October 11 is celebrated as International Girl Child Day. The day was declared by the United Nations to amplify the voices of young girls around the world and increase awareness of issues faced by them. I was not aware of any such special day until social media started overflowing with parents sharing snaps with their daughters. The zeal is overwhelming. But is the awareness limited to the digital world only? What about the real world?
Let me share the experience I had last year in August. So I was at the nursery of the hospital trying to feed my little one, completely perplexed. The son won’t latch, the mother too shaky. Despite several words of comfort from the sisters I was still afraid I could easily break that wobbly thing wriggling on my lap and struggling because of my naivety. Giving me company in the nursing room was another woman with her daughter. Holding the new-born like a pro she was feeding her, balancing with one hand and holding a phone with the other. I looked at her in awe, desperately trying to ape her.
It was uncomfortable to hold the phone to ears, so the phone was on speaker and she was in conversation with most probably her mother and it went like this. They were speaking in Hindi which I have tried to translate here.
The new mother sounded really worried and asked, “Now what should I do?”
The speaker on the other side comforted her saying, “Do not do anything. Just listen to your mother-in-law, and whatever she says do not argue. You need rest.
– It will be difficult ma.
– I know. But, you cannot blame her. She was gentle with you when you had your first daughter. But, a second daughter…
Just try to reason calmly. Even daughters these days are like sons. And anyways they will get married and bring sons-in-law to the family, they will be like son only.
– But they won’t be the son.
And regret reflected in each word of her last sentence. I wasn’t comfortable to be privy to this conversation. Still unable to discover the trick of breastfeeding, I stifled in my seat. But, the conversation continued highlighting how the sister in law would get all the privileges now. I wanted to leave the room desperately.
Meanwhile her husband called and told her to get ready for discharge, he was completing the formalities downstairs. So, she disconnected the phone.
Tiredness and frustration hovered around her face. Then she looked at my incompetent attempts and smiled,
– First baby?
I signed a shy yes.
“You have a son.” She exclaimed.
I nodded feebly. For no apparent reason, I was feeling guilty.
She went on to say,
– You have seen the babies in the nursery? Last last 3 days all boys were born here, only I birthed a daughter.
I searched for the right word and then somehow added, “I always wanted a daughter.”
She didn’t pay much heed. Almost speaking to herself she went on, “God is so unfair. I already have a daughter, we so wanted a son this time.”
I was almost dumbfound to react to this confession. Dear son perhaps could feel my helplessness and took pity and finally latched after several minutes.
This was the year 2020. We were sitting in one of the most exquisite corporate hospitals in the city. Apparently she was a well educated woman, hailing from an affluent family and was regretting the birth of her daughter.
Rage filled my every existence. The mother-in-law is unhappy? Be damn with such dimwits. As a mother why would she share the same regret? Why could not she be more assertive of her happiness about the little one?
International Girl Child Day is designated to eliminate gender-based challenges that little girls face around the world, including child marriages, poor learning opportunities, violence, and discrimination. But, what about the discrimination in happiness felt at their arrival in the household? Who will keep a record of that? Perhaps none. Because celebrating a day with pictures on social media won’t change the mentality of the people. This October 11, I am wishing all the girl children, including that sweetheart in the hospital who shares her birthday with my son a lifetime of happiness.