She collects ink-pots, art-works and travel souvenirs, but the ones Dr. Gita Arjun loves to share constantly are stories — happy ones — she’s gathered in the 28 years of OBGYN practice. They are the truth-stranger-than-fiction kind — packed with drama, humour and unexpected turns, the way she tells them.
The EV Kalyani Medical Centre she heads is the first private hospital for women in Chennai and is in its 60th year of uninterrupted service. “I was born here,” she said. “It gave me a jolt of excitement to consult from the same room, converted for the purpose.” It’s an endless stream of memories. “A woman came to me after 12 lost pregnancies. I helped her carry her baby to term. Holding the baby aloft, she cried in joy when Dr. Isaacs, my mentor, was visiting. Dr. Isaacs said he needed no translation.”
When she started practice, only women accompanied those in labour, she recalled. “I got the husband into the labour room in 1981.” How did he take it? “The best obstetricians, the kindest nurses — still women in labour feel pain alone. Husband in, they have someone to yell at and occasionally punch and scratch.” Of course, with music and no-pain medication, delivery is now a pleasant experience, not a scream fest.
She started labour preparation classes to educate parents on the process of childbirth. “Informing women is to empower them to be pro-active about their health. Unknown is more fearful.” How “unknown” it all was came to her with the questions pregnant women, educated ones, asked. “The myths they believe in should worry us,” she said. “One woman stayed in bed for three months with legs elevated to the point of disabling herself, to prevent miscarriage.”
She kept answering questions, from India, from the Indian Diaspora, across the world. Can she climb stairs? (“What am I supposed to say? Carry her on your hip?”) When should she go into bed rest? Shouldn’t she stop eating papaya, mango, pineapple, sesame seeds? Aren’t iron tablets harmful? Isn’t saffron good for colour? (“The day the baby is conceived, its genes are programmed.”) Feeling vulnerable, the pregnant woman asks for and accepts a million suggestions from people around, mostly about food. “The result is, calorie intake gets out of control. Women gain 2 to 3 kg weight every time they come for a check-up. The husband says, ‘Oh doc, she doesn’t eat a thing! And she has to eat for two people!’”
She decided to gather her replies into a book. The first in a series, “Passport to a Healthy Pregnancy” will be released on August 29. “It’s an Indian book that addresses Indian concerns,” Dr. Gita said. “Armed with the book, the informed among women will be able to implement our advice. She can use it for support to change the scene around her.”
The book has a chapter for the husband. “In nuclear families the husband plays a large role in taking care of the pregnant wife and later the infant. It tells him what happens to mother and baby week by week.” There are pictures of how to give a bath, how to change a diaper. Maybe she should add one on how to administer first-aid to husband when he hears the news of the pregnancy.
About the “Passport”
India’s first easy-to-use guide to pregnancy and childbirth, addressing issues unique to Indian parents.
Provides a week-by-week guide to the physiological changes occurring in the foetus and mother.
A chapter defines the role of husbands in helping their wives through pregnancy and delivery.
The book dispels common myths due to misinformation and misplaced beliefs.
Abundantly illustrated with user-friendly tips, the book is an encyclopaedia of up-to-date medical information.