“I’m taking a month’s leave,” said my young colleague, Som. “My wife is in the last few weeks of pregnancy and the doctor says she needs rest.” I looked at him and wondered why women still bear a grudge against men!Lively and flamboyant in the office, Som is the last person I’d expect to be hanging around the house, helping a expectant wife. It reminded me of the days when women went to their mama’s house for the first baby. Today, independent and with their own ideas on bringing up a baby, women prefer managing on their own, with the husband’s help.
When I was a little girl, I used to look forward to my aunts coming for their ‘confinement’ to granny’s house. A room was specially earmarked for this and it was always kept darkened. Granny would feed the mother-to-be with rich food; she would be forced to take a couple of strolls in the courtyard every morning and evening. She was made to listen to discourses on the Gita and other scriptures, a priest being detailed for this. She was not to get angry or be disturbed by anyone. She had to sing only bhajans or recite prayers. On D-day, a ‘mid wife’ would be summoned and we kids sat in hushed silence, trying to catch the muffled sounds emanating from the closed doors of the darkened room. Then, the shrill yell of a newborn baby could be heard loud and clear.
For three months, mother and child would be confined to the room where only a few could enter at specified timings. Gran would carry a covered tray with specially cooked food into the room and be the sole witness to the new mother’s eating. The father of the child would be summoned at the end of three months to see his child and wife and escort them back to their home. The mother would have had a nice rest and ready to tackle the newborn responsibility with equanimity. The husband, after his three month holiday, would be in a more receptive mood for disturbed nights and wet nappies.
The scene was very much the same when we grew up except that the darkened room concept was out and we were wheeled into well ventilated labour wards. There was no hushed silence as nurses and ayahs bustled around ticking off yelling mothers to shut up and leave wailing to babies. Food was rolled into the wards by scruffy wardboys on trolleys that needed as much scrubbing as they did. Visitors peeked into the trays to see what was served and wrinkled their nose in disgust. Doctors came on their rounds asking you when you’d like to go home. At home, you had sisters and brothers to help you with nappies and bottles and you could relax and chat around and soak in the new found bliss of motherhood.
Now, expectant women don’t go to mothers anymore. With limited maternity leave, they have to be swiping g till the time they have to rush to the hospital. Few mothers can come to help as they too work and cannot get leave at odd times. With overbooked and overcrowded nursing homes, the expectant women are wheeled into the labour ward and sent home a day after, with the baby all wrapped up in a towel, its face red with mosquito bites. The joyous father who’s on annual leave, receives his precious cargo and wonders what to do with it. The hunt for a reliable maid begins. Office timings seem like a picnic after baby’s weird hours. Parenthood begins to tell. Clock watching at the office becomes a way of life and who cares about performance anyway?
I pity Som and his like. Some customs have their uses. One of them is going home to mothers for the baby.