Gain definitely without the pain

One of the biggest problems a new mother, or a new parent faces, is that of a flood of advice from everywhere. You’ve signed up on the web for a service that gives you an update on your baby even if it is born. You google every little movement in your body while you are pregnant, every little change of colour, every little shortening of breath. You’ve got a host of friends telling you what to do and how to do it best. Friends and family alike, insisting that age-old remedies are best; other friends saying it is best to listen to science and your own doctor. Being a mum-to-be or a new mum is not easy at all -- in fact, it’s FULL of questions and confusions. Let me tell you of my story

It was a special day. We were all eagerly waiting for her because we had been trying to have a baby for eight years. When I got pregnant, our joy knew no bounds. But when she was actually born, that joy doubled. We didn’t think it was possible.

So what if we had to wait hours for an appointment? If we had to take it one month in advance? We wanted the best. Our parents thought we were being a bit excessive, but given how long we waited before our first kid, they kept quiet.

I tell you this story because almost no Indian family is complete without the well-intentioned interference of grandparents who will try to tell you almost everything is wrong. Add to that, suggestions from every single person - parent or otherwise - and boy, were we often left confused.

So too was the case when we got our daughter vaccinated just after birth. It was my first run-in with the fierce resistance that a grandmother can put up, my first experience of how friends, neighbours and relatives will all give you entirely unasked for opinions. Suddenly, it was my husband and I against the rest of the world, which included the people who had given us birth. Their objection? That we chose a DPT vaccination for our child that was less uncomfortable and had less frequency, chances or episodes of pain and fever. Our doctor recommended it saying it was just as effective as the normal one but with lesser side effects. I happened to mention it to friends one evening and they all had their experiences to share. How were we to make up our mind? No amount of research lets you disbelieve the experiences of people you trust.

The first thing my mother asked -- she accompanied us to the appointment where the doctor told us about the vaccines -- after they walked out of his cabin was, “How much does it cost?” We said we didn’t know but we would check. We did and the nurse told us. My mother immediately started on how there was no need to spend that much on a vaccination that was probably not going to be as effective as the regular one. I gently challenged that to which my mother replied, “Your body has to go through the pain for the vaccination to be effective. If the baby doesn’t fall ill, the vaccine won’t be of any use,” she ranted on the way home. Soon she told my dad. And that weekend, when my in laws visited, this conversation came up then too.

Soon, there were messages of concern from the in laws and a daily cold war with my parents, where they wouldn’t say anything explicitly but would make their displeasure evident. I didn’t realise we felt so strongly about our choices for the baby, even if they were as common as vaccinations. My father would say something at lunch and I would show him googled results of its usage everywhere. At dinner, my mother would try and talk to me, gently saying I needed to care more about my daughter (eyeroll) and do what is right for her. Finally, for the next appointment with the paediatrician, I took my mother and father along. It was unusual but I had to have him talk to them because I didn’t know how else to explain it. After he examined the baby, I brought up this subject with the doctor, telling him how much of a strain it was causing me, a new mother.

Our doctor said it was important that the environment at home was stress free for me and the baby. And that he could assure us that this vaccine was perfectly effective. Ever direct and tactless, my father asked, “How can you be sure your hospital is not trying to make money?” I sat there and wished the earth had swallowed me. He continued by adding that all his life he had only heard that the body needs to go through pain and fever for the medicine to be effective. “Look at Ayurvedic medicines for example,” he said, adding, “they taste horrible but they do the job. No pain, no gain.” My doctor paused and then proceeded to explain things to him in a very simple manner. I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it myself.

“Sir,” he addressed my father, “You don’t have to undertake painful methods to get the job done these days. What I am trying to say is that you don’t really have to put a child through fever and pain in order to make sure that the vaccination is effective. Science has made sure things are easier.” That seemed to convince my father. On the way back home, my mother started with me, “But…” My father shushed her gently and that was the last I heard of it. Their granddaughter would be fine. That night at the dinner table, my mother amicably said, “You are grown up now. You know what is best for your daughter,” and proceeded to serve me my dinner.

(This is first-person account of Chhaya Menon’s experience in her own words. Please write to her at chhayamenon88@gmail.com

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