A lifetime in an hour
She stared at the email message on her computer, her mind racing so fast that the words blurred together and no longer made any sense. Just three lines, but enough to make her life--the life she’d worked so hard and sacrificed so much to build--begin to crumble around her. This has to be a joke, she thought, a cruel joke. She took a deep breath and enunciated every word again to draw clarity.
Dear Miss Sudha, We have received your ultrasound report and regret to confirm that the baby in your womb has not developed any brain mass at 14 weeks. If you proceed with this pregnancy, the baby won’t be able to sustain life without any support for more than few hours after the delivery. We can discuss details at length on your next medical visit.
Dr.Shushant, Chief of Medical Unit,
She sat there, in shock, as every word got absorbed into her skin and she felt numb. She closed her eyes and willed herself to believe this was all just a bad dream but the words twisted in her heart like a sharp cold knife. The thing within her that gave her life a meaning was dying and now she felt herself falling into a deep dark pit.
Sudha’s life had always been a kind of an eternal battle with the God. Problems and misery were always around the corner for her. But she was not a woman who could be broken so easily. Being born an orphan takes that kind of luxury out of your life. She was a fighter; a problem solver. She did not fret over the issues, instead searched for the best available solutions.
Have no parents? Take care of yourself. No food on the table? Get by with the water. No shed over your head? Sleep under the sky. She made best of what she had. She was her own God.
It was this self-made attitude that made her work tirelessly against the tide of misfortunes in her life and acquire a teaching job in a local school. She had plenty to survive on, but something was amiss in her life; a family of her own. A typical two window house with a husband and a child. A dream she longed to come true every minute of her life.
So she was over the moon when she fell in love with an army man. Of course, anything that made her happy came with its own set of problems. They had to fight his parents to get married which resulted in him getting disowned by his family. But they were happy. She was finally content in living a life she had built with pure will and sacrifice.
It would seem that god didn’t think she deserved that kind of happiness, because soon he took the debt of her happiness by taking away her husband from this world. Shattered as she was, she did not shed a tear. It would have been a dishonor to the sacrifice of a martyred soldier. She stood by this reality strongly and proudly. If she had found God that day she would look him squarely in the eye and have asked: “Is that all you can do to break me?”
Two weeks later she discovered she was pregnant. Never before had she cried so much out of happiness. For a minute there she even thought that God did love her. She had found a new purpose in life. She was soon to be a mother. She decided to build a new life from scratch for her child. Like a bird building its nest she worked day and night to gathers all the small necessities for her little one, but with one gush of the wind, every bit of it got scattered. And now she just stood there like a boat in a dessert. Misplaced and purposeless.
What was she if not a wife or a mother? A seething realization came into her. God had finally broken her. He was determined to see her try and fail miserably fighting the destiny he gave her. She refused to live life on his terms anymore. She walked over to the kitchen and looked around vaguely. What could she use to make it all end quickly? She had never thought about suicide. After all that she has been through in her life she had never thought about suicide. She laughed at this ironic pride she felt. She rattled around in the drawers aimlessly when a small bottle of rat poison caught her eye. She took it out and as she was about to open its cap she felt a kick in her womb. She froze. Chills spread through her whole body. She stood there still holding the bottle in her hand when she felt the second kick. She threw the bottle away and stood there breathing heavily. She touched her soft shiny womb. This was the first kick she had felt in last 4 months. She suddenly realizes what she was going to do.
“I am sorry.. I am so sorry” She cried holding her womb and sank to the ground. She cried for her dead husband, she cried for her baby and she cried for the life she was handled. And when she was utterly spent, she wiped her tears and looked up. “You will never break me. You are not my creator and so you will not be my destroyer”
She got up back on her feet and dialed Dr. Shushant’s office to schedule the first available appointment.
Everyone at the Doctor’s office was expecting devastated women the next day. Doctor himself waited uneasily. It’s not every day that he had to suggest to a pregnant lady to abort her first child. Something that no medical degree or 20 years of experience prepares you for. But when Miss. Shuba entered his office with a composure that seemed too great to acquire in her state, all that he could do was to look at her in awe. Her grit in the face of worst tragedy in life commanded an immense respect from him.
He got up from his seat in a swift action and stood in front of her confused. He had practiced addressing a tragedy-stricken face, but not a face that stared at him with calm perseverance.
“Miss Shuba, I am extremely sorry…” He said not quite meeting her eyes.
Shuba responded with small sign. The only graceful way she knew to respond in her state.
She carefully sat down on her chair as Dr. Shushant pulled out her reports.
“I would not bother you with all of the details of the report…..” He said hesitated.
“Please.. I would like to know all the details…” she demanded respectfully.
Dr. Shushant fumbled with his files. It would be cruel to have a lady handle all these things alone.
“I would suggest that we have this discussion with your husband present.” He suggested politely.
“He is no more. I don’t have any other relatives who could join me” Shuba said without a trace of remorse. DR. Shushant looked at her briefly. Her eyes were sans any feelings, any emotions. He should have felt pity, but all he could feel was admiration. He opened her ultrasound report and looked at her.
“As per this report, your baby has not developed any brain mass. This is one such deformity that no amount of medical treatment can cure. Considering that you are still in your 14th week, it will be legal to abort this child at this stage. You will just have to fill out few forms and I will write the medial report providing proof of no life sustainability for the abortion”
“I felt a kick,” She said like she had not heard a word doctor just said
“What?” Doctor asked taken aback at this.
“This morning, I felt a kick… doesn’t that mean that there is some kind of….sustainable life” For the first time doctor saw the vulnerability in her eyes, a fluttering hope. So it took a lot of courage for him to say his next words.
“I am afraid.. that is just as long as the baby is in your womb,” He said in a measured tone. Trying to keep the heartbreaking tragedy away from the fact he had just stated.
Sudha went silent. Her chest caved in like someone had hit her in the gut. The Doctor continued compassionately “Miss Sudha, I say this with my 20 years of professional medical experience, that the best thing to do in these cases is to abort at an early stage”
“But I felt a kick. My child is still alive.” She said feeling outraged. The doctor looked down feeling pity. Behind that brave and calm face was a grieving mother of a child who was still alive in her womb. What could he possibly say to someone like her?
“Is there really anyone with whom I can talk to. Like a distant relative of yours…” he asked concerned
“Yes, In fact, I do have a very close relative. The one you are suggesting to abort right now” She said angrily and then looked down embarrassed at her outburst. She knew she was targeting her rage at the wrong person.
“I am sorry..” She added quietly.
“No, I am sorry,” The Doctor said sincerely “You are in a difficult position. I cannot imagine anyone who could have handled it better”
She looked at him blankly and asked “Is it a boy or a girl?”
The doctor looked at her hesitated. It was illegal to reveal such details. But he could not find it in his heart to deny her the right to know this. She had too little time with her child anyway.
“Girl” He replied
Sudha smiled reminiscently “My husband wanted a girl. We would have named her Kiara. She would have had his eyes and my nose. We decided I would love her and he would discipline her. But who were we kidding? He was never the strict type. We both would have ended up spoiling her… ”
Sudha knew she was living in a dream right now, a dream where other people were either already dead or would be soon. A small tear rolled down her cheek.
The doctor sat near her “I would not like to make it any tougher for you. But as your doctor, I must warn you, that if you carry on with this pregnancy it could be dangerous for you. Such deliveries are often most difficult ones”
Sudha considered the option for a minute. Perhaps she should be practical about this whole affair, abort the child now. That would be the more humane thing to do. Wouldn’t it? No back pains or sore feet to deal with. No tearing pain of delivery without any little creature to make her feel it was all worth it. No itch in her breast when the milk comes through and no snuggly creature to latch on it. No pyre to burn reminding her that she was now truly alone.
She sat there silently looking at the poster stuck on the wall. An anatomy of pregnant women displayed a small baby coiled inside her womb cozily. Her baby would be sleeping peacefully right now in her womb just like that.
“What happens if I deliver the baby…” She asked tentatively
The Doctor sighed heavily. He did not blame her to be hopeful until the very last.
“Well, if you deliver the baby, the body without a brain will start to fail within an hour or two …”
Sudha smile sardonically. She had passed the heritage of misfortune to her unborn baby. Life had given her child one hour to celebrate all her birthdays, to take her first step, to throw teenage tantrums, to live her dream, to serve her purpose. One hour worth of lifetime before dying helplessly. How does anyone live a lifetime in an hour? This was the biggest problem Sudha had ever faced in her life. A problem which by any calculation had no solution. But she refused to give up. She owned this to her husband, her child.
Suddenly a deep realization lighted her from within. Like in this twisted, melancholy situation she has found a ray of hope. A solution to the biggest problem in her life.
She looked at doctor determined and said
“I will go through the delivery…”
The doctor sighed sympathetically. Surely this was shock speaking.
“You don’t have to make a decision right now. I know it’s a difficult situation for you”
“No, I have made my choice, I am going to deliver my baby” The resolve in her voice made doctor worried. The tragedy perhaps made her go crazy. She had all the right in the world to be that. Not every mother can find it in her heart to abort the child that was her only family. Even if it means to have it in her arms only for few hours.
“If that’s what you want...” he said sympathetically.
“Yes, And when her one hour of struggle with life is over, all the vital organs of her body should be donated to other kids who are in need of those” Sudha said with a steely resolve in her voice.
The doctor looked at her speechless. For a minute he did not believe she meant it, but he knew from her look that not only she meant every word, she was already very proud of her unborn child.
“Miss Sudha….. I..” The doctor tried to respond but found himself dumbfounded by her gesture.
Sudha looked at him thoughtfully “I will live every minute of my remaining five months with my baby. I would tell her about all the wondrous things in this world, about all the good she will bring into the life of others, just like her father did. And I will spend rest of my life with those memories. Her life will be short, but not purposeless. She will do more in her life that I could ever do in my lifetime. God will not take away that from her. “
The doctor looked at her with astonishment. Her sense of compassion in the face of grief was unfathomable. She had turned her despair into a miracle for the families who waited guilty for someone else to die. Were all mothers like this? No, Sudha was different. She was cut from a different cloth.
“ I don’t say I did not wish otherwise..” Sudha looked at the doctor with her I-won’t-cry face “But if this is the reality, then my child will live her life through the life she would save. She would live many lives through others”
The doctor looked at her with deep reverence “Yes, she will…”
When the ninth month came, Sudha delivered a beautiful baby girl, who had the eyes of her father and nose of her mother. Kiara donated her vital organs to three other children who were in need. Some would argue that Kiara was now dead, but for Sudha, she was living her life three times over with the children that she had saved. She had lived a lifetime in an hour.