‘I can hear three heartbeats. I think you have triplets’, our doctor uttered these momentous words with a smile. It was my first ultrasound screening since the pregnancy was confirmed. Our doctor was a hearty, jovial man with a penchant for one-liners. Ah, another of his little jokes, we thought, as we laughed dutifully, bursting into a couple of polite, nervous titters.
‘Listen’, the doctor said, as he cranked up the sound levels. Now we could hear them as well. Three little hearts beating frantically! We listened in hushed silence to what sounded very much like a group of horses galloping down a grassy meadow.
It was true. We were going to have triplets.
The joke was upon us!
We drove home in complete silence. Three children. All at once. I could feel waves of blind panic rise inside me as I tried to reconcile myself to the idea. The doctor’s words kept ringing in my head. Just before we left the examination room, he had extended his hand to my husband and said, his usual gruff, jovial manner replaced by an unusual gravitas, ‘ Congratulations. It is a rare honour. But life as you know it is about to change drastically. For ever!’
The first three months passed at an excruciatingly slow pace. I had every possible complication medical science could throw at me. I bled constantly. Thick, ugly, glutinous clumps of blood. Having suffered a miscarriage earlier, I was only too familiar with the symptoms.
I began to dread going to the toilet. Every single time I glanced at the water tinged a bright red; I would feel sick in my stomach. I would sit there on the toilet seat for minutes at a time, heaving great dry sobs. No tears would come out even if I tried, so great was my fear.
Around the same time, I started experiencing an excruciating pain due to ruptured ovarian cysts. The pain would make me retch constantly. The attacks would come on suddenly, making me double over with pain. Visits to the ER became a weekly affair. My neighbours became used to the sound of an ambulance being called in the middle of the night to take me to the hospital. As I lay there inert on the stretcher, I would close my eyes and utter a silent prayer for my babies.
Yes. Somewhere along the line, those shapeless little splotches on the ultrasound squares had become living breathing human beings for us. We had even assigned personalities to them.
Two boys and a girl. We just knew we were going to have two boys and a girl. We even named them in our minds – Venkat, Subbu and Magalakshmi. Those were our secret womb names for our kids. I spoke to them constantly, willing them to fight, silently urging them to hold on, to survive, to live.
Finally, after a lot of blood, sweat and tears, the first trimester was over. In the fourth month, things seemed to settle down a bit. The bleeding stopped. The excruciating pain caused by the ovarian cysts lessened to an occasional bearable twinge.
‘Go for a vacation child. God knows you could do with a break’, the doctor advised. He was right. We needed a break. Badly. The last three months had tested our patience to the last stretching point. The pressure of dealing with frequent visits to the ER, living in constant fear, the demands of work and the stress of having to face everything on our own, continents away from our families was beginning to tell. We hadn’t even had the time to go out for a quiet dinner to celebrate the pregnancy. We decided to go away for a short weekend break and booked a log cabin in a national park in Arkansas.
It was a beautiful afternoon in early November when we set out for Arkansas. It was late autumn in Texas and the maples along the way were clad in multi-coloured shawls of the various shades of yellow, orange and rust. The air was crisp as freshly toasted bread. I smiled at Ganesh, he caught my eyes and smiled back, taking his hand off the gear shaft for a moment to hold my hand. We looked at the baby bump. We were both struck by the same thought at the exact same time. We were a family!
We stopped for a short break in one of the small towns along the way. It was one of those tiny towns in the Deep South with fifteen houses, one eating place and three churches!
The sole eating joint in the place was a tiny mom and pop store run by a Mexican couple and their teenage daughter. The dad cooked, the mom rolled tortillas and their smiling, teenage daughter served the customers. When we entered the place, all the tables were empty. We sat ourselves in a cosy corner.
The girl approached us to take our order, glanced at my baby bump and asked us.
‘Is this your first’?
’No. These are our first three’, I answered, unable to conceal the quiet pride in my voice.
It took her about thirty seconds to process what I had said, and then she erupted in rapid fire, voluble Spanish before running to her parents with the news. In a matter of minutes we were surrounded by the whole family.
The father kept shooting sympathetic glances at Ganesh and muttering something inaudible in Spanish. The mother kept looking at the heavens and saying, ‘Trillizos, Dios Mio. Milagro, Milagro! While the daughter simply grinned from ear to ear.
’Where are you from? Do you have family here’, asked the mother.
’Our family is in India. We are on our own here’. My husband replied.
‘Oh my God. How will you manage? You will need the grace of God and good luck. We will pray for your children’. The kind lady said.
That is how we celebrated our children. In the company of strangers, miles away from home.
Today, the children – two boys and a girl, just as we had thought – are six. From tiny, premature babies lying inert in a glass case to happy, healthy six-year-olds always full of laughter, they have come a long way!
‘How did you manage with three kids at the same time’? Every time some one asks me this question, I think of the Mexican lady. ‘You will need the grace of God and lots of luck’, she had said. Indeed, our children are a miracle brought about by prayers, good luck and an abundance of love from family, friends and some complete strangers.
This column is about that tumultuous journey!