in moderation is all right during pregnancy, or to the semi-judgmental friend who started sharply when I spoke casually about my morning coffee. (“Are you still having coffee?” she said, horrified.) Then there are the indemnity NO’s, like the whale-watching boat service in Monterrey Bay that refused me on board, or the spa at the beach resort refusing to give me a head massage.

My cousin, who came to visit me at the resort, asked if my doctor had permitted me to go to the gym. Another cousin sounded me out on how I should be listening to loud Carnatic classical for the good of the baby. How horrified would he be that my baby kicked equally vociferously to Eminem’s Shake That as it did to Sudha Raghunathan.

Childbirth and child-rearing is the most universal experience; it is natural that everyone has opinions and wants to weigh in with a first-timer. And to a large extent, I am ready to take the rough with the smooth — between a lot of the No’s there are also some really good nuggets of information. In the throes of horrible morning sickness in the first trimester, one of my friends told me that the fog lifts almost miraculously the day you enter the second trimester. It was ray of hope, and it came to pass just like that. My mother’s cook very obligingly made all manner of South Indian food for me at a time when that was all I could keep down. My own cook now very caringly ensures that I am fed at the times I normally feel hungry.

Yet the sense of irritation lingers. It is galling that one is deemed to be fit to be a mother, but not treated intellectually fit to carry the baby. My parents don’t trust my upbringing or education to know that I am capable of making wise decisions when it comes to what I can or should not do. My friends and family believe that what they have read is the absolute truth, while my reading is fiction. And what’s so wrong if my child grows up to like hip-hop, which it looks like it might? Really, my position is right at the middle, accepting in moderation anything that comes my way — and I don’t see how that can be so off.

I have four more months of a lot more No’s and Should’s. The best thing to do, I suppose, is, in moderation, plug some cotton into my ear, tune out the noise and just tune into my body.

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