The contractions in my lower abdomen became very sharp and I doubled over with pain. Yet again, I willed my seventh about-to-be-born child to be a boy this time; “Please God please”, I prayed fervently looking up at the whirring fan on the ceiling which was peeling in many places. At the end of the next jolt of pain, I felt the baby slide out onto the bloody sheet and enter this patriarchal world. The room filled with the sound of a wailing baby who seemed unhappy to be let out of a comforting and safe haven into this cold and alien world. The fear of it being another girl paralyzed me and I shut my eyes tightly, too afraid to look at the baby or ask about the gender. My mind wandered back to the last two times which had been the worst of the six deliveries; my husband had ignored me for weeks, while my mother in law had found every opportunity to berate me for failing to produce a male child for her only son.
Very early in my marriage I had understood that I would earn respect and a place in my husband’s heart only if I produced a son! But each subsequent pregnancy culminated in the birth of yet another girl, leading to an exponential increase in resentment and alienation. My husband ignored the girls, forgot their names and cursed the day he married me, while my mother in law threatened me with a second marriage for her beloved son. Why didn’t they understand that I was not to blame? How could he be oblivious to the fact that girls vied desperately for his attention? I could sense that our male dominated society had boxed me amongst the ‘unfortunates’ and looked at me with eyes filled with pity and tinged with derision.
My only ally was my mother who counselled me on various herbs and talisman’s which she willed would result in the procreation of a male child. Many visits were made to far off darbars to offer alms and prayers, and repeated visits made to doctors who claimed to have a cure for ‘son-less’ women; but post each birth, the doctors and holy men were quickly labelled as quacks and charlatans. On the birth of my fourth daughter, my mother prepared me for the inevitable outcome of the arrival a second wife and urged me to accept my fate if that were to happen. Luck was probably on my side as despite six daughters, my husband had not gone in search of another woman to share his marital bed. At least not yet!
I tried to shower extra love and affection on my innocent daughters in the hope of reducing their present pain at their fathers alienation, and their future pain of always being the less important person in all spheres of their lives. Even as a young girl I had understood that the birth of a boy was celebrated with fanfare, sweetmeats and gifts, while the birth of a girl was not announced in the hope that family and neighbors would soon forget this shameful occurrence! Whilst I was growing up in my parents house, the jarring difference in the way me and my brothers were treated would always remain imprinted in my personality; better schooling, extra treats, and new clothes and shoes! I was smart enough to know that the males in the house were to be given preferential treatment, but vulnerable enough to feel the pain of unfairness in my innocent heart. I felt sad knowing that patriarchal societies leeched on infanticide and infant mortality of young girls, and much as I may have tried, there was nothing I could have done in my limited influence and capacity.
The loud wailing of the baby jolted me back to the present, and I looked up to see the midwife holding the newborn who was all swaddled in a warm blanket. Looking around, I saw a room full of women: my anxious mother and concerned sisters, my ever judging mother in law, and a babble of curious neighbours. Tired and exhausted after a long delivery, not ready to deal with people and too afraid to know the inevitable, I closed my eyes, shut my ears and prayed for oblivion.